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. 

UX Design Marks Its Spot as Growing Career Path for ATEC Students

Cassini Nazir, clinical associate professor in the arts and technology program and director of design and research for the ArtSciLab, trains students in user experience design. “If businesses exist in a digital space — be it a website, app, digital kiosk — they need to invest in good design,” he said.

From Dell Technologies to Capital One, companies that rely on the use of intuitive customer experiences are finding a wealth of talented designers among students and alumni from theSchool of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at UT Dallas.

The ArtSciLab — the school’s transdisciplinary research lab focused on the intersection of art and science — is immersing students into the field of user experience, or UX, design.

Cassini Nazir, clinical associate professor in the arts and technology (ATEC) program and director of design and research for the lab, said UT Dallas is emerging as a leader in UX education in North Texas.

“There’s a growing trend in more courses focused on user experience (UX) design and interaction design at colleges across the nation,” he said. “Many of these concepts have come out of human computer interaction concepts, but design research and UX have really emerged as disciplines in their own right. Industry has helped by investing in design researchers and user experience designers in their spaces.”

Nazir said more companies, both established and startup, are employing a design-centric ethos, cognizant of the role UX plays in customer relations.

The Design Value Index — an evolving metric that tracks the value of companies that meet specific design-related criteria — showed in 2014 that 15 design-driven companies had outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index by 228 percent over 10 years.

Several enterprise-level companies such as Intuit and Sabre want to work with the ATEC program to recruit talent, he said.

“UTD has really benefited from it because there’s a boom of businesses setting up offices in Dallas,” said Nazir, who is part of the Dallas Design Council. “Many of those companies have been hiring teams of designers, and we’ve been successful in filling those needs.”

Emerging media and communication senior Lina Moon was selected to be a part of Capital One’s inaugural Design Development Program, where she will spend two years learning about different fields such as interaction design and coding.

Clear Line to Job Opportunities

The lab has had students move into design positions at companies such as Sabre, Cisco Systems, AT&T, Siemens, General Motors, Fossil and J.C. Penney.

Debi Terry Ndindjock BA’13, a digital experience designer at Dell, first gained an interest in UX design while taking the interaction design course as a sophomore.

Ndindjock considered herself as purely a graphic designer, but she said she was intrigued by the psychological aspects of design, realizing UX design merges the two concepts.

“The turning point was when (design consultant) Stephen Anderson visited our class and spoke about his work,” she said. “I knew that was what I wanted to do. Since it is a relatively new field, we get a part in defining the industry as a whole.

“UX design requires such varied skills and education: visual design, writing, research and technology. You get to get in where you fit in.”

Cathryn Ploehn BA’14 said the same course — taught by Nazir — also propelled her into the field. Ploehn also served as designer for the ArtSciLab.

“Cassini’s enthusiasm was a gateway to taking further related courses, and finally a capstone in UX,” she said. “The application of the concept of empathy to design and development captivated me.”

Ploehn, who manages UX design problems and data visualization for Visionist Inc., said that developing a sense of empathy is fundamental to what makes user experiences successful.

“Really listen to what a person says to you both inside and outside of a user research setting,” she said. “Try to feel what it is like to be somebody else. Practice by exposing yourself to points of view beyond your comfort zone.”

For senior and UX Club president Lina Moon, there wasn’t an aha moment that led to an interest in UX design.

“I think being part of the UX Club as an officer and working in the ArtSciLab really gave me the confidence to pursue the field further, as it gave me a good support network and provided me access to more collective knowledge,” Moon said.

In July, Moon started a full-time position with Capital One’s inaugural Design Development Program.

The two-year program pairs students and recent graduates with a mentor who guides new associates through different fields such as interaction design and coding.

The growing demand for UX designers can be attributed, at least in part, to the growing demands of consumers of digital products. Nazir said designers often play the role of customer lobbyist, researching and voicing the needs of consumers to their business.

“Audience expectations of what constitutes a good experience are now much higher than they were in the past,” he said. “If businesses exist in a digital space — be it a website, app, digital kiosk — they need to invest in good design.”

ATEC Professor Roger Malina Receives Honorary Degree

Roger Malina
Roger Malina

Arts and technology professor Roger Malina has been awarded an honorary degree from the Technical University of Valencia in Spain for his work promoting and advancing research at the intersection of art, science and technology.

