Game Development Club gives UWF students creative space
Editor’s note: This article was written as a part of The Voyager’s print newspaper project, but was unable to make the Spring edition due to space constraints.
By Payne Ray
The Center for Fine and Performing Arts is home to several programs and clubs designed around music, theatre, drawing, painting, and so much more. In a cramped room in the back of the art department, a modest group of students meets to pursue an art form most wouldn’t think to find there.
The University of West Florida’s Game Development Club is an organization for the university community’s aspiring game developers to meet and create together.
The club has been operating since 2014, when its now-former president Alexander Oldaker originally joined as one of the founding members. Oldaker would become treasurer in 2015 and eventually take the position of president in 2016.
“I took on the president role to facilitate creativity, and to teach what I can teach,” Oldaker said.
Oldaker has spent most of his time at UWF helping to manage the club and develop games within it. Membership in the club has been widely interdisciplinary, from computer scientists and biologists to artists and graphic designers.
Oldaker has seen several members come and go and the club’s membership dip and swell with the seasons. But the members who have joined and stayed in that time have been dedicated, according to Oldaker.
“Fall was essentially the first semester with mostly new students,” Oldaker said. The club had just lost most of its founding members to graduation, and a new class of students came in to replace them.
Oldaker counted around 30 people in the year’s first meeting after Argopalooza in September of 2017. The number diminished over time but left the club with a solid foundation of members who would work on the club’s projects.
In the past, those projects have included games in various genres, from two-dimensional shooters to platformers. One of these games was converted into a hand-built arcade cabinet by the club’s members to demonstrate their work to the student body at large.
“We’re big fans of the classics,” Oldaker said as he described the Mario-like platformer they had developed for the cabinet.
The club’s penchant for producing tangible products doesn’t stop there, as several three-dimensional models were created over the years to show off characters from the club’s games.
The approach the club has to game development is largely collaborative, flexible and without rush.
The game currently in development over this past year has been called “Rocket Panda,” and its subject is exactly as advertised. Players take the role of a two-dimensional panda with a rocket strapped to its back in what has been described as a game largely about exploration.
The game draws inspiration from others like Doodle Jump, an indie game developed for mobile phones several years ago. The game was voted in as the primary project of the club at the beginning of the year and will likely be put up for a vote again when old members leave, and new members join.
“Rocket Panda” isn’t the only game the club members are working on, however. Members of the Game Development Club are encouraged to work on side projects and to elicit help from the rest of the group.
One member, Julien Pugh, is working on his own role-playing game, complete with the deep systems for which the genre is known. He maintains a separate development blog from the club blog, and updates periodically with progress reports on his work. The blog also hosts demos for the game which are playable by anyone who wants to try it out or look at the code used to make the game.
Pugh’s game is based on classic Japanese systems and is called, in its current form, “Spine.”
“Spine is a game that has been floating around in my mind some form or another since summer last year,” Pugh said in his introductory blog post. “As the weeks go by, I hope to display some of my progress and any thoughts that I have before and after the process.”
While Pugh is the only one actively maintaining a development blog, other members of the club were working together on a comedy game, a top-down tank game, and graphic design work for the various projects.
As well as engaging its members in this way, the club has hosted an outreach activity each fall that it calls “Press Start.”
“Press Start” is a game jam, which is an organized event that challenges game developers to make a game in a set period of time. In this case, it’s a 24-hour event where up to 30 participants compete to make the best game they can.
The game jam is open to all students at all levels of experience and is designed to be an introduction to game development as well as a showcase and tournament.
This year’s jam was the last for Oldaker, who is graduating in May. He expressed a deep appreciation for the event and the importance of keeping game development as interdisciplinary as possible.
According to Oldaker, game development is a field which celebrates a wide variety of skills and experiences in the people working in it. The Game Development Club’s new executive board will be taking control of the club in the next fall semester.
The club’s “sizzle reel” can be found on their development blog.