ATEC Undergrad’s Artistic Pursuits Lead to Game Industry Scholarship

Heidi Neunhoffer
Heidi Neunhoffer

Midway through her freshman year studying communication design at the University of North Texas, Heidi Neunhoffer came across UT Dallas in a publication listing the University among 100 other schools deemed the best in animation education.

She said the arts and technology program, in particular drew her attention.

“I’ve always been interested in art,” Neunhoffer said. “I love observing the world, watching movies, playing games, thinking about stories, but for a while, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with art. I just wanted to draw and maybe tell stories. I really loved animation, but I never thought about who made it. Then, in high school, I found out a girl a few classes above me was going to Cal Arts to become an animator. She’s a great artist, and she really inspires me. I realized that if I really wanted to, I could go into animation too.”

After some careful consideration, she decided to transfer to UT Dallas to pursue her passion.

Now a senior, Neunhoffer has received the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) Foundation Scholarship, which supports students pursuing careers in the computer and video game industries. She was among 30 recipients representing institutions such as Duke University, Brown University and the University of Southern California.

“Institutions like UT Dallas rightly recognize the value in preparing students for careers in the video game industry, meeting a rising demand among students and eventual employers,” said Anastasia Staten, executive director of the foundation. “The ESA Foundation is committed to supporting this growth and has provided nearly 300 women and minority students with scholarships to pursue video game-related degrees, giving them not only the opportunity to follow their dreams, but also creating a pipeline of skilled and well-educated job candidates for the video game industry and other careers in STEM-related fields.”

The $3,000 scholarship will help Neunhoffer as she wraps up a fruitful undergraduate career.

Most recently, she had a hand in the preproduction of the annual short film created by the animation studio class. Neunhoffer had input with the script and storyboarding the project, which is in development.

“Heidi is a great example of the type of student who can excel within ATEC,” senior associate dean and associate professor Todd Fechter said. “She has the ability to take classroom concepts and expand them into something greater. Recently, she took it upon herself to create her own short story, complete with designs and storyboards. She created a nice presentation book and showed it to well-known industry professionals at this year’s CTN Animation Expo. They loved it! I’m not surprised. She is one of the most talented and dedicated students I’ve met.”

Neunhoffer has been hungry for opportunities to practice. She said preproduction design classes, taught by Fechter, allow her to hone her craft.

Neunhoffer also has served as a student assistant in the photography department since she began at UT Dallas. She helps with digital printing, mixing darkroom chemicals and assisting with maintenance of the Comer Collection of Photography.

She participates in Comet-Con’s Artist Alley every year, and is working on her ATEC Honors Capstone project.

“The ATEC program is really great because you get to choose what you want to focus on,” she said. “Going to school here has also helped me meet lots of people with similar interests, and it’s really given me time and resources to develop as an artist.”

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 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. 

Study Explores How Trustful Online Gamers Are with Their Information

Dr. Rosanna Guadagno

New research from UT Dallas shows that players of massively multiplayer online games, or MMOGs, who are motivated by social elements of online play display more trust in fellow players and a greater willingness to disclose personal information, particularly when the players were members of participants’ guild.

In a recent pilot study, Dr. Rosanna Guadagno, associate professor of psychology and emerging media and communication, expanded upon a growing body of work that explores the idea of trust in player psychology.

“Since the early days of the internet, people have used the technology to meet and befriend strangers,” Guadagno said. “People have found spouses, long-lost relatives and have had many positive and negative experiences while disclosing personal information to the people we encounter online. MMOGs are one such unique online context in which people need the cooperation of others to achieve their game-related goals, regardless of whether they are achievement, social/relational or something else. Understanding the how and why people disclose personal feelings and experiences to other video game players is crucial to understanding the ways in which cooperation and trust form as players interact with each other and work toward both individual and group goals.”

Using player characterizations established by Nick Yee, co-founder of the game analytics consulting practice Quantic Foundry, Guadagno examined patterns in trust and self-disclosure among players of MMOGs. Yee characterizes “social” players as motivated by relationships and teamwork, while “achievement” players are considered their antithesis, valuing progress, optimization and domination.

