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When the student developers of Team Paragon began forming their group during the summer of 2013, they had a vague idea for a game project that would be ambitious and yet manageable, epic in feel but limited in scope.

After close to a year of work, the team recently released their game Arc, a high-speed racer that lets players zoom across a mythical alien landscape, with the option of going head-to-head with a friend via split-screen multiplayer. While brief in duration, it’s a stunning showpiece for all of the talented students who worked on it, collaborating across multiple disciplines and degree programs.

In April, Arc picked up six awards at the DigiPen Game Awards (voted on by students and faculty), including “Best Junior Game,” “Best Graphics Technology,” and “Best 3D Visual Design.”

So how did this particular team manage to create such a successful fusion of amazing art and technology?

Laying the Groundwork

Eric Lynum, now a returning senior in the B.S. in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation program and the producer for Team Paragon, says it was a goal from the beginning to build a strong group of both artists and programmers.

That process alone of getting everyone all together took a long, long time.”

Having relied on programmer art and pre-made sound libraries for his sophomore game Nexus, a top-down tank shooter made with three fellow computer science students (two of whom also went on to develop Arc), Lynum says he thought that having a larger team for his junior project would save development time.

“That process alone of getting everyone all together took a long, long time,” Lynum says. “We were trying to act like a company, like, ‘Let’s do the whole interview process on this person and see if they’ll be a good fit for us.’”

The team recruited Jon Everist from the B.A. in Music and Sound Design program to create original music and effects. They also brought on several artists, including senior Katie Arrington from the B.F.A. in Digital Art and Animation program to serve as art director.

A series of 9 color keys for the student game Arc; each features a yellow hovercraft in a blue and yellow alien environment.
Color keys by Katie Arrington

Together, everyone on the team began to gather and share their ideas for the type of game they wanted to make. They looked to outsides sources for visual reference and inspiration.

“For games we looked at Halo and Destiny a lot,” Arrington says. “I think our first meeting was when we saw the first Destiny trailer, and that’s when we were like, ‘Oh, imagine a world where we could race through that!’ And it started from there.”

Over the course of the summer, the artists on the team hashed out concept sketch after concept sketch, steadily honing in on a particular aesthetic that everyone could rally behind. They worked on ship designs and 2D illustrations featuring desert environments and architectural monuments.

I think our first meeting was when we saw the first Destiny trailer, and that’s when we were like, ‘Oh, imagine a world where we could race through that!’”

Arrington, in addition to creating several concept drawings, compiled an extensive 16-page style guide outlining all of the dos and don’ts for creating visual assets in the game.

Meanwhile, the core programming team chipped away at assembling all of the game engine components and corresponding tools. By about the start of the fall semester, the team had developed a system whereby artists could automatically convert their art assets created in Maya and have them appear in the game.

3D image of a desert landscape with tall, craggy rock features sticking out of the ground.
3D model by Frank Aliberti and Mac Mathiessen

“And doing that dominated our time completely, making it smooth enough so the artist could say, ‘Okay, here’s what the model looks like. Save,’” Lynum says. “The process of building that limited the amount of time we had for gameplay, but it was such an amazing pipeline.”

But getting the pipeline to work was only one step. Optimizing the system was quite another.

“Another huge part of it was the back and forth with the art team, making sure that all of their assets looked the way they wanted them to in game,” John Hughes, the team engineer responsible for graphics and sound programming, says. “There was a really happy moment when we started seeing that the models they were making looked better in the game than they did in Maya.”

Digital painting of a hovercraft vehicle at the entrance of a vast chamber, flanked by large statues of alien hooded figures.
Color and lighting concept by Mac Mathiessen

You can read the second installment of this two-part series here. The game is available as a free download from the DigiPen Showcase.