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University of Utah students show off video game designs

SALT LAKE CITY — The video game design lab in the University of Utah's Merrill Engineering Building was all but overflowing Tuesday as students tried their hands at the latest crop of student-produced games.

In one corner, players stood with arms outstretched surrounded by mounted fans as their character likeness mimicked their motions and fell through the air on a screen in front of them. Nearby, players imitated the various characters of the zodiac as they raced to the top of a digital mountain.

Kyle Chittenden said members of his team put in 20- to 40-hour work weeks over the past year on their game "Magnetic By Nature."

"It was a merger of a ton of different concepts, a ton of different ideas and a ton of different talents," Chittenden said.

The 10-student team, made up of six artists and four programmers, is launching its game on the Xbox LIVE network and on Tuesday began a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for an extender version.

The students have a goal of raising $10,000, Chittenden said, which would help them build and launch a Mac or PC edition of "Magnetic By Nature."

"There is so much more we can put into the game," he said.

Chittenden's game was one of several on display Tuesday. The gaming lab was filled beyond capacity as students hopped from computer to computer, taking a spin at the different student projects.

"There have been people on the computers all freaking day," he said. "The feedback has been great."

The showcase was part of a three-day event designed to show off student work.

Bob Kessler, executive director of the electronic arts and engineering program, said industry professionals were given a chance to meet with students privately on Monday, followed by Tuesday's public event and continuing Wednesday with Machinima Fest, which features animated films created by students.

"This whole thing is about a way to cap off the entire year and show off what they've been doing," Kessler said.

The electronic arts and engineering program was created three years ago as an interdisciplinary effort between the University of Utah's fine arts and engineering colleges and has already achieved national acclaim.

Last month, the Utah Board of Regents authorized the creation of a stand-alone master's degree program, which Kessler said will provide for greater specialization as students prepare for careers in the video game industry.

Kessler said faculty members recognized the need for students to learn the collaborative nature between artists and computer programmers. The program is unique, he said, in that it is designed to cultivate the kind of team scenarios students would experience in their professional lives.

"We don't teach students to work together. We force them together all the way from their freshman to their senior year," Kessler said. "By doing that, they get exposed to each other's ways of doing things and their processes. From that, they learn how to work together, and that's the way it is in the industry."


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