This summer, Rich Tanner, Clinical Professor of Digital Entertainment Technology, attended the Christian Game Developers Conference held yearly in Portland Oregon. Six students from the School of IT and Computing attended with him. The mission of the conference is “bringing salt and light to one of the most influential industries of the 21st century”. Tanner spent a little time to tell us more about his experience as an attendee and professor hoping to encourage his students to share their faith through this platform.
What is the Christian Game Developers Conference about?
The Christian Game Developers Conference has been going for 17 years, and seems to be growing every year. It is a conference for Christians in the games industry, whether they are building overtly Christ-centered games or not. Many participants are utilizing video games, computer games, and even board games and card games to advance the Kingdom. These games have different purposes. Some are to strengthen the Body of Christ, being designed for a Christian audience with a common understanding and background. Others are designed to reach an audience that does not yet know Christ and to pull them into a conversation about Jesus and Christianity. Still other Christian games are simply designed as wholesome entertainment for Christian families that do not violate Christian beliefs and morals with the questionable content often found in the industry. In addition to these endeavors, the conference also serves as a gathering for folks in the larger games industry who also happen to be Christians. The conference often hosts discussion groups and presentations on what it means to be a follower of Christ in an interactive and multimedia career field. The conference is a place not only for presentations and sharing of ideas and announcements, but for fellowship and fun. Many projects and collaborations are often formed at the conference by various CGDC attendees. I personally have never been to any other conference that looks as much like the Body of Christ in action.
What were you hoping students would get from attending the conference?
I was hoping for students to network and get engaged! The collaboration that happens at CGDC is truly something special, and it is my desire to get students plugged into projects and companies that they can be meaningful contributors to. The DET program has already had a couple of students get connected to both jobs and internships based on connections that were made and strengthened at CGDC. It was also my hope to have students walk away from the conference and the conversations that happened there with a stronger sense of their purpose in the Kingdom and in the world at large. I wanted them to be asking themselves what it means to be a Christian who is learning and aspiring to be a game and content creator.
Why should students become involved with this? How do they become involved?
Students can get involved simply by getting involved with the DET program, the DET Club that meets every week, and by being involved with other students who share their passions and ambitions. Also, connecting with faculty really helps us to help you. There are many great opportunities that come our way, and we want to see you succeed both in the classroom and beyond!
Mike Wheeler, senior Digital Entertainment Technology major from Plano, Texas attended the conference. He said that his biggest takeaway from the conference was learning how important stage presence is, including appearance, a working presentation, and properly selling your idea or product to the audience. Kolton Burkhalter, senior Digital Entertainment Technology major from Abilene, Texas said that the idea he took away from the conference was that it’s possible to keep one’s Christian values in your work. He said that the conference also influenced him to want to start a business alongside his good friends who share the same interests. Seeing many of the developers at the conference who were self-employed or worked in a small studio has given him the confidence to be a gaming entrepreneur.
Burkhalter said the thing he enjoyed most about the conference was “the selflessness shown by everyone there that sets them apart from an ordinary game developer conference. It was less about professionalism and more about community – everyone was willing to help one another amidst working in different companies. The conference was very welcoming and seemed like a family.”
Are you a DET student who’s interested in attending this conference in the future? To learn more about the Christian Game Developers Conference, click here. To learn more about ACU’s DET Club, click here.
In May, ACU’s SITC had its first team compete at the Global Finals tournament of Destination Imagination in Knoxville, TN, winning first place in the Maze Craze category at the university level.
Destination Imagination, or DI as its most often referred to, is a gathering of over 8,000 elementary through university aged students from more than 15 countries around the world. Centered on creativity, the event allows student finalists the opportunity to display their inventive solutions in the areas of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics), as well as service learning and improvisation. Collin Blanchard, one of the ACU team members who participated, talked to us about the experience.
“DI is essentially, to my understanding, a place to participate in challenges of various types and to grow as a team. I had never heard of DI before, but Korbin Ancell had participated in it for something like 10 years. He told us about it and we decided we could do it at the university level.” Collin went on to explain how the challenge works.
