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What do a marooned space explorer, a psychokinetic lab mouse, and an army of zombified gingerbread men have in common?

They all make up the cast of a collection of PC games created by the 31 students of the inaugural ProjectFUN Pre-College Program, which participants presented to faculty, family members, and each other in a Student Games Showcase on July 28.

The first group of students, who went by the name WMN Studios, described their final project, Bobo Shipwreck, as “casual catching game.”

“This is our character, Bobo, and he’s a space junkman who basically builds ships and fixes ships for a living,” said team artist Praew Jantaphao as she showed slides of the game’s artwork. “He has to catch all the falling debris to build the ships, and he has to avoid the meteors.”

After taking turns highlighting various elements of the game, team members booted up the actual program to demonstrate their bucket-wielding protagonist racing back and forth across a space-themed environment, collecting the falling items. After their presentation, senior lecturer Douglas Schilling led a panel with two other DigiPen instructors, giving critical feedback and some final words of advice.

Students in the Pre-College Program chose one of three tracks — art and animation, game design, and programming.

DigiPen Executive Raymond Yan, who spoke to the audience before the presentations, described the original idea for the program.

“What we really wanted to do was to try and provide an experience that was a step closer to what life is like here at DigiPen,” Yan said.

As opposed to the more exploratory nature of the ProjectFUN Summer Workshops, Yan said the Pre-College Program was designed for advanced students who might be close to deciding on a career in game development.

“I just wanted to make sure that before you take that step into this field, you understand how much work and how much knowledge and skill is really required,” Yan said. “When you look at the product that we have to make in this industry — a product that has the complexity of real-time graphics, networking, artificial intelligence, and animation — all of those pieces have to work together.”

Students in the Pre-College Program chose one of three tracks — art and animation, game design, and programming — taking track-specific courses taught by DigiPen’s undergraduate faculty. As with DigiPen’s bachelor’s degree programs, students from the three tracks came together for the lab portion of the program, with each of the eight game teams made up of at least one programmer, designer, and artist.

If you’ve got a bright, motivated group who can communicate effectively, you will have a good game come out of it.”

For the Bobo Shipwreck team, which in addition to Jantaphao included student game designer Jacob Salemi and programmers Annie Lace and Laura Khoo, one of the early goals was to keep things manageable. Whereas some other teams worked on shooters, puzzlers, and action adventure games, a catching game seemed to Jantaphao, Salemi, Lace, and Khoo like a premise they could execute in a short amount of time.

“We started with a really simple idea, and as we started doing it we realized it could be done really fast,” Salemi said. “So we were actually able to get in all the original things that we wanted to, which was really cool.”

During their demonstration, Salemi pointed out a number of Bobo Shipwreck‘s central game mechanics. By collecting more ship parts, for example, a player could achieve higher point bonuses. The heavier bucket, however, made the player move more slowly. Salemi said his team worked on their game for at least three hours each day on campus, not counting the additional time spent at home on both the game and other homework.

“At first it was hard to find the time for everything, but in the end it all came together,” Salemi said. “It’s pretty interesting to have multiple people work on different parts at the same time, and see what it’s like when they all come together later on.”

As instructor of game software design and instruction, Schilling said the Pre-College Program offered a good taste of the DigiPen game development experience.

“If you’ve got a bright, motivated group who can communicate effectively, you will have a good game come out of it,” Schilling said. “Most of the teams worked very closely together, and the resulting games greatly benefited from that close collaboration.”

For more information about the Pre-College Program, which will be offered again in the summer of 2013, visit the ProjectFUN website.