This is where competition and education meet.
The third annual Level Up Student Showcase in Toronto’s Design Exchange building saw 50 colleges and universities competing not only for awards, but the attention of prospective employers.
Students and spectators alike gathered earlier this month on the second floor of the Design Exchange to show off their videogame creations or to explore other presenters’ work.
Televisions and computers covered most of that space, depicting everything from traditional 2-D platformer games to works diverse scope, from the unconventional to the artistic.
Among them were Brock University first-time competitors, Tesseractive Games. They left the venue as first-time winners, too. Their demo, Awaken, won Tesseractive the “Best Game” award.
Advanced lighting effects cast flickering white across the pitch-black room on-screen, and its ambience left many feeling as if they were in for a horror game, said Jess Bradshaw, one member of Tesseractive.
Bradshaw, 21, instead described the experience as a sort of “[Adobe] Flash ‘escape the room’ game,” only in three dimensions.
“Hopefully this means better grades,” said Nick Kotsopoulos, 23, another member of Tesseractive Games, of the team’s win.
Tesseractive left the floor happy, but not everyone remained so enthusiastic.
“I’ll admit, I’m a little heartbroken…but I’ll live,” said Evan Browning, 23, of OCAD’s Computer Science program. His game, Frost, which he created with classmate Michael Margel, took an artistic spin on the third-person action genre.
Frost puts players in control of a character that changes shape and colour according to decisions made in the game. Choices like what to eat for dinner or how many pieces of wood to put in the stove converge to make an array of 100,000 combinations of actions – all of which have different effects on what form the main character takes, said Margel, 24.
The game was inspired by the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken, and challenges players to make decisions that few other players would make. When the game comes to an end, it starts over, inviting players to try for a different outcome.
A new program from OCAD, Digital Futures, offered up student work that displayed the program’s values: the merger of art, science, design and enterprise.
“It’s unusual to see all four brought together,” said Tom Barker, 47, chair of the Digital Futures initiative at OCAD. Only Digital Futures students would invent ways of getting the public’s attention by giving out buttons or drawing caricatures while spectators played their games. The Digital Futures Initiative, a one-year program, leaves students with about seven weeks to build their game from the ground up.
Students this year were given the theme of the seven deadly sins to work with in creating their game. The theme of gluttony inspired a side-scrolling platformer in which players control a squirrel, hoarding acorns.
Lust inspired a game called Love Tunnel, a matching game, where the goal is to pair up people of different genders and sexual preferences.
Not all the deadly sins made it to the show, due to time constraints, but Something…Extra made it in by the skin of its teeth.
“Most of my group was generally absent,” said Fergai Pascual, 18. He says he was the game’s sole creator, doing everything from art to coding, and made note that for a game about sloth, it seemed strange that none of his group members made any effort.
Of the 50 groups of students that attended Level Up, two groups were made up of Sheridan grads, found in a darkened corner at the very back of the showcase, under an emergency exit sign.
Riley Seibert, a graduate of Sheridan’s Game Level Design post-grad program, made a tower defense game called Trees vs. Lumberjacks. The game took Seibert, 21, six months to complete with his partner, Daniel Judah.
“It’s got that overall theme of killing lumberjacks,” said Judah, 26. “But don’t worry – [the lumberjacks are] just robots…so it’s not too morbid.”
The other game from Sheridan was an action sidescroller, in the vein of Nintendo’s Megaman or Ninja Gaiden.
“It’s all about the challenge,” said one of the game’s creators, Jon Senson, 27, who put an emphasis on pattern recognition. The game took him and his partner four months to complete.
Sitting at his demo booth was Jim Lee, 22, his eyes darting around the screen in resolve. The play-time, displayed at the upper right corner, read twenty minutes.
“I don’t like losing a game,” Lee said, “so I’m going to keep trying for a little bit.”Senson stood behind him, smiling.
“That’s always a good thing to see,” Senson said. “Watching people keep going and sticking with it.”