“Something like this has never really been done before for a school,” says Chris Primerano, a fourth-year computer science student. Primerano is the programmer for UTM’s latest ongoing project: a complete UTM-based video game.
“There are lots of schools that have done augmented reality apps, but to create a […] gaming app, where the land is the campus, and with characters, and with an intricate storyline […] We have yet to see that,” adds Jackie Goodman, the first-year transition and academic support coordinator at UTM.
The game, titled Guardians of UTM, is being developed with the help of students, members of the Office of Student Transition, and UTM professors. Players become part of the Secret Guardian Society—a group tasked with protecting the secrets of UTM. Groups are led by mascots such as The Blind Duck, Hartley the Deer, the UTM Eagle, and JimmiUTM. As players progress through the game, they must discover other SGS members and interrogate them for clues.
“It’s meant to be a tool for incoming students that will be introduced during orientation,” says Goodman. “It’s designed to be a six-week game and [after] that period, there will be an in-person event where they’ll have to use the clues and the tools that they’ve collected in the game to solve the puzzle.”
When designing the game, the team looked at puzzle-heavy games such as Pokémon or Zelda for inspiration since a traditional combat system was out of the question.
“While investigating SGS, you learn more about the department that they represent and the quests and puzzles inside the story represent what the department has to offer,” says Daniel Jayasinghe, a fourth-year accounting student and a writer for the game.
The game currently only has one chapter complete (45 minutes of gameplay), but according to Goodman, most of the work is on the backend. The game is expected to have 12 chapters.
Heather Shanahan, a third-year art history specialist and the art designer for this game, explained the process behind the production, which begins with Goodman describing the structure that the game should take.
“For example, a puzzle involving ‘blank’ department on campus that teaches the students about its ‘blank’ services,” says Shanahan. “Then all five of us will usually brainstorm an overarching way of integrating this into the game in a meeting.”
Jayasinghe then writes an outline, and Shanahan adds some touches and dialogue. Once the script is approved, the design work begins.
“I start drawing and animating all the elements that are new to this section, such as characters, rooms, and items,” says Shanahan.
Then, Primerano takes the art and develops a script for the images “to move and appear at specific prompts”.
Daniel Zingaro, a computer science lecturer at the UTM Department of Mathematical and Computational Sciences, has been acting as a programming consultant for the game. “I’ve co-supervised students working on gaming projects for the last few years—mobile games, audio games, games to teach computer science concepts to novice programmers—but I haven’t worked on something like our UTM gaming app before,” he says.
“I’d like the game to help us interact with new students that start at UTM in the coming years. I want students to have fun with this and meet other students and learn stuff about UTM that they didn’t know,” adds Zingaro.
The team encourages students to email them and get involved with the development of the UTM game. A series of testing events, such as the hackathon that took place last Friday and Saturday, are being planned throughout the year to test and improve the game through input from students.
The game is set to release in September 2016.