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Article by The Brock Press about Awaken's win at the 2013 Level Up Showcase in Toronto, ON.

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On April 3, The Design Exchange at 234 Bay St. in Toronto will be hosting the Level Up Gaming Showcase. This unique event will grant student game developers in various college and university programs — such as design, animation and computer science — the opportunity to show off their skills in game design to video game industry professionals.

Steve Engels, Co-Organizer of Level Up and Senior Lecturer of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, described the event’s origin.

“It started out six years ago as something that I was doing for my class. And, at the end, to give my students sort of an incentive to make games that work, we had this expectation that the last milestone would be that they would have to set their games up and we’d invite all sorts of university people to come by and try to play out their games,” said Engels.

“Whatever the general public thought about their games would go towards their final mark. So, it wouldn’t be just arbitrarily trying to please the Professor, it would be about giving them a taste of the real world because it is within that arena that you would have to gauge what the public would like.”

Engels said the purpose of Level Up lies within a three-pronged paradigm.

“There are three purposes. The first is the students’ point of view; which is to give them a chance to show off the [games] that they have and their abilities to the general public, and maybe expose them to people who are hiring,” said Engels. “The second would be the industry’s point of view, it gives them a chance to see what kinds of new things people are doing at the universities. And, the third would be from our point of view, from the educational point of view. This means that the bigger the event, the more you feel the enormity of it, and the better the final result will be.”

Engels said that a wide variety of video game industry professionals will be in attendance, which will grant the students a chance to display their work and perhaps land that dream job.

“I know that there are people from Moviesoft coming, XMG Studios as they helped sponsor the event and Universal Canada are coming as they are our gold sponsor and helped fund a lot of it,” said Engels. “There are other sponsors like Uken Games, Zynga and Microsoft that will have people there. And then there’s a bunch of game companies like EA and Ubisoft that will be in attendance not to mention the dozens of indie game studios that will be there.”

Jean Bridge, Associate Professor in the Visual Arts program at Brock University and advocate for her students’ involvement in Level Up, said that it is with great pride that she sees her students participate in such an event.

“Brock’s Centre for Digital Humanities and the Interactive Arts and Science program, which is part of the Centre, is supporting the students’ participation [in Level Up],” she said. “So, we’re paying their expenses to get there, and we’re lending them equipment.”

Bridge said that when Brock learned about the showcase and brought it to the attention of the students, they asked if the students felt they were ready for this event.

“It’s a risk for them. Their game is just being completed right now. So, for them to take it and share it with the whole wide world, including the industry, as it is a showcase and it is student work, industry people are interested in seeing what kind of talent is emerging.”

Kevin Greene, Brock student and Game Developer for the game they are showcasing entitled Awaken, explained what the game is all about.

“Awaken is a first-person, puzzle and exploration game. You wake up in a bedroom with no memory of who you are or why you’re there, and you have this mysterious voice who speaks to you. You have to try to figure out why you’re in this house and try to escape it,” said Greene adding that they borrowed a lot of their influence for the game from the 2007, puzzle-heavy release: Portal.

Greene said that Awaken was developed based on the knowledge they have gained from theory courses in their program and that they wanted to create a game heavily based on narrative.

“Throughout our four years of being in the Interactive Arts and Science (IASC) program, [the Professors] put a lot into video game theory and what makes a good game. Our year wasn’t so focused on art as previous years, so we wanted to put a lot of our resources to building a great narrative and storytelling,” said Greene. “This is the first game in IASC that has branching dialogue, so you can choose your progression through the story. You can choose to answer pleasantly, confused or be rebellious. You essentially have the choice to make the main character the way you want her to be.”

For more information, visit levelupshowcase.com.

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