News spread across campus about the University of New Mexico (UNM) landing in The Princeton Review’s top 10 of U.S. schools for its video game design program for 2012. Now, game designers at UNM look to create some big-hit games that could hit the shelves, though challenges present themselves for this goal at an academic institution.
The Advanced Graphics Lab (AGL) is within the Department of Electric and Computer Engineering at UNM, and students in this program have published their work on the Xbox Marketplace, a highly popular online video game store accessible on the Internet or through the Xbox console itself. Tens of thousands of downloads have taken place for three of their most popular arcade games costing about a dollar each.
Now faculty and students hope to move beyond arcade games and advance to more in-depth games that could land on the shelf at the local video game store.
Dr. Pradeep Sen, who founded of AGL in 2006, said, “When I arrived at UNM, there was a little bit of game development going on but it was not well structured, not a formal program. So the thing I’ve been doing in the last five years is making it a more formal program, getting people out the door and getting them jobs,” Sen said.
Sen graduated with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University, according to the AGL website.
Mauricio Aguinaga, a Ph.D. candidate in electric engineering at UNM, works closely with Sen and the student designers. He mentioned two in-depth games that were in the works. One is a zombie game, and another is a game they titled “Aztecha,” which will be based on the historical Spanish and Aztec conflict but with high-tech weaponry.
“The ultimate goal for this program is getting a video game you can actually find in Gamestop,” Aguinaga said.
The games have been put on hold while Sen works toward his tenureship, but Aguinaga expects them to develop over the next year.
However, a fellow computer engineer, with game development experience, expects a significant challenge.
Craig Buchanan graduated from Purdue University with a degree in computer engineering and now works at Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque. He said a massive amount of time and energy go into producing even just one of AGL’s current arcade games. He said the problem with AGL’s ultimate goal is that at an undergraduate, academic research, the students are there for a short amount of time.
“The people who are actually going to make an impact on this game, the people who are actually going to be able to do something worthwhile for the project are going to be really talented juniors and seniors,” he said. “Then they’re gone and you’ll get new people you have to train up.”
According to Sen, since AGL is such a successful program, graduating students found jobs or even started their own companies. He said there are students who now work for Disney Interactive, Adobe, Sandia National Laboratories and Microsoft.
Sen said the possibility of gathering talented student developers is greater, thanks to The Princeton Review ranking. He said the recognition has already attracted talented students across the world to UNM and AGL.
“It’s the snowball effect. Once you’re a top-10 team, you can recruit better players and everyone wants to play for you,” he said, and hopefully they’ll play for a big-hit game.