The Spanish university cited his role as director of the ArtSciLab as a contributing factor. As a transdisciplinary research lab, the ArtSciLab focuses on innovative projects such as the podcast platform Creative Disturbance.

For 25 years, Malina has been involved with the Leonardo organizations, which his father founded in San Francisco and Paris. The organizations strive to promote work that explores the interactions between the arts and sciences, as well as between the arts and new technologies. Malina currently serves as the executive editor of the Leonardo journal, published by MIT Press.

Malina earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his doctorate in astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley.

Study Finds That Industry Norms Influence Journalists’ Ethical Behavior

Dr. Angela Lee
Dr. Angela Lee

Tasked with feeding the 24-hour news cycle, journalists must constantly consider the ethical nature of their reporting. A new study from UT Dallas suggests that their behavior is heavily influenced by industry peers.

The study, published in the Journal of Media Ethics, found that if journalists believed that others would approve of unethical behavior, they would be more likely to act unethically. Conversely, if they believed others were acting ethically, they were more likely to act ethically.

Dr. Angela Lee, assistant professor of emerging media and communication and the study’s author, divided her behavioral analysis into two types of social influence: descriptive norms and injunctive norms. Lee said that descriptive norms refer to what we think others do, whereas injunctive norms refer to what we think others want us to do.

“We applied these concepts from social psychology to journalism ethics and found that individual journalists may be more prone to act more ethically if they perceive ethical behavior is the norm in the field,” she said. “They are also more prone to act unethically if they perceive that unethical behavior is ‘approved of’ in the field.”

Lee found that descriptive norms account for almost half of the variance in ethical journalistic behaviors, while injunctive norms account for a little less than one-third of the variance in unethical journalistic behaviors.

She used the Reasoned Action Model (RAM), a classic persuasion model used in psychology, to explore the gap between journalists’ moral intentions and their actual behavior.

“The RAM theorizes that behavioral intention is the best predictor of behavior,” Lee said. “In other words, whether one is going to do ‘x’ is best predicted by whether one is ready and willing to engage in ‘x.’”

The study focused on a random sample of 374 journalists from 33 leading news outlets across all mediums, including The New York Times, NBC, USA Today and The Huffington Post.

Lee formulated six scenarios common among journalists to examine the ways injunctive and descriptive norms influenced their behavior:


  • Doing a story on an organization or club that you or someone in your family belongs to.
  • Using press releases or video releases without any editing or rewriting.
  • Editing elements of a photograph or video postproduction.
  • Adjusting image quality in a photograph.
  • Separating analysis and commentary from news reporting.
  • Reporting diverse perspectives in a story.

When asked about their most recent experiences, 20.6 percent of respondents had done a story on an organization or club that they or someone in their family belongs to; 49.3 percent had used a press or video release without any editing; 3.3 percent had edited elements of a photograph or video postproduction; 42.3 percent had adjusted the image quality of a photograph or video; 87 percent had separated analysis and commentary from news reporting; and 95.2 percent had reported diverse perspectives in a story.

Because of their special role in democratic societies, journalists have a professional obligation to deliver news information to the public responsibly and ethically.

Dr. Angela Lee,
assistant professor of emerging media and communication

Lee said it’s hard to say why the study shows descriptive norms have a stronger impact on ethical behavior, but research shows that journalists, compared with other professionals, are among the most capable of making good moral judgments. She said this weakens the impact of injunctive norms on unethical behavior.

Newsroom leaders can reinforce descriptive norms and curtail unethical behavior by regularly recognizing staff members who act ethically. On the other hand, news organizations also must make clear what is against the rules to reinforce injunctive norms, Lee said.

“Because of their special role in democratic societies, journalists have a professional obligation to deliver news information to the public responsibly and ethically,” Lee states in her paper. “Despite their notable moral compass, journalists do not always act on their abilities. Ways to encourage them to do so should be discovered and put into practice in newsrooms.”

ATEC helps brings experimental films to Nasher

Ultra-seeing image 

A unique series of films exploring the phenomenon of synesthesia and visual music will be screening at the Nasher Sculpture Center starting Sept. 11.

In a collaboration between ATEC and Light Cone, a French film organization that diffuses and preserves experimental cinema, the Ultra-seeing Film Series will feature monthly, hour-long sessions of major works selected from the archives of Light Cone’s collection. The exposition is spearheaded by Dr. Frank Dufour, professor in ATEC, and Emmanuel Lefrant, director of Light Cone with the support of the Cultural Service of the French Embassy in Houston.

