Video Games 101 Starts At MSU

University is offering two-year program as academic minor to fulfill demand in hot industry.
By Oralandar Brand-Williams / The Detroit News
Local students looking to make a living by designing video games now can attend a school close to home.
Michigan State University is offering an academic program aimed at video game enthusiasts.
Beginning in September, MSU will give students a chance to study video games and design through its Specialization in Game Design and Development program.
"Game development is a very hot industry right now," said Brian Winn, co-founder of the program and an assistant professor of telecommunications, information studies and media at Michigan State.
"It's an important program for students who want to go into this as a career," Winn said.
"Games have been an important medium in our culture and important to study. (Games) have been pushing the forefront of technology."
The program is offered to students as an academic minor and will provide students with 15 credit hours for a four-course sequence of classes on video game design and the history and social aspects of video games.
It is geared toward students enrolled in computer sciences, telecommunications and studio arts.
"We've been actually offering many of these courses for several years but we decided to package them in a sequence of courses," Winn said.
The two-year program will be offered to only 80 students but there is a possibility that the number will grow, Winn said.
Scott Brodie, a MSU junior from Livonia, is hoping to be among the program's first students.
His interest in video games began when he was a 6-year-old playing Nintendo games.
This summer, 21-year-old Brodie is working at Stardock, a Livonia-based video game design company where he is doing an internship.
Brodie said he's glad MSU is giving students like himself a career opportunity that holds a deep interest for him and others like himself.
"It's a definite career field you can go into," Brodie said. "(Students) have been hoping for a program that deals with our passion."
You can reach Oralandar Brand-Williams at (313) 222-2027 or bwilliams@detnews.com.



Parents Must Monitor Kids' Video Games

Most parents are familiar with the rating system for movies and as a result many parents refuse to let their children see R-rated flicks.
V-chips in newer model television sets allow parents to block out violent or other racy programming.
Less familiar is the video game rating system. It's goal is to help parents make smart, age-appropriate decisions about the games their children are playing.
Some video games contain violent and sexually graphic images. For example some games reward players for killing an opponent, shooting a cop or stealing a car. This content does not belong in the hands of children.
Most recently, news headlines have focused on games that have explicit hidden scenes -- pornography that can be viewed simply by using software available on the Internet or nudity easily accessed through use of a special code.
Those incidents have led to calls for more federal regulation of the video game industry.
But parents don't have to wait for Congress to act. Area residents, organized as Game Smart Thurston County, hope to increase awareness among parents and retail clerks that video games carry a rating system that will help parents make wise selections for their children. Look for brochures and posters promoting the rating system in retail outlets.
Seven categories
The video game industry has created its own voluntary rating system with seven categories:
Early childhood for children three and older.
Everyone for children six and older.
Everyone 10+ for age 10 and older.
Teen for those 13 and older
Mature for 17 and older.
Adults only games are not to be sold to anyone younger than 18.
Rating pending for games that have not undergone the content review.
Youngsters are quick to tell their parents that "it's just a game," and that they are not affected by the violence they see in the games. "We know the difference between video games and real life," said Jordan Flemister, 12, of Olympia.
But the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2001 said exposure to violence in media -- everything from television and movies to music and video -- poses a major risk to the health of children and adolescents. And in the case of video games, the children aren't just watching violence -- they are acting out the roles of violent characters.
During a South Sound visit last year, clinical psychologist Sherwin Cotler said, "If you put aggressive behavior in, you get aggressive behavior out."
State legislators passed a law in 2003 making it a misdemeanor offense to sell games marked "mature" or "adults only" to anyone younger than 18. But a federal judge struck down the law as unconstitutional, a violation of free speech.
Lawmakers were back this year with a focus on education. They passed House Bill 1366, which requires stores to prominently post signs and brochures near game displays and points of sale notifying customers about the video game rating system. Thanks to community donations totaling $4,083, the local Game Smart committee was able to print thousands of brochures that will be distributed at community meetings and events.
Arming parents
"This bill focuses on getting information out," said Rep. Mary Helen Roberts, D-Edmonds, prime sponsor of the bill. "The primary target is parents and people that work in the point of sales. While we can't reach into people's homes and say 'Your children shouldn't be watching this,' we can provide them with information," Roberts said.
Whether parents use the rating system is, of course, up to them.
"The rating system is overrated," said Mike Flemister, Jordan's father. "I know exactly what they're playing."
And that's the key. Parents need to know about the video game rating system, make intelligent choices for their children and monitor their video game use.
Increasing public awareness through posters and brochures may be a small step, but it's a step in the right direction.


