Business leaders searching for seedlings of a technology boom on Long Island, like the one Silicon Valley experienced two decades ago, would have been wise to have stepped into the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University last Friday. There, an impressive roster of successful video game developers with roots on Long Island gathered to see the work of the next wave of computer science enthusiasts.
The auditorium was home to Stony Brook’s 10th annual Game Programming Competition, which had undergraduates presenting original video games they’ve developed to recent alums from the school’s computer science program. The judges included Sean Breslin, who won the inaugural competition in 2004 and just finished working on the "Star Trek Online" game as a programmer at Cryptic Studios; Kai Skye, a 2007 winner who founded an independent game publishing studio called Artizens; and employees of Zynga, Microsoft, Activision and CitiBank, among others.
They apparently didn’t have much difficulty selecting a winner: Paul Gifford won in the largest landslide victory in the competition’s history. The senior built a puzzle game he calls “Opposites Attract.” The game’s main character, Magnus Magnetsson III, is electrically charged and leverages magnets throughout the map to rescue his trapped love interest. An overwhelming majority of the judges ruled that this was the game they would most want to play of the 15 entries.
Download the game, and runner-ups, by visiting http://www.cs.stonybrook.edu/~games/ and see trailers of games from previous years on YouTube here: http://www.youtube.com/user/SBUGameProgramming/videos?view=1. This year's trailers will be available May 24.
The competition was initially held solely for students of Professor Richard McKenna’s game programming course, but after being surprised by the effort students put into the endeavor and the enthusiastic response it was getting from industry contacts he invited, McKenna expanded it to include anyone who wished to enter.
Gifford told Newsday.com that he began working on “Opposites Attract” as a junior to fulfill one of McKenna’s assignments. He entered a different game into the competition last year, but revisited “Opposites Attract” for the competition this year. “I put a severe amount of time into this,” said Gifford, who also designed the art and tapped a fellow student to help build an original soundtrack for the Zelda-inspired game.
“This is what I came to Stony Brook for,” the Connecticut native explained. He said he began considering attending the school for its computer science program after landing on the YouTube page that showcases games stemming from this competition. “So all the hours spent working on this were fun, and part of the plan, for me.”
But the hard work isn’t over just yet for Gifford. The 22-year-old intends to take the judges’ advice to continue working on, and improving, the game. He also has a position lined up at Northport-based software development company Applied Vision.
That the Stony Brook student intends to keep his computer science degree on Long Island is critical as business leaders are trying to foster a technology community to fuel future growth for a stagnant economy. And the small role the competition plays in building that community isn’t lost on Professor McKenna.
“We try to generate a ‘feedback loop’ where once students go out in industry, we love to have them back to talk to students,” McKenna told Newsday.com. “But it works both ways. People in industry can actually use feedback from students to get a better idea of what their customers like to play with.”
So it’s no surprise that Gifford already intends to return to Stony Brook as a member of Applied Vision to judge next year’s competition.