Last week the ETH Game Programming Lab Zürich presented their recent student projects in front of an open audience with some invited special guests (i.eg. from Microsoft and Disney’s Black Rock Studio). They presented the final results after 13 weeks of dedicated work and closed the program with two awards – one for the most favorite project of Black Rock Studios and an audience-prize (sponsored by Microsoft). This article provides some insides about the course and presents the final student projects and the winners of the two awards.
Seven teams of Computer Science students (3 till 4 students in each team) were creating XBOX Games using the XNA Framework during the last 13 weeks. The results presented are as exciting as the concept of the entire course itself. The intention of the course at the ETH – remarkable known as a technical focused University – is to teach the students skills beyond their profound technical knowledge like creativity, teamwork, project-management and leadership. Robert W. Sumner – Postdoc and Game-Design-Teacher at the ETH Zürich – who led through the presentation, underlined the importance of these “Soft-Skills” nowadays. He created the concept of the course as an answer to the lack of cooperative major student projects in the Computer Science Program  based upon the idea to DESIGN a game from scratch to “foster the creativity that engenders novel game designs, game genres, and next-generation technologies” and also the “soft skills necessary for success in most real-world situations”.
As a part of the Visual Computing Program at the ETH XBOX game creation is a highly attractive and convincing instrument to encourage students to work on a complex project with passion as the XBOX console is a familiar platform. The XNA framework offers good conditions for developers:
1. The tools are FREE for students and can be downloaded via Dreamspark or the MSDNAA Service at their Universities (look for the link of your University here for free Microsoft Software).
2. Microsoft provides a good entry into the XNA framework via the APP HUB with tons of guides, tutorials and courses.
3. If the development process should get stuck anyhow the big community around XNA might become quite handy to find an adoptable solution.
R.W.Sumner also argues that the XNA framework removes many of the low-level hurdles that would otherwise overburden the game development process .
THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS
Especially the design process is worth to mention in which the students need to create a project proposal due the first weeks and have their game idea already tested with an analog prototype. The course was split up in three phases:
1) Design & Planning: The students need to create a Design Document, Concept Arts and also a workable prototype of the game.
2) Development: The students start to work on the first ALPHA Version with the XNA tools.
3) Evaluation & Refinement: An iterative Process. The Students test their APPS and collect Feedback. Based on the Feedback (Game-Testing) they finalize the prototype for the final presentation.
In the last phase Disney’s Black Rock Studios helped to give feedback on every project and adjust the mechanics and appearance around the core idea but (!) they never helped with a line of code. Before the first phase the students were given the theme “Large vs Small” freely to associate but somehow implemented in the game idea to give the students guidance in the creative phase. The implementation of the theme was an important criterion for the two awards – and it wasn’t easy to give the own vote only to one team as all teams were surprisingly creative in adopting it.
FINAL PROJECTS (in order of the presentation)
1.) MORPH MADNESS ( LINK )
(Matthias Hofstetter, David Benjamin Meier, Lars Schnyder, Stefan Oliver Wenger)
Up to 4 Players can fight as a resizable marble in an arena against each other. They can shoot, bounce and pile and by adjusting the marble-size they change physical properties of their marble like speed and damage output. Goal is to capture a “black hole” and to defend it against the other players.
2.) REIGN OF DARKNESS ( LINK )
(Daniel Bucher, Etan Kissling, Jan Rüegg, François Pierre Georges Serre)
Up to 4 Players shoot at each other in a 3 dimensional maze. Goal is to collect lights that are scattered all over the map. The player itself controls a light source as well, and so they can hide between other sources and ambush other players. But the own light-ball gets bigger the more sources the player collected and therefore gets easier to uncover and shoot by the other players.
3.) TRUNK ENLARGEMENT ( LINK )
(Thorben Bocheneck, Lukas Humbel, Alain Maurice Illi, Manuel Sprenger)
A party game for 4 players. Every Player plays the trunk of an Elephant in one of the 4 corners of the map. Goal is to get the longest trunk on the map by eating nuts. Sounds crazy ? – it is! Who really takes the mission serious to get a large trunk can also throw mice at other elephants to scare them or get a boost by destroying porcelain just for fun – better in a party-game than on a party.
4.) LITTLE SISTERS’S BIG ADVENTURE ( LINK )
(Fabian Jaromir Kulman, Christian