May 11, 2007 4:00 AM PDT
At USC, developing game coders
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To Medioni, the excitement surrounding the video game program is due, in large part, to the happy confluence of USC's having top-ranked film and engineering schools, both of which support a substantial amount of video game-related studying.
Medioni said no other university in the country can offer students interested in studying video games access to such a combination of highly related interactive and computer-science programs.
In addition, the school benefits from a growing number of video game companies establishing large presences in Los Angeles.
And that extends to those who want to study video games as part of a larger interest in programming and interactive design as well, he said.
"The idea of the games program is not to create game programmers," said Medioni. "It is to create very good programmers who have the ability to specialize. So in five years, if they decide video games is not what they want to do, they have the abilities of a full computer scientist.
Pamela Fox is one student who would agree with that assessment.
Fox is a star student in the GamePipe program who is about to graduate with master's and bachelor's degrees in computer science. She is a leader in the program, helping coordinate the demo day, teaching undergraduates and being seen by her peers as one of the most successful students the program has produced.
Yet she has chosen to go to work for Google as a support engineer in its Maps API division rather than Electronic Arts or one of its competitors.
Still, she credits her video game education with helping her get to the point where she can do nearly anything she wants in computer science.
"If you can make a good game," said Fox, "you've tackled a lot of the problems of computer science."
Notwithstanding Fox's decision to eschew the video game industry, many of the GamePipe students are, in fact, hoping to end up working for Electronic Arts, Activision, THQ or one of the other big names in the industry.
One of the advantages of GamePipe, meanwhile, is that it brings together many of the different elements of video game production under a single infrastructural umbrella. That means that the teams working on their final designs were able to turn to students in other USC departments for specific assets for their games.
For example, one group said it had gotten the music for its game from a USC music student, who had created the entire score for their game.
Others had gotten art assets from other students in the university.
Although a big part of the video game renaissance is due to the perseverance of people like Medioni, much of it also has to go to Michael Zyda, the director of GamePipe, a professor in the computer science department and a principal force behind the creation of the online game America's Army.
He said that as the institute gets closer to fruition and as GamePipe evolves, he is quickly outgrowing the small rooms the engineering school has to offer.
"I need a building," Zyda said. "So anyone from industry who has a building-size budget, we're taking checks at the door."
He also pointed out that after speakers from Activision began coming to visit his class, his students became enamored of the publisher, and several of them went to work there. He then invited representatives from the other companies in the room to follow suit.
"If you are not speaking in our program, and you want students to come to you," Zyda said, "please come speak, and the next thing, you will have students lining up at your door."
That's a marked turn of events, Zyda explained, from two years ago, when he arrived at USC after several years at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. He said that at that time, he had talked to several industry colleagues, and they had said they weren't interested in the school's students.
"'We do not recruit from the USC computer science department,'" he recalled them saying, '"because they do not produce the kind of people we need.' I said, 'I'll change that for you.' Last year, we placed 30 students" in industry internships and jobs.
One of the chief reasons behind that is USC's ability to give students a well-rounded view of how the video game industry works, including how various teams coordinate with each other on large projects, said Patricia Bojorquez, the manager of university relations for Activision.
She pointed to the creation of Bushido Beat as an example.
"Having them incorporate other students, not just programmers, but also designers," said Bojorquez, "it's been more pleasing to the eye to see it incorporated as a great game. The students here are amazing. We're really impressed with the way this program has been designed and how it's evolving."
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