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U. earns high scores for new video-game programs

Published March 9, 2011 9:55 am

University of Utah's undergraduate trackranked 2nd in nation.
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The University of Utah is aiming for a high score on the leaderboard ranking best video-game schools in the country.

The school's undergraduate program was ranked the second best in the nation in video-game design, behind USC's interactive digital media program. The U.'s program was even rated higher than Nintendo's own DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, Wash., according to a new report by The Princeton Review and GamePro Media.

Meanwhile, the university's new two-year video-game master's program, Entertainment Arts and Engineering (EAE), was ranked the sixth-best graduate school for video-game design, according to the report. (Among graduate programs, USC is also ranked No. 1.)

"It feels great," said Robert Kessler, executive director of the U.'s video-game program. "It's a validation of our approach to creating a video-game program and a 3-D animation program."

According to Kessler, there are more than 530 video-game design schools in the world.

The report's rankings were based on an evaluation of faculty, number of students and curriculum, among other factors.

Kessler said the U.'s emphasis in both the undergraduate and master's programs on teamwork, which is a key component in building video games, was a major factor in its high ranking.

"They have to learn to work together and, in essence, that's what we created with this program," Kessler said. "If you go and talk to Disney or EA [two video-game studios based in Salt Lake City] and people who work in the trenches, the artists and computer scientists are interacting all the time. It's the nature of the business."

The 3-year-old undergraduate program has about 150 students this year and mixes disciplines from the schools of computing and film. The graduate program, which launched its first class this year, has 22 students. In both programs, students receive instruction in all aspects of producing a video game, from concept to publishing the finished product.

When undergraduate student Michelle MacArt first started in the program in 2007, there were fewer students in her classes.

"My first class was 10 people, and now there's a hundred," she said. "It's fantastic to see it has expanded this far."

The senior, 22, is working on a shooting game played with an overhead perspective, which she and her fellow students hope to publish for the Xbox 360 this spring. She is helping produce the 3-D modeling for the game as well as composing the music.

"I'm a big video-game nerd. It's a passion," she said of why she entered the program. "I grew up on 'Mortal Kombat' and 'Doom.' "

This semester, graduate students are working on two games they hope to publish later this year — a pinball game in which the player is the ball and another called "Forever Hunted" in which the player tries to flee a monster in a maze.

Last semester, the students published a platforming puzzle game called "Urban Space Squirrels."

vince@sltrib.com.Twitter: twitter.com/ohmytech. —

U.'s got game

Wannabe video game designers with visions of making the next "Tomb Raider" or "Angry Birds" can get more information about the University of Utah's Entertainment Arts & Engineering Master Games Studio program at http://mgs.eae.utah.edu.






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