It’s a brave, new electronic world. The evolution of how people send and receive information — and how they make decisions — is a game-changer.
And with that thought in mind, faculty and students are designing their own interactive media tool, aimed at introducing prospective students and their families to the University through a communication venue today’s students enjoy and are truly comfortable using — gaming technology.
Robert McCloud, associate professor of computer sciences and information technology, heads the project team that is developing this new recruiting and information tool. The team includes several faculty members with complementary skills such as 3D animation and digital motion, music composition and script writing.
The process has involved extensive research and the creation of three-dimensional models of SHU buildings, classrooms, dormitories, food-service areas, athletic venues and other campus sites, as well as objects typically found in those areas, McCloud says. The team has created 3D animated characters including a gremlin, zombie and rabbit, which will be “bots” in the game. The project also involves developing an extensive digital motion library and has focused on interactive gaming strategies that let users explore life on the SHU campus.
The alpha, or advance version, is being tested now; the beta, or revised version, will be available for user testing early this year.
As the idea for this project began crystalizing, the real catalyst was knowing that the talent needed to create all the necessary sophisticated elements already existed on campus, McCloud says, and through good timing, vision and expansion already under way, the resources were likely to be available as well.
“As planning moved forward for the new Martire Business & Communications Center, we realized we had all the elements needed to tackle this exciting, dynamic challenge,” says McCloud. “We floated the idea of creating a 3D digital laboratory that would mimic a moderately sized, professional motion-capture studio and allow students ‘real world’ access and hands-on experience to our Digital Initiatives Committee. Our concept was warmly received, and the laboratory was built. Developing a game for prospective students began as a graduate class project and then carried over into the summer and fall as a team collaborative challenge.”
Faculty involved in this project include Associate Professor Mike Ventimiglia, who is working on the music; Creative Writing Lecturer Marie Hulme, who is working with students on scriptwriting; Ardiana Sula, director of the Jandrisevits Learning Center (JLC), supervising 3D object creation; and Jaya Kannan, director of Digital Learning, who is overseeing user testing in the new Digital Learning Center.
Sula teaches one of the courses that introduces students to animation theory and techniques. Her responsibility, she says, was to lead the development of the 3D objects using MAYA programming software, and to ensure the features developed by the project team were produced to the highest possible quality.
“One of my main goals in this project is to teach and practice the principles of 3D digital modeling, learning about new tools and incorporating them together to develop this game,” Sula says. “By participating in real game development, students develop new animation techniques and working experience that they can use in other projects. Preparing students with these valuable skills will make a big difference to their future employment and career.
“Additionally, this game, when completed, offers enhanced value by exposing new students and prospects to University resources before they arrive on campus, which should positively impact recruiting efforts and outreach and help new students assimilate more easily.”
Sourabh Dadapure, a graduate computer science student pursuing a professional game-design track, said the opportunity to work on this project was a perfect match for his interests and skills.
“My role is to head the 3D objects modelling team,” Dadapure explains. “That has involved leading the effort to create the game environment, such as identifying and building the objects and venues that exist in the game. These include, for example, Sacred Heart University’s Fairfield campus, Christian Witness Commons (a residence hall) and many other places and objects visitors would find as they explored our campus.”
Dadapure adds that the classes he’s taken with McCloud and other SHU faculty have been fun and interesting and are playing a key role in helping him and his teammates develop the game. “Gaming is my hobby, but through this hands-on process and exposure, I hope to turn that hobby into a profession,” he says. “Having ‘student head of the 3D modelling team’ on my résumé will add value to my post-graduate opportunities.”
McCloud, who studied at Carnegie-Mellon last summer, says that when the game is completed, it will be available for free download at the Microsoft Store and possibly at other gaming sites like Steam and FGL.com, a game-distribution site owned by a SHU graduate. Microsoft has provided grants and financial support to the computer science gaming program, he adds, and he also credits program chair Dom Pinto for his support of the program.
“This is a perfect fit for our goal of building worthwhile ‘real world’ experiences and for preparing our students for today’s rapidly changing world,” McCloud notes. “Having this program on our campus is a magnet for students and professional studios interested in new talent. Additionally, it further demonstrates how SHU is on the leading edge of evolving technologies.
“Best of all, the collaboration between faculty and students has been extraordinary — we’re all having fun, learning as we go, and we realize that this is only a beginning … we may be starting our journey with a recruiting and orientation tool, but the options for future development projects are limitless, and we’re preparing to ride that wave wherever it takes us.”