Chinese Government To Invest $1.8 Billion In Video Games

Tianamen Square video game on way?
By Aaron McKenna: Monday 01 August 2005, 10:57

IF THERE'S one thing we’ve learned about China over the years it is that when they do something, they do it big and the government usually has a hand in it. Videogames may be seen as frivolous by many and downright dangerous by others – looking at no US Senators in particular whilst saying that.
But in China the government appreciates the amount of money that their burgeoning consumer electronics market is making them.
The number of internet users in China, the world's second-largest internet market, grew by nine million in the first half of this year to reach 103 million people, and as we reported the Massively Multiplayer Online game World of Warcraft managed to take in 44% of its worldwide audience in China a month from launching there.
The burgeoning market is so lucrative that the Chinese government is to invest in a $1.8 billion –yes, we said billion – dollars in developing 100 kinds of online games with independent property rights in the next five years.
With Internet gamers spending some $483 million dollars on virtual equipment for their online alter-egos in the first six months of this year showing that by promoting in videogames the Chinese government can help fuel the overall growth of their consumer technology sector going forward.


Kids Can Learn While They Play

New technology toys are further blurring the line between educational software and television. Consider VTech's V.Smile Pocket, a book-size gadget for ages 3 to 8 that plays arcade games laced with educational content. Available for $90 at major electronics and toy stores, it also runs 19 games made for the console-size version released last year.
Plugged into a TV, the device acts like a standard game controller. Pull the plug, and the game switches to the V.Smile Pocket speaker and screen. Instead of prying a stubborn player away from the TV, you can carry the child right out the door, game in hand.
The crisp color screen is better than the one on the Leapster L-Max from Leapfrog, due this month, and the software library features children's all-stars like Bob the Builder and Mickey Mouse. Every cartridge has plenty of mazes, shooting galleries and scavenger hunts, all focused on teaching things like letters, colors and early math skills.


Target Real Violence, Not Video Games

By Robert D. Richards and Clay Calvert STATE COLLEGE, PA. –
We live in a society saturated with real-life violence - violence that is difficult to legislate away. So it is sadly not surprising when legislators attack fictional and fantasy images of violence portrayed in media products instead of dealing with actual crime.
Last week, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed into law a bill that limits the sale of graphically violent video games to minors. Specifically, it is now illegal for anyone in the state to sell or rent a "violent" video game to anyone under the age of 18.
At first blush, measures such as the one signed by the governor appear to protect the state's children - admittedly a noble effort.
Games like "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" clearly are offensive and any reasonable parent would not let his or her child play the game.
But the new Illinois law and a similar federal measure proposed last week by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) of New York amount to little more than flawed attempts by lawmakers to create a false sense of protection and security at the expense of the constitutional rights of the creators, manufacturers, and users of video games for entertainment purposes - and ultimately at the expense of the state's taxpayers.
What is even more troubling is that legislators have enacted this measure despite clear precedent that such bills violate settled constitutional law.
In fact, every law restricting violent video games has met with the same fate: a federal court striking it down as unconstitutional.
As Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit United States Court of Appeals in Chicago - the federal appellate court covering Illinois - made clear in a case striking down an Indianapolis ordinance restricting minors' access to video games, the interactive nature of games does not make them any less deserving of First Amendment protection than other forms of media such as books and movies.
Writing in American Amusement Machine Association v. Kendrick, Judge Posner observed that "[a]ll literature (here broadly defined to include movies, television and other photographic media and popular as well as highbrow literature) is interactive; the better it is, the more interactive."
Legislators fully recognize they would face certain peril if they tried to ban books, movies, or TV programs, so instead they take on a new technology and try to convince their constituents that graphic depictions of violence in an interactive format somehow make it more harmful to minors.
The flaw in that reasoning is that no one has ever been able to prove through independent research that video games are harmful to children or to show that they cause violence.
There have been some contrived laboratory experiments that purport to show a correlation between viewing video games and increased aggression in some people, but aggression is not the same thing as violence, and correlation does not equal causation.
In order for any law to restrict the First Amendment rights of citizens in this country, by barring certain content, the government must demonstrate a compelling interest. Provable harm to children would probably satisfy that burden, but no such evidence exists, and that's one reason measures like the one signed by Governor Blagojevich fail when challenged in court.
Gang members don't commit drive-by shootings simply because they played a video game, nor do school kids shoot others simply because they played a video game.
The factors influencing such violent acts are far more complex than that. Hundreds of thousands of kids who play video games, the vast majority of which do not portray violence, will never assault, attack, or otherwise harm anyone.
Federal courts in St. Louis and in the state of Washington have adopted Judge Posner's reasoning in striking down similar laws in those jurisdictions.
Blagojevich and the Illinois legislature share the responsibility for enacting measures that violate the Constitution, but the citizens of Illinois will share the expense of defending these invalid measures as inevitable court challenges move forward.
• Robert D. Richards and Clay Calvert are professors of communications and law at Pennsylvania State University and codirectors of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment.


