Michigan Got Game!

The game and multimedia industry is alive and well in Michigan.

On Tuesday night, I attended a joint meeting of SEMAFX and the local IGDA chapter. SEMAFX is the local chapter of ACM/SIGGRAPH, and the acronym stands for (the cumbersome) Southeast Michigan Animation and Special Effects User Group. IGDA is the International Game Developers Association, and ours is the Michigan South chapter. We were hosted by Schoolcraft College, which offers Associate Degrees (and Post-Associate Certificates) in Computer Graphics Technology, as well as many other programs.

Despite being held for two hours on a weeknight, the turnout for this event was fairly impressive. I counted over 60 attendees before the lights went down. There was interesting content for the solid two hours, with minimal organizational pitch.

A professor from Schoolcraft College described their program briefly, and then he gave an interesting presentation showing how he wrote a simple catapult game in flash with only two explicit variables. The game is used by The Learning Channel in conjunction with their Roman Catapult feature, and apparently the actual name of the game is Play the Flippin’ Game.

A group of students from Lawrence Technological University in Southfield (Detroit area) showed off a game project, named “Larry Kart“, which they completed during a school year in which they also managed to graduate. They gave themselves the name Gym Class, an inside joke regarding the lack of such at Lawrence Tech, and the site also reads Rut Row Studios.

A Canadian animator showed an impressively rendered video for a game mod project as a prelude to displaying his own animations using characters, from existing 3D models, entering and exiting various vehicles at speed and at rest, as well as scaling a wall. It was impressive to know that these animations were not done with motion capture, and more so because the compact cockpit of one vehicle combined with the chest measurements of the female character left precious little maneuvering room.

Another Canadian from just across the river in Ontario gave a quick overview of flash game development, cramming lots of information into a reasonably short period of time. This skill must be a necessity when he teaches groups of 15-20 youngsters (ages 9-15) the basics of game development in only five days. This is done as a summer program given in association with the University of Windsor.

In addition to all of the schools mentioned above, there are also thriving programs being taught at Michigan State University, University of Michigan, and Ferris State University, as well as opportunities at other educational institutions and community colleges around the state. The field of games and interactive media is really growing in this area and it bodes very well for the future.

After the official meeting, which was just the presentations, the real business started in what SEMAFX calls the “afterglow” party. Everybody involved retires to a restaurant/bar to schmooze and network. We had game designers, programmers, graphic artists, musicians, and other interested parties discussing all manner of topics, all in a spirit of cooperation between the groups.

The next meeting for the Michigan South chapter of the IGDA is scheduled for June 5th in East Lansing, and the next SEMAFX meeting is scheduled for June 14th in Berkley (Michigan). Both should prove to be informative and entertaining, and one does not need to be a member to attend.

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