“Each of the levels of competition was pretty similar, especially for us. At each level, we decided to keep our project mostly the same. The part that changed the most was our maze solver, the robot. At the regional level, a last minute change broke the robot entirely, so we had to resort to a remote controlled toy to complete the challenge. At state, our full solution was still not working, so we just controlled our robot with a remote, but at least it wasn’t a toy this time. At global, we had the full solution working, with a camera connected to a raspberry pi and codes that the camera would read to solve the maze and drive the robot for us. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the actual location, the noise from all of the Bluetooth and the glare from a light on our camera meant that we had to resort to driving the robot with a remote again. Our skit stayed the same through all of the levels, aside from missing Isaak at Globals since he started a new job. One last change was the song that we sang during the skit. At regionals, the song was our own lyrics to the tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. At State and Globals, it was a completely original song that Virginia Pettit and one of our teammates, Matt, wrote together. The skit told the story of unlikely pirates finding buried treasure and teaching a real pirate that friendship is the greatest treasure of all.”
Collin encourages others to participate in this event. “This was a really fun opportunity. If other students have a group that they get along well with and have an idea for one of the challenges, they should go for it! Even if they don’t win, it is a really good chance to build teamwork and use skills outside of the classroom setting.”
Learn more about Destination Imagination here.
Faculty and staff of the SITC celebrated with graduates and their families at a dinner at Lytle Land & Cattle Company on Friday night. It was a time for those in attendance to celebrate milestones, reflect on their educational journey, and recognize talented students and faculty.
Faculty awarded outstanding seniors for the following:
Charlie Velazquez, Digital Entertainment Technology major, received the Inspiring Leadership Award with faculty members saying, “Over the last two years, he has distinguished himself with his attention to detail in creating incredible 3D models. He has inspired an entire group of underclassmen to a higher standard of game development.”
Collin Blanchard, Computer Science major, received the Award for Commitment and Resiliency. When asked about Collin, faculty said, “During his time at ACU, this student has shown great determination and willingness to learn whatever was asked of him. He has approached difficult problems with a consistently positive attitude and has made a positive impact on students around him.”
John Wolfe, Information Technology major, received the Pursuit of Excellence Award. Faculty said about John, “Over the past four years, he has distinguished himself among his peers as someone with a positive attitude and a persistent drive to search for and find answers. His motivation, perseverance and relentless pursuit of excellence has been evident in all that he does. He never gives up, even with the most complex problems and serves as an example to many.”
Korbin Ancell, Computer Science major, received the Application and Ingenuity Award. Faculty said of Korbin, “He is always involved with multiple projects both inside and outside the classroom in addition to working 2 to 3 part-time jobs. His exceptional curiosity has made him both a great student in the classroom, as well as leading him to accomplish a wide range of inventive projects of his own inspiration. He has developed a reputation around campus as the “go-to student” who can help with a wide range of technical projects.”
Alani Peters, Computer Science major, received the Research Dedication Award. Faculty said this about the final award recipient, “During her time at ACU, she has rigorously applied herself to the pursuit of research. She has contributed to each project through countless hours of hard work and has seen the fruits of her labor as publications in highly respected conferences with her professors and her peers.”
University Scholars, George Bush, Caleb Martin, and Nevan Simone were recognized at the dinner as well. These students were nominated by department faculty and recognized overall by the university as “excelling in scholarly activity appropriate to their disciplines.” Only fifty ACU students are recognized each year and this year, three of them are graduating from SITC.
Dr. John Homer received this year’s SITC Teacher of the Year award, presented by last year’s winner, Dr. James Prather. The Teacher of the Year award is voted on by all students in the School of IT and Computing. Students had this to say about Dr. Homer: “He is an incredible professor who cares about his students and takes the time to make sure the information is understood. He is an example of humility, Christian leadership, and quiet compassion. He’s also brilliant, an avid learner, and incredibly funny (but don’t tell him that). Dr. Homer somehow makes running the department, delivering polished lectures, and leaving time for family look easy. His professionalism and kindness toward both students and faculty is truly inspiring. I can think of nobody more deserving of this recognition.”
