Blog Archives

Spaceships, Robots, and Zombies at the USC GamePipe Lab Spring 17 Showcase

Last Wednesday I attended the University of Southern California’s GamePipe Lab’s semi-annual Showcase held at the Egg Building just outside the university’s Los Angeles campus, and as always 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 Spring 2017 Showcase event is an opportunity to show off a school year’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, as well as hire program graduates to design, program, and produce the games of the future. I make an effort to attend Showcase every six months to help me set aspirations for my own students at The Los Angeles Film School.

There were so many great games to play, that it is a shame that there was only time for me to play two.


Arkology is a virtual reality real-time strategy game developed as part of virtual reality research at the University of Southern California. The player controls the game using motion control.  At first I had difficulty understanding how to move the units using my virtual reality “hands”, but one I learned to stop over-thinking user interface, I realized how intuitive and simple the controls actually were.

From the Operations Room in the heart of the Ark, the player must strategize, command, and lead his forces to preserve what may be the last of humanity.  As soon as the player becomes familiar with the controls, the enemy begins to attack,  The player is then forced to activate the experimental warp drive to preserve the Ark, but with the premature activation of experimental tech,  the player and the crew of the Ark find themselves in uncharted space.

I found that I really enjoyed how virtual reality immersed me in what was a cross between a board game and a real-time strategy game.  Developed by a six-person team led by Powen Yao, this is a game that I would pick up just to show off my virtual reality gear.


BoltCraft is a cooperative, wave-based, third-person action game where players are members of the Bolton Collective in a fight for a desolated Earth’s resources against the planet’s robotic overlords. Developed by an 11-person team lead by Maison Lietzke and Martha Monica with artistic collaboration with the Laguna College of Art & Design., BoltCraft allows players to customize their robot’s abilities and appearance and deploy helpful minions to defend themselves and their team against an onslaught of enemies.

Unfortunately I didn’t get any screenshots of this game, so you’ll have to take my word fo it that I had fun maneuvering my robot through an urban environment and selecting different abilities and fortification to defend my area against the overlords attempting to take control of it.

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.

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.