KSU Game Development Club helps students develop their programming and professional skills

Author: 
Nathan Bean

While many students enjoy playing computer games, some want to go farther with their interest, designing their own original computer games.

The K-State Game Development Club (GDC) exists to help these students meet this desire.  Boasting over 60 members, the club meets weekly to study game design practices and organize into development teams around game concepts proposed by members.  These teams work throughout the academic year at bringing these game concepts to life, often presenting them at K-State’s open house.  In addition to these ongoing game development efforts, the GDC members also participate in Game Jams – typically a 72-hour competition where teams of 1-4 students create a game from the ground up to embrace the Jam’s theme.  The strict time constraints encourage a different kind of game development than the year-long games, often forcing students to focus tightly on a single polished gameplay mechanism.  Thus, participating in the GDC helps students not only develop their game development skills, but builds communication, teamwork, and leadership.

In the 2014-2015 school year, the GDC participated in three Game Jams: Texas A&M’s pilot game jam with a theme of “Water”, where CIS Freshman Joy Hauser and her team won best overall for their game “Keep Swimming,” where the player steered a fish away from hungry predators and human pollution while collecting points.   A GDC team also participated in Ludum Dare, a worldwide online game jam with the theme of “everything on one screen”, developing an ant colony simulation game, “puissANT”.  Finally, the club, in conjunction with the K-State Board Games Club and K-State Game Club hosted their own game jam with the theme of “Securing the Future.”  The event was a great success, with over 60 students participating and sponsorship extended by Unity3D, Civics Plus, G.E. Aviation, and Cerner allowing for event t-shirts, catered meals, and grand prizes of Unity’s Pro game engine licenses for the winning teams.

In many ways, game programming represents the greatest challenge for an aspiring programmer and a synthesis of all their prior studies.  Games are real-time multi-agent simulations with a fully-realized visualization component; in effect a game is a mathematical simulation of a world, which must both update the state of the world, handle user input, and convert that mathematical representation into a visual one in the span of one screen refresh – typically 1/60th of a second.  To accomplish this task requires a very good grasp of algorithm design and analysis, as well as a detailed understanding of memory structure and platform and language constraints; while avoiding cache misses and minimizing garbage collections have fallen out of many programmer lexicons, they are bread-and-butter considerations for a game programmer.  Further, networked games bring in considerable need to understand network structures, develop custom packets and minimize their size, building predictive models to combat latency, and establish anti-cheating measures become vital.

It should come as little surprise that students who have been active in the GDC and have taken game programming technical electives are in high demand among employers.  Many of our alumni who have come through these programs take prestigious – but not game-related – positions at employers like Garmin, Microsoft, and Google, and continue to develop games as a rewarding hobby.  However, for those who wish to pursue game development careers, the GDC serves an additional role; for in addition to a BS in Computer Science, game development companies want to see a portfolio of original games developed by their applicants, and between their GDC year-long efforts, Game Jam entries, and game projects developed for classes, GDC members really shine.

This year the GDC is expanding its efforts, planning to again host their own intercollegiate Game Jam, compete in Texas A&M’s game jam, and compete in multiple Ludum Dare events.  Moreover, the club will be sending members to the International Game Developer’s Conference – the world’s largest professional game development conference – to meet and learn from the best in the industry and bring the knowledge they acquire back to the club.

If you are interested in supporting the Game Development club, gifts can be made securely online at www.found.ksu.edu/give/gamedevelopment or by contacting the engineering development office toll-free at 800-432-1578 or engineering@found.ksu.edu.