Graphic design students (left to right) Sonora freshman Breana Burba, Upton sophomore Candace Alvey and louisville sophomore Trevor Useliss, work on an animation design project in the 2D design class taught by Truth Tran on Wednesday, Oct. 11, in the Fine Arts Center. (Photo by Preston Jenkins)

From the Magazine: Level up

Video games can have a widespread appeal through their fantastical worlds, their rigorous competition and their vibrant artwork. Some students are studying to create these games themselves.

Campbellsville junior Len Anderson is studying to obtain certificates in computer science, game design and graphic design in addition to a degree in computer animation. Anderson said that character design, which is important to a game is success, is what they are interested in.

“If you don’t like the way characters look, if you don’t like the design of the video game, why would you play it?” Anderson said.

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Anderson said they started as an art student and then chose to go into computer animation because of their love of character design.

“As an artist, I was really into ‘Doctor Who’s’ character design, then I wanted to go into animation and really flesh those characters out,” Anderson said. “I got a little bit more into video games while I was in college.”

Anderson’s experiences as a person who was assigned female at birth has affected their outlook on character design.

“I feel like I’m a little bit more tuned into the fact that the way that female characters are designed is, really, atrociously sexist,” Anderson said. “A lot of them have that pear-shaped body, and they’re extremely sexualized.”

Anderson said that this sexism often causes a character’s design to contradict their purpose within the game.

“The characters are barely wearing any clothes, but they’re in full combat, and it just doesn’t make sense for their character design,” Anderson said.

Anderson would like to learn computer science to better their skills in game design.

“I want to know what I’m doing, especially if I wanted to create a game all by myself,” Anderson said. “I don’t have people to help me do that; I’d have to know my shit.”

Anderson said that game design uses computer science ideas and computer animation, which concerns learning design and animation programs such as Maya and 3ds Max, comparing it to making sculptures on computers.

Anderson said they have a Pinterest board of ideas for a video game they would like to create, which is an indie game similar to “Stardew Valley.”

Joan Sung, a computer animation professor, teaches students about animating different types of rocks and shapes on Tuesday, Sept. 26 in ta computer animation lab inside the Fine Arts Center. (Photo by Preston Jenkins)

“I don’t tend to like Xbox games like “Call of Duty” or anything like that,” Anderson said. “I tend to really like storyboard games that are small.”

While Anderson would like to make video games, their preference would be to work in animation for Cartoon Network.

“I really wanted to go into 2D animation, but that is not a program here,” Anderson said. “It is also something you can figure out really easily on your own, but 3D animation is kinda the new norm.”

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Nashville senior Colin Jones also has an interest in character design. Jones is a graphic design major studying to get a game design certificate and said he wants to work in the game industry. 

“If you think about (Super) Mario, Mario has a distinct color scheme,” Jones said. “You don’t have to write complex, intriguing characters to make them good designs.”

In addition to design, Jones said that technical skills like coding are important to successfully designing a game.

“The code is like the framework to make everything work the way you want it and play the way you want it,” Jones said. “And then you have all the design work on top of that, that you have to make operate alongside it.”

Jones said that there are many different career paths in the video game design industry.

“I won’t say you can do whatever, but you can kind of choose your concentration and focus on your concentration instead of having to think of the entire goal all the time,” Jones said.

While versatile, the gaming industry is too corporate, Jones said.

“It kinda skews the view of the real passion behind it, so I want to bring that passion back,” Jones said. “I just want to help create more experiences.”

WKU’s game design certificate program prepares its students for careers in animation, programming, software development, design and art, according to the university’s website. (Photo illustration by Connor Marchant)

Jones said that he would like to be on the design side of video games and that his graphic design major will help him with that.

“You don’t have to be, like, this deep coder to create a game that needs to be a simple game  — you’ve got to have an understanding of the basics and then experiment,” Jones said.

Truth Tran, an animation and 3D modeling assistant professor at WKU, attested to the versatility of the game design industry. She said that animators can come from many different backgrounds, with some starting with traditional art and progressing into creating concept art for new characters or ideas. Some other skills involved include 3D modeling, texturing and lighting. 

“No matter what skillset you are, if you love doing game design development, you can find a way to fit in,” she said.

Tran said WKU’s animation program was launched in the fall of 2022, with the program’s first graduates graduating in spring 2023.

Tran said the video game design certificate is cross-disciplinary between computer animation and computer science. Tran said that students learn about every aspect of game design, such as programming and animation, but in their careers, designers end up either focusing on the art or technical side of game design.

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Tran said she was originally more focused on traditional art and drawing. Then she watched her brother play a video game.

“It was beautiful,” Tran said. “It’s not just like Iím watching a movie, an animation, but now I can be inside the world, and there’s a lot of beautiful artwork around me.”

Tran said that she was inspired by this to look into video game design as a career. She said she would like to create her dream game, which would be a high fantasy role-playing game.

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“I’ve got a story, and I just want to build a world and the characters based on the story,” Tran said. “I try to venture into a nonlinear storytelling style — that means no matter what part of the story you unfold first, it doesn’t affect the result, but at the same time, your choice does make a different result. I’m still working on that.”

Tran said she does not play many video games, but she pays attention to the industry.

“My opinion about the video game industry tendency now is similar to the movie industry, because there is not a lot of room for indie developers, and there’s no new title, like, original game coming out,” Tran said. “It’s like movies: They’re still doing franchises or adaptations. They adapt from movie to game, game to movie, book to movie, then movie to game.”

Jones said that he likes video games because of the interactivity and the community.

“I’m not always going to enjoy watching a movie, and I might not always get what they’re trying to say, but I could understand it differently in a game sometimes,” Jones said.

(Illustration by Connor Marchant)

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Jones said he plays plenty of multiplayer games, where he’s met several friends.

“You end up meeting all these types of different people, just playing the games you like,” Jones said. “This is what I want to do; I want to give that back.”

Jones said playing games piqued his interest in creating them. He said
“The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” was a major inspiration to him.

“I want to create my own studio or indie team to work on some stuff that I have in my own head,” Jones said.

Jones said that he has been writing several ideas for games that he would like to make. One idea he has is to make a role-playing game. Another idea he has is to make an extraction shooting game with horror aspects.

“I’ll never give up on games,” Jones said. “It’s a hobby that gets a lot of shit, and there’s a lot of stuff that can come from it that people don’t know if they haven’t tried.”

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