(TNS) – At this year’s Shawnee Game Conference exhibit, Bryan Kaelin stood up and watched Riley Taylor and Christopher Osborn test their latest video game.
Taylor and Osborn, both computer science students at Shawnee State University, explored the fast-paced world of Cosmo’s Quickstop, where players act as the new owner of an intergalactic gas station.
Their thumbs slid across the controllers’ levers, running through the gas station to provide patrons with amenities such as hot coffee showers, luxury diamond spaceship washes, and sparklingly clean glory rooms.
Cosmo’s Quickstop, which officially released in August, received dozens of positive reviews on the online gaming platform Steam. But this isn’t the first time Kaelin has featured the game at Shawnee State’s annual gaming conference.
Kaelin, a Columbus resident and tech artist for Chicago-based Big Sir Games, graduated from Shawnee State’s Game and Simulation Arts program in 2016. Big Sir Games hired him right after college, and Kaelin brought a first demo of the interstellar game to the conference in 2017.
Now to see a video game he’s been developing for nearly five years presented to his alma mater, it’s come full circle, Kaelin said.
âIt’s super cool to be back here,â said Kaelin, 33. “It’s a really cool event, it’s intimate and I know all the teachers. It’s a bit surreal.”
Full moments like Kaelin’s are not uncommon at the Shawnee Game Conference, and this is one of the things the event coordinators say makes it so special.
For 20 years, Shawnee State has hosted the Shawnee Game Conference – a two-day event that draws game developers, students, and industry leaders from across the country to South Ohio.
The event features speakers from across the gaming industry, game development workshops, video game showcases, a career fair and esports tournaments throughout the weekend.
It may come as a surprise to some that Shawnee State, the state’s southernmost public college along the Ohio River, is home to one of the best college video game design programs in the country. Travis Lynn just laughs. He’s heard it before.
Lynn – director of the Shawnee Game Conference, senior instructor at Shawnee State, and head coach of the school’s esports team – is also a game design program alumnus.
Shawnee State offers two distinct but coordinated game disciplines: Game Programming and Game Arts. One focuses more on the arts and concept development, the other on coding and programming. Together, they create a comprehensive program that Lynn says makes Shawnee State a leader in the gaming industry.
When Lynn was a student, the Shawnee Game Conference was more of a fun event where students showed what they were working on and played new games together.
But as a principal and faculty member, it’s not all fun and gamesâ¦ well, sort of. Lynn said the conference focused on enhancing student achievement, providing them with a wide range of industry experiences and connecting them with professionals.
âThis conference is a critical part of our program, where we can showcase who we are,â said Lynn. âInstead of our students going to Los Angeles, Austin, TX or Canada to gain experience and network, we bring it all to them here.â
A comprehensive list of speakers and workshops covers a wide range of topics: Women in Gaming, Connecting the Digital World with #IRL, Drawing Like a Pro, and How to Improve Ethical Choices in Games.
Dustin Hansen – video game historian, author and this year’s keynote speaker – explained what his journey was like as a game developer and creator. He recalled his first encounter with video games at the age of 7, wiping out aliens in the classic 1978 Space Invaders in the student union at the college where his parents worked.
As a child with severe dyslexia, Hansen said video games gave him the way he needed to tell stories without having to read or write. Programming code was a language Hansen understood, and drawing cartoon characters was his creative outlet.
Storytelling, said Hansen, is at the heart of the gaming community.
âWe have the potential to have more impact on storytelling as technology continues to evolve,â he said.
Video games as we know and love them have only been around for a few decades, but Hansen said the industry has been doing incredible things with storytelling in such a short period of time. These opportunities, he said, will only grow as technology evolves.
âTechnology is replacing itself, but the thing that won’t change is history,â said Hansen. “It’s organic.”
Nicholas Ludowese was testing the virtual reality game Half-Life Alyx on the exhibition floor on Friday morning. Ludowese, who graduated from Shawnee State in May 2020, now helps coach the college’s JV esports team.
The senior project in his class, Polterheist, was on display across the room. Across campus, at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts, this year’s senior game design class showcased the game they worked on, called BLAST.
Lynn said Shawnee State has become a power school in the video game industry. The university has alumni at 42 different game design studios, including Boeing, Epic, and Army Game Studios.
But the program and the conference, Lynn said, are only just beginning.
Shawnee State’s game design program is almost as old as the conference itself, and the world has changed a lot over the past two decades. From the way we interact with technology to the way we consume content, this industry is constantly evolving.
Lynn said Shawnee State’s game design program and conference are still relatively young. But just as Hansen predicted storytelling will grow with new technology, Lynn said Shawnee State’s presence in the industry will increase as well.
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