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Campus group to help animate gamers

By Alex LaRue

May 15, 2006, 9:00 pm

The video game industry is booming. It’s riding a $30
billion wave of consumer interest, which, these days, exceeds the
profits of movies at the box office. New machines, such as the
Playstation 3 system displayed at the recent E3 convention, are
creating excitement, while the academic side of video games is
being assessed by programs such as that at the California Arts
Institute. For someone who is truly passionate about gaming,
it’s probably getting pretty hard to be passive about the
process and let others do all the good stuff.

Tom Lai and Richard James, co-directors of today’s Video
Games Industry Panel, have put together an event that could help
many get involved. The panel will take place in Franz 1260 at 7:30
p.m. and is organized by student group Enigma and the UCLA
Animation Students Organization, a group of graduate students
involved in UCLA’s Animation Workshop.

“The genesis of the event was that we wanted to help
people (in Enigma) with their careers,” Lai said.
“We’ve talked to EA and Activision to get them involved
and help with turnout.”

The two gaming companies will be distributing promotional and
internship information to attendees, but picking up applications
isn’t the crux of the event. Four speakers ““ two Enigma
alums and two graduates of UCLA’s animation program ““
will represent four different aspects of this increasingly complex
industry. Not only will the classic divisions of programming,
designing and animating be present, but the cottage industry of the
academic study of games ““ what makes good games and good
gameplay ““ will also be there.

“A lot of stuff coming out now is truly an
interdisciplinary venture,” James said. “When
you’re talking about game design you’re talking about
bringing in truly different departments. You’ve got music,
writing programs for script writers, artists and animators, as well
as computer scientists.”

The chance to meet the faces behind the opportunities should
give students a taste of what it’s like to be part of the
video game industry. And surely that taste couldn’t whet the
appetite of any campus club more than that of Enigma. Celebrating
its 20th year on campus, the group brings together students
interested in science fiction, fantasy, horror and gaming, whether
in live-action or electronic form. Enigma has also participated in
Live Action Role Players Association competitions, bringing home
four out of five of this year’s LARPY awards.

Enigma’s collaborator, the UCLA Animation Students
Organization, seems an equally logical choice for involvement.

“It’s a natural thing to team up with this
organization because the video game industry is multimedia:
computer engineering, animation, art and design,” Lai said.
“I’m an animation grad student, so it made sense for me
to walk over and say we’re putting on this

One of the speakers will be Jason Scanlin, programmer at local
company Naughty Dog, which is responsible for some of the
“Jak and Daxter” games and “Crash
Bandicoot.” He’s now working on technology with the
goal of Playstation 3 compatibility, and has progressed through
graphics programming and network programming to reach his current
position. Scanlin tackles the mathematical, technical and
nuts-and-bolts aspect of games, putting designers’ ideas into
the computer code that brings games to life. His own path to the
industry may provide inspiration for those who are unsure of how to
get started.

“I didn’t plan on programming. I got a degree in
physics and math and then came out to California to do
astronomy,” Scanlin said. “When I decided a Ph.D.
wasn’t what I wanted badly, I left and started computer
programming. When I had the chance at an internship at Activision,
I stuck with it, and I liked the career so I stayed.”

As for subsequent events, James has big plans for the future.
Seeing this panel as a step toward illuminating the connections and
opportunities between departments that video games present, he
wants to see this idea take off on campus.

“The larger thing is that we’d like to expand this
and create a program to bring these disparate elements together and
unify various departments,” James said. “A lot of
places on campus will be interested in the elements we’re
bringing together.”

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Alex LaRue
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