Congratulations to the award winners and to all of the graduating students in the School of Information Technology and Computing. Go change the world, Wildcats!
For a complete look at the pictures from the SITC dinner, click on this link.
CHI 2018 is a “Special Interest Group in Computer-Human Interaction” conference and the premier international conference for scholarly research and prototype demonstrations for cutting edge interactive technology. It is sponsored by the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery), the primary guild for technology professionals and academics. The conference focuses on the ways in which humans interact with computers and what we can learn from that to design better and more natural user interfaces. This ranges from video game design, to security, to the latest in wearable tech, to years-long observation and interviews in the field about how people use computers, and everything in between.
The ACU SIGCHI Team of Presenters
A group of ACU SIGCHI Club studnents presented research they have worked on this school year at the conference. Dr. James Prather, the sponsor of the club and the Human Computer Interaction professor said “For the students at the conference, the most important takeaway was realizing how valuable their research is. When they would explain their research to an interested person, most of the students were asked which graduate school they attended. I think that speaks volumes to the education they’re receiving at ACU SITC. I think many of the students saw that yes, they can compete at that next level.”
Prather also says that many of the students are now considering graduate school, something that had not previously considered, because of all the positive feedback that they received at the conference. Everyone seeing such a breadth and depth of amazing research, he says, really invigorated their interest in pursuing academics further.
When asked what he hopes for the future of students who will be involved in this conference, Prather said, “First of all, I hope that our alumni who have gone on this trip will continue to go as professionals interested in learning about the very latest user interaction and design technologies in the field. I think it will make the companies that they work for more competitive in the field. All the big names in tech (Google, Microsoft, IBM, etc) were there, promoting their companies, showing off their prototype gadgets, or presenting research papers. But I also hope that each year we can submit to the Student Research Competition so that future students can have the same opportunity to attend such a top-tier technology conference.”
We asked students who attended the conference to answer a few questions for us and we thought you’d find each of their comments interesting.
What was the highlight of the conference?
- Isaak Ramirez: “Being surrounded by extremely intelligent people at all times was a little bit intimidating at first, but as the conference progressed, I felt very honored to be in the presence of many great minds.”
- Collin Blanchard: “My highlight was honestly the entire experience. I really enjoyed getting to learn about other people’s passions and getting excited with them.”
- Alani Peters: “Oh, this is really hard!! I loved the huge demo they held one evening! It was a huge conference center filled with all of the prototypes of the research people were presenting. We were able to interact with all of the amazing projects people have been working on and learning about at the conference.”
- Gideon Luck: “For me it would be hard to narrow down a single highlight. Presenting our paper and talking to and meeting other presenters in the Student Research Competition might be it, though. I also enjoyed many of the paper presentations that I attended and getting to meet with these paper presenters and further discuss their work. Some standouts were in the session about privacy and online data that I attended.”
Tell us about the experience of presenting your research at the conference.
- Isaak Ramirez: “Our team has spent a lot of time on this research, so being able to talk about what our team was able to do was almost second nature to me.”
- Collin Blanchard: “It was really cool to present our work to other people and get insights from them on how we can improve. I liked getting them interested in what we did.”
- Alani Peters: “It was so cool! Although I was not the one to officially present, it was amazing being able to tell other researchers about the work we are doing and answer any questions they have about it.”
- Gideon Luck: “It was awesome. I was so nervous before the conference and before Monday. By Monday morning when the poster session took place, I had practiced the script and was ready to go. The actual presenting to the judges went great, but unfortunately we didn’t move on to the second round of the contest. I had the chance to explain our research and present our poster in the expo hall many times throughout the week and it was fantastic. So many people had questions and feedback and seemed so interested in what we had done. It felt good to have all our hard work validated by others in our field.”
What did you learn from this whole process, beginning with compiling your research in the SIGCHI club to going to Canada to present?