The first screening will explore avant-garde cinema of the 1920s and ’30s, exploring movements from Dadism to Surrealism. The series will run until May, 2017.

Admission is free with RSVP. Register for the entire series or individual screenings at


Ultra-Seeing Film Fall Schedule:

Sunday, September 11 / 2 pm: Avant-Garde from the 1920s and 30s

RHYTHMUS 21 by Hans RICHTER (Germany) 1921-1923 / 16 mm / b&w/ silent / 3′ 19

SYMPHONIE DIAGONALE by Viking EGGELING (Germany) 1923-1924 / 16 mm / b&w/ silent / 6′ 40

LICHTSPIEL OPUS I by Walther RUTTMANN (Germany) 1921 / 16mm / color / sound / 11′

ANÉMIC CINÉMA by Marcel DUCHAMP (France) 1925-1926 / 16 mm / b&w/ sound / 7′ 05

DISQUE 957 by Germaine DULAC (France) 1928 / 16 mm or DVD / b&w/ silent / 6′ 00

KREISE by Oskar FISCHINGER (Germany) 1933-1934 / 16 mm / color / sound / 2′ 00

RHYTHM IN LIGHT by Mary Ellen BUTE (USA) 1934 / video / b&w/ sound / 5′ 00

KOMPOSITION IN BLAU by Oskar FISCHINGER (Germany) 1935 / 16 mm / color / sound / 4′ 00

COLOUR BOX by Len LYE (UK) 1935 / 16mm / color / sound / 4′

ALLEGRETTO by Oskar FISCHINGER (Germany) 1936-1943 / 16 mm / color / sound / 2′ 30

TARANTELLA by BUTE Mary Ellen & NEMETH Ted (USA) 1940 / video / color / sound / 4′ 51


Sunday, October 9 / 2 pm: Michèle and Patrick Bokanowski

L’ANGE (RESTORED VERSION) by Patrick BOKANOWSKI (France) 1982 / DCP or 35 mm / color / sound / 70′

With filmmaker Patrick Bokanoswki and Michele Bokanowski in attendance.


Sunday, November 13 / 2 pm: Structural Film

AXIOMATIC GRANULARITY by Paul SHARITS (USA) 1973 / 16 mm / color / sound / 20′

DRESDEN DYNAMO by Lis RHODES (UK) 1974 / 16 mm / color / sound / 5′

In confrontation with films by local artists.


Sunday, December 11 / 2 pm: Musical Paradigm

CONTRATHEMIS : COMPOSITION II by Dwinnell GRANT (USA) 1941 / 16 mm / color / silent / 3′ 00

COLOR SEQUENCE by Dwinnell GRANT (USA) 1943 / 16 mm / color / silent / 2′ 30

RYTHMES 76 by Jean-Michel BOUHOURS (France) 1977 / 16 mm / color / silent / 18′ 00

R by Yann BEAUVAIS (France) 1975-1991 / 16 mm / b&w/ silent / 3′ 00

BERLIN HORSE by Malcolm LE GRICE (UK) 1970 / 16 mm / color / sound / 9′ 00

In confrontation with films by local artists.



EMAC Professor Earns System Teaching Award

Dr. Kim Knight
Dr. Kim Knight

Dr. Kim Knight, an assistant professor of emerging media and communication, has received the 2016 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awardfor her work and innovation in the classroom.

Knight has been a professor at UT Dallas since 2010, but her first foray into teaching was more than 14 years ago at California State University, Northridge as a teaching assistant under the tutelage of English professor Dr. Irene Clark.

It was there that Knight learned many of the strategies she still uses today.

“From the very beginning, Dr. Clark helped me frame the classroom as a space that should place students and their thinking at the center,” Knight said. “The classroom is a space where students arrive with a variety of experiences and learning styles; where their work is process-based and broken down into small steps with opportunities to revise and improve; and as a space with political and social dimensions that cannot be ignored.”

Knight received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English literature from Cal State Northridge, and she said her interest in new media and digital technology stems, in part, from her love of science fiction and fantasy literature.

“It wasn’t much of a stretch to go from literature about technology to writing that used digital technology,” she said. “As a first-generation college student, I was excited by the empowering aspects of networked technologies and their potential for opening up access, promoting amateur production, flattening hierarchies, and creating a more just and equitable world. My interest is in studying new media in all of its facets so that we can fulfill those promises.”

