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The Minnesota Daily

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The Minnesota Daily

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Episode 135: Turning dreams into pixels

An inside look at UMN’s video game development club with podcast intern Elise Travis.

AMELIE ELMQUIST: I’ve been into animation since about seventh grade. I did a lot of animation workshops and I always loved the idea of taking a drawing and making it interactive and seems like video games is a step to that because you can even control with your computer, you know, with players being able to control the animations themselves.

ELISE TRAVIS: Hello, I’m Elise Travis, your host from the Minnesota Daily, and you’re tuning into In The Know, the podcast that brings you all the latest on the University of Minnesota. That voice you just heard was Amelie Elmquist, a proud UMN alum who is a part of the video game development club at the U, which is a club focused on creating video games. According to Elmquist, crafting a single video game is a collaborative effort that involves multiple individuals dedicating their time twice a week, maneuvering around their class schedules. Video game development presents a myriad of opportunities, allowing individuals to bring forth various forms of creativity and showcase their design skills. Ava Smith, vice president of the video game development club talks about the goals of the club this semester. 

AVA SMITH: We provide specific themes, like I think our themes for this semester were one two buttons, which essentially is like make a game that only uses one or two buttons to control a character or like play the game, and then the other theme was sync and so you’re encouraged to make a game that uses either one or two of those themes, but you can make anything that you want.

TRAVIS: Within each theme in the club, there is a role for coders, animators, artists, musicians, computer scientists and more. Students are encouraged to learn new skills or collaborate with others. 

ELMQUIST: So that’s a common thing with these kinds of projects where, like you have someone in your group who’s like, “oh yeah, I can do lots of 3D modeling,” and then they don’t show up to the club and you’re like, “oh okay. I guess I have to learn how to do 3D modeling,” which is really fun actually, because now I, and you know, have the opportunity to try something I wasn’t going to try anyway. Or there’s people who think about the whole storyline of the game, and they can, like write the script, you know, write out all the dialogue, and then there’s voice actors, the people that, you know, do the funny voices for that dialogue. 

TRAVIS: Smith talks about what it is like to lead a video game club with so many students with different talents and backgrounds.

SMITH: Our club is mainly based on developing skills for developing games. Previously, our club took a little bit of a different format where everyone in the club worked towards making one game and that only worked when we had a small amount of people because you can imagine if you have like 30 people with like varying skills all working towards the game, it’s very hard. So now our club takes on a little bit of a different format where we have, I would say around seven groups of maybe five to ten people all working on a game. And we can ask questions, we can get help, we develop games, we also socialize; it’s a really good community for getting into the industry. 

TRAVIS: The club is also really great about exposing members to parts of the video game community and artistic world that they otherwise might not have been involved in. Smith reflects on how the gaming community has impacted her.

SMITH: Yeah, I have been playing video games for a very long time. I have two older siblings, so I watched them play games when I was younger, and then I joined them when I could. Yeah, but I haven’t really been developing games for a super long time. I started by myself probably the summer after high school, developing games in a software called Game Maker Studio, which isn’t the most robust software to learn, it’s a little outdated, I would say. Yeah, I really liked games and I wanted to learn how to make them.

TRAVIS: Current member Alex Nagel was also motivated to return to the club for another semester to test more of his gaming skills. 

ALEX NAGEL: I just like to try out like new things that I haven’t done before, like this semester we’re working on a 3D game, which I haven’t done before and it’s a really fun challenge. A lot on just like learning and just growing, just growing as a person and a designer of making games and a lot of other skills as well, and so that’s really the biggest aspect I’d say.

TRAVIS: Elmquist reflected on her most recent game, Window Washers, and the unexpected surprise of the general public engaging with her creation. In a video on Youtube, a player she didn’t know uncovered secret hacks while playing the game. This experience made her realize that players could discover unintended aspects that the developers, herself included, hadn’t intentionally added. For example, a double jump that was initially a coding error turned into a secret method for players to advance in the game.

ELMQUIST: But that’s also one thing about the club is that we don’t sell the games for profit. That’s kind of like a rule they have. I think it’s so that we’re like more focused on being educational.

TRAVIS: Once a game is created, the games can be published online where anyone can download the games for free and play at their own leisure. It is also a chance for developers to practice their game live and learn how to bring all of their gaming skills to life. 

ELMQUIST: So, one day I’ll get there, but I’m still working on it, and it’s really cool because each project I do, I’m getting a little closer to that skill set. It’s a welcoming environment where we’re not, you know, thinking about like how complex and professional the game will actually be, but more about like having it, you know, just be as great in itself that it can be with the people that are there. 

TRAVIS: Nevertheless, the club’s engagement with the online community has also influenced its involvement in the gaming realm. 

SMITH: So, recently the CEO of Unity, that has stepped down since then, made a statement that Unity was going to start collecting money on downloads for games. So a lot of creators that made games previously and had a lot of downloads we’re gonna have to pay these like huge amount of fines to Unity.

TRAVIS: Unity Technologies is the world’s leading platform for creating and operating interactive, real-time 3D content. Unity can operate across different platforms to allow users to develop 3D games, apps and experiences for entertainment, film and more. According to the New York Times, last month chief executive John Riccitiello angered video game developers who use Unity’s software when he announced a new fee structure that could have significantly increased their costs. Riccitiello stepped down from the company shortly after.

SMITH: Which was a previously like, not free, but cheap service for developers to use. So I know there was a little bit of a panic for our club in, for a moment, because we were like, oh, all of us use Unity. Are we gonna have to switch platforms, learn something new? But yeah, so it’s always a changing industry with like the software and the technology that’s available. I know a lot of people are looking into new VR based technology which is also really exciting.

TRAVIS: Despite the changes in the development industry on the global stage, there are more positives than negatives for the club. Each member makes their own gaming development goals within the semester as well. 

NAGEL: Well, this semester just finish the project, and then after that, just like show a bunch of people and just the goal of just finishing a project that you’re happy with and you can show other people and make them happy as well just feels really nice. And then also learning is a big one. I love learning about like a lot of different things. There’s a lot of different things to learn, you know, in video game development, and then also teaching other people and just interacting with other people and making friends as well. 

TRAVIS: One of the highlights of the club is the opportunity to have a presentation of your complete game. The next presentation is scheduled for January and fans of video games or the club can look forward to more details on their website or club Discord. 

SMITH: And so we’ll have the whole semester to create one game, and there’ll be a mid semester check in will you’ll show your progress you’ll show how you’re doing, and then by the end of the semester you’ll show off your game, and then you can submit it to our website to show it off.

TRAVIS: Sometimes the presentations and Discord are the first time the club members are interacting with other students from different UMN majors and fields. Nagel also brings up some of the excitement involved in preparing for game presentation days.

NAGEL: Getting to see everybody else’s things that they’ve worked on for a long time and invested a lot of time into. And then also being able to show everybody your project that you’ve been working on for a long time. It’s just really nice to have everybody get together and just support each other. 

TRAVIS: This episode was written by Elise Travis and produced by Kaylie Sirovy. As always, we appreciate you listening and feel free to leave us an email at [email protected] with comments or questions. I’m Elise and this is In The Know.

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