Recall And Possession At The USC GamePipe Lab Fall 15 Demo Day
Last Thursday I attended the University of Southern California’s GamePipe Lab’s semi-annual Demo Day held at the Egg Building just outside the university’s Los Angeles campus, and yet again I was impressed by the exceptional work of some of the best and brightest game development students in the country.
For USC Viterbi School of Engineering Professor Mike Zyda and his students in the USC Games program, the Fall 2015 Demo Day event is an opportunity to show off four months’s worth of collaboration, creativity and computer design. It’s also the students’ introduction to a host of industry scouts who may purchase and publish the games when they are completed next Spring, as well as hire program graduates to design, program, and produce the games of the future. I make an effort to attend Demo Day every six months to help me set aspirations for my own students at The Los Angeles Film School.
Here are two of the games that I had the opportunity to take for a spin.
Recall is a virtual reality game that helps players learn what they really want to know. Actually, the students say that it is more than a game – it is a virtual reality “mind-hack.” Inspired by the spatial and imagery based mnemonic techniques of competitive memorizers, Recall is a tool to improve a player’s memory that puts them in VR “mind-palaces” constructed for their own “digital documents”. In essence, it turns your documents into playable “levels” designed for easy memorization.
The idea is the player chooses which information they would like to remember – a .PDF, .doc, .ppt, web page, etc. Recall then slices the document into small, digestible packets and procedurally generates an explorable, interactive virtual reality world based on the amount of information in the document. When the player enters this new memory palace, they will find their sliced document in “framed” packets with associated key-objects placed along a path. This singular path will take them through their entire document.
In the demo version I tried, the goal was to find a collection of 3-D objects in a virtual reality landscape, and then later recall where on the landscape I found each object. The graphics were rudimentary at this point in development, and I found the text “packet” associated with each item a bit hard to read, but I thought the concept was promising. I particularly enjoyed ease of motion of the 3D headset, which received input from the game via an Android phone snapped into the front of the headset. It was a much more comfortable experience than wearing heavy Oculus Rift headset and renewed my excitement about the potential of virtual reality games.
Possession combines that battlefield tactics of a Real-Time Strategy game with the visceral experience of a First-Person Shooter. The player commands squads of units, organizes attack and defense strategies and manages and control resources. But what makes this game unique is that the players can put themselves in the position of a single soldier by switching game modes with a single button push.
Whether it be to put yourself in the position of a sniper to kill enemy units from across the map, go on a rampage as a super-soldier in a huge battle, command a tank to wreak havoc upon your enemy, or organize all of your forces from the comfort of your base – you not only get to command your army, you get to be the army.
Unfortunately, the concept reminds me of the old Saturday Night Live sketch about Shimmer: “It’s is both a floor wax and a dessert topping!” That’s always the danger with combining two game genres, and indeed I found it a bit disorienting to be switching between RPG and FPS modes, and there were times where I was so immersed in my own first-person conflict that I forgot about managing my troops elsewhere on the battlefield.
However, the game still has another six months to go in development, and I’m hopeful they’ll tweak the design to create a more cohesive play experience. I was actually blown away by the technical and artistic competence displayed in just four months of development. If my own students could do that kind of work in such amount of time, I’d be very proud indeed.
I had a meeting to attend on my own campus, so I wasn’t able to try out more games that day, but you can bet I’ll be back in May to see how things progressed for these great student teams. If you’d like to find out more about these and other GamePipe student projects, please visit USC GamePipe Laboratory Fall 2015 Showcase.