Students substitute video game controllers and joysticks with food and live cacti at the UCLA Game Lab in Broad Art Center, while students across campus in the classrooms of Boelter Hall strap on virtual reality headsets to program imaginary environments for new video games.
UCLA’s Design | Media Arts and computer science departments, as well as student clubs, offer opportunities for aspiring game developers to strengthen their skills. However, students and staff remain divided about whether enough classes and networking resources exist on campus for the school’s growing video game creation community.
Some colleges, such as the University of Southern California, offer video game design minors, but UCLA lacks a formal degree program, said Ray Cothern, a fourth-year computer science student.
Cothern said one of the few opportunities for computer science students to take video game production courses at UCLA is through DESMA upper-division curricula. But Cothern said it was difficult to enroll in the classes because DESMA students have enrollment priority.
Cothern and Shubhan Joshi, another fourth-year computer science student, launched Bruin Game Studios, a club that aims to strengthen students’ programming skills and produce video games like the massive multiplayer online game “World of Warcraft.”
Joshi said about five of the club’s active 15 members are committed to pursuing game development professionally. “We don’t really have game companies coming to UCLA career fairs or info sessions,” Cothern said. “There needs to be more of an effort to connect students to people in the game industry.”
Several students agreed UCLA could do more to help students interested in video game production, but computer science lecturer Diana Ford said she thinks game-related courses are readily available to graduate and undergraduate students. She has also helped launch several gaming clubs, including Bruin Game Studios, by giving them a meeting space in Boelter Hall’s Real Time Lab.
For her class, Computer Science 188: Development and Design of Augmented Reality Games, this quarter, Ford struck a deal with wearable technology company Epson that allows her students to develop a game for the company’s wearable electronics. Last Thursday, 40 of her students played with Epson’s virtual reality headsets and tested their own game prototypes on smartphones in the Engineering IV building.
Ford said she thinks the interest in video game design and development is increasing, estimating about 70 percent of her current students want to pursue video game development, but not necessarily as a profession.
“We could always do more … but (our video game community) is like any kind of grassroots organization,” Ford said. “It takes time to grow anything. It’s only new at UCLA.”
Michael Dang, a UCLA alumnus who completed a summer internship at video game production company Treyarch Studios, said he doesn’t think there were many UCLA resources available for students interested in game production. He said the one game design class he enrolled in wasn’t what he was looking for, so he dropped early in the quarter.
Sofia Staab-Gulbenkian, a fourth-year English student and member of the Game Lab team, said she thinks UCLA should implement a video game design major or minor to further support students interested in video game production.
“(The Game Lab is) not sustainable,” she said. “It’s too small of a space.”
The Game Lab is an experimental research space for those interested in computer games and related research, according to its website.
UCLA alumnus Tyler Stefanich, the Lab’s manager, said the Lab is focused more on open-ended creative exploration than funneling students into a particular industry.
“The Lab is about exploring games that might not be commercially viable,” he said. “(Marketability) is not necessarily the end goal.”
Cothern said he would love to see a space where designers and engineers from all academic departments can create games together, from start to finish.
“(Bruin Game Studios) isn’t about the best of the best – it’s about promoting and growing the game-development culture at UCLA,” he said. “We still have a long way to go in terms of bringing more resources to the curriculum.”