ATEC Welcomes Dr. Josef Nguyen

Dr. Josef Nguyen

The School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication has welcomed a new tenure-track faculty member to its staff this fall.

Dr. Josef Nguyen, an expert in play and game studies, comes to UT Dallas from the University of California, Davis, where he was affiliated with the ModLab, an experimental lab for media research and digital humanities. Embodying ATEC’s interdisciplinary nature, Nguyen’s research interests lie at the intersection of technology, literature and digital media.

“ATEC faculty model how to collaborate across differences as they demonstrate deep expertise, intellectual flexibility and collegial open-mindedness,” said Dr. Anne Balsamo, dean of the school. “Collaboration across differences changes the conversation for everyone. Dr. Nguyen is a perfect fit to the ATEC philosophy.”

In 2015, the University announced the creation of the school, which offers degrees in emerging media and communication and arts and technology,  in response to the growth in both the arts and technology and emerging media and communication programs. Last spring, 1,195 undergraduates, 119 master’s students and 25 doctoral candidates were enrolled in the programs.

“The School of Arts, Technology and Emerging Communication is a destination for artists, designers, scholars, researchers, and reflective practitioners who seek to collaborate on intentional future-making through the creation of new cultural forms, the design of new technological experiences, the production of new knowledge, and the transformation of culture industries,” Balsamo said.

The school is housed in the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building, which holds classrooms for game design, 2-D and 3-D art studios, a motion capture lab, a recording studio and 3-D fabrication labs.

New Tenure-Track Faculty

Dr. Josef Nguyen, assistant professor of arts and technology

Previously: doctoral candidate at the University of California, Davis

Research interests: play and game studies, digital media and culture, science and technology studies, contemporary literature, cultural constructions of creativity and innovation

Quote: “I am excited to join the UT Dallas community through the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication. I look forward to the collaborative learning and research environment here that will allow me to investigate how the decisions involved in the design, development, circulation, engagement, and disposal of digital media are always political. I am particularly eager to work with students and fellow faculty on assignments and projects that integrate rigorous critical analysis with thoughtful and socially conscious design.”

New Faculty Series

News Center is publishing profiles of tenured and tenure-track professors who have recently joined the University. The following school profiles have been published:

ATEC Student Serves Winning T-Shirt Design for Second Straight Year

Fayna Zeng
Fayna Zeng’s design will appear on T-shirts worn by American Southwest Conference champions in 2016-17.

It’s no surprise to faculty members in theSchool of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication that one of their students has won a regional design competition for the second year in a row. The graphic design created by UT Dallas sophomore Fayna Zeng will be used on 2016-17 American Southwest Conference championship T-shirts after a vote of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

Zeng is the first two-time winner of the annual ASC Championship T-Shirt Design Challenge after her winning design last season. She is a double major in arts and technology and emerging media and communication.

“Fayna’s winning design this year is impressive, and it reflects our school’s consistent, yet innovative, approach toward design curriculum,” said Dr. Jillian Round, a clinical assistant professor of arts and technology. “Her designs are well-thought out through use of color, shape, texture, space, form, unity, balance, hierarchy, emphasis and contrast. I am very proud of her accomplishment.”

Zeng said she wanted to try something different from last year’s winning design. She chose a palette of blue, black and white for the 2016 gray shirt. Her design has a Western feel, with stars that are reminiscent of a sheriff’s badge, as well as reflecting Texas and the conference, and a general standard of excellence. Swirling ribbons symbolize the finish line in a race.

“I wanted to change it up a bit and get out of my comfort zone a bit and not have it be perfectly aligned like last year’s design,” Zeng said. “The light blue stands out, but doesn’t clash. I also like the use of drop shadow and fade-in colors to make it stand out on a gray background.”

Her designs are well thought-out through use of color, shape, texture, space, form, unity, balance, hierarchy, emphasis and contrast. I am very proud of her accomplishment.

Dr. Jillian Round,
clinical assistant professor of arts and technology

Round said Zeng’s design is a textbook example of what she’s learned in her design principles classes at UT Dallas, where she’s studied typography, graphic design, logos, information design, color theory and composition.

The design will be displayed on the front of the short-sleeved T-shirts that all conference champions receive after their victories.

As a member of the UT Dallas volleyball team, which won its conference title last year, Zeng is hoping she gets to wear her own T-shirt design again this year.

“It was a good feeling. It was fun to see my teammates and our men’s soccer team wearing my design after winning conference titles last year. I really wanted to win the design competition again to represent my school outside of volleyball,” Zeng said.

The contest is open to all students of ASC schools. Zeng’s design is the third-consecutive winning artwork by a UT Dallas student. As a senior golfer and emerging media and communication major, Dylan Carroll won for his design in 2014.

UT Dallas students keep winning, Round said, because they not only learn theoretically sound design principles, they also learn how to put the theory into practice using design problem-solving techniques.

“It’s not a mystery to us here why she won. She did it right,” Round said. “Good design is just nice to look at. I cannot say enough how proud we are of her.”