Flipnic Game For PlayStation 2 Spins Pinball In Odd New Ways

Matt Slagle
Canadian Press
Saturday, July 30, 2005

(AP) - With traditional pinball machines, keeping the silvery ball from rolling out of play is enough of a challenge.
Flipnic: Ultimate Pinball (PlayStation 2, rated E) adds a bizarre, psychedelic mix of new obstacles: Alligators, butterflies and flying saucers join the usual flippers and bumpers.
It's an approachable, family-safe game that even pinball wizards are likely to enjoy - once they adjust to the many changes from the old standup machines.
Case in point: There's no plunger to send the ball launching in Flipnic. You just press a button to get the action in motion.
Success often hinges on having predictive reflexes - the ball moves so fast sometimes, knowing where it is is less important than knowing where it's going to be in another two seconds.
It takes a lot of skill and technique to time and angle shots off the flippers. It's an essential ability, however, if you hope to complete the various missions and advance to higher levels.
In some levels, the flippers are about the only thing resembling pinball.
One board, for example, involves a battle with a silver, shape-shifting creature that shoots energy projectiles that temporarily disable the flippers.
There are several boards on which to play, and all are rendered in crisp, fluid 3-D graphics.
Despite all this seeming variety, the levels felt small. And too much time was spent watching the ball zing from one area of the board to the next instead of actually playing. It's also too easy to get stuck in one area with nothing especially interesting to do.
The accompanying electronic sound track was repetitive and wore on me after a while.
Two and a half stars out of four.