Guadagno found that “achievement” players were less likely to trust and cooperate with other players, while “social” players exhibited higher levels of self-disclosure. Her study further demonstrated that players are more trusting of other players who are part of their guild — a group of players who share a common chat channel, group identifier and play together regularly, relative to players who belong to other guilds or are not in a guild.

Understanding the how and why people disclose personal feelings and experiences to other video game players is crucial to understanding the ways in which cooperation and trust form as players interact with each other and work toward both individual and group goals.

Dr. Rosanna Guadagno,
associate professor of psychology and emerging media and communication

The pilot study drew from a pool of 37 participants who were first asked to complete the Online Gaming Motivations Scale — developed by Yee and a team of researchers at the Palo Alto Research Center — to determine their motivation type. Participants also were assessed based on their willingness to share information, items and personal details with other players as a function of their group membership.

Guadagno said future research will consider factors such as inclination to attack others in understanding how and why people trust and disclose information to people they only know through the computer screen.

“Social science research has long demonstrated that there is often a disconnect between the way people report their past behavior and what an outside observer might report,” she said. “This is in part because people do not always understand why they behave a certain way and in part because of biases in the way we interpret and report on our past behavior. Essentially, people want to look good in the eyes of others. Together, this makes it difficult to be 100 percent certain that self-reported behavior is accurate. So assessing real gameplay in the future will allow my research team to record events as they take place and this will result in more confidence in our findings.”

The research was presented at the 16th annual meeting of the Association of Internet Researchers in Phoenix.

UT Dallas Magazine: Alumna Brings Games of the Past Back to Life

Editor’s Note: The following is an Alumni Perspective feature written by April Pruitt BA’14. This article first appeared in UT Dallas Magazine.

April Pruitt and family
April Pruitt BA’14 shares a passion for video games with her son Jake and husband Jeremy. The family is shown in the National Videogame Museum in Frisco, Texas.

VIDEO GAMES: Before they were in our pockets, they were on our televisions and before that, they were in a dark arcade room filled with sights and sounds that are still part of our culture. They are the media that combine art with technology.

In 2014, I completed a degree in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on art and technology and business management. I was an older student, getting my education and raising a family at the same time.

I felt a little out of sync with some of my younger classmates. For instance, the games of my youth were “Galaga” and “Pac-Man” — often played in arcades where I tried to progress through the various levels while getting the most play from a 25-cent investment on a console without a pause button. Many who grew up with modern games like “Portal” and “Halo” just didn’t understand the attraction to the arcade games. Fortunately there were enough fellow classic game enthusiasts at UTD to found a club for those with similar interests.

My goal after graduation was to work in the animation and video game industry. Little did I expect that I would be re-creating an arcade from the 1980s, an adventure that began when I read that the National Videogame Museum would be established in Frisco, Texas.

When I reached out to museum founders Joe Santulli, John Hardie and Sean Kelly to offer my help, it turned out that they were just as excited to hear from me since they needed help getting more than 40 different games ready for regular play.

Joe, John and Sean provided a storage locker full of classic arcade games (some of which are more than 50 years old) including “Computer Space,” the original dedicated “Pong,” “Galaga,” “Centipede” and “Q-bert.” Most were in rough shape and would need work both inside and out.

Because the average game weighs over 300 pounds, I enlisted the help of my husband, Jeremy, who has some amazing woodworking skills. We began working in the storage locker because the museum’s building wouldn’t be ready for several months. In the hot Texas sun, we pulled games apart, taking out heavy CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors that hold a 10,000-volt charge, whether plugged in or not. It was overwhelming, but I love a great adventure, especially if it involves technology.

The Frisco Discovery Center was eventually ready for the museum to start moving in. The move allowed us to continue making repairs, but in a climate-controlled, powered and safe environment.

After moving the games into the museum, Joe, Jeremy and I visited a local arcade auction and were fortunate to find a number of other games, including the power couple themselves — “Pac-Man” and “Ms. Pac-Man.”

Repairing classic video games is a complicated task. Each game manufacturer has its own way of building arcade games, from the main printed circuit board to the cabinet holding it.

