Drone Commander, By U of U Entertainment Arts and Engineering Program

University program showcases student-made games, addresses drone traffic

By Cara MacDonald, KSL.com | Posted - Apr. 27, 2019 at 10:56 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah’s Electronic Arts and Engineering program showcased a variety of student-made games at their launch week on Wednesday, including an application which will help Salt Lake City manage future drone traffic.

The program’s annual launch day provides an opportunity for the public to try student-made games, many of which are published for open download. “Drone Command,” one such game, will be utilized in planning for the growing prevalence of drones in Salt Lake City’s skies.

Drone Command

As drones become more and more popular for things other than photography, experts predict that it won’t be long before the skies over cities will be alive with buzzing drones delivering packages, shuttling passengers or transporting medical supplies. To prepare for that possibility, a group of students in the EAE program is developing an app to help city officials plan for drone traffic, according to a University of Utah news release.

“Drone Command is a game built as part of an ongoing research project run by EAE’s Games and Therapeutic Apps Lab, sponsored by the Utah Department of Transportation,” EAE Director Michael Young, a professor in the U’s School of Computing, told KSL.com. “The game simulates drone operations over the Salt Lake Valley, and players can experience challenges that reflect a number of real-world issues that come with drone operations.”

The app, created as part of the EAE program’s Therapeutic Games and Apps Lab (GApps Lab), is a lot like the game “Sim City” with an illustration of Salt Lake City scaled to the correct dimensions, according to the news release. By demonstrating where drone traffic might occur, city officials will be able to better plan for congestion.

Screenshot from Drone Command; University of Utah Electronic Arts and Engineering

They titled their game “Drone Command." The app will be delivered to the Utah Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration upon completion, where it will be utilized in Salt Lake City, which is one of the first cities expected to experience heavy drone traffic.

The student group demonstrated their game at the annual EAE launch on April 24, which occurs each year to show off the latest crop of video games being revealed to the public.

EAE Launch Day

“EAE Launch is our program’s annual showcase of student work, timed around the completion of our students’ capstone project classes and the publishing of their games,” Young explained. “At EAE Launch, the public gets a chance to play all the completed games by our students, talk with the students who made the games and the faculty that taught them, and learn all about EAE’s educational and research activities.”

Young said that this year over 400 visitors came to see the student’s games and more than 30 projects were showcased. Students have been working on these games for at least one semester, and some were completed as long-term capstone projects. Here are some of the games that were featured at the event:

  • Hard Light Vector: This 3D, first-person game allows the player to traverse an alien environment and fight to protect recollections about the dead from corruption.
  • Sky Shepherd: An “atmospheric” game which features a lone survivor of a skyfaring tribe as its main character. The player uses a flute to herd a group of mysterious creatures as they explore the sky.
  • Fast Travel: A racing game where the player rides a hoverbike through strange and dangerous landscapes in an attempt to deliver loot boxes.
  • Lonely Skies: The player flies a rickety airship through a hazardous landscape, stealing parts from other ships to keep the vehicle running along the way.
  • Time Break: The game is set in an alternate reality in which the player controls a cop who uses a time-slowing watch to stop crime and save the city.
“One new element of EAE Launch this year was the addition of games built by students in our projects class focused on alternate controller games — where students designed games to be played using physical controllers other than mice, keyboards or the usual console controllers,” Young added. “Our students showcased games where they had built controllers ranging from Tesla Spheres to ouija boards to martial arts punching dummies. As you can imagine, these games were a big hit with visitors.”

To read about more projects featured at the EAE Launch, see the Games department at the University of Utah.

What is “EAE”?

The Electronic Arts and Engineering degree at the University of Utah is ranked as one of the world’s best game development programs. The department has brought together a collection of instructors and professors with expert knowledge in each aspect of game development and production. Students not only develop skills, but they also create professional game portfolios.

“For the past 11 years, we’ve been offering classes and degrees that focus on the creation, enhancement, and the study of games,” Young said. “Those classes integrate game art, design, engineering, and production in ways that prepare our graduates for interdisciplinary, team-based work that’s central to the games industry.”

It is ranked No. 3 in the nation both for its Electronic Arts and Engineering graduate program and undergraduate program and has published over 99 student projects. “Our faculty and students work on research problems in a number of areas, including games for health, games for learning and training, modeling and simulation, and Game AI,” Young said.

He added that all students are required to publish a game before they graduate. This year, EAE students have published more than 20 games. “Many of our published games are available to download for free on digital publishing sites like Steam, the IOS App Store and Google Play,” Young concluded.

Take a look at some games published through the EAE program here.

Cara MacDonald

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