U of S Game Jam levels up

By in News

Student-built Running Man wins game design competition

You’re sprinting through a dystopian cityscape with a mysterious figure hunting you down. Or maybe you’re on the other side, setting loose an armada upon the radical you’re chasing. Running Man, an award-winning video game from University of Saskatchewan students, lets you decide.

The video game is a two-player experience, with one person using simple keyboard controls to take charge of Carlos Sandiego as he flees the bleak state of New Spain. While this on-screen figure dashes toward freedom, a second player can join in on the action and use the computer’s mouse to aim projectiles at their adversary as a faceless headhunter from the oppressive government.

Austin Black, a fourth-year computer science student at the U of S and one of two programmers involved in creating Running Man, was particularly satisfied with how the game’s oppositional mechanics turned out.

“I’ve always been a fan of asymmetrical player vs. player combat, and this was a fairly unique way to execute it. It’s heavily skill-based,” Black said in an email to the Sheaf. “I have a friend who is incredibly talented at these kinds of games and the first time he picked up the shooter controls he very nearly beat me at my own game despite the practice I had put into it and my knowledge of the game’s nuances.”

Running Man is one of several games designed during the Game with US Game Jam, an event put on by the U of S Human-Computer Interaction Lab that was held for the second time from Jan. 30 – Feb. 1. The competition had registered teams tasked with building a working video game in under 48 hours. Built by Foolish Mortals, a team of four friends, Running Man walked away from the most recent Game Jam with top honours.

Other members of Foolish Mortals included fourth-year computer science students Michael Long, who worked alongside Black as a programmer, and Mitchell Craig, the team’s environmental artist. William Selby, in his third year of interactive system design, acted as 3-D modeller and character artist. Both Long and Selby had experience with Game Jam, and came out on top of the competition in its first iteration.

With a team made up of prior winners and experienced, upper-year students, it’s not surprising that, with a little foresight, Foolish Mortals was able to craft their game with relative ease when the heat was on.

“We brainstormed a lot of ideas. This one had the most versatile game structure in terms of mechanics and features,” Black said. “After the initial core of the game had been built, adding powerups, etc. for Carlos and the shooter were fairly easy.”

Even so, the team’s experience was not without its pitfalls.

“It can be rough. We had a few interpersonal issues with differing opinions,” Black said. “In addition, merging coding at once is a fairly difficult procedure. We made sure to account for that and spent a lot of our finishing up time bug-hunting and repairing issues caused by combining code.”

While the competition was Game Jam’s premiere event, the weekend also featured a wealth of information and learning tools for those interested in pursuing video game design. Scheduled items included a series of hands-on tutorials covering everything from the basics to advanced game design as well as presentations from industry professionals Brennan Rusnell and Jacob Tran.

While Black admitted that the Game Jam’s schedule “seemed like a good way to level up our skillsets and experience quickly in a fun way,” he had his own advice for those who might be interested in pursuing game design.

“All of us have taken CMPT 306, the game mechanics course, from Kevin Stanley. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in making their own games,” Black said. “It’s a great jumping-off point.”