Students at the Becker School of Design & Technology are bringing new life to a collection of steel armor that dates from ancient Egypt to 19th-century Japan by putting it at the center of a video game.
The Worcester Art Museum is home to the John Woodman Higgins Armory Collection, a selection of more than 1,500 arms and armor. BSDT students took inspiration from the collection and turned real-life weapons and armor into game graphics. The project is one of several that students and faculty will display at the PAX East convention this month.
“We structured the game to be fun and action-oriented while still focusing on history,” says Brandon Mallory ’22, the lead designer and programmer for the Higgins Armory project team and an Interactive Media: Game Design & Development major. “We’ve been having a blast trying to ‘gamify’ these items with different stats to boost the player as they take on enemies across different historical battles like the Battle of Nagashino in Japan or America’s Alamo.”
While the student designers take some creative liberties, they try to keep their gamified weapons and armor as close to the real collection as possible, Mallory says. The project is produced by Jack Freni, mentored by Professor Ezra Cove, and is part of Professor Terrasa Ulm’s Greenlit Studio.
“There’s a reason why reenactments are still popular around the world, whether it be ancient samurai battles or the Revolutionary War,” Mallory says. “Looking at our past as a species really shows how far we’ve come on a societal and technological level.”
Boston-based PAX East was created in 2010 to celebrate gaming in all its forms, from electronics to tabletop play. The BSDT is showcasing four digital games and a tabletop game during the convention, which runs from April 21 to 24 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and is expected to draw about 80,000 people. About 35 students are joining faculty and alumni at the BSDT booth to show off their games and elicit feedback.
“It’s really nice to see the students represent their games and get feedback from people who have never played them before,” Ulm says. “I think students are excited to see what it is other people enjoy about their games, because sometimes that can be a surprise.”
Ulm and Amanda Theinert, director of the Master of Fine Arts in Interactive Media Program, have been working the booth at PAX East for the last 12 years. Last year’s convention was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dillon Remuck, a first-year student majoring in computer science and Interactive Media: Game Design & Development, is the programmer of Caligo, a two-player game the BSDT is showing at PAX East. Caligo is made for people who are in different locations and challenges players to communicate through images and symbols rather than with words. Arielle Johnson, another first-year student, is the design team-lead and 2D visual art creator, and Ulm is overseeing the project.
“It’ll be great to see what issues there are, what people like and don’t like,” Remuck says. “We’ll be able to get some finishing touches in before the end of the semester.”
Sebastian Schindler was the lead engineer on a team that created the game Upheaveal as part of his MFA thesis. The game’s purpose is simple: virtually throw objects at your opponent until you win. At PAX East, Schindler hopes to gather feedback about the game’s fun factor and overall design.
“We want to record player interactions and see how effective Upheaveal is at making total strangers feel more comfortable with one another,” he says.