Several main components are included in all the games: the monitor, main game board, power board and power brick. But these items may be presented in completely different ways in each game. For example, “Missile Command” has only one board for the main computer with audio built onto the power board, but “Spy Hunter” has a four-board stack for the main computer and smaller boards mounted all over the cabinet, for a total of 12 different circuit boards.

The technology for game display also varies. Some machines, such as “Asteroids,” are vector-based, meaning that the scene is drawn on the fly rather than having a picture move across the screen. These complex games require a special vector monitor and specific testing equipment for the boards.

The bulk of my job, though, was not patching wires but conducting research — a lot of it. For board repairs, I needed to locate technicians for each manufacturer.  Many of the technicians are engineers whose hobbies include classic video games. Someone who regularly repaired Atari games, such as “Space Duel,” probably wouldn’t have the expertise to repair Taito’s  “Zoo Keeper.”  I was fortunate to have my husband’s help with the sometimes months-long quest for technicians, as well as handling shipping the boards for repairs.

Besides pulling monitors and other support boards that often needed 30-year-old capacitors and other components replaced, I repaired unfortunate wiring configurations made possible by an abundant use of electrical tape or even duct tape. I never knew what I would find in a machine, since many had been on location in bars or stuck in a barn for years.

The new home for these classic games, the National Videogame Museum, is the first of its type in the U.S., dedicated to preserving the history of the video game. The 10,000-square-foot facility includes interactive exhibits for electronic games of all kinds, including handhelds, consoles, and the area where I devote the most time — a replica arcade from the ’80s.

Every time I am at the museum, I experience a feast for the eyes.

A black light responsive theme created by a local artist includes a sculpted foam centipede that appears to come out of the wall, providing an authentic arcade feel. Local artists also created murals throughout the museum depicting video game characters ranging from Mario to Lara Croft. Interactive exhibits about the history of video games include the world’s largest “Pong” and Super Nintendo controllers with buttons that are the size of an adult hand. Little-known gaming systems are displayed throughout. Collectible promotional items— stuffed dolls, hats, keychains, patches and even cereal boxes — fill display cabinets. And thanks to donated furniture from well-known game designer and producer Randy Pitchford of Gearbox Software, visitors can see a replica of his office.

Working in the museum is an amazing experience, one that I will remember for a lifetime. I am grateful for the opportunity to bring these classic games back to life.

UT Dallas Magazine
Spring 2016

UT Dallas Magazine cover Spring 2016

Read the UT Dallas Magazineonline or with the magazine’s iTunes app.

ATEC School’s Game Design Programs Rank Among the Nation’s Best

Animation lab
The School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication has been recognized by The Princeton Review for its game design programs. UT Dallas has made the Princeton top 25 list every year since 2010

The University of Texas at Dallas has been included in The Princeton Review’s latest assessment of “Top Schools for Game Design,” with theArts and Technology (ATEC) graduate program making the top 10.

Based on a survey of administrators at 150 institutions in the United States, Canada and abroad offering game design degree programs or courses, the ranking puts UT Dallas’ graduate program in the ninth spot and its undergraduate program at 11th on the list.

“For students aspiring to work in game design, the 58 schools that made one or both of our 2016 lists offer extraordinary opportunities to learn and to hone one’s talents for a successful career in this burgeoning field,” Robert Franek, senior vice president and publisher of The Princeton Review, said in a news release.

“The faculties at these schools are outstanding. Their facilities are awesome. And their alumni include legions of the industry’s most prominent game designers, developers, artists and entrepreneurs.”

The Princeton Review started ranking video game design programs in 2010 after recognizing a surge in the amount of options available, and UT Dallas has since ranked in the top 25 every year.

“ATEC’s strength in gaming is its interdisciplinary nature,” said associate professor Dr. Monica Evans MA’04, PhD’07 who helped establish ATEC’s Game Production Lab.

“We specialize in things that don’t quite exist yet. There’s a great deal of untapped potential in games as an expressive medium, which we explore through collaboration with our colleagues in education, science, technology, business and the arts,” Evans said. “ATEC is an outstanding place to pursue impactful, groundbreaking work in games, and I’m extremely proud of our school, our students and our faculty in game development and game studies.”

