Choose Your Own Adventure: Students showcase their creations at Games Showcase – News

A chorus of 8-bit arcade music, rolling dice, shuffling cards – and laughter – rang out throughout the games’ first-ever showcase, hosted by Illinois State University’s Creative Technologies (CTK) program on Friday, May 6 at the Center for the Visual Arts.

A steady stream of visitors throughout the four-hour event were invited to play more than 25 board, card, mobile and video games, all created by Illinois State students, including many are enrolled in CTK’s game design stream, while others study in programs such as information technology or are involved in registered student game organizations.

“Seeing what the students have developed and learned is really cool,” said Levi Arnett, a senior who is among the first seven graduates of CTK’s game design sequence. He and his six senior comrades collaborated on a year-long capstone project to create two professional-grade games, one analog and one digital.

The Capstone Board Game, cave crawlers, is a fast-paced tile-placement game in which creatures race through caverns to find, collect, and eventually steal treasure to win. “It’s getting really competitive,” said Lys Shilling, another lead on the CTK game design streak who served as the art lead for the Capstone project. “It’s a competitive adventure game that creates paths, and there’s a lot of strategy, especially in the mid and late game.”

cave crawlersa board game created for a main project by students in the Creative Technologies Game Design Sequence.

The flagship digital game, Geriatric Jamboree, is a comedy 2D fighting game with an 8-bit soundtrack set in the Shady Acres retirement home. The aged heroes fight with balls of yarn, muffin guns and dentures, among other comical weapons. “It’s a fun, light-hearted game in the same vein as Super Smash Bros.“, Arnett said. “There are a lot of moves involved, and each character is unique.”

Arnett, Shilling and their classmates began conceptualizing the two games at the start of the fall semester with guidance from Dr. Sercan Şengün, assistant professor at Creative Technologies and lead organizer of the Games Showcase event. From ideation and prototyping to playtesting and completion, Şengün said he formatted the capstone class to reflect a professional project.

“When students enter the industry, they work with all kinds of creative and interesting people,” Şengün said. “They have to learn to communicate, they have to learn to form groups, and they will have to complete projects from start to finish.”

video game screenshot
Geriatric Jamboreea video game created for a main project by students in the Creative Technologies Game Design Sequence.

While some students worked on coding video games using the computer program Unity, others worked on developing rules, scenarios, and characters. Shilling’s concept art began as simple sketches in the fall before evolving into detailed, finished work ahead of the Games Showcase.

“I love seeing my art come to life,” Shilling said. “I love drawing something, and in fact, it’s being actively used and interacted with. I think it’s a really cool experience. Maybe I got emotional. I feel so proud about it.

Şengün said it was also important for students to consider diversity and representation when designing their games. Due to the pandemic and time spent at home, he said more people from different demographics are playing games now than ever before.

“The idea for the Capstone digital game came from a conversation we had about who isn’t represented much in games,” Şengün said. “The students said, ‘We don’t see a lot of old people in games,’ and they decided to have a humorous game where the characters are old superheroes.”

Şengun said Geriatric Jamboree will eventually be available for public download and Cave Crawlers will be available for purchase.

Student playing video game.
At the first-ever Games Showcase, students presented video games they created through their participation on campus.

“It’s very exciting today because in the creative process, you don’t see the result until the last days,” Şengün said. “Over the past few weeks, things have magically fallen into place. I’m very happy with both games. I am really proud of the students. They’ve really worked hard, and it’s an insight for the campus community.

While the cornerstone of this year’s inaugural CTK game design streak consisted of seven students, next year’s senior class will consist of around 30 students. Arnett said he expects the quality of games and the level of creativity to increase as the program grows.

Ian (Kaelin) Cooper is a graduate printmaking student who collaborated with CTK to create Ocentatie, a digital game they have been conceptualizing for four years. The current iteration of the game was on display at the Games Showcase.

cooper said Ocentatie fuses queer theory and safe spaces and allows participants to experience escape and healing through an action-adventure lens while immersed in the game’s celestial oasis.

“It started as an individual passion project,” Cooper said. “Then I started working on it more this semester because a lot of my instructors and peers were like, ‘It makes sense with a lot of other visual images that you present. So let’s go ahead and really start working on that. Don’t keep hiding it.

During the showcase of games, participants were able to discover Ocentatieboth through a virtual reality experience and a physical display with pastel lighting, Greek columns and character cards on pedestals. Cooper worked with a team of five to six people to make their vision for the game a reality.

Student helping another student to set up virtual reality.
Graduate student Ian (Kaelin) Cooper, right, presented Ocentatie, which includes virtual reality elements, during the Games Showcase. Cooper dressed as a character from their game.

“I think the most rewarding part of this experience is just being able to listen to people and hear how they want to contribute and believe in the same charismatic energy that I feel for the project,” Cooper said. “It always warms me up a lot. It opens up a whole new world when I let myself share this idea and others start to take advantage of it and develop it.

Cooper said they felt inspired to see their project alongside many other awesome designs, and plan to network with other designers and potentially seek out collaborative opportunities.

As Games Showcase visitors moved from table to table exploring the diverse and creative offerings, Arnett said he believes games play an important role in society. “There are a lot of negative things in the world,” Arnett said. “But games are a super accessible way to have fun.”

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