Students in NMSU’s Game Development Club play hard but work harder

Though many students have tried their hand at playing some sort of video game, it is unlikely that many could tell you the first thing about creating one — even if you offered them a cheat code.

Members of NMSU’s Game Development Club meet in a computer lab.
New Mexico State University’s Game Development Club teaches students the practices behind video game creation and enlists industry professionals to speak to the club and community. It is one of several initiatives financed through the President’s Performance Fund. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

For those interested in learning the practices behind video game creation — everything from crafting story concepts to coding — New Mexico State University’s Game Development Club (GDC) in the College of Arts and Sciences has proved a valuable tool for numerous students from a variety of backgrounds.

The club, re-founded in 2013, is comprised of 30 members from departments such as computer science, CMI and English. It is one of several initiatives financed through NMSU President Garrey Carruthers’ Performance Fund, a set sum of money the university budgets for innovation and performance improvement. Since its inception, the club has received more than $26,000 to facilitate game development skills, experiences and industry contacts to support career development.

“Game design is useful for students because it teaches them a lot of different things about, not only computer science, but also general system design at a very high level,” said Zachary Toups, assistant professor of computer science and faculty adviser for the club.

While the technical aspects of what students learn are applicable across several disciplines, Toups asserts that approaching these subjects through game design has a major advantage: students are actually interested in it.

“They’re excited,” Toups said. “They’re kind of intrinsically motivated to come out and to work on a project — in this case a project with over a dozen people, with different specialties, with different roles in the project.”

With the President’s Performance Fund, the club has been able to provide a technology-rich environment for students through the purchase of new equipment, such as laptops powerful enough to work with game engines, or certain software geared toward 3D modeling, 2D painting, audio and coding.

Additionally, this funding has allowed the GDC to enlist influential industry professionals to speak to the club and community. Previous guests have included James Everett, a game designer with Ubisoft, a company that hosts graduate programs and internships in game design, and Elizabeth Sampat, a game designer on the forefront in the fight for women in the gaming industry.

With a major priority being female and minority engagement, the club has partnered with NMSU’s student organization Women and Minorities in Computing for several campus events.

“The Game Development Club continually strives to be as diverse and open-minded as possible,” said Tony Varin, assistant club adviser and employee with NMSU’s ICT department. “We aim to recruit interested members from all backgrounds, which provides us with a wide range of ideas and skills.”

With many new members, the club has developed and continues to work on multiple game concepts applicable to mobile devices, traditional game consoles and computers, or for use with an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

Some of the GDC’s projects will take years to finish, while others act more as exercises and can be developed in as little as one day.

“Using the tools and experiences we’ve gained through the fund, our ultimate goal is to bring a product to market and try to fund our club through sales,” said Varin. “Our club doesn’t require a lot of money to sustain itself, but being able to upgrade our equipment and continue to bring experts out will be where we need the funds.”

Besides its role as an educational forum for programmers, artists, musicians and designers to develop their skills as a team, the club also serves as a communication platform for many of its members.

“In my opinion, the most important aspect of the Game Development Club is the chance to bring together like-minded individuals and have them collaborate on new ideas, see the joy in the brain-storming sessions, and, in many cases, have students speak in front of the team who normally don’t like to speak in public at all,” Varin said.

For Jonathan Beck, co-leader of the GDC and double major in computer science and engineering physics, the club is built around helping others and “giving them an environment where they can really learn and expand together.”

Regardless if they choose to pursue a career in game development or design, club members acquire a number of skills that are useful from a computer science, software engineering, system design, and even social perspective.

“I’ve made some really good friends in here,” said Beck.

For more information on NMSU’s Game Development Club, visit web.nmsu.edu/~tonyv/ .


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