Blog Archives

Augmenting Reality at the USC GamePipe Lab

Twice a year I attend demo days at the University of Southern California’s GamePipe Showcase to see what game engineering students in the world-renowned USC Games program have accomplished. This semi-annual event features the work of multidisciplinary, collaborative teams of programmers, artists and game designers, who demonstrate to event attendees the games they conceived, designed and built for various platforms, including work from USC’s mobile, networked artificial intelligence, immersive and advanced games courses. The event introduces students to host of industry scouts who may purchase and produce the games for mass audiences, as well as hire program graduates to develop the games of the future.

Last week I attended the Spring Showcase event hosted by USC Viterbi School of Engineering Professor Mike Zyda at the USC GamePipe Laboratory EGG-Building, where the culmination of more than a year’s worth of student teams’s collaboration, creativity and engineering is presented. This time I was particularly interested in augmented and virtual reality projects because these are hot topics in game design right now, USC has been in the forefront of virtual reality development (former GamePipe Lab instructor Laird Malamed is now Chief Operating Officer of Oculus VR, developers of the Oculus Rift VR headset) and I happen to be doing some consulting with a client in those areas.

Here are some of the projects that captured my attention last week.

Dragon Runner

Your camp has been overtaken. Fire and ash overwhelm the camp. The only thing between you and freedom is a few miles of train track…and a huge, menacing dragon!  Dragon Runner VR is a virtual reality game developed using the Samsung VR Gear and Microsoft Kinect, allowing players to step into a 3-D virtual world where they must dodge under bridges, dart around rocks, and skillfully move around their cart as you escape the fireballs.  I managed to get in my day’s exercise by dodging obstacles, crouching to avoid low-hanging barriers, and using my arms to fling fireballs at scaly enemies.

The five-person student team that developed the game have formed a company to make a meaningful impact in the emerging virtual reality and immersive environment platforms. You can learn more about the team and their projects on the Void Dimensions website.


This multiplayer game for mixed reality platforms simulates a traditional beer pong match against an opponent.  Developed by a team of seven for USC’s Advanced Mobile Devices and Game Consoles class using Project Tango, which brings spatial perception to Android devices through  advanced image processing techniques and special vision sensors, TikiPong features trippy visual effects to simulate drunkenness and add gameplay elements that are not found in traditional beer pong.

I found this game to be a lot of fun to play.  Players move their fingers along the left edge of the screen to set the trajectory and force of a ball so that it flies through a floating hoop and into a beer bottle for points.  Seeing your opponent in the game’s background adds to the social and immersive experience of the game.  To find out more about the game and the team that developed it, watch this YouTube video.

ZombieEscape VR

This zombie apocalypse virtual reality game was developed for iOS and Android using Google Cardboard. The story premise is that a global viral pandemic wipes out over 80% of the world population, causing the dead to rise and feed on the living. Players travel automatically through their environment and must shoot zombies coming towards them using three choices of guns : pistol, rifle, fire gun. Players can change weapon by looking down and clicking the menu. Different guns cause levels of damage to zombies. Players can also shoot the power-up packages to recover their health.

I found using the Google Cardboard, which is a VR headset quite literally made from cardboard into which a mobile phone running the game is mounted, to be a much more enjoyable and immersive experience than heavier headsets like the Oculus Rift. Yet while I liked the zombie apocalypse theme, I would have preferred more freedom of movement than this rail shooter game provided.

ZombieEscape VR was developed by a six-person team lead by Saksham Kashyap over a three-month period. You can learn more about the game and the team that developed it by visiting its website.


As always, the creativity and technical prowess of the USC Games students was impressive, and it was exciting to see how these kids are bending our reality to create a new gaming future.



Card, Dice And Bowling Games At The Spring 2016 Bill Hart Merit Badge Midway

For the second time this year I volunteered at a local merit badge midway to run a workshop for the game design merit badge that I helped to create for the Boy Scouts of America. Last weekend I ran one session of my three-hour workshop at the Bill Hart District Merit Badge Midway in Santa Clarita, near Los Angeles.  I also ran a Digital Technology Merit Badge workshop, but — come on! — it’s the games we’re interested in!