ATEC Juniors Place First in National Game Design Competition


Originally written for The Mercury by Esteban Bustillos 

Foofaraw is defined as a great deal of fuss or attention to a minor matter. ATEC juniors David McCullough and Brandon Blakemore had never used the word before Sept. 23, but they had to learn it on the fly to win first place at this year’s “Chillenium,” a game jam held at Texas A&M University that attracts game developers from across the country.

The concept of a game jam is simple: Participants have a set amount of time, in this case 48 hours, to create a functioning videogame from scratch. Judges then play the game and measure it on everything from concept to playability.

ATEC Juniors David McCullough (right) and Brandon Blakemore bounced between a few ideas before settling on “Don’t Rock the Boat,” a game centered around a waiter who tries to serve customers while on a ship rocking back and forth. Photo by Esteban Bustillos, Mercury staff

This year’s “Chillenium” featured students from 11 different universities from across the country, who came to College Station to compete. Once there, they were told to center their games around one word: foofaraw. Then the clock started to countdown. The 48 hours had begun.

McCullough and Blakemore first heard about the contest through the Student Game Developer Alliance at UT Dallas. “Chillenium’s” coordinator, Ben House, reached out to SGDA President Grant Branam to invite UTD to participate. Several teams from UTD, including Branam’s, competed in the contest.

“We didn’t really know what to expect going in, but it was my first game jam, so I was super excited anyways and we had a lot of interest,” Branam said.

A group of about 20 people got together and headed down to Texas A&M, where 243 other students packed into an auditorium in the campus’ equine complex. McCullough and Blakemore said long rows of tables were littered with wires spewing from computers in the temporary game studio.

“The first few hours I was really hyped,” McCullough said. “I was looking around like, ‘This is really cool.’”

The game can be played at the following link:

Once they were given the topic, McCullough and Blakemore, equipped with their custom PCs, did what any logical developer would do — they Googled what foofaraw meant.

Then, they started to brainstorm concepts centered on the game’s jam theme, coming up with ideas varying from a game about cats to a hotel manager taking care of guests to a cooking game.

“We were trying to focus on the minor thing but making a big deal about it,” Blakemore said.

Eventually, around 3 a.m. on Saturday after having scrapped their other plans, Be Chill, as McCullough and Blakemore dubbed their team, settled on the idea of a game about a waiter trying to serve water to customers on a cruise ship rocking back and forth.

Titled “Don’t Rock the Boat,” the top-down game features players looking down from above as a dapper waiter frantically runs up and down a deck while crates, chairs and people move back and forth threatening his health. On the left side of the screen, meters track how quickly patrons are drinking their water, forcing the player to get their refills before they run out, all while having to fill up on his own water supply from sinks located every few meters in the level. If they fail to adequately serve even one customer before they run out of water, they lose.

McCullough and Blakemore only got around four hours of sleep a night during the competition. “Chillenium” offered contestants a large room for them to sleep in, but the duo took other routes for rest, with McCullough opting to sleep on the marble floor of the main room with just a pillow and blanket and Blakemore sleeping in his car at least once over the course of the weekend.

The pair split up the duties of making the game, with McCullough focusing on the engineering and the art and Blakemore taking care of the level and sound design.

“From the beginning, it’s really just getting stuff moving on the screen, getting the core mechanic in so that we could build off that,” McCullough said. “And then from there it’s like, ‘OK, well now we need a win-state or a lose-state.’ Then once we had that, it’s like, ‘OK, now we need a menu and a tutorial.’”

After working through the 48 hours and multiple setbacks, including a power surge that did not wipe out all of their work, it finally came time to turn in the game.

McCullough and Blakemore said they didn’t expect much, honestly thinking they would get third place at best because of what they still could have tweaked.

“We were bummed out,” Blakemore said. “We thought it was just average or whatever.”

When the judges announced the winners, they had to calm the crowd down, telling them to “be chill.” Not surprisingly, that made it all the more confusing when the judges announced Be Chill as the first-place winners.

“Right after (saying ‘be chill’), with no tone difference, (the judge) just goes, ‘Be Chill,’” McCullough said. “And no one says anything, because everyone thinks he’s still saying ‘be chill.’ So I stand up and I go, ‘Be Chill?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, team Be Chill!’”

McCullough explained what helped “Don’t Rock the Boat” stand out among the competition is exactly what the conference focused on: attention to detail.

“Something that’s really important that a lot of people kind of miss in game development is just like game feel or like polish, just making individual interactions within the game fun,” he said. “So there’s there’s just a lot of visual feedback.”

Along with taking home the trophy, McCullough and Blakemore got access to development programs professionals use, $50 in Steam cash that can be used on the PC gaming network and tickets to South by Southwest, which they got after the game impressed a SXSW representative.

They also were accepted into Startup Aggieland, a job creation program at Texas A&M focused on startups. They’ll have office space and professional contacts to help them eventually publish the game.

Knowing that they went up against developers from across the country and beat them is still sinking in for McCullough and Blakemore, who plan to use their experience at “Chillenium” to help further their careers.

“This is our crowning achievement,” Blakemore said. “We’ve been working to be acknowledged and this is kind of the first sign that we’re doing something right.”

Additionally, a team from UTD consisting of SGDA vice president Kyle Ruffin, Hannah Barnes, Veronica Liu, and Alex An won Crowd Favorite at this years Chillenium.