Get your BSc in Mario Party

By Nicole Kobie

Try and imagine life without video games. What would we do to kill time when drunk and… drunk? How else could we so effectively spend free time away from school without actually using brain cells? How else could we shoot and slaughter our friends without going to prison?

Video and computer games are a gift to our free hours. Apparently, the University of Calgary Computer Science department realizes this, or at least appreciates the impressive amount of knowledge and training that goes into designing games entertaining and challenging enough to interest a generation raised on gaming.

Quite likely, anyone outside of Computer Science isn’t aware of this concentration in Game Design–which just sounds more fun than the other offered concentrations of Software Engineering and Theory of Computation. The concentration started two years ago in response to both student and industry demand, and allows students to specialize their CompSci degree.

"It’s a unique niche that makes the University of Calgary more identifiable," explained Head of Computer Science, Dr. Ken Barker.

There’s currently between a dozen to 25 students tracked into the program, and it’s likely to increase. CompSci actively recruits talented individuals straight from high school; this concentration isn’t too hard to sell–it’s what geeky, computer-loving teens already love to do.

While gaming is easily associated with slacking, the concentration isn’t some chips for dips class. Essentially, students complete the basic requirements for their BSc, as well as extra math and physics courses, and at least one full course equivalent from Art, Drama, English, Communications, Operations Management or Music theory.

"It’s challenging; it’s not the easiest area of study," said Barker. "And, we try to encourage students to take more than one full course in the other areas."

These courses are intended to help students learn graphic design, staging, writing and presentation skills. Programming skills are important, but who would play a boring, ugly game? In addition to those requirements, students also take COMP 585, Games Programming. This fourth-year course, which is taught largely by various experts from the industry, requires a strong base of knowledge, as groups of students work to develop a game, from the storyboard right up to the finished product. Students can design any style of game they desire.

Some may say such a concentration is one more step the U of C is taking towards becoming a full-fledged technical school. Aside from the cross faculty approach, Barker cites the methods and philosophy of the program as being different than tech school offerings. According to him, tech schools only teach students to use current tools , thereby constricting their capabilities.

"We’re more interested in teaching people how to build those tools," he said, adding that the program allows students the freedom to be creative. "We teach students the core computer science skills they need to build what they want."

In other words, they’ll teach you to build and design whatever you want–be it first-person shooter, the newest Mario Party installment, FIFA 2005, zombie-killing, racing-car driving…

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