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SALT LAKE CITY — Most professors would be annoyed to know their students are playing games in class. But that's not the case for the University for Utah's Entertainment Arts and Engineering program, one of the top ranked video game design programs in the nation.
The U.'s video game design program Thursday was ranked third by the Princeton Review, behind the University of Southern California and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
It's a slip from its second place ranking in 2011, but it's far from game over for the program, still the top ranked public school on the list.
Students tinkered on their laptops with video games they will submit for a capstone project Thursday during class in the Warnock Engineering Building.
Everybody thinks I'm in a pretty cool major. I get to make games all day.
The games, "Curse of Shadows" and "Heroes of Hats," will be submitted to Xbox Live Indie Games at the end of the semester and go through a rigorous peer review process in hopes of being shipped, or available to the public.
"Everybody thinks I'm in a pretty cool major," said senior Alice Owens. "I get to make games all day. I feel like I hang out on the couch and mess around on my computer all day long. It's hard work, but it's enjoyable for me."
While most students have to buy textbooks for their classes, Owens said the only thing she needed to purchase was an Xbox controller. But it's not all fun and games for the students who put in long hours fixing bugs and perfecting their games.
One of the challenges is to create games that consumers can play anywhere on anything.
Roger Altizer, director of game design and production, said, "It's a changing market out there with the development of IOS and the explosion of portable gaming and social gaming. We want to make our students lead that charge and make a difference in the world of gaming."
The Princeton Review's methodology considers a number of factors including the courses offered to students, if the program is team driven and the percentage of the graduating class who worked on a game that shipped.
In 2011, all of graduating seniors worked on a game that shipped, the first time that has happened in the program's five-year existence. The three games that groups of seniors worked on for their capstone course — "Minions!" "The Last Podfighter" and "Mr. Gravity" — were submitted to Xbox Live Indie Games and approved. They are currently available to download for $1.
"Minions!" has sold nearly 20,000 downloads with much of the revenue going back to the students, said Roger Haycock, one of the students who worked on the game.
Tops for Video Game Design (undergrad)
|1.||University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)|
|2.||Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)|
|3.||University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT)|
|4.||DigiPen Institute of Technology (Redmond, WA)|
|5.||The Art Institute of Vancouver (Vancouver, British Columbia)|
|6.||Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY)|
|7.||Shawnee State University (Portsmouth, OH)|
|8.||Savannah College of Art and Design (Savannah, GA)|
|9.||University of New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM)|
|10.||Becker College (Worcester, MA)|
"I always liked playing (video games) and it's fun to make them the way you want them," he said.
Robert Kessler, executive director of the program, said when the program began in 2007, the staff talked to those in the video game industry to find out how to best prepare students for the workforce.
"When we started, we went and talked to companies and found out what they wanted," Kessler said.
Company officials said they wanted "world class" artists and computer engineers who could work together. The program responded by teaming up students in both disciplines together in a capstone class culminating in a final game. It's an approach other schools are modeling their video game design programs after, said Altizer.
"Our vision for the future of our program is really that we'd see more and more people out there in the industry making a difference from the University of Utah," Altizer said. "We not only want to prepare students to work in the industry, but to lead the industry."
Contributing: Keith McCord