The ATEC program began in 2004 under the auspices of the School of Arts and Humanities, and it quickly grew into one of UT Dallas’ most popular programs. It moved into a new home with the creation of theEdith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building and was established as an independent school with the Emerging Media and Communication (EMAC) program in 2015.

Game Lab Fosters Innovation


A creative director mimics running in slow motion as artists around him take notes, brainstorming ideas for character movement. Executive producers meet with the engineering team in the corner, reviewing the latest software build. Level designers in another room sketch the many environments to be included in the game.

This is a typical day for students enrolled in the Game Production Lab course — more commonly known as Game Lab. The course, which has been offered since 2008, serves as a hub for collaboration and creativity while giving students the opportunity to see what it’s like to have a profession in gaming.

“Most, if not all, of the students in Game Lab want to go into the game industry and are considering that as a career,” said Michael Breault, a clinical professor in Computer Game Design and co-teacher of the course.

The course, which is one of the highest-level production courses offered to undergraduate and graduate students, operates on a semester-by-semester basis. Around 50 game projects are pitched to Breault and a handful of other faculty.

From this pool, eight are chosen for live pitches. Then, two are developed during the following semester. Typically, 20 undergraduates and 10 graduates are chosen for the course. For Breault, who helped develop the successful “Dungeons & Dragons” board game, the Game Lab’s team-based environment is an especially important component of the course.

“The students get to work with all these different people — not just people who have different specialties, but different personalities,” he said. “It’s very different from developing a project on your own or with your friends, because there are people you may not get along with. You have to work with them and make sure everybody’s pulling in the same direction. It becomes a very honest appraisal of how much these students like the game industry.”

Monica Evans, who received the first ever Ph.D. from the ATEC program and went on to establish the Game Lab course when she returned as a faculty member, pointed out the student driven nature of the course.

“The games that come through are pitched by the students, and are developed by the students,” Evans said.

Students are placed on one of two projects for the semester and serve as directors, producers, engineers, artists, animators and narrative designers. After eight weeks of initial development, there is a public presentation in which the creators put their game on computers so anyone in the university can play it.

A survey is provided so the creators can receive feedback. At the end of the next eight weeks, the components of the game are finalized and the team begins to polish and debug the game.

“It very much mimics the stages a real game goes through,” Breault said.

Because of the amount of effort that students put into the course, Evans noted students become extremely invested in their work.

“Most of the games (created) in the last few years of Game Lab have gone on to be in production outside of the classroom as well,” she said.

For example, Michael Stewart — a recent ATEC graduate — helped create a game called “Push and Pull” during Game Lab’s spring 2015 semester and later received offers to publish it, prompting him and his team members to continue developing the game.

Stewart and his partner, Dean Soeder, came up with the idea for “Push and Pull,” a game about creatures who use the power of magnetism to move objects, during the fall of 2014. After several rounds of bug testing and polishing, they presented their prototype to Scott Swearingen, another faculty member leading the course, who then suggested pitching the project to Game Lab for full production. In addition to successfully lobbying the idea, Stewart and Soeder managed to convince the faculty to have all 30 students in the lab work on their project, rather than splitting the students between two projects.

“I was the lead director, which meant I was (involved) with every aspect of the game,” Stewart said. “I was building a bridge of communication between all the different teams.”

Part of the challenge for Stewart was ensuring that his vision for the game was consistent with the visions of his team members.

“The first thing I did with my team was making sure that everyone felt like this game was theirs, not just mine,” he said.

For Stewart, there are exciting opportunities ahead in the world of gaming. He is currently working towards obtaining his MFA from the ATEC program, is serving as a teaching assistant for the undergraduate Game Design I class and is collaborating with the Perot Museum to develop educational games for children. In addition, “Push and Pull” was recently featured at PAX South, a popular gaming convention that took place in San Antonio this year. Stewart said he attributes part of his success to the skills he gained in Game Lab.

“It allowed me to sharpen my soft skills, especially in terms of working with people,” he said. “I learned how to work on a team and lead a team at the same time.”