Summer Camp Teaches Kids How To Create Video Games

By Seema Mehta / Los Angeles Times
For as long as he can remember, Randal Williams has played video games. So it wasn't surprising when he decided one day to design his own game, or that it involved a five-headed dragon that has taken control of Japan.
Complicated stuff for some, but for the 11-year-old from Irvine, Calif., it all seemed logical enough. And Randal is not alone. He is one of a growing number of adolescents who are spending a part of their summer at camps learning how to create video games.
"I've been fascinated with video games for a really long time, and I decided I wanted to learn how to make them," said Randal, who drafted an 18-page story line for "Ninjas Rise of Goliath" months before the weeklong day camp at the University of California, Irvine began.
Such courses are offered by camp companies, as well as universities such as New York University, which in 2004 began a summer course for teenagers and college students interested in working in the $25-billion gaming industry.
It's impossible to know how many game-creation summer classes there are, but camp watchers say they have seen a growing number -- and a growing sophistication.
"Go back 10 or 20 years ago, and computer camp (focused on) how to turn on the computer, insert the disc, learn word processing. Kids today already know that," said Dan Schulman, director of programs at Oakland, Calif.-based Allen's Guide, an online directory of summer camps and travel opportunities for children and teenagers. Now, "kids interested in computer camp are looking for something extra, something they can't get at home or in their local school."
Dan Morris, editor-in-chief of PC Gamer magazine, said the summer camps and other educational opportunities were sorely needed.
"One of the most common questions we get from young readers of our magazine is 'How do I get started?' and we never have a good answer," he said. "It's just such a young industry and such a young art form. ... Now, it's starting to mature, (and) it's good to see that the farm teams, so to speak, are getting set up."
The Urban Video Game Academy is holding free video-game creation seminars for at-risk teens in Baltimore, Washington and Atlanta.
Mario Armstrong, a technology correspondent for National Public Radio and an academy co-founder, said that in addition to computer programming skills, the classes exposed students to geometry, algebra, physics, art and music. In addition, the program is designed to educate teenagers about career opportunities in game creation, to help change an industry in which minorities and women are often depicted in negative stereotypes and rarely as the heroes.
"At the end of the day, this academy is not about teaching software," he said. "It's really about giving underserved kids, kids in the inner city who don't know this is a lucrative career track, the exposure to career opportunities."
Although the academy, which has a waiting list of well over 100 students, is free, the for-profit programs can be pricey. A week at the UC Irvine camp run by iD Tech Camps costs at least $624.
On a recent weekday morning in a bright, air-conditioned lab at UC Irvine, Williams and 15 other adolescents learned how to make ninjas, fiery explosions and spaceships flit across computer screens. iD Tech holds similar programs at schools across the nation, including UCLA, Georgetown and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"It's kind of a no-brainer," said Pete Ingram-Cauchi, president and chief executive of iD Tech Camps, a Campbell, Calif., company that began offering video game-related classes in 2001. "Before, you had to be a mad scientist to program games. Now, it's just like anything else; you don't have to be a programmer to create your own video games -- the technology is so readily available."
Randal hopes the Irvine camp will prepare him for a career in creating video games.
"That's why I took this class, so I can get a head start," he said with a sly grin, "so I can make lots of money."
Troy Phillips was staying with his grandparents so he could attend the day camp. The 11-year-old created a game in which multiple players compete as battling alien spaceships.
"It's pretty cool that you can learn how to make your own video game," he said, as his 13-year-old brother sat nearby creating a game in which characters must jump from cloud to cloud without falling.
Even though the program is unlike any camp their parents attended, some benefits of camp remain unchanged from prior generations.
"It's fun to meet new people," said Nick Klang, 13, of Aliso Viejo, Calif., "and it's fun to make games."


Don't Call Them Slackers: Playing Video Games Is Big Business For Local Workers

By Jamie Malernee Staff Writer Posted July 29 2005

Inside a nondescript Sunrise office building, about a dozen young men in their 20s and 30s sit in darkened rooms before glowing computer screens, their workstations covered with superhero figurines, poker chips, cards, empty soda cans and artwork of scantily clad women.One guy listens to music as he doodles. Another explores the surreal environment of a Sponge Bob Square Pants video game.

