BYU Center for Animation prepares students for game development

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(Back row, from left) Parris Egbert, Seth Holladay, Jorge Gonzalez, Joseph Buenning, Sloan Poelman, Derrick Drysdale, (front row, from left) TJ Bae, Jessica Davila and Andrea Davila attend E3, a major video game trade show. The students from BYU’s Center for Animation presented their student-developed game, “Nokbak,” at E3, June 2017. (Kelly Loosli)

BYU’s Center for Animation is giving computer science students the opportunity to learn graphic development by making video games.

The Center for Animation, an emphasis within BYU’s Computer Science program, began offering game development to students as a senior project in 2013. Since then, BYU students have presented three games at E3, a major video game trade show.

Associate professor Seth Holladay said the animation program started teaching game development because student wanted to learn to develop video games as an alternative to traditional computer animation.

Holladay said students need to learn basic game programming before entering the video game industry.

“It became important (for students) to learn the skill set and how it actually applies to games, not to just know how to build characters for film, but to do it for games,” Holladay said. “There is a widening gap there.”

Last year, market research firm Newzoo predicted career opportunities in game development were worth nearly $100 billon. These jobs have become more available and profitable, according to Holladay, which prompted the Center for Animation to prepare students for the gaming industry.

“Nokbak,” a first-person shooter game with dinosaurs, was developed in 2017 as a senior project. The game was shown at E3 in 2017. (BYU Center for Animation)

BYU students first developed “Relic Hunter” in 2014, a combat-free action game and presented it at E3, where the student-driven development team received positive feedback. 

Since then, the Center for Animation has completed work on the multiplayer online battle arena “Vanguards,” and most recently “Nokbak,” an arena shooter game with dinosaurs. Both games were presented at E3.

BYU’s Center for Animation also coordinates with professional video game developers to provide mentoring and advice to BYU students. Holladay said the program has received support from Utah–based ChAIR Entertainment and Avalanche Software as well as California companies such as Electronic Arts, Riot Games, and Blizzard Entertainment.

(From left) Sloan Poelman and Joseph Buenning worked on the development team for “Nokbak.” They were in attendance at E3 in June 2017. (Kelly Loosli)

BYU student and “Nokbak” level designer Sloan Poelman said advice from professional developers and gamers at E3 helped improve “Nokbak.”

“We thought our original level design was great, but it was good having (a Riot Games alumnus) show us how our work could be better,” Poelman said.

Trevor Savage, a BYU computer animation major, said getting “Nokbak” to E3 this year was an honor.

“Even though it was just a college games competition, we were still selected from over a hundred participants.,” Savage said. “We got to be one of five finalists, and I was really happy about that.”

For those interested in entering game development, Holladay and Savage recommend learning how to develop games at a basic level.

For more information on the BYU Center for Animation, visit its website. Additionally, “Relic Hunter,” “Vanguards” and “Nokbak” are free to play.

“Nokbak” is an arena shooter game for 3 to 8 players. This video shows how the game works.