CDM embarks on transcontinental game development project with Japanese college
December 6, 2011
For the past two years, projects from DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM) game development program students have taken prizes at the Independent Games Festival (IGF). This year, Associate Professor Noriko Tomuro took her students to the epicenter of gaming to work on a 2011 submission.
DePaul students collaborated with students from Trident College of Computing in Japan to create Matsuri, an adventure game about travel between the worlds of humans and demons.
Tomuro had already been taking groups of students on study abroad trips to visit Microsoft Japan. In 2009, one of her Microsoft contacts told her that there was a Japanese vocational school looking to collaboratively develop games with a U.S. university.
“They had the idea of simultaneous but collaborative game development in two locations,” Tomuro says.
A challenging project
After meeting with Trident instructors, Tomuro saw both the challenge and opportunity presented by their proposal.
“I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to this,” she says. “It was going to be a lot of work. Especially for me, because the people at Trident don’t speak English and my students don’t speak Japanese, so I was the only translator. It was also a long time commitment – about a one-year project. On the other hand, no one had done this before – mixing an international collaboration and a student project – and that was a big selling point.”
In November 2010, the DePaul student group began their discussions about the game, meeting with their Japanese counterparts weekly via Skype. To compensate for the 15-hour time difference, the DePaul students stayed late and the Japanese students arrived at school early in the morning. In between Skype sessions, Tomuro kept communications open via email.
As luck would have it, half of DePaul’s students were designers and half were programmers, while the Trident team was split between programmers and artists. This allowed the DePaul students to focus on design with Trident taking the lead on art.
A trip overseas
By summer of 2011, Tomuro was ready to bring the groups of students together.
“The project hadn’t taken any shape yet, so it was time to get serious,” she says. “It just so happened that there was a Tokyo game show in September so it seemed like a good time to go if we could get funding.”
With the help of CDM Dean David Miller, Tomuro was able to help underwrite a portion of students’ travel costs, and five of them went to Japan with Tomuro in September.
First, the group visited the Tokyo Game Show where they were interviewed by gaming magazine RocketNews24. After Tokyo, the group rode the Shinkansen (bullet train) to the city of Nagoya, where Trident is located.
“In the mornings and afternoons, we worked together in one of Trident’s computer labs,” says Ryan Byczek, DePaul’s student leader on this project. “Being able to interact face-to-face greatly helped strengthen our bond and increased our efficiency as a team. Having designers, artists and programmers all working together was great, and having the ability to more effectively communicate and understand each other in real-time was even better.”
You can see Trident College’s article on the visit here.
Submitting the game
At the end of October, a simplified version of Matsuri was submitted for IGF judging with results expected in early January 2012.
“Had they not gone, I do not think the project could have been finished,” Tomuro says. “Though there was some difficulty in communication, they created a beautiful game.”
Tomuro is already back in Japan with a study abroad group where they will show Matsuri to commercial game companies for feedback.
As for leading another transcontinental game design project, she says, “I cannot tell you how much work it was, but I’m really happy with the decision I made. I probably need a one-year break, but I definitely want to do it again.”
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