The boss, 35-year-old James Wheeler, walks the halls in his usual business attire -- T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops -- knowing that, despite appearances, his employees are hard at work.Here at AWE Games, work is play.It's one of a handful of local companies making a living from the nation's growing obsession with video games. The company's produced several based on various toy and movies, including SpongeBob, Shrek and Scooby-Doo. It's a tiny piece of a worldwide industry that rakes in $28 billion a year, according to the Entertainment Software Association.To many college kids trying to figure out what career path they want to take, these are the real superheroes -- Peter Pans who make a living without leaving Neverland. Wheeler's own story sounds like a fairy tale. He says he started the company without any formal training after making some industry contacts while working at a video game store in a mall."I just wanted to make games and have fun," shrugs Wheeler, who started the company in 1997. While Florida is by no means the technological capitol that is California, those gamers who call it home have reason to be optimistic about the future. Many industry analysts consider Orlando to be poised for a mini-boom. Electronic Arts-Tiburon, an internationally known creative powerhouse based there that produced Madden NFL, announced plans this year to grow by hundreds of employees. On a more local level, Nival Interactive -- a game company from Russia known for such titles as Rage of Mages, Evil Islands and Etherlords -- just opened a small office in Fort Lauderdale with two employees and plans to expand to 20 by the end this year, says president Sergey Orlovskiy.Most of the positions will deal with the business end of gaming, and following that, he says, many of their designers will relocate here."It will definitely add to the growing value of Florida as [a] high-tech entertainment industry center of attraction," Orlovskiy writes in an email.Local colleges and technical schools have taken notice of the growing allure of the video game industry and now offer courses and even degrees in animation and game development. The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale has new curriculum that allows students to design a video game using a software "engine" that brings artwork to life. Miami Dade College started a two-year video game design program this year. Florida Atlantic University has offered an animation track since 2002. Keiser College, ITT Technical Institute and Broward Community College also advertise game-related classes.Qualified graduates who find jobs in the industry can expect long work hours but also sizable salaries, starting at $40,000 on the art and game design side and $50,000 for programming and production, according to a U.S. survey released this week by Game Developer magazine. Once employees have more than six years of experience, pay can jump to more than $70,000 for creative types and clear $100,000 for the top techies and those who take on executive roles. Women, who made up only 8 percent of those in the survey, made slightly less than their male peers."The video game industry itself is huge," says Francis McAfee, associate director for FAU's Center for Electronic Communication, which also offers a master's degree in computer arts and 3-D animation. "And that kind of money generates pretty good paychecks."A lot of competition, too.Marc Mencher, head of Fort Lauderdale-based www.GameRecruiter.com and a headhunter for the video game industry, cautions that there are not enough jobs in Florida to place all the students coming out of new video game/art programs. He advises that most graduates still have better luck if they head out to California. The salary survey also notes that, while Florida is growing in its game presence, industry salaries here are lower.Those working at Shadows In Darkness, a design house located just a few doors down from AWE Games in Sunrise, have decided to stick it out in the Sunshine State. Their office resembles a high-tech cave with snaking wires and life-size game character cutouts lurking in corners. One of the partners, Devon Browne, 28, lounges in a big, black recliner pulled up to his screen. Comfort is important, his co-workers joke, because he rarely goes home."As fun as this job is, sometimes it's pure hell," Browne admits, explaining that he recently worked four days straight with no sleep to meet an animation project deadline.Both Shadows In Darkness, which has been in business about three years, and AWE Games, which has been around for seven, have weathered several ups and downs: projects being canceled, a Miami publisher that fed them work going under and increasing demand for detailed games that are more expensive to produce.So, how do these two neighboring companies stay afloat so far from most of their peers in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley?A lower cost of living helps, but not as much as the Internet."Having the ability to work remotely makes this possible," says Rick Daniels, 36, who oversees a staff of both local and global freelance artists for Shadows in Darkness. "We have people we work with in Austria, Canada, Germany."The first challenge facing smaller gaming companies in Florida is finding steady work in an industry that is project driven, where months can lapse between projects. The second is finding talent. Experienced workers from out of state are expensive. Local students, while plentiful, are often unprepared, they say.If we get 10 demo tapes a week, nine and a half are pathetic," says Wheeler, who wonders if schools are just trying to make money instead of quality graduates. "You don't want to laugh at the kid, but you can't hire him."Their advice for game designer hopefuls: Get a broad-based education that stresses critical thinking and artistic skills. Don't focus on one particular computer program or game engine because technology is constantly changing. And before picking a school, check out the professors' resumes to see if they've actually worked in the industry.Even more important than choosing a good school, Wheeler and Daniels both say, is making video game design a personal passion.That's what many students attending the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale say drives them.In a classroom on a recent Friday, students are designing their own video games. One has created a virtual world with crypts, hanging corpses that rattle when shot at, and a headstone that reads, "RIP Jennifer Lopez." Another shows off a character he built: a blonde bombshell in a black bustier, silver thong and knee-high boots.Near him, a girl with pink hair stands out not only for gender -- she's the only female student in the class -- but for her sunny, Japanimation-inspired cityscape that contrasts with the dark, gritty environments created by many of her other classmates."I think it gives me an edge," says Nikol Stein, 22, referring to her style. "[I] have a different perspective."


