At Connecticut’s Quinnipiac University, MMORPGs and first-person shoot ’em ups aren’t just fun and games — they’re career achievements waiting to be unlocked. That’s where art and technology aficionado Gregory Garvey oversees the Game Design and Development major program, so the creators of the next Donkey Kong or Pokémon GO can get their first life in the digital realm. Already a member of Quinnipiac’s Department of Visual and Performing Arts, Garvey had been bugging the school best known for its public opinion polls to integrate gaming for some time before finally getting the green light in 2010.
“We offered our first classes in 2011,” Garvey says, “and we’ve been growing since.”In just five years, Quinnipiac’s program has grown to be the 39th best in the world, according to the Princeton Review, eclipsing almost 400 other schools in the U.S. alone. With Garvey’s vast experience and industry pedigree, it’s easy to understand why.
Garvey dabbled in electronic music as a graduate student before going on to create provocative, technologic art installations like “Gender Bender,” with a Ken/Barbie mash-up joystick that placed a user somewhere on the spectrum between male and female, and “The Automatic Confession Machine,” a computer display that would calculate a sinner’s penance and provide a handy printout for their records.www.flickr.com/photos/seancuttlefish/
While at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies, Garvey got a chance to do some real-life level development after gleaning inspiration from the arcane basement of the storied school.
“There literally is a maze underground,” Garvey says,” where all the buildings are connected.”
Garvey created a computer-controlled, interactive labyrinth where unsuspecting subjects were boxed in with a “lobster trap algorithm” that would snap shut any door behind them, as they searched for a way out. The pattern that would lead to escape was almost impossible to predict, so the taskmaster was nice enough to include panic buttons “if anyone flipped out, couldn’t handle it [and] got claustrophobic,” Garvey says.
The fellowship at MIT led to a position at a little company named Parker Brothers in the mid-’80s, just the right time for Garvey to participate in the conversion of classic arcade games like Donkey Kong and Frogger to PC and console format. Garvey would later work on game adaptations of other media for Spinnaker Software, including those based on Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrenheit 451, and even the 1960s courtroom drama Perry Mason.
All of that history now informs the 39-credit game development major, which can focus on either the structure and rules of games, or the development of in-game features and characters.
“I think our program is well-rounded and touching on a number of things,” Garvey says, as it’s based on the International Game Developers Association framework for university curricula.
While that breadth covers different subjects like the business of games and the direction of voice actors, the core courses are appropriately focused in scope.
“Everybody says the best way to learn to make games is — you makes games,” Garvey says.
Game Design and Development 101 is entirely analog, forcing students to completely plot out and plan an entire game before ever entering a line of code. Programming skills are required in most other classes, though, and it’s only natural that many of the 76 current participants are double majors with computer science.It’s hard work that’s already paid off for Garvey’s past and current students, as one alumnus created the Frogger-like Cookie Monster Hop for Sesame Street, and another’s published the Steam game Rook Fall. Some present enrollees will get to display at this year’s PAX East convention in Boston, while others have worked on Microsoft’s “mixed reality” HoloLens technology, which maps images onto a view of the real world.
The man who witnessed the start of the video game revolution thinks that HoloLens and similar “augmented reality” adventures, like the 500-million-times downloaded Pokémon GO, are the true future, and the more hyped virtual reality will eventually fall by the wayside.
“VR is going to remain a niche, where augmented reality is going to really explode,” Garvey says. Power-hungry, clunky VR headsets won’t be able to compete, “whereas the accessible version is right in your hand with your smartphone.”