To playtest a game in my workshop, scouts must first contact me with a vision statement, play value description, and initial set of rules for a game they want to make, and if I approve it, they can proceed with making a game to bring in.  Only three scouts did the prerequisites this time, but the rest who attended the workshop got to playtest their games.

by Alan, Troop 2222

Vision Statement: Blitz is a 2-to-4 player card game in which each player tries to match all their cards before the other players do.

Play Value: Surprise and luck.

Set-Up: Shuffle the deck and deal each player 7 cards.

Progression:  The youngest person draws cards one at a time until the draw one matching the face value of a card in already in their hand.  The player then puts down the two matching cards.Play continues from youngest to oldest, and then back to the youngest.

Resolution: The game ends when all the cards have been drawn.  The player with the most matches, wins.

Resources: Cards, matches.


Lucky Strike
by Andrew, Troop 2

Vision Statement: Lucky Strike is a game of chance bowling board game in which each player races from home to the bowling alley. The first one to the bowling alley wins.

Play Value: This game is fun to play because it has an imaginative property where you imagine you’re bowling for fun at a bowling alley.

Set-Up:  Place the player pieces on the “home” space. Line up the bowling pins on the bowling lane. There will be a foul line where the the person playing will flick the ball down the lane. The marble will be placed at the foul line. There will be spaces on the main game board for the following cards:  Gutter, 1-4, 5-7, 8-9, and Strike. The cards will be shuffled and placed on the spaces.


The play starts with the youngest player and the oldest player goes last.

The player will flick the marble down the bowling lane, knocking over pins. When flicking the marble, it must stay behind the foul line. The player cannot pass the foul line when flicking the marble. If they do, they lose a turn.

The player will pick up the card corresponding to the number of pins knocked down.  If the player knocked over 5 pins, they would pick up the 5-7 pin card. That player would then follow the directions of the card and move their piece on the game board down the path to the bowling alley.

  • You get 1 Credit every time it’s your turn
  • There are 4 types of land forms — Mountain, Ocean, Forest — each with a different cost
  • You can gain one of the following items when you take down a different land form — Ammo, Wild Cat, Wild Dog, Damage x2 — each with a different cost and damage
  • There are four types of cities — City, Airport, Skyscraper,
  • Metropolis — each with a different cost
  • There are 8 types of weapons — Combound Bow, Shotgun, Sword, Revolver, Uzi, Long Sword, AK 48, Mini-Gun — each with a different cost, damage and ammo

Resolution: The first player to reach the bowling alley wins.


  • Bowling lane: Separate from the game board. (made of cardboard)
  • Game Board: There are places for 4 game players. They will follow a path which starts at home and finishes at the bowling alley.
  •  Marble (bowling ball)
  • Bowling pins: ( If unable to find small pins, I plan on using toy soldiers or frosting tips)
  • 7 cards each of the following values: Gutter Ball, 1-4, 5-7, 8-9, Strike


War of Chance
by Jake, Troop 2222

Vision Statement: War of Chance is a free-for-all card and dice game where players compete to get the most points.

Play Value: Competition and surprise.

Resources: Gold

Set-Up: Deal out all the cards among the players.  Give each player one die.

Sequence of Play:

  1. Each player rolls their die
  2. Player with lowest number finds the difference between his roll and the highest roll
  3. Player with the lowest score gives player with the highest score an amount of cards equal to the difference between rolls
  4. Repeat for 15 rounds

Resolution: The game ends after 15 rounds.  The players then tally their points (cards at face value, Jacks=11, Queens=12, Kings=13, Aces=15 ***If playing with Jokers, Jokers= -7points***).  The player with the most points wins.

Resources: Cards, die rolls, points.


The two card games were a good deal of fun for the scouts, but it was Andrew’s Lucky Strike board game that really bowled them over.  There can be fun in simplicity, but immersion is a great tool for drawing players into the magic circle of play.