Students in the interdisciplinary minor’s capstone courses developed three games in 2022 and published them on Steam.
A ghost-filled murder mystery, a post-apocalyptic world fueled by mind-altering drugs, and a quest to restore music to the world are the premise of the first games published by Elon’s Game Design Minor.
Minor Cornerstone students have developed and published “Maneater and the Golden Professor” “Soul Concierge” and “opening of harmony” on Steam, a popular game distribution platform, this month. The games are free.
“It’s great to see what you’ve done there so everyone can try and play,” said journalism student Rafael Pico ’22. “It was a fun experience doing it, working with peers to create something we could be proud of. It was a lot of hard work but personally very rewarding.
The interdisciplinary Game Design Minor was launched in 2019 and teaches students to study, design and implement computer games. In addition to a base of four courses in game design, production and collaborative development, the program includes electives in art, music, English and communication.
The two-semester capstone course challenges students to design a game with team members, then prototype, test, and refine it for release. This winter and spring, students from disciplines such as computer science, film and television arts, English, professional writing and rhetoric, and communication design collaborated on the games.
The J-term and spring semester capstone courses simulate professional experience in game development and studio culture, said assistant professor of computer science Pratheep Paranthaman, coordinator of the minor. Teams, or “studios,” use the Scrum project management method to deliver a finished product in a short time.
“Students come from different backgrounds and have different skill sets and need to work together to achieve the goal of developing and releasing a game in four months,” Paranthaman said. “They have to negotiate with their teammates and convince them of their ideas, while understanding their strengths and playing to them in the development process.”
Team roles included level designers who plan the flow of the game; narrative designers who tell a story through game mechanics; environmental designers who support play and story through setting and functionality; and technical designers who write scripts and programming.
But before screens or controllers are involved, games begin with goals, rules, scenarios, and discerning which style of play is best for them. The goal is to create a memorable gaming experience.
“First, you have to have an interesting idea for a game that works and sticks,” Pico said. “Then you plan it, start development, and start testing it.”
Pico’s team created “Harmony Overture”, a music-themed 2D shooter where the main character, Melody, battles monsters and armies with musical instruments she collects on different levels. The goal is to bring music from the underground world to the aerial world, where it is illegal.
Pico served as level designer and handled communications for the team. He plans to pursue a career as a journalist reporting for gaming publications.
Logan LaMont ’23 was part of the team that created “Maneater and the Golden Teacher”, which he described as a “visual novel-style, point-and-click game”. The team built the game from an original story by a band member, written for an English class, about a post-apocalyptic world. Players must venture to collect resources to survive, including a kind of hallucinogenic mushroom called “the golden professor”.
“Once we had our initial story, we looked to other popular and successful games as inspiration for ideas and mechanics to incorporate into our game,” LaMont said. “It’s the beginning of the game process, and then you first add simple things to the design before building it in an iterative process and continuing to improve it every few weeks.”
LaMont served as sound engineer, handling music and sound effects, as well as secondary design duties. He appreciated the opportunity to create a narrative story and use his computer skills in a less technical and mathematical way.
The team that developed “Soul Janitor” began by challenging themselves to create a first-person shooter without using guns or bullets. They developed a game where players are a janitor tasked with cleaning up a haunted warehouse and solving a murder mystery with only a spray bottle and mop to defend themselves with.
Throughout the process, students had to adhere to Steam’s specifications and release deadlines.
“These students are pioneers,” Paranthaman said. “Game design is all about problem solving. Each team had unique design issues to solve to achieve their goals. Seeing your students succeed is the best experience you can have as a teacher.