Earlier this week, some coworkers and I piled into a couple of cars and drove out to Ann Arbor for a showcase of games created by students from the University of Michigan (UM) and Eastern Michigan University (EMU).
They throw this showcase twice a year at the end of their semesters and it’s a fun way to meet people who are passionate about games and all of the work that goes into making them. I went last December and had a fantastic time, so I was excited to get to go again.
Back row from left to right: Game Developer Jacob, Senior Designer Will, Associate Designer Zack
Front row from left to right: Me, Administrative Assistant Kate, HR Operations Manager Raeann, Lead Developer Nathan (& his daughter!)
The student groups are given just 6 weeks to conceptualize, develop, program, and prepare their submissions (which are also a huge piece of their grade!) for the showcase. Considering the time constraints they’re working with, I think what these groups manage to turn around is extremely impressive.
Are there bugs? Of course! Do things sometimes go a little awry? You bet! Is it fun regardless? Absolutely!
At the beginning of the evening, the course instructors share a presentation where they discuss their courses and how their students have gone on to impact the games industry both in and outside of entertainment. The highlight of the presentation - for me, at least - are the teaser trailers created by the students to showcase the games we were about to play.
Jacob and Will go head-to-head in Biology 452: Field Ecology of Snail-Fungus Interaction
Making game trailers is obviously not the focus of their class - making the games is - but the efforts made in this department are always good for a chuckle and some genuine delight. Many of them contain tongue-in-cheek humor and poke a bit of fun at themselves, which I enjoy.
Now, I could sit here and just drone on and on about the games, my experiences, the trailers, etc - and I’m certainly going to do some of that! - but why just read about these games when you can watch the trailers and play them for yourself?
If you head over to this link, you can view all of the game trailers and download the games to play. There were so many games featured at the showcase - and a huge crowd to wade through! - so I didn’t get to play them all, but I’d like to share a bit about some of what I did get to play.
I had fun with this one, and the trailer definitely gave me a few laughs. I really enjoy seeing the students’ passion and enthusiasm for their games (and that’s not just limited to this one!) and chatting with them while I played was so enjoyable.
There were a few mechanics that were a bit poorly explained in the game text, but once the designers showed me what to do, I got the hang of it pretty quickly. I will say that Wracket the Tennis Goblin will live on in my heart forever, though.
Haunt (AKA: Skeleton with a Glock)
This was definitely my favorite game that I played. The trailer had my coworkers and I rolling as soon as we saw the gun in the skeleton’s hand - too good. The humor was tongue-in-cheek (I loved the NPC named Humerus) and the gameplay was fun, snappy, and easy to pick up.
We know it had a proper name, but we couldn’t stop just calling it “Skeleton with a Glock” - it was too funny.
I did manage to get to the end of this one and beat the boss, which is always a good feeling! Overall, it had great pacing for a demo and I enjoyed the upgrade mechanics and being able to purchase bigger and better guns/shields as the nights went on.
This was the first game I managed to muscle my way into playing that night (it was very crowded there!). I really liked the premise and the flight mechanic was nicely executed. The levels weren’t too confusing and the addition of wind gusts that directed your flight was a nice little puzzle to solve.
Now, it could just be that I’m getting old and that my eyes are going, but - aiming felt like a chore. I had a difficult time seeing the reticle (it was red) and it made it hard to deal with enemies while also trying to maneuver myself around.
Overall, though, I liked the game. I didn’t manage to get to the boss on the first level, but Jacob did - it was a giant minotaur - which was cool to see.
A shot of the showcase floor - there's more around the corners!
I wish I could have played them all and I certainly wish I could highlight each and every one of them in this blog - but that would take more time than I have! I encourage you to go take a look at the trailers and maybe even download and try the games out here. If you do, let me know what your favorite trailer/game is!
To the UofM and EMU students reading this: wonderful job! We had a blast meeting all of you and can't wait for the next showcase.