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Illinois State's Creative Technologies Program Is Leveling Up

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The Creative Technologies Program
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WGLT
The Game Design squence in the new Creative Technologies program allows Illinois State University students to innovate board and video games.

The gaming industry is becoming so big that Illinois State University’s Creative Technologies major is leveling up when it comes to game design.

The Arts Technology program not only changed its name but its curriculum where students can experiment with their passions. There are now two Creative Technologies sequences students can choose from: game design and interdisciplinary technologies.

“One of the primary reasons why we did it is because video games have become larger as an industry,” said Creative Technologies program director Aaron Paolucci. “Industry profits in video games is eclipsing all other forms of mass consumption entertainment.”

There is a huge market, and that means students wanted more courses in game design--and increasingly because of the coronavirus and the growing interest in e-sports. (ISU also recently opened a new gaming practice and competition space on campus.)

The Creative Technologies program also is building relationships across campus, including with the School of Information Technology. Game Design majors can choose a few IT courses as electives.

And, Creative Technologies created a minor in game design aimed at IT majors, to get programming students into collaborative game design classes.

“(Creative Technologies) and some IT faculty have discussed the possibility of building and bridging curriculum between us,” said Paolucci.

Being that the Creative Technologies program is interdisciplinary, students have such a range of abilities, including animation, drawing, theater and dance and so much more. If you think about video games as an industry, you need a fine arts perspective and digital media skills across a wide range of fields.

“We’re just focusing on allowing students to explore all their fine arts and digital media training as it pertains to games,” said Paolucci.

Assistant professor Sercan Sengun helped design the curriculum in game design to cater to students'  varying abilities. Now, students are publishing all sorts of games--from board games to full-functioning video games.

Students in the program also have to think about whether their game can be streamed.

“Gaming communities become part of your ecosystem, which encompasses e-sports,” said Sengun. “Now, a game designer has to think about all these issues, in addition to making the game. They have to think about how the game will interact with all these communities.” 

Published works

The faculty within the Creative Technologies program are proud of their students. Just this year, students are beginning to publish their work.

“Some students focus on making games that have high-fidelity, so not as original, for example you could see a car racing game. They focus on making it look really good from a technical perspective. Some projects are from interesting ideas,” said Sengun.

For example,  one interesting project is a game where you are playing Sasquatch trying to scare away captors, which is commenting on environmental issues. It comments on how the captors try to invade Saquatch’s home and he has to protect the habitat and himself by scaring them off. Another game is about breaking the invisible barriers women face in the workplace. 

Students can self-publish through the program, allowing consumers to download games and play them at home. So far through their itch.io channel, they have six games published. 

“I welcome them both, the industry can have both of these angles. Gaming companies are looking for perfection in the technical aspect, but they are also looking for interesting ideas, too,” said Sengun. 

The new program focuses on three pillars: design, production and development. 

“Design is establishing the look and feel, the sound, the ideas of the game. Production is building the assets,” said Paolucci. “Development is weaving it all together through game engines and programming.”

A lot of national and international programs that are doing some form of game design are focusing on one or more of those areas. 

“We have the capabilities and the range of skill sets to heavily hit design and production, and where we might not be as strong in the development area we are building the relationship with the School of Information Technology,” said Paolucci.

Career assistance 

The video games market is expected to be worth over $90 billion by 2020, compared to the $78.6 billion in 2017, according to the Entertainment Software Association. 

As of 2017, 80% of the total video game industry's $36 billion revenue belongs to software sales. There are more than 2.5 billion video gamers from all over the world, according to a 2016 study by the European Mobile Game Market.

Creative Technologies Assistant Director Jody Decremer focuses on freshmen and seniors. She teaches broad classes about game design and is involved in the capstone class that is geared toward career opportunities during senior year. 

Decremer said internship opportunities and a portfolio will go a long way when students are navigating the industry. 

“Anytime you have an internship on your resume looks so much better, but a portfolio will sell you. You have to make sure that portfolio is ready,” said Decremer. “Reading a lot of job descriptions, they are actually looking for people who have a game published and ready to go.”

Within the next two years, Decremer said they will have internship opportunities. 

In the capstone class, game design students must create an industry-grade game. 

“I think this really helps the students push their portfolio. All these channels we have, these are all things students can use to show their employers their work,” said Sengun. “As a program we really push the students’ work to be out there. Throughout their education we want them to gain a following of gamers and people from the industry.”

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Catrina Petersen is an intern at WGLT focused on reporting and online writing. She is also a student in Illinois State University's School of Communication.