Pilot a rover over the surface of an unknown planet. Decide what a high school student studies and how it affects their ability to get into college. Learn about the local ecosystem and the role various animals play in it. These are some of the games Ball State University students displayed at the 2023 biennial Symposium on Games. 

Many of these games were demoed at the 2023 Symposium on Games, which took place on Thursday, November 9, 2023 in the L. A. Pittenger Student Center. 

Rover game is one of the first capstone projects to come out of the new game design and development concentration. Rover game—final title TBD— is an alternative controller (alt-ctrl) game. Players control a rover probe on an unidentified planet using a terminal-style command interface. They explore and interact with the environment and eventually reach an endgame experience. As the project is still in its alpha phase, many elements of the plot are still being worked out. The game is scheduled to enter beta in Spring 2024. The students developing Rover formed an LLC to market and profit off of the game and eventually publish it on Steam, a popular gaming store. 

Another game on display at the Symposium is HabiTile. Immersive Learning funded the development of HabiTile and many previous community-engaged games. It finished development in Spring 2023. A diverse group of students, including computer scientists, artists and musicians, created HabiTile for CS490, Software Production Studio. Students generated a prototype of the game in CS215, Introduction to Game Design. 

Studio Hungus, HabiTile‘s production group, collaborated with Minnetrista to “create a light tactical game that cultivates curiosity about the local ecosystem,” according to the studio website.  

HabiTile is an upbeat, two-player strategy game where one gains or loses points based on where tiles are placed on the board. Each tile, based on an animal within the local ecosystem of Muncie, IN, grants a player different point values based on what tiles are adjacent to it upon placement (including diagonals). The game ends when all spaces on the board have been occupied; at which point, the players’ scores are compared. The player with the most points wins! 

The Department of Computer Science introduced the Game Design and Development (GDD) concentration to its curriculum in 2022. This unique interdisciplinary program collaborates with animation and music media production majors to develop games with impressive graphics and full soundtracks. 

The Game Design and Development prepares students with everything they need to design and develop digital games. Students learn how to follow a player-centered design process for creating original interactive media, and take cross-discipline courses to learn 3D animation and digital sound manipulation. GDD concentration students collaborate on interdisciplinary teams to create original video games in an authentic modern studio environment, using contemporary best practices and industrial-strength tools. 

The program culminates in a three-semester collaborative project to create an original game in a modern studio environment. Students can then release the game on major distribution platforms.  

The game design capstone occurs in two stages: preproduction for one semester, and production for a year. Preproduction lays the groundwork for the game and includes digital and analog elements. The digital side— building, mechanics, and coding— occurs during production over the next two semesters. 

The Symposium keynote speech featured Tyler Thompson, creator of the video game Cattails. Cattails is a cat life simulation role-playing game available on Steam. Thompson is an independent game developer and founder of Falcon Development, LLC. He is based out of Westfield, Indiana. He developed Cattails in 2017 and published a sequel, Cattails: Wildwood Story, in October 2023. Thompson spoke about the challenges and joys of working as an independent game developer and encouraged the audience to work hard and publish their games as the best way to gain experience as a game designer.

Over 100 people attended the symposium. After Thompson spoke, several professors from Ball State, IU Indianapolis and Anderson University presented other game-related topics. Students from IU Indianapolis and Anderson visited the Symposium, too.  

Outside of the presentation room, many game developers showcased their projects in a demo hall. Three Ball State student groups proudly displayed the games they are producing in the Department of Computer Science game design and development concentration. Two student groups from IU Indianapolis and an independent game developer, Moonbow Entertainment, demoed their projects, too. 

Dr. Paul Gestwicki, a professor of computer science, is the conference chair of a committee of faculty and staff who organize the biennial Symposium on Games. One of Gestwicki’s research projects is a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math game funded by the Indiana Space Grant. In this game, players take on the role of a high school student making a series of decisions about their academic interests that will affect their future and impact the type of college they can attend.

[This game is] trying to help kids, especially middle school kids, realize those decisions they can make that would impact their career options in the future,” Gestwicki said.  

Once the game is finished, they will consider marketing it to local schools. It will be self-published online with the University’s backing. 

[It’s about] making them see that these are real things,” Dr. Gestwicki said. “They’re not that far away. They’re not scary. You can talk to your friends about it. That’s kind of the idea.”  

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