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February 5, 2007
Sacramento State Bulletin

Let the games begin

Photo: Seniors Phoung Nguyen and Michael Daniels demonstrate Starball, the networked multiplayer computer game they designed as their final project in Computer Science 165.
Seniors Phoung Nguyen and Michael Daniels demonstrate Starball, the networked multiplayer computer game they designed as their final project in Computer Science 165.

While most students spent the end of fall semester surrounded by books and class notes, a small group of classmates in Riverside Hall were playing adventure games, racing simulators and a variety of other 3-D computer games.

But it wasn’t all fun and games in Professor John Clevenger’s class, where students were presenting their final projects. Clevenger is quick to point out that the course, “Computer Game Architecture & Implementation,” requires an understanding of advanced data structures, 3-D computer graphics, artificial intelligence techniques, sound, animation and Newtonian mechanics including force, mass, velocity, and acceleration.

“Computer games utilize some of the most complex computer systems,” explained Clevenger. “All of the classes taught in computer science use some technology needed in creating computer games. This course brings all of that work together.”

Eleven computer science students, working in small groups, spent hundreds of hours preparing for this final demonstration of their projects. They arrived early at the computer lab, hurriedly setting up laptops and testing their games, hoping that everything would work properly. “All it takes is for one little thing to go wrong and the whole thing will not work,” said Clevenger.

Former members of the class, along with Emir José Macari, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, and Du Zhang, chair of the computer science department, were on hand to observe and ask questions. “I’m interested in helping to expand the computer science department in the area of gaming,” says Macari. “It’s one of the reasons I came to Sacramento State.” Clevenger also sees the potential for a focus in computer games at Sacramento State sometime in the near future. “We are already working with the art department on a computer modeling course. I could easily see a computer animation class that brings it all together.”

What Clevenger was looking for is not slick animation but technical details. Will the computer game respond in real time to give you a view of a three-dimensional world? “The games you see may look somewhat simple,” explained Clevenger, “but they are doing all the same technical stuff as the games you’ll find in the commercial market.”

Macari asked the students what it would take for them to transform their product into something one might find at the local game store. “Five more years of practice,” answered Tyler Karaszewski. “I’ve got enough knowledge after taking this class to get started working in the industry.”

Clevenger and his students agreed that this class is not for the casual game enthusiast. “Some students do come because they want to get into the computer game field and some are primarily interested in the science. I do, however, discourage students who just want to play games.”

The 3-D computer game industry has never been bigger. The most popular games, such as World of Warcraft, can attract up to 7.5 million subscribers with up to a million people playing at any given moment. But design and implementation of computer games no longer fall solely in the realm of entertainment. According to Clevenger, 3-D games are now being used by corporations, the military, the medical profession, and in training first responders in emergency situations.

The games created for this class range from dwarves navigating mountainous terrain, cars racing on a simulated track, flying dragons spewing fireballs and a game called “Starball” which resembles a soccer game played in outer space.

One student, Ludmila Skryabina, who was preparing for winter commencement, said she enlisted her mother’s help with child care for her daughter because she was spending so many hours working on her project. Another team concurred, admitting they’d been in the lab for the last 24 hours straight. “I told them on the first day that they’d be putting in lots of hours,” explains Clevenger, “but you couldn’t get this level of result in any less time.”

During the project presentation, there wasn’t much complaining, just a lot of appreciation for each other’s accomplishments and the sheer joy of watching the games being played. When Macari asked one group how their hours of work could be translated into actual dollars per hour if the game cost $15 to purchase, Jason Young quipped, “If you paid me $15 for this, you’d be paying me too much and I wouldn’t be paid enough.”

 

 

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