- Isaak Ramirez: “More than anything else, I feel like I have learned what it means to be a part of a research team. From late weekly meetings to sharing an Airbnb, our research team has spent a large amount of time together, but it has only improved our ability to work together.”
- Collin Blanchard: “I learned just how much work there is in getting research done to present on a large scale like this. It puts all of the presentations in context with just how much they had to do to get here, too.”
- Alani Peters: “I learned how significant the work we are doing truly is. Our research has been published and is available to companies and to other researchers to further technology and the way we interact with technology.”
- Gideon Luck: “I learned a lot about so many things: The IRB process to get research approved, the process of writing a paper in specific conference format and then submitting that. It was a lot of work for our whole team, but in the end, it was worth it, because it gave us the opportunity to attend the conference and see so many new things.”
Did this experience make you want to engage in more research at school or post-grad? Why or why not?
- Isaak Ramirez: “This experience absolutely made me want to engage in more research post-grad. Even if I was only able to reconnect with my ACU friends, it would be worth it to me.”
- Collin Blanchard: “I would like to continue research at some point, but it will be hard to continue going into industry. I will definitely continue going to the conference each year though.”
- Alani Peters: “Absolutely! I had forgotten how much I love research during the past year and this conference sparked that again for me. I am planning on participating in research in the future, especially if I go to grad school. Research is paving the way for technology and it was amazing seeing what huge organizations like Facebook and IBM Research are up to.“
- Gideon Luck: “Absolutely, I would say that before this conference I was on the fence about continuing my education and doing research at the postgraduate level. Seeing the diversity of topics being researched in this field totally sold me on the idea of going back to school later on to do more research and learn more about the field of HCI.”
Dr. James Prather, Gideon Luck, Alani Peters, and Jessica Wininger
How are you hoping to apply what you have learned about Human Computer Interaction in the future?
- Isaak Ramirez: “Through this conference and the HCI classes I’ve had at ACU, I’m confident that I would be able to apply my skills in a future career. While my upcoming job does not explicitly call for a knowledge of HCI necessarily, having a base understanding in the fundamentals certainly helps in any software-related field.”
- Collin Blanchard: “At the very least, I hope to incorporate good design principles in my work. Hopefully I will be able to incorporate some of the things I learned from the paper sessions as well. One of the sessions I enjoyed the most was about chatbots and how to use them for good, so I would like to incorporate that into my work at some point.”
- Alani Peters: “I hope to apply these HCI concepts in my job that I am starting in June!”
- Gideon Luck: “Honestly, I am just excited about the potential for building on my team’s research and the other work in this field in the future. I am also excited to see where our project for this semester is able to go, since we are planning to submit it to the regular conference proceedings for next year.”
For the 3rd year in a row, the Digital Entertainment Technology major has been recognized as one of the top undergraduate Game Design majors
. That means that every year since the program has been eligible, the Princeton Review has ranked ACU’s DET major in the top 50 undergraduate programs, internationally.
The Princeton Review released its ninth annual ranking lists on March 13th, naming the best undergraduate and graduate schools for students to study and begin a career in game design. The publication surveyed 150 schools both in the United States and internationally that offer a degree or courses in the game design major, looking at many different aspects of the programs, such as facilities, academic offerings, and career outcomes along with 40 points of data in the areas of academics, faculty, technology and career. Readers can view the profiles of the ranked schools as well as learn more about the process the Princeton Review used to asses the schools by clicking on this link
Rich Tanner and Brian Burton
Rich Tanner, Clinical Professor of Digital Entertainment Technology, said “We are honored to receive this distinction yet again, and I am extremely proud of the hard work, dedication, and learning that our students are doing that make this recognition possible.”Dr. Brian Burton, Associate Professor of Digital Entertainment Technology, said “It thrilling to once again be recognized by the Princeton Review for what we have accomplished in game development. We have Digital Entertainment Technology majors all over the country working for major game companies and creating amazing content. This Spring semester we have already published Virtual Reality content to Steam and we are preparing games that will soon be announced.”