Another horde of enemies is approaching on the horizon. They speed, shoot and explode across the map with their target directly in sight. You fire back. Pew pew. Bang bang.
During the summer, local high school students came to UTA for a two-week workshop called SEED9, where the students collaborated with faculty and college students to bring a mobile video game to life. They called the end product Lazers In Space, a space shooter inspired and designed as an homage of the arcade video game Space Invaders.
“In the workshop, we make concept art, and they actually model out the characters,” said Joshua Wilson, art graduate teaching assistant. “They got to choose how it actually worked. They dictated what each little enemy would do.”
Wilson, who was the assistant on the SEED project in previous summers, was the head instructor and director of this summer’s workshop. Wilson said he specifically chose Lazers In Space as the summer project because of its simplicity.
“I decided it way before,” he said. “It has pixel art, which is a lot easier to produce, and then actually making models that are really boxy and somewhat two-dimensional in essence, is also really easy for them to model. I’ve done this workshop before in the past where we try to do really organic, complicated shapes, and it would end up taking them a really, really long time, and I’d have to help them out a lot. So I wanted something that they could do on their own simply enough.”
The project started with bringing the high schoolers together and having them introduce themselves. Then that was when they got to work, film senior Houston Hardaway said.
“We started out with the introduction to what we were going to do,” Hardaway said. “Then we designed enemies around that, they designed bosses as well, then we went through the process of figuring out what the enemies would do, then the students would draw those out, they modeled them in Maya. Then from there, we all composed the music for it and made all of the sound effects. Then part of it was my job to sort through those, find the ones that worked best, polish it, make sure it was ready for the game.”
Wilson said everything the students worked on over the summer was conceptual and focused heavily on visual design. Hardaway said one of the bigger challenges in the predevelopment stages was getting students out of their own style of drawing so that the game’s visuals could be consistent.
“If everyone does their own style, it’s going to look like a big mishmash,” he said. “You kind of have to set a style, then get everyone used to the style, especially when you’re not used to drawing in a uniform manner.”
After everything was finalized visually, Wilson said he programmed the final product himself.
“It took me about a month,” he said. “I put everything together, programmed it, then took another month to get approval from UTA to use their logos.”
The app is currently available on iTunes, Android and Google Play, and has about 300 downloads on iTunes and 100 on Android. Wilson, who has worked on many video games personally throughout his undergraduate career, said that video game development is a lengthy process, and that some people might not expect that.
“A lot of the times, people have a preconceived notion that making games is really fun and easy, because they like playing games,” Wilson said. “Sometimes, it abruptly shatters that dream they have when they see how much work goes into it. But I think that’s a good thing, and they see how many art disciplines that go into it.”
Wilson said the most important thing to remember when developing a video game is that it has to be fun.
“People have different philosophies on this, but my philosophy is that it has to have really, really, really good gameplay,” he said. “That’s the core of any game is how well it’s designed when we’re talking about mechanics, how things function, how it plays. It can be the ugliest game in the world, but if it’s the funnest thing in the world, I’m still going to probably play it.”
Hardaway agrees, saying that developers need to focus exclusively on interactivity.
“Everyone that comes in to start making video games, they want to make Skyrim, but what they really need to start making is Pac-Man,” he said.
Overall, Wilson enjoyed the workshop this summer and seeing high schoolers mature through the workshop.
“It was fun to slowly see them realize the mechanic process,” he said.