Knight’s work at UT Dallas focuses on how these objectives intersect with issues in new media such as privacy, ownership and diversity.

As an inherently dynamic subject, new media and technology can have its challenges for teachers, but Knight said what’s most exciting about the field is that working scholars and students are helping to define it.

“And yet, it resists ever being fully defined,” she said. “It also means that you can never keep up with everything that is developing on a daily basis. This affords the rich opportunity to invite students to bring their own knowledge of those developments into the classroom.”

Dr. Kim Knight
Dr. Kim Knight leads a Fashioning Circuits workshop at a STEAM-focused summer camp at Eastfield College. (Photo by Lauren Shafer)

Some of her most popular courses touch on viral media, writing in digital spaces and understanding how text, image and sound are used in digital spaces.

She said her favorite course to teach is Fashioning Circuits, which also serves as a research blog and digital humanities project.

“The grounding in social and cultural theory helps students understand the scholarly implications of something that some assume is a frivolous topic: fashion,” she said. “Fashion is about bodies and about culture. When you connect it to technology, it helps to make explicit that technology is also about bodies and culture.”

The course, which usually has a few students who don’t consider themselves creative or coders at the beginning, is an opportunity to explore the expressive possibilities of sewing, coding and electronics as media, she said.

The project also works with community partners to develop programming to introduce nonprogrammers to coding in a humanities aspect.

Knight, who received her PhD in English from the University of California, Santa Barbara, said her goal is to help her students develop into well-rounded and educated citizens who are ready to be critical participants in a democratic society.

“If I focus on helping students understand one technological platform, it does not serve them well,” she said. “Instead, it is important to help them develop an understanding of how technology, community, power and communication intersect so that they can ethically engage with the technology of tomorrow, regardless of what form that takes.”


Knight Examines Digital Viruses, Public Anxiety

The perceived threat of a computer virus attack can keep us in a constant state of anxiety, according to Dr. Kim Knight.

In her latest article, the EMAC professor contends that a preoccupation with living in a virus-free digital world affects how consumers behave online and offline.

Knight said that when people want to avoid a disaster — like a flu outbreak — from reoccurring, they try to identify and address all future scenarios to eliminate that possibility.

It’s a concept known as “premediation,” originally theorized by Dr. Richard Grusin, an English professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, as a collective experience with individual effects prompted, in part, by media and the way it handles outbreaks.

Knight studied the concept in the context of various apps, such as Google’s Flu Trends, FluNearYou and Sickweather, which track the spread of illness on a regional level using crowdsourced data from users or mentions of illness on social media.

While these digital tools exist to help mitigate anxieties over viruses, Knight said they can still be a source of “premediative” behavior. By constantly requiring new information and requesting updates from users, the software acts as a feedback loop, always reminding users of the possibility of infection.

Internet users and people who use illness-tracking apps are willing to share computing information and personal data with anti-viral technologies to assuage their anxiety, which could have unintended consequences.

Because the user surrenders ownership, the data can and will be exploited, she said. For Knight, the minimal public health benefits do not outweigh the privacy concerns.

Read her entire article atelectronic book review, a peer-reviewed journal focused on the arts, sciences and humanities through the lens of emerging digital media.

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

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Unconventional Olympians: EMAC prof to present talk on media project



mecholympicsEMAC associate professor xtine burrough will present a talk for the Dallas Museum of Art’s Late Nights series on her Mechanical Olympics media project Aug. 19.

Launched in 2008, the Mechanical Olympics are a crowdsourced competition of athletic performances that reinterpret the Olympic Games as a series of amateur, hobbyist videos in competition for “likes” on YouTube.

“My initial intent for this project was to intervene on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk website where anyone can perform the role of ‘Job Requestor’,” burrough said. “When I pose there as a requestor, I disrupt a virtual platform known for exploitative labor practices, and temporarily transform it into a mechanism for participatory art making.”

The videos have been purchased and collected from workers on Mechanical Turk, an online job board, and their efforts are submitted to burrough for inclusion into the series.

Burrough will also conduct a workshop and present a series of videos during her talk. Join her from 9:00 – 11:00 p.m. in the C3 Theater at the DMA.

xtine_preferredxtine is an associate professor in the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at The University of Texas at Dallas.