Intel honors the top university game projects

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Intel recently unveiled its Intel University Games Showcase winners as part of its effort to highlight the best new talent in games.

The winners were selected from among 20 different finalist entries from various universities around the United States. Seven games were honored in the all-digital affair, which normally would have taken place as part of the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in pre-pandemic days.

The winners

For the best gameplay, Zoélie from the Savannah College of Art and Design took first place. Second place went to Larger than Light from the University of Southern California. And third place went to Crystal Call of the Southern Methodist University Guildhall.

For best visual quality, Metamorphos from DigiPen was the top winner. Second place went to Beat Breakrz of the Ringling College of Art and Design, and third place went to Flicker of Hope from the University of Central Florida.

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The Innovation Award went to the Camera That Bleeds from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

You can view the winners in the Intel DevMesh Group.

Judge impressions

I served as a volunteer judge alongside others including Ahsley Alicea of Unity Technologies, Gene Chorba of Riot Games, Steven Isaacs of Epic Games, Peter King of Greenman Gaming, and Bobby Oh, who is the head of the Intel University Games Showcase at Intel.

I was very impressed with the overall quality of the games, and it was too bad the teams didn’t get their chance to explain their work and show it off at a large event. It was interesting to see how much the students could accomplish with large teams that had considerable amounts of time to work on the games.

Flicker of Hope had an interesting stealth mechanic where you played as a candle trying to evade a creature in shadowy places. Zoélie gave me the feeling of wandering through a Latin American town square. Beat Breakrz had some amazingly realistic 3D visuals. Crystal Call was a fast-paced action game, and Metamorphos was a beautifully animated Souls-like game where you had to seize the right moment to attack a boss enemy and then get out of the way as it countered. Larger Than Light had some very cool interaction between real and shadow characters on the walls. And the Camera That Bleeds built some horror into what you can see only through a camera lens.

 Winner comments: Metamorphos

Benjamin Ellinger said in a message that it was amazing to win in the visual quality category. He described the games as a Souls-like title that was heavily inspired by From Software’s Dark Souls series, but also added inspiration from other genres and media for different parts of the game.

The team formed in the fall of 2019, but the team roster changed each semester as people joined or left. In fall 2020 the team added eight new people at once to the project and that was a huge  determining factor in pushing to get the visual quality as high as possible, Ellinger said.

Arthur Bates, creative director, brought the early team together with his vision and early concept art.

“My favorite story is about how we had to change the Sand Manta-Ray’s sound effects,” Ellinger said. “Our audio designer made such a convincing and realistic animal cry sound for when the Sand Manta-Ray was hit that players would feel bad about fighting them.”

Zoélie

Ben Brook of the Savannah College of Art and Design said in a message it was surreal to take first in gameplay.

“We put so much work and love into Zoe over the 22 weeks we had for development, and having that recognized by the judges was an incredible moment for us,” Brook said. “Our Discord server lit up in cheers when the results were announced.”

Brook noted that King’s feedback was both kind and touching. The inspiration was to try to do something original.

“Our designers and programmers had strong combat design and programming skills, so we really wanted to push ourselves to create something new and unique,” Brook said. “The student body at SCAD is also extremely diverse, which inspired us to set our game in another country. After toying with places like Japan and Europe, we fell in love with Latin America and decided to base both our mechanics and art direction around places like Argentina and Brazil.”

Students from Latin America or those with family members there helped contribute information on the culture and architecture. The production ran from January 2020 to June 2020. The team worked remotely due to COVID from April through June, and two faculty members ran the class.

A total of 39 students were chosen to work on the game and they were split into four groups to handle different aspects of development. The team was composed primarily of senior students with a few juniors that were accepted as well.

“Working on the game really taught us a lot about what studio life is like,” Brook said. “We went from students to aspiring professionals in such a short amount of time, and had to ‘grow up’ fairly quickly in order to hit deadlines.”

The team leaned on LinkedIn as a tool to find out how to do things like animate a quilt, as professionals helped with referrals to experts. As for working remotely, Brook learned how to deal with project management across different time zones, as an AI programmer was living in France during quarantine, so the team would often meet at odd hours to link up and get things done.

The interaction with Latin American students from other majors was also eye opening for the team in creating things like the town square environment.

Innovation Award: The Camera That Bleeds

Mark Lipina of the Rochester Institute of Technology said it was a shock to win the award and the team has been working on improving the core gameplay experience.

The core premise originated as Lapina was browsing some “found-footage” style horror artwork, and he had this idea: “What if ghosts were only visible in photographs?” As the team continued to work on the game’s prototype, fellow programmer Davis Snider suggested a noir detective direction, which fit perfectly with the core premise, and provided a fresh aesthetic direction to move in.

At that point, to inform the aesthetic, the team brushed up on some classic noir detective films (like The Maltese Falcon) as well as noir graphic novels, particularly Frank Miller’s work.

Snider and Lapina started the game as a weekend-long game jam in March of 2019. Over the next year, the team grew pretty dramatically, with 3D artists, animators and sound designers who all played a huge role in making the game.

“Probably our most dramatic story was the naming of the actual game,” Lapina said. “For us, naming things is somehow the most difficult task imaginable, and we went through far too many names for our game. SpookyGame was our prototype name, and its still what our code project is called. Phantom Frame was next, before we decided that was far too close to Fatal Frame, the cult classic horror game with a camera. We almost went with InSpectre, until out of nowhere an anime came out with that exact name. Finally we landed on The Camera that Bleeds, which feels just right.”

Beat Breakrz

Blake Morris from the Ringling College of Art and Design said in a message that he and his family yelled for joy when they learned they won an award.

Morris said the inspiration came from a couple different types of media, such as the neon art style of Sucker Punch’s Infamous: Second Son. While making the game, they also played through Metronomik’s No Straight Roads, which was very inspirational to the fun element.

Another source of inspiration came from Noe Alonzo’s photography of Seoul at night, as well as Liam Wong‘s photography of Tokyo at night, which helped the team light the game with intense pops of color.

“One of the coolest sources of inspiration for us was from flying out to Seattle to take pictures of real-world references that would later influence our set-dressing,” Morris said.

The team including Joenna Steuber started working in late February of 2020 in the second semester of their junior year. They began pitching ideas during this time, leading to BeatBreakrz.

“It was pretty easy for the two of us to come together to work on this game,” Morris said. “We were both interested in very similar things, and we had been friends since freshman year, so we figured we would work well together. We did not split up the work in a way that a larger team may have with people taking on roles for specific things.”

All of the voices in the game are voiced by Morris, and most of them were recorded on his laptop under a blanket and in closets.

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