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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.

Photo of Halo game

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 Game Studios

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 technical aspects.

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 said.


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