A team of Drexel University students took home first prize at the University Games Showcase competition of the Intel Game Developers Conference (GDC) for their self-designed video game on March 17. The game, called Mirrors of Grimaldi, also earned the team $10,000.
The Intel GDC is an annual event, widely regarded as one of the largest game development conferences in the world. The University Showcase portion chooses its contestants from Princeton Review’s list of top ten collegiate game design programs, which includes both undergraduate and graduate programs. Drexel’s program has graced this list in years past, but this year marks the first time a Drexel team has won the competition.
The game itself is designated as a local multiplayer game, which means that the four players must all be sitting in the same place. The players each create their own unique “town peasant” which serves as their character in the game. When gameplay commences, the screen divides into four quadrants (one for each player) as the four characters are placed in a carnival riddled with demons. As the players battle these computer-generated demons, they are able to hit them straight across the screen boundaries into the quadrants of their fellow players.
In a unique twist, the divided screens do not remain constant in size. As a player finds themselves in the presence of more and more demons, the size of their screen compresses accordingly, freeing up more room for the other three players. The game ends for a player when their portion of the screen shrinks entirely. The last player to remain on the screen when the others have been edged out is crowned the winner.
“The idea started as a simple comment when we were at a bar, brainstorming. One of our members asked ‘what if we made a splitscreen game where the screen moved.’ We didn’t really think much about it until we sat down at a later date and talked about how the game would actually work,” producer Andrew Lichtsinn explained in an email interview.
“When we presented the idea to our advisor she immediately got very excited and we realized that the idea was a lot better than we eventually gave it credit for. That was when we knew that was the idea to run with,” Lichtsinn continued.
There are eight minds that led to the creation and ultimate victory of Mirrors of Grimaldi. Producer Andrew Lichtsinn, lead programmer Thomas Trahey, programmer Boyd Fox, art director Evan Freed and artists Patrick Bastian and Steven Yaffee all hail from Westphal College’s undergraduate Game Design & Production program. Organic modeler/rigger Alison Friedlander is an animation and visual effects major, and programmer Alexander Hollander is an undergraduate computer science major. The group created the game as their collective senior design project, which was overseen by digital media professor Jichen Zhu.
The Mirrors of Grimaldi team edged out games from schools like Carnegie Mellon University, New York University, and the Rochester Institute of Technology to claim their unprecedented victory.
“Honestly it just feels great to have people confirm that our game idea is as cool as we thought. From the beginning we knew the idea was a bit experimental and we were not sure for the longest time that it would actually be any fun. Being recognized just makes all the long hours we poured into this project that much more worth it; and makes us all excited for the future of the project,” Lichtsinn enthused.
As far as anyone looking to gain insight on the team’s success, Lichtsinn offered his opinion on what the process has taught the eight students.
“I think the biggest thing we learned is to spend a ton of time [brainstorming] many ideas until you find one that’s special. We worked as a group from the very beginning and can’t honestly credit a specific person with the entire design of game and I believe that was important in making sure everyone on the team was 100 percent invested in this game,” he explained.
“I’m very proud of every single student in the team. From the inception of the project last summer, to winning the internal competition to represent Drexel, to winning the first prize among the 10 best gaming university programs, they have put a tremendous amount of work and shown incredible team spirit. In this journey that started last summer, I witnessed personal and professional development in each one of them,” Jichen Zhu, Director of the Procedural Expression Lab and faculty advisor to the Mirrors of Grimaldi team, said in an email interview.
The Mirrors of Grimaldi octet is now focusing on preparing the game for an official launch, with hopes of publishing on itch.io at the end of spring and after that maybe even Steam Greenlight and Xbox One. The game, still officially in the alpha stage of the development process, is available for Mac and PC download at http://51standfire.com/play-now/.