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Graduate student Vinny Roca showcases conceptual graphics with ‘ALL THERE IS’ game

Design media arts graduate student Vinny Roca stands in front of a projection of his game “ALL THERE IS.” The project will be playable and on display in a solo exhibition from Roca in the Broad Art Center through Thursday. (Neha Krishnakumar/Daily Bruin)


Vinny Roca

Broad Art Center, Grad Gallery

April 11 - 13

By Katy Nicholas

April 11, 2023 9:46 p.m.

Vinny Roca is spotlighting raw structural computer graphics in “ALL THERE IS.”

The design media arts graduate student recently programmed his newest game, “ALL THERE IS.” As the center of Roca’s solo exhibition on display in the Broad Art Center from Tuesday to Thursday, “ALL THERE IS” is a one- to four-player game in which the user can enter objects in a room to become them. Once becoming an object, Roca said the player can add it to a stack in the center until the stack becomes high enough to move on to the next world.

“I wanted to make a game that was about the accumulation of things, the merging of numbers over time,” Roca said.

The conceptual style of computer graphics used in the game is what Roca said inspired the project’s title. He said the name comes from singer Peggy Lee’s song “Is That All There Is?”, which touches on themes of nostalgia and existentialism. By exposing players to the structure and systems of the game, Roca said players are left questioning the simplicity of computer graphics that are so often covered up by special effects.

Roca was a studio art student at Boston College, where he said he studied drawing and performance arts more than the conceptual art and design that he focuses on now. His transition to conceptual art began as simple instructional simulations. One of these projects, he said, was called “pistachio bridge,” where people would enter a gallery and place the shells of pistachios into an urn. At the end of the exhibition, Roca said if the urn was full, the wall art was then burned.

[Related: Graduate student discusses process behind multimedia art piece ‘Golden Mountain’]

Orange, white and red stacked letters spell out "ALL THERE IS" on the game&squot;s starting screen. In the game, players are able to enter objects and stack surrounding items. (Neha Krishnakumar/Daily Bruin)
Orange, white and red stacked letters spell out "ALL THERE IS" on the game's starting screen. In the game, players are able to enter objects and stack surrounding items. (Neha Krishnakumar/Daily Bruin)

From those types of projects, Roca said he then moved on to virtual instructional games with text but no images, which he taught himself to program from scratch. While he initially had no prior experience with any type of coding, since teaching himself various languages and platforms, Roca said he has been able to create several games through the C# language, using apps such as the Unity game engine.

Although he had no technical experience with game making, Roca said his background in the philosophy of art and film helped him approach games with a conceptual mindset. Fellow design media arts graduate student Michael Luo said he recognized this style and the conceptual critiquing that Roca prioritizes in his games. Luo added that Roca is very skilled at creating the realistic, shiny computer graphics seen every day but instead chooses to highlight the conceptual aspects of graphics in his work because users are rarely exposed to these. “ALL THERE IS” is also not as concerned about backstory, as many games on the market are, Luo said. He said the fun of the game comes from open-ended art making that encourages playfulness from users as opposed to a long-winded history.

In the process of making the game, Roca said he shifted from making the game competitive to making it about computer graphics. As a result, he said the game appears to players as if they are in a 2D modeling software. The decision to include pre-rendered images rather than aesthetically pleasing ones is what makes the project so impactful, Luo said. He added that this choice speaks to the work environment of the actual computer artists behind the scenes of the world’s favorite games.

“I think that’s a conceptual comment on the state of developing arts,” Luo said. “Highlighting the gameplay itself, the systems itself rather than highlighting the graphics as most commercial games do.”

Ultimately, Roca said his main goal of the project was for players to acknowledge how the game’s programming has the potential to change the image of every object on earth, even their own physical bodies. He also said he wants to illustrate how the computer can warp physical objects and change users’ physical correlation with them. Another peer of Roca’s, design media arts graduate student Hua Chai, said the physical grimness of the game is the element that stuck with them the most.

“It starts out with this very lively scene of so many animated characters, but once you possess them, they stop animating, and they’re frozen,” Chai said. “Towards the end, once you reach the goal height, the field feels kind of like a graveyard.”

[Related: Student adds life to her game designs with complex characters, fantasy elements]

For Chai, this dystopia is part of what makes the game so fascinating. Roca said he started this game with the challenge of making it playful and collaborative. Luo said in the UCLA Game Lab, where the game will be highlighted, the main interest of game makers is to explore the possible boundaries for what it means to be a game. But with “ALL THERE IS,” Roca said he intended to help users get lost in the experience, an aspect that immerses viewers in the world he has created.

Roca said he purposely left this room open for emergent gameplay and deliberately gave players a lot of freedom to collaborate, explore, and create what they want out of the game. While he said the main goal of the game is to stack objects, players can fly and work together with the other players to take advantage of all the space and objects in the frame. In addition to broadening players’ perceptions of the role computer graphics play, Roca said he hopes participants can use creativity to maximize the various pathways for gameplay in “ALL THERE IS.”

“There’s almost the opportunity for new games to arise within the space, so thinking about the abilities of computer graphics, to not only to have a negative aspect but to have a concrete, new meaning is important,” Roca said.

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