Video games serious work for CSE group

The video game development club has made 41 games and is creating more.

Screenshot from Unwelcome.

Photo courtesy of Dennis Ehrhardt

Screenshot from “Unwelcome”.

by Logan Carroll

In the last five years, the members of the University of Minnesota Video Game Development Club have cranked out more than 40 games. 
The group showed off their latest project, “Unwelcome,” at its meeting last Friday.
The game casts the player as a ghost trying to scare away meddling teenagers from a haunted mansion as the teenagers search for parts to build a weapon to exorcise the spirit. 
The player flies around the mansion, planting traps to snare the teenagers, whose characters are modeled on ’80s movie tropes including a cheerleader, a jock and a nerd, said club president Dennis Ehrhardt, a senior studying computer science. 
The traps include falling chandeliers, murderous suits of armor and knives that fly across the room.
Bilal Kartal, a fifth-year doctoral student researching artificial intelligence at the University, runs computer simulations of drone behaviors — which he said was comparable to programming bad guys in video games.
Based on his work, Kartal said he sees parallels between the AI of the teenagers in “Unwelcome” and that of robotic drones. 
Kartal said that when multiple drones are tasked with exploring an area, there are two possible approaches. The first is the “centralized” approach, he said, where the individuals stay together and coordinate their actions, like the cowardly teenagers in the game.
The second approach is “decentralized,” he said, where individuals leave the group to explore on their own, like brave teenagers.
“Decentralized is really efficient — it is easy to generate strategies,” Kartal said about the game, “but we don’t know if everywhere gets visited.”
He said that the teenagers can have one of two different AI profiles, brave or cowardly. 
The brave teenagers wander away from the group to explore on their own, while the cowardly ones stay together, he said.
While the AI of “Unwelcome” is functional, Ehrhardt said, it needs to be tweaked. 
Ehrhardt said the game also aims to mirror ridiculous horror movies. 
“The knives decapitate the person and pins their head on the wall,” he said. 
The game is animated in blocky pixels, so the gore is limited to little red squares, Ehrhardt said.
Ehrhardt said he doesn’t expect the game to be finished by the end of the semester and plans to finish the AI programming the third or fourth week of summer. 
“When you get to the point where you’re saying it has to feel right,” he said, “it becomes problematic.”
Because the project is behind schedule, the club will probably simplify the art and trap animations as well, said Meghan Jonas, a sophomore studying computer science and a member of the club’s art team.