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Getting a degree in gaming

Published December 20, 2010 5:55 pm

Higher education • University of Utah now offers a master's degree in video-game design.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Your kid's gonna love this: The University of Utah now offers a master's degree in getting to the final level in "Super Mario Bros."

Well, not exactly. But the U. thinks video games are a lucrative enough industry that people should go to school to learn how to make them.

Based on the numbers, they're right: The video-game industry grossed more than $10 billion in 2009, and 67 percent of American households play them, according to the Entertainment Software Association. So there is a career in making the next "Angry Birds."

The U. has fused the disciplines of art and computer technology in a new program for video-game design, one of only a handful of American universities to offer such a master's program.

The Entertainment Arts & Engineering Master Games Studio program is a combined effort of the School of Computing and the university's film department to teach students how to design, develop and publish video games.

Today's sophisticated games, like "Gears of War" or "Call of Duty" require creators who are well versed in both programming and art, as these games and others are looking and sounding like blockbuster films.

"From a technical standpoint, video games push the limits — whether it's graphics or artificial intelligence," said the program's executive director Robert Kessler. "And students who go through a program like this also learn that employees like the team-based work."

For this semester, the first class of 22 students was broken up into four teams to design, in four weeks, a game from concept to prototype. They meet in a new classroom on the second floor of the university's Film and Media Arts Building, where they sometimes gather casually in a "war room" to bounce ideas off each other and play video games.

At the beginning of this semester, each team was also tasked with creating a fantasy-based prototype. Greg Bernini, 24, a Salt Lake City resident, produced the artwork for a new role-playing game about a wizard. It's a dream come true for him to produce art with the texture of a video game. "All of my artwork for my bachelor's degree was influenced by the games I played at the time," he said, listing off the names of the games, including "Resident Evil," "Dead Space," "Doom III" and "Quake."

The teams also spent four weeks developing prototypes for an edu-tainment title for children, for which they sought the help of professional educators. One of the games they produced was for the Smart Table, a coffee-sized table with a touchscreen — much like a large iPad — in which players use slingshots to pop balloons.

Another game, "Lunch Lady RPG" places the child in the role of a school-lunch worker who has to put the right foods on the students' plates.

"The starving-artist thing was kind of fun until you turn 30, but video game [development] in Salt Lake City is ripe now," said student Kurt Coppersmith, a fine arts graduate, explaining why he enrolled in the gaming master's program. "It's lucrative. During good days or bad days, video games are being sold."

The program's aim? To make the design experience "as real as possible," Kessler said about students going through the whole process of producing the game, including the business side of publishing.

And the students say they don't even mind the worst part of designing games — spending countless hours slaving away on the computer until the title is released.

"We've been working 13 to 14 hours a day, but it's still fun," said 28-year-old Matt Anderson, who wants to be a lead designer of games. "I'm loving every minute of it."

ohmytech@sltrib.com. Twitter: http://twitter.com/ohmytech. —

Creating the next 'Angry Birds'?

O Potential video game designers, who want to blend art and computer programming while making something of the countless hours they've squandered at their consoles, can get more information about the University of Utah's Entertainment Arts & Engineering Master Games Studio program at http://mgs.eae.utah.edu.