Programmers Say Video Games Need Female Perspective

By GREG SANDOVALThe Associated Press
Tara Teich enjoys nothing more than slipping into the role of a female video-game character.
But the 26-year-old software programmer gets annoyed by the appearance of such digital alter egos as the busty tomb raider Lara Croft or the belly-baring Wu the Lotus Blossom of "Jade Empire."
Do not even get her started on the thong-bikini babes that the male gunmen win as prizes in "Grand Theft Auto," which was sent to stores with hidden sex scenes left embedded on the discs by programmers.
Rockstar Games belatedly took responsibility for the scenes last week after the industry's ratings board re-rated the game "Adults Only."
"I wish they were wearing more clothes," said Teich, a lifelong game enthusiast who now helps create games. Why, she asked, must women in video games always look like Las Vegas showgirls?
Tammy Yap, a game programmer for six years, once asked that of a colleague – after all, the skimpy clothing and exaggerated body parts might offend some women, she told him. His response, she said:
"What difference does it make? Women don't play video games."
The data on who plays games are consistent. Men account for 70 percent of the players of games written for consoles, such as Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox and Sony Corp.'s PlayStation2, said Schelley Olhava, an analyst with the research group IDC.
"Those numbers have changed little in the past seven years," said Olhava, whose company is part of Boston's International Data Group.
Women could be a rich area for growth if the $10 billion video-game industry figures out what games they want. But their point of view often goes unheard.
"There's no question that we need more diversity," said Justin Della Rocca, executive director of the International Game Developers Association. "We're saying that we need to grow the business and broaden the audience and yet the game creators are still mostly young white males."
It is not just about good intentions. The decision by the Entertainment Software Rating Board to require an "Adults Only" rating for "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" could cost Take-Two Interactive Software Inc., Rockstar's parent company, more than $50 million this quarter alone.
Controversy over the amount of sex and violence in video games has raged for years. With games rated "M" for mature proving to be reliable top sellers, the industry has become synonymous with blood-spattered shootouts and voluptuous vixens. With such a reputation, it is not easy to attract female job candidates, insiders say.
While Olhava said 10 percent of all software engineers in the technology industry are women, that figure is just 4 percent in the video-game field, Della Rocca said.
"I've never worked with another woman programmer," said Yap, 28, who has been at three companies in six years.
She said she likes her male co-workers at Midway Home Entertainment Inc. in San Diego, but "sometimes it gets lonely."
Video-game companies might remain a man's world for years to come.
In May, the University of Derby in Great Britain launched a game-programming course with financial backing from Microsoft. All 106 applicants were male.
At the University of Southern California's school of engineering, it is not unusual to see classes in video-game programming without a single female student, said Anthony Borquez, director of education for USC's Integrated Media Systems Center.
"The perception is that video games are just shoot-em-ups with half-naked women running around," Borquez said. "A lot of women think that there isn't much video-game content for them."
Marketing efforts by the software companies seem to reinforce that perception, Yap said.
"Game magazines have women wearing bikinis on the cover," she said. "They are obviously targeting men. There's nothing wrong with that, but that approach isn't going to attract many women."
Born in Singapore, Yap began writing software code at the age of 10, and grew up playing games from a more innocent era, such as Lode Runner, Burger Time and Pac-Man.
After graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she was approached by several large game makers but thought of getting out of the business. Being the only woman in her department made her self-conscious.
"Sometimes I felt like I had to prove myself," she said.
said Teich, who works for Mad Doc Software LLC in Lawrence, Mass.: "I think you need a certain temperament. In some ways you are in a guys' club ... you've got to be able to take your share of joking."
Teich and Yap say the industry doesn't have to be so male-oriented. They cite the success of "The Sims," a decidedly nonviolent role-playing game, as proof that tapping into the women's market means big bucks.
Redwood City, Calif.-based Electronic Arts Inc. has sold more than 54 million units of the Sims, generating more than $1 billion in sales since it launched in 2000. It's the best-selling PC game of all time, and about 55 percent of the buyers were women, said EA spokeswoman Tammy Schachter.
She also notes that there were more women on the Sims' development team than on most of EA's video games.
There are signs that companies are trying harder. The game developers' association holds seminars to discuss the issues of female recruitment and retention. Electronic Arts, which endowed a chair at USC for the study of interactive entertainment in February, sponsors a scholarship for female high school students to attend a computer programming camp at the school.
Last year, the summer camp failed to attract a single female. This year, eight of the 28 students are young women.
"We're definitely very motivated to find more ways to get women into the industry," Schachter said. "This is part of a plan to build out the talent pipeline over the long term. This is not something we can solve overnight."

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