Gaming organization develops on campus

by Beacon Staff • February 7, 2007

The pair of new media majors have linked up to create the Emerson College Game Developers Association, a group of roughly 25 students devoted to writing, drawing, coding and animating a finished video game within a semester.,Interesting people doing interesting things are quite common here at Emerson, which is probably why it took almost a year for sophomore John Richardson and junior Jeff Edwards to meet, let alone combine forces.

The pair of new media majors have linked up to create the Emerson College Game Developers Association, a group of roughly 25 students devoted to writing, drawing, coding and animating a finished video game within a semester.

The two lived just steps from one another in the Little Building last year but didn't discover their shared interest until last April.

"It's a funny story. We lived on the same floor for almost a whole year and we never knew we were into the same field. And then we went to the local meeting for the game developers association, called Post Mortem," Richardson said.

Post Mortem serves more than 65 Boston-area technology and game development companies and their employees, offering a place for developers to drink, talk and joke at monthly meetings. The group also holds technology conferences, sometimes in conjunction with MIT researchers, according to the Web site said.

"We literally walked in the door together, and said, 'I know you!'" Richardson said. "So on the spot, we decided that we need to get something together at Emerson."

Ever since their meeting, the communication and planning for Emerson GameDev has been non-stop, the two said.

Efforts to gain support intensified last month at the start of the spring semester with their first informational meeting.

With only fliers and word of mouth to attract interest, the meeting drew 25 students, overflowing the small room Richardson and Edwards reserved in the Max Mutchnick Campus Center, the two said.

Skills required for the project are diverse: animators, digital artists, programmers and Web designers will all be needed, but the biggest outpouring of enthusiasm came from writers.

"We had more writers show up than we anticipated. We're going to make more avenues for those people to independently learn about the craft as we move along," Richardson said.

Edwards attributed the amount of writers to the changing face of games.

"Games just aren't about creating fancy-looking adventures and destroying monsters. There's a lot of types of games, like alternate-reality games, that are much more focused on writing, and are almost performance pieces more so than the classic video game," Edwards said. "Situations like that can make room for people who don't have the skills traditionally associated with video games."

Alluding to the stereotypical computer programmer, digital artist or designer who came to symbolize early game developers, the pair thinks its generation can be different.

"We hope people will think, 'Who the heck is Emerson?' We'd like to get our names out there. What's a college student to do in their free time except give future employers something to look at, and say, 'Hey that's neat, I'll hire you,'" Edwards said.

Although the project is still in its infancy and the group has received no official or monetary support, the visual and media arts department has been receptive and encouraging to their ideas, even purchasing an Xbox 360.

Emerson GameDev will go under review by the Student Government Association (SGA) later this month and could be officially recognized before the end of the semester.

As for funding, the group says all the tools needed for the first project are either already owned by the college or available for free online.

Although their first project will be miniscule in scope compared to the professional blockbusters that fly off shelves and into homes every year, the pair knows that small doesn't mean insignificant.

"College is a great time to do that kind of [project], as many film students and writing students have learned, because you don't have to worry about the paychecks so much," Edwards said.

According to a January release from the consumer-and-product research firm NDP Group Inc., the video-game industry has grown quickly in recent years, producing $12.5 billion in retail game sales in 2006 alone, up from $10.5 billion in 2005.

As the popularity of gaming grows, consumers are playing an increasing role in the content of the products.

One noted success story is Counter-Strike, a modification for the 1998 blockbuster game Half-Life.

Based on fictitious terrorism-counter-terrorism scenarios, Counter-Strike's realistic game play became so popular that its teenage development team was hired by Valve Software, Half-life's original developer.

As for Richardson and Edwards, they said they remain hopeful their efforts will get them noticed in a competitive industry.

"Having a completed project is really important to us. This term is more about figuring out this process, and how we're going to do it in the future," Edwards said. "[This] is a great way to demonstrate to the entire industry that there is still innovation to be had."