The first graduating class of the Department of Computer Science’s new Game Design & Development concentration (GDD) launched their game, “Mission Rovee,” to the public on Steam on April 30. Sphere Province Games, the students’ game design studio, published the game at the end of their 3-semester development capstone. Steam is one of the major video game distribution platforms for PC and sold an estimated 400 million video games in 2023. 

“Mission Rovee” is the first game designed and produced by students as part of the Department of Computer Science’s new Game Design and Development concentration. Gameplay occurs on an uncharted planet where players control a rover and collect minerals while keeping the rover battery charged. If the battery dies, the game ends. Players win by collecting enough minerals to finish the mission.  

The students on the development team are Andrew Everage-Scheible, Pandora Roberts, Victoria Moon, Jeffrey Harmon, Jared Bowman, and Tommy Nguyen, and all of them were finishing their computer science majors while trying to publish their game. In addition to the demanding GDD capstone, the students completed their software engineering capstone at the same time.

Game development is a multidisciplinary effort; the concentration collaborates with the Schools of Art and of Music in Ball State’s College of Fine Arts to offer their students the chance to apply their skills to a live development environment. Students from the animation program and the media production program work with the developers to create art, animations and music for the game to make it look and sound as beautiful as it plays. Robin Walma, a music composition and media production double major, created the soundtrack for the game. 

Publishing a game on Steam is no small feat. First, you need an enjoyable, playable game that people will want to buy—the hardest part of the process. But Steam requires each developer to apply for their own Employee Identification Number and pay a small fee to access the platform. Additionally, a digital storefront must be created, and marketing materials like a gameplay trailer and promotional screenshots provided. Then Steam must review the submitted content. 

“There are so many different steps that you have to manage and figure out,” Jeffrey said. “[Steam] does tell you them all, but it’s way more than you would expect going into it. I don’t think any of us expected there to be that many steps.” 

As the first class to go through the development process, the team learned and adapted to many unexpected challenges on their game design journey. They formed their own company, Sphere Province Games LLC, to manage and maintain control of the game after graduation, opened a bank account to pay the Steam fees and collect profits, and created a website for the game.  

Jeffrey Harmon, one of the student developers, described the final step in their year-long journey: 

“There’s a big green button that says publish. You click that, and it takes you to another page saying, ‘Hey, are you sure you want to publish?’ And you’re like, ‘Okay, now’s the time for real.’ You click it, and it takes you to another page saying, ‘Hey, are you really sure you want to publish?’ So it took, like, three or four tries. Eventually it’s like, ‘Hey, type this in to confirm,’…and finally we actually got it published.”  

Creating a video game is even more complex than publishing one.  

Development Begins 

The project began in Spring 2023. Students spent the first of their three-semester development program in pre-production, brainstorming ideas for the game. To aid their creative processes and create a game worth playing, the students turned to analog solutions. 

“We had to do prototypes—physical prototypes— to find something that was fun. Then we moved into digital prototypes, making very small iterations of the game, testing different things,” Harmon said.  

Mission Rovee on Steam

Pandora Roberts and Victoria Moon came up with the idea for the rover game. At the end of the semester, the group had three ideas they wanted to develop into games. 

Next, they pitched their ideas to the Games Advisory Board, a group of professional developers who volunteered to consult with the students to identify the game with the most promise. The Board approved all three demo ideas, but the demands of a tight production schedule forced the team to pick one game to focus on. That game ended up being “Mission Rovee.” 

“It was the highest rated among that group of professionals, so we kind of naturally gravitated toward that,” Andrew said. 

Ramping up Production 

The next two semesters saw the game enter alpha and beta testing phases. New players were brought in to test the game and offer new perspectives to create more playable iterations of the game.  

Compared to most other video games, “Mission Rovee” is unique. Instead of controlling the rover through a traditional game controller or joystick, the game adopts an alternative controller setup where players operate the rover using a terminal-style command interface that allows players to type keyboard commands to the rover to explore and interact with the environment. No doubt this gameplay decision pays homage to the many lines of code the students typed in similar terminal windows as computer science majors. 

Mission Rovee Concept Art

“This game [is] something brand new, something unique, and something that makes you think and process what your next move is going to be rather than naturally gravitating towards WASD or the joysticks,” Jared said. “I think that’s kind of what we saw in terms of uniqueness in the play style.”  

These gameplay decisions result in a unique, easygoing experience. 

“It’s a very calm, relaxed game. There’s no time pressure,” Jeffrey said. 

After the game finished testing, Sphere Province Games prepared “Mission Rovee” for launch. 

Managing the Game 

The biggest challenge facing the team now is managing their creation after graduation. Each member of Sphere Province Games is a graduating senior, and the team is figuring out how to maintain the game as their time at Ball State ends and they go their separate ways.  

“Now, because we have that company, what we need to do is decide who’s going to continue this, how many they’re going to be, where we can set up official communication pools…, payment details with the bank, and stuff like that,” Andrew said.  

Publishing a video game is not the last step in the development process. Behind the scenes maintenance is necessary to keep the game playable for buyers. 

“It’s not the same as a regular class where ‘class is over, we’re done, there’s nothing else to do, we’ve done our final project. We’re done.’ This is out there in the public, and we’ve formed an actual company, an actual bank account, and all sorts of actual legal stuff. We can’t just abandon it because, maybe there’s a bug—someone has to fix that issue in the software. People are paying for this. Not a lot, but people are still paying for this, so if it’s a broken game, they expect something that works,” Jeffrey said.  

The developers are also considering adding more content and features, like playable maps, to the game.  

Dr. Paul Gestwicki, Professor of Computer Science, oversees the Game Design and Development Concentration and led the students through the three-semester capstone. He praised their hard work and perseverance in seeing the project through to the end. 

“This team of students has given me a lot to be proud of,” Dr. Gestwicki said. “I have tried to teach them everything I could, and in many of their collaborations, they now know more than I do! The team did not just create a fun and unique piece of entertainment: they did it using rigorous software engineering techniques that are often overlooked in the games industry.”  

“Mission Rovee” is only the first of many games to be designed by creative students in this exciting new concentration. The future of game development at Ball State looks bright thanks to the pioneering efforts of the Sphere Province Games team. 

“Mission Rovee” is available to buy on Steam today for $1.