ENMU-R offers game developing classes
By Christina Stock
Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell is offering a new media arts class focusing on a genre with a large variety of job possibilities: Game design.
The first semester being successful, ENMU-R’s media arts instructor Alan Trever is looking forward to seeing the students return for the spring classes. “We started the game design program because it is a needed niche,” he said.
It was no problem to incorporate this class into the media arts programs. “We didn’t have to change the equipment,” Trever said. “The software was free. It wasn’t anything different from what we were already doing (with the animation class). The switchover was very easy.
“It is exciting for students to be able to go into the industry of video game design. Video game design is a very broad industry. There are all kinds of video games, this includes apps, game-console style games, PC/computer games, but then it also includes virtual reality and augmented reality. Augmented reality is using a device to project a 3-D element or 3-D object into an existing environment-like classroom or museum. Virtual reality takes and immerses you into an environment completely, so you hear, see and you ‘touch’ with the controllers the virtual reality space. The two are slightly different, but what we do is train the students to work the two programs that are out there, that are the industry standards to use and work with those environments,” Trever said.
While young people might first think about gaming — game development and virtual reality programs branch out beyond entertainment. Game developers recreate environments — and therefore foresee problems — such as the surface of Mars for NASA, military exercises and pilot training. Game development is its base, the foundation for a career in a new modern world of technology. “It goes across the board, medical too,” Trever said. “Doctors can train (for surgeries) virtually; and that is a game designer that is creating that environment — with the coding and the modeling and everything in between. It is a very broad industry the student can get into.”
The game development industry is a worldwide phenomenon that stepped out of its children’s shoes a decade ago. Many media companies have put up webpages to encourage young people to look into this expanding industry. It might even rejuvenate rural, smaller communities because the graduates of the program may be able to work from home.
“Some can create their games at home,” Trever said. “Others would be required to go and get a job, but the entrepreneurial kid can go and start their own game company.”
Asked about ENMU-R’s classes in game design and details of the curriculum, Trevor said, “80% to 90% of the industry is governed by Unity and Epic — those are the two (programs) in order to create a game. Epic is the company that controls Unreal. They create pretty much the standard of game programs, the games that are out there. If you go into the industry or get your bachelor’s or master’s, these are the two programs that are required. What is neat is that they are free. Anybody can get a start, but then, of course, we bring in other programs to teach them how to build game objects, to build the environments. It was a springboard from our animation program that we decided to switch over to game design; it is very popular. We take both high schoolers and college students into our program.”
There are 16 stations for students, but Trever said there are plans to expand that up to 18.
The age of students in the first semester was between 17 and late 20s. “They all start on the same level,” Trever said. “We start with the foundation and build up. This first semester that we just completed was a challenge. We had two groups, a group A and a group B that competed against each other. They designed their own game and completed their first video game. They had to create a storyline, the characters, they had to create the environment and the game rules and the outcome. There were some students who grasped it right away and did a whole lot of work and other students that created their share and completed it.”
Working for a big company in the gaming industry often means specializing in one part of development. “Here (at ENMU-R) they get to do more because they have to work together to design something larger, where there (at a game developing company) it is one tiny little element they can spend time focusing on,” Trever said. “I always say it’s one little thing, but it’s not. It’s storytelling. It’s creating characters, it’s a form of visual storytelling and that’s what is so neat about it. The gaming industry is actually bigger than the movie industry. It employs more people, it involves more people, it makes more annual income for overall economic impact than the film industry does. That’s what’s neat. It is a bigger environment. It’s educational for kids, educational for learning. There are just so many different levels.
“It is something that we’ll have our students do this next semester. Starting in spring, they are learning modeling. You don’t have to take any previous classes to get into that. If they want to learn the modeling side — which is game object creation — learning to create objects that go into games — that is a class that students can jump into it now and when the fall semester rolls around, they can take the intro class. In that class, they have to learn regular board games. They have to learn rules of play. They have to understand what it takes to create a game. It’s not just a character running around doing something. There are rules, outcomes and achievements they have to get. It’s a reward system and they learn all these different steps that make the game challenging, entertaining and keeping the interest of the person (gamer). That’s what is neat about it. It teaches life skills — how to set a goal and achieve a goal,” Trever said.
The first two groups of students created the foundation of two games they are going to work on in the next semester. There will be four semesters altogether.
Asked if the public will be able to see these games and future games, Trever said that will happen at a future open house at ENMU-R. “We like to put Xboxes to all the stations and then everybody can come in and play each of the student’s games. It’s going to be a gallery-style opening. The students will be there to answer questions,” he said.
There are also plans in the works to reach younger children. “Once we get the word out, we’re going to start a game design program at Goddard (High School) and start a game design program at Roswell High,” Trever said. “Those will kick off in the fall of this year. We (ENMU-R) met with the administrators, and we’re getting things started. Both schools are interested. It would be a beginning class that we teach.”
The media class graduates will have — after the four semesters at ENMU-R — a fully functioning game. “A game that they can call their own, something that they completely designed from start to finish,” Trever said. “That can be played on console, phone, computer. The reason we do that is because it helps them with the transfer to a four-year university. We transfer over both to Portales and New Mexico State (Las Cruces). NM State is known better because we are using their curriculum to do it and so what they take here transfers over there.”
According to the Global Games Market Report of 2019 by NewZoo, a data analytics platform, there are now more than 2.5 billion gamers across the world. Combined, they spent $152.1 billion on games in 2019, representing an increase of +9.6% year on year. Console is the fastest-growing segment +13.4% year on year to $47.9 billion in 2019.
According to Game Industry Career Guide, the entry-level game programmer salaries start in the U.S. at about $44,000 annually. Senior programmers or team leaders earn on average $120,000 annually. The income depends on educational background, company or studio size and, as programmers specialize in different areas, some areas are worth more than others.
For more information, visit roswell.enmu.edu.