Updated: May 1, 2018
Can you convince people to fight as fish in a tank ruled by an evil Moray? Would you buy the concept of a swinging cephalopod that must save starfish trapped by rogue space robots? What if the only way to understand a family narrative is to enter imagined worlds within paintings, solving puzzles along the way? These and eight other narrative sleights of hand were presented by graduating seniors of Champlain College’s 2018 Game Design Studio last week. In the hands of today’s digital story crafters these preposterous propositions come alive as enchanting worlds of play through video games.
Top: Champlain Game Studio Director Amanda Crispel hosts the 11 Annual Senior Show. Top Right: Champlain College President Don Laackman and Ubisoft Talent Acquisition Manager Michael Wiazowski open the evening. Bottom: Team Nitro Fist introduces their game LUCHA MEGADRIVE.
With high energy presentations and a vibrant games exhibition, one could almost sense tectonic shifts of potential as fresh talent brought the video game industry an inch closer to the heart of Vermont’s brand.
On Friday, April 27, eleven Champlain College teams representing 92 students unveiled a slew of exciting games at the 11th annual Game Studio Senior Show. The teams, composed of graduating seniors with a few undergraduate lifts, presented their culminating works along with demo reels of their game design skills in a two-hour capstone event that counts among Vermont’s most exuberant celebrations of digital talent.
The evening was hosted by Studio Director Amanda Crispel, with welcome remarks by College President Don Laackman and a keynote address by Matthew Wiazowski, Talent Acquisition Manager at Ubisoft Montréal. Eleven teams spent the next two hours wowing friends and faculty, parents and industry reps with the culminating products of their four years -- and sometime as many as six Crispel reminded us -- at the Game Studio. While it was a little bit difficult to get a strong sense of the game play experience from demo reels, most exciting were the brief video resumés of each student, each demonstrating their skills as producers, programmers, artists and level designers, narrative writers and animators, sound engineers and scrum masters.
A selection of Game Studio student art. Top Left: Ren Golis. Top Right: Sam Shaw and Cole Kirkpatrick. Middle Left: Colton Orr and Alana Slattery. Middle Right: Tori Vergara. Bottom Left: Sophie Forman. Bottom Right: Jodie Garner.
Its difficult to discern how much of an influence being in Vermont had on these young developers and the world views reflected in their work, but a few things really stood out as a cohort. Foremost was the optimism; these were not cynical and angularly masculine games. Rather they embodied a playful disposition that treated their players with respect and provide them largely wholesome interactions motivated by our higher impulses — curiosity, wonder, cooperation and delight.
These were also really inventive and innovative games; while production wasn’t always complete and fully realized, it was obvious that students were combining really unlike concepts (Squid! Robots!) to produce completely novel and irresistible gameplay experiences. Some games like the arcade fighter LUCHA MEGADRIVE felt inspired by classic titles such as STREET FIGHTER and the arena first person shooter RE[MOD] is familiar to fans of laser tag while integrating LAN play to make it a fun and gore-free experience with friends.
Backpacker tried a few of the games, and four standouts for us are FORESAKEN FISH FIGHTERS, NAUTICAL NONSENSE, and TOYBOX. If we could give out ribbons, DAWN OF THE CELESTIAL POD would get our biggest and bluest one.
And of the sheer abundance of talent. In four years these students have developed voice and agency as young designers. Bringing their own style and panache to their games and reels, each student could clearly demonstrate a level of sophistication and choice-making in their work that is not celebrated often enough in Vermont.
The Games Expo that follows the Game Studio presentations is a rare and vibrant celebration of electronic arts in Vermont. From arcade cabinets to themed booths, the Expo provides students, faculty, recruiters, friends and family to celebrate student creativity.
Several of these games have been or will be released to Itch.io or Steam; their futures are however uncertain. You can support a few of them by checking them out and giving them a play when you download them here:
- DAWN OF THE CELESTIAL POD: Save starfish from evil space robots, available on Steam
And this is perhaps the single biggest takeaway from the Game Studio Expo: there is so much raw talent, a clear pipeline of product and enthusiasm for it — yet absolutely no in-state mechanism to support the most entrepreneurial students in getting their games into the market and to begin work on their next title.
While startups in manufacturing, agriculture and even software tend to have a range of supports and local expertise to mentor their early business ideas within the state, young people in the creative industries — especially entertainment, where the risks of failure are high, costs are significant and talent development takes time — face a dearth of effort to retain their products and skills. It is perhaps telling that few familiar faces from Vermont’s entrepreneurial community were visible at the Game Studio Senior Show — but they should be. Not only do these young people have incredible “hard” skills in C/C++ programming, Maya animation and Unity development among others -- they are the inspired and creative wells of new products, services and companies for Vermont.
Congratulations to all 92 graduates of this year’s Game Studio Class of 2018 — here’s raising a goblet to your talent and creativity, and wishing you every success as you venture into the global creative economy and wherever it leads you.