Students' computer game praised

July 07, 2005, vol. 33, no. 6
By Terry Lavender



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Karl Schmidt was more excited than nervous about speaking at DiGRA, the annual conference of the Digital Games Research Association held in Vancouver in June.

Schmidt and his colleagues - Katie Seaborn, Sherry Lai, Ben Hall, and Yohei Shimomae - presented their new computer game, Morphestra, at the conference. But there was a major difference between them and the other presenters: Schmidt and his colleagues were Simon Fraser University undergraduate students, barely out of first year.

Schmidt says that Morphestra was developed as a project for an SFU Surrey TechOne class called new media images.

“The idea for the game actually came from us wanting to submit a game to the conference,” Schmidt says. “We knew our teacher (Cindy Poremba) was involved with the Alternative Games Exhibition part of DiGRA. So we started thinking of different and unique designs for our game. We arrived pretty quickly with the idea of manipulating game elements with audio. Then, over the course of a few months, that idea became Morphestra, the name of which is made from the words morph and orchestra.”

Morphestra, he explains, is a 3D action/puzzle-solving game. “The player selects a music file of their choice, which affects the path through the game, as well as the appearance of the characters and the environment. The main character, whom the player controls, is an alien to the planet with unique electric abilities. The city in which the game takes place is a futuristic technology-centric area. The music selected is used as the game's background soundtrack, and influences the environment in a dynamic fashion. When players complete the final objective they are given a numerical score, similar to arcade games, based on their performance.”

Poremba says she recommended Morphestra for the DiGRA Artist Talks because of its quality and its uniqueness. “Apart from being an extremely sophisticated and professional work (by students at any level, let alone first year), what interests me is the way the game uses a uniquely personal data set (data from player's music collection) to create a generative game environment. Every song creates a new game experience.”

Schmidt is pleased with Morphestra, but he says it's time to move on. “The team and I have learned a lot from working on it, and to be honest it was the first game project of this scale most of us had worked on before. We will take this experience and go on to making new and better games.”

Morphestra is available as a free download at www.sfu.ca/~karls/morphestra/website/.

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