The computer lab at Trinity Western University is buzzing with excitement. Colourful images are seen on monitors. A couple of students listen to headphones while others are involved in intense discussion. Everyone in the class has a job to do.
It was a little over a year ago that Alma Barranco-Mendoza and Kevin Schut, professors at Trinity Western University, decided to embark on a project that would engulf their lives and the lives of 24 students for more than a year. The project? Produce a computer based video game that would be created by students from a multitude of disciplines across the university ranging from computer sciences to music and art.
On June 26th, Barranco-Mendoza, Schut and the students, going under the name Bonus Marks Entertainment will be launching the turn-based strategy game Label: Rise of Band to the public.
Like a board game, the down-loadable digital game allows players to assume the persona of an independent music label where they battle it out in the city working to gain popularity with bands as they book musical acts into venues across the city. A successful strategy positions the label to ultimately rise in power taking over the evil corporation who is ruling the city's status quo music scene.
As the head of a label, the game allows players to give singing lessons to their bands, put on publicity stunts, arrange for a name change, find and book new bands, send out talent scouts and even arrange for photo shoots, all to make the label more popular and thus more powerful.
The two professors gave the students some limitations for what the game could be based on the time-frame of what could reasonably be accomplished in a year. The students then went to task coming up with the creative concept for the game. Once this was established the software engineering and game design commenced, and then art and music students produced original artwork, and composed and recorded the music. While this was occurring those students in communications wrote the game's narrative, and the final business plan for the release and distribution of the product was created by the business students. Over 50 individuals including staff, faculty and students engaged in beta testing of the game as well.
When asked to describe the process of working with students across a multitude of disciplines on a project this size, Schut says, "First, we have always thought of the students as experts in their fields. That was one of the main purposes for this project: to let students exercise the expertise they had developed over the course of their studies at TWU. The second tactic is that we really see the course as a co-exploration. What that means is that rather than telling students exactly what to do, we set general responsibilities and team relationships and then let the students start to work out how things will go."
21-year-old business major Amanda Pereira, who is one of the project managers sums up her experience by saying, "I haven't been huge into video games but the hands-on experience for me was really appealing. And being able to manage the different disciplines of people, working together with them, going through the ins and outs of how to sell a product and what that involves, and what processes you need, really helped me put my marketing and business academic background into practice instead of it just learning the theory of it. I was able to apply it to the real world."
Barranco-Mendoza and Schut created a web-based environment where students could log in and work on the game from various points on campus.
"Both Kevin and I did quite a lot of research and we found that no other university or college has anything close to this type of multidisciplinary project," says Barranco-Mendoza, adding, "The students also will receive a certificate in game development foundations and will use the credit hours earned in the program towards their degree in either computing science, communications or information systems. We think of it as a capstone course where students from multiple disciplines come together and the project gives them real life experiences giving them an extra boost when looking for jobs in different fields."
The game is targeted at high school and university students, young adults and those interested in music and business. The collective of students that make up Bonus Marks Entertainment will also have the rights to some of the revenue if the game is picked up by a larger gaming company, something the group is hoping will happen.
Label: Rise of Band can be purchased online by visiting www.labelriseofband.com and are hoping to sell copies of the game in the university book store in fall 2008. The group will be conceptualizing a new game in the summer of 2009 with a potential release date in summer 2010.
When asked if the project was worth the effort, Schut says, "Absolutely! I am thankful for every minute I have spent on the project. I have loved getting to know the students in a way we typically can't do. On top of that I have loved getting my hands on the nuts and bolts of production, where we see theory inform practice, and practice inform theory. And the icing on the cake is that we've produced a pretty cool game."
Trinity Western University, in Langley, B.C. is an independent Christian liberal arts and sciences university enrolling approximately 4000 students. TWU offers undergraduate degrees in 40 major areas of study ranging from biotechnology, education, nursing, theatre and music, to psychology, communications and biblical studies. TWU's 16 graduate degree programs include counseling psychology, business, theology and leadership, and offers interdisciplinary studies in English, philosophy and history. TWU holds Canada Research Chairs in Biblical Studies, Biology and Interpretation, Religion & Culture.
Last Updated: 2008-06-27