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In the run-up to the 2006 Independent Games Festival, which is held at Game Developers Conference 2006 in San Jose from March 20-24, 2006, Gamasutra is showcasing a number of the IGF finalists in different categories. As part of a series of Gamasutra Education-exclusive articles, we profile the 2006 IGF Student Showcase winners by interviewing them about their award-winning titles, which will be playable at the IGF Pavilion at GDC this March.
This feature interviews The Yakuza from DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond, WA, who earned a spot as a Student Showcase winner with their speedy puzzle game OrBlitz, described as follows in the students' entry form:
"OrBlitz is a fast-paced puzzle game along the lines of Lemmings, where players place blocks to direct orbs to their goal. Originally in black and white, color spreads out to the world as the gameplay picks up speed to a frantic pace."
Gamasutra: What's the concept behind your IGF Student Showcase winning game, and give us an outline of the team that's behind it?
Orblitz is a 3D-puzzle game, a cross between Lemmings and Marble Madness. In the single-player mode, the player has to carefully place blocks on a board in order to help a ball move from one location to another. The blocks deviate the ball, stack to create bridges and tunnels, etc... The realistic physics and block variety make each level more challenging. In the multiplayer game, the rules are the same, but numerous orbs are created in succession, and each player has to direct the most orbs to his own goal.
The game also contains a unique color system: the game starts out in black and white like a pencil sketch, and as the gameplay picks up speed color spreads out to the world.
We were a four-person team. Josh Bell was the technical director and A.I. programmer, and is now working at Microsoft Game Studios. Marc was the game designer and main graphics programmer. He's currently pursuing a Sc.M. in Computer Science at Brown University, specializing in graphics. Jason worked on the physics, and Jesse coded the networking. Both of them are seniors at DigiPen and will graduate this summer.
GS: Tell us a little bit about the school and school program which were behind the game's genesis? Was this part of a course or final project? What kind of degree program did it count towards?
We made this game while attending DigiPen Institute of Technology. DigiPen is a college that offers a computer science curriculum as it applies to real-time interactive simulation/game programming. Completing a game project is required every semester parallel to course work. DigiPen also offers degrees in computer engineering and 3D computer animation/production animation.
GS: How long did development on the game take and what tools did you use to create it?
The entire team worked on the game for two semesters (about seven months), then Marc refined it for another semester.
We used Microsoft Visual Studio.net as our main development tool, and had a CVS repository setup by our school for source control. Our graphics engine was built on OpenGl and Nvidia's Cg for Vertex and Pixel Shading. Our physics engine was made from scratch. All our levels and menus are scripted using Lua. Fmod was used for sound.
GS: What was the all-time best and all-time worst moment that you encountered during the game's creation?
At some point right after starting our second semester we realized that even though we had made good progress in certain areas of the game, some equally important areas were behind schedule and we would need to redistribute the work in order to get back on track.
Marc: I really enjoyed the time I started designing levels for the game. Our level editor was very easy to work with, and I had fun actually trying out all the ideas that I had collected since the project started.
Josh: The best moment was probably finishing the game.
GS: Do you (yet) have any success stories or positive experience based on showing the student game to people in the game industry (praise, actually getting a job in the biz, etc)?
Marc: I received a lot of positive reactions at SIGGRAPH 2005, where I presented a poster on the paint volumes system I developed for the game.
GS: What are the most important things that student games should be showing off, in terms of both getting high marks in your courses and impressing potential employers?
I think originality is the most important aspect. Showing yet another first person shooter isn't going to leave an impression. The originality should be obvious to anyone, not just programmers. To get high marks, we challenged ourselves as much as possible in every technical area, be it graphics, physics, A.I. or networking.
GS: Have you tried any of the other Student Showcase finalists? If so, which ones did you especially appreciate, and why?
Marc: I really like the concept behind Cloud.
Josh: I haven't personally tried any of them... including our own!
GS: Name one thing that people probably don't know about your game.
Each player color is based on a bubble tea flavor, so it is the Taro player, not the purple player.
GS: Have you any other messages for your fellow Student Showcase winners?