March 21, 2005
UCSC to offer computer game design as a new
track for computer science students
By Tim Stephens
The development of interactive computer video games has become
a multi-billion-dollar industry that caters to the legions of
gaming enthusiasts with a steady output of new games featuring
ever greater levels of technical sophistication.
Halo 2, released in November 2004, had first-day
sales of $125 million, well above the opening-day revenue
of even the biggest Hollywood blockbusters.
Photo courtesy of Microsoft
For students whose interest in games goes beyond merely playing
them, UCSC's Jack Baskin School of Engineering now offers the
opportunity to specialize in computer game design through a
new track in the computer science major.
The Computer Science Department has put together a series
of courses that will give students an in-depth introduction
to the design and technology of interactive computer video games.
"The students we've talked to are very excited about it.
To my knowledge, this is the first undergraduate initiative
in computer gaming in the UC system," said Ira Pohl, professor
and chair of computer science. "There are a few places
nationally that have similar programs, but it is still a new
area." Through a combination of new and existing courses,
the computer gaming track will give students a strong grounding
in key areas such as computer graphics and animation, artificial
intelligence, and software engineering. Students will also be
able to undertake a major game design project.
From a technical standpoint, today's video games present extraordinarily
difficult design challenges, said Darrell Long, professor of
computer science and associate dean for research and graduate
studies in the engineering school.
"There is a lot of hard science involved in creating the
virtual worlds that people enter when they play these games.
You also have to think about things like story lines and the
look and flow of the game," Long said. "My hope is
that eventually we will have a separate major in computer game
design that will include not only computer science courses but
also courses from the Arts Division and other parts of campus."
UCSC's Arts Division already has a multidisciplinary graduate
program in digital arts and new media that brings together faculty
from engineering, arts, and other divisions on campus. A full
major in computer game design would probably take a similar
multidisciplinary approach to address both the technical and
creative aspects of game design, Long said. For now, the gaming
track in the computer science major focuses primarily on the
The economic and cultural significance of computer games is
undeniable. A recent analysis of the U.S. market for computer
and video game software by the NPD Group reported that eight
games were sold every second of 2004, for total sales of $7.3
billion. Some estimates have put the global market at greater
than $25 billion per year.
"The economic impact is huge. Computer games are bigger
than Hollywood movies now, and we want to help ensure that the
state of California remains a leader in this field," Long
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