For Evans, who created the course, Game Lab has evolved to become one of the highlights of the ATEC program.

“It’s one of the things I’m proudest of,” she said. “Game Lab is one of the ways in which all of our students can come together and make something spectacular.”

Reprinted from The Mercury

ATEC Team Creates Exercises in Science with Museum Video Games

Feral hogs are destroying local farms, colonies of bees are disappearing and giant asteroids are on a collision course with Earth. But there’s hope: You can help solve these problems by playing the newest video games developed by UT Dallas students.

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science and the University’s Arts and Technology (ATEC) program have collaborated during the past nine months to create a series of educational games that emphasize the importance of STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The results of this collaboration are on display in the Game Lab, a dedicated space in the Perot Museum that allows guests to play the games.

The games are intended to provide a fun, interactive learning experience that also enhances the understanding of science with simulations.

“Over the last several months, our teams have collaborated to create video games we believe can be fun, engaging platforms for exploring important real-world science topics,”said Steve Hinkley, vice president of programs for the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.

“Stop the Hogs” challenges players to prevent invading feral hogs from multiplying and devastating local farmlands.
“Stop the Hogs” challenges players to prevent invading feral hogs from multiplying and devastating local farmlands.

“Through this project, our guests will experience the unique creations of some of the next generation’s brightest minds — and the UT Dallas students have an opportunity to inspire tens of thousands of people through their work. It’s a winning combination for everyone involved.”

The games at the museum include: “Gravity Defense,” an interactive game where users save the Earth from asteroids by moving their bodies in an attempt to pull asteroids safely away from Earth; “Pollen Nation,” which allows players to control a collection of bee colonies to pollinate the United States — players do this while battling colony collapse disorder; and “Stop the Hogs,” which challenges players to prevent invading feral hogs from multiplying and devastating local farmlands.

The students started designing their games in the spring semester, with more than 20 initial ideas. With the help of ATEC professor Dr. Timothy Christopher and Bonnie Pitman, distinguished scholar in residence and co-director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Museums, the students narrowed their focus and developed the games. The class is spending the fall semester testing and implementing the games for public use at the museum.

Bonnie Pitman
Bonnie Pitman

“The creativity and responsiveness of ATEC students and the excellent collaboration with the Perot Museum’s staff led to the development and evaluation of new resources using technologies for teaching science in the museum,” Pitman said.

“It has also given the students an opportunity to work with a nationally recognized science museum and to test, revise and present their ideas with the public. UTD’s Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Museums has been an active collaborator in this initiative that supports the University’s partnerships with the museums in our communities.”

Graduate student Stephenie Edwards was one of the students involved in the yearlong project.

“Working with the Perot Museum has been an amazing experience,” Edwards said. “All of the students have worked hard to get these games into the Game Lab. Knowing that so many people will have a chance to play the games is a rewarding dream come true for a lot of students interesting in making games.”

Preview Games During Spring Arts Festival


As part of the Spring Arts Festival, Arts and Technology students will showcase game projects on Friday, May 2 from 6:30-8:30 pm in ATC 3.101.  The games were produced in the fall 2013 and spring 2014 Game Production Lab  (ATEC 4350 and ATEC 6345), a course structured to simulate the game development industry.

Games to be showcased

Comrade Quest 

Comrade1 The vision of Comrade Quest is in two parts: one, to provide gamers with the chance to play a game together in person, and two, to offset all the games with negative portrayals of Russians.

Although many games feature multiplayer experiences online, there are few games that feature local multiplayer. Comrade Quest is a game in which a group of friends or strangers can play cooperatively in the same room. Local multiplayer is special, because it gives players a reason to invite friends over. Rather than just sitting alone in a home, chatting or typing to a screen, local multiplayer requires people to invite friends over to play. In a society where social isolation is becoming increasingly common, creating more games that foster face-to-face human interaction may help reverse that trend. For many, having genuine social interaction helps combat depression and anxiety from isolated living.Comrade2

Secondly, Comrade Quest provides a counter a market saturated with McCarthyism. So many games currently on the market portray communism and Russians, as inherently bad. Video games, and Western culture in general, tend to relegate Russians to villain roles. Popular Western films, such as the James Bond movies and many other action movies, depict Russians as power-hungry villains with a thirst for blood. Instead of shoehorning Russians into villainous roles, Comrade Quest casts them as heroes.

Solar Rim

Solar1In the vacuum of open space, Freelancers make their fortunes by collecting rare minerals from asteroid fields and collecting bounties on the less savory of their kind. This demo of Solar Rim puts the player in the boots of one such Freelancer and pits them against up to three other players across a network. The pace of the game shifts drastically when Freelancers meet each other and fight to the death. Multiplayer, full six-directional movement, and randomly generated asteroid fields keep players coming back time after time, and that’s only the beginning.

Unlike other mining simulators, Solar Rim is more about adventure than it is discovery. While it maintains the casual pace of similar games when players explore, mine, and build (not yet implemented), the pace of the game turns completely on end when players are pitted against their worst enemy: other players. Nothing in Solar Rim tells players that they have to kill each other, but the nature of having a gun and mining blocks that become ammo instantly pits players against anything that moves. The type of block used as ammo alters how this combat plays out, allowing players to choose between a “spray-and-pray” method or a skilled assassin at a moments notice, provided that have the resources to do so or the time to find them.

Solar2The essentials are in place to build an adventure upon. The pace shift and ammo mining system lay the foundation for a larger game that will muddy the line between cooperative and competitive multiplayer. The last piece of the puzzle is a task which unifies players against a common foe, but will they turn on their “friends” once the dust settles? How do you hold digital players accountable for their actions? What sort of story will develop when life and death–peace and war–hang on the building blocks of the world?


Shroud Shroud1

Shroud is a game designed to push the limits of player coordination without being overly punishing. The player controls two characters with an organic time limit meant to push the player to a solution within those constraints. The project takes common puzzle game conventions and subverts them by manipulating the way the player interacts with the environment, as well as applying cooperative gameplay to a single player experience. The game presents thematic undertones that propose the social issues such as big business and pollution, but handle them from a casual platform.


Fissure is a game where the player is able to navigate a space in unconventional ways. The game gives the player the experience of a tribal orc who has gained sacred powers and who must now escape the rocky terrain he has been trapped in. During the game, the player is given two powers that must be blended together to traverse the level. The player is given a magic bubble to float inside, which is useful for those less experienced and a teleporting power for the speed runners of the game. Our level shows both how the environment can be built around the use of the powers and the potential that these mechanics give for further development of Fissure.


The full list of games to be featured includes

Spring 2014 Semester
Comrade Quest
Spring 2014 Semester
Spring 2014 Semester
Power Stone
Spring 2014 Semester
Solar rim
Spring 2014 Semester
Castor and Pollux
Fall 2013 Semester
The Fast and The Fjorius
Fall 2013 Semester
Body Shop
Fall 2013 Semester
Control Room
Fall 2013 Semester
Fall 2013 Semester

The Student Arts Festival features the work of over 600 students from more than 40 courses. The festival takes place over five days, offering audiences the opportunity to roam from one building to another, taking in classical, jazz, dance, guitar, piano and vocal performances, as well as an art exhibition and reception. View the full schedule for the Student Arts Festival.

Princeton Review Ranks Game Design Program Among Top in Nation

For the third year in a row, UT Dallas’ Arts and Technology program was named by The Princeton Review as one of the top graduate game design program in the nation.

The list, “Top Schools To Study Video Game Design For 2014,” salutes 39 institutions for their outstanding game design education programs.

The full list is available on The Princeton Review’s website.

About The Princeton Review

Founded in 1981, The Princeton Review is a privately held education services company headquartered in Framingham, MA. The Company has long been a leader in helping students achieve their education and career goals through its test preparation services, tutoring and admissions resources, online courses, and more than 150 print and digital books published by Random House, Inc. The Princeton Review delivers its programs via a network of more than 5,000 teachers and tutors in the U.S.A., Canada, and international franchises. The Company also partners with schools and guidance counselors worldwide to provide students with college readiness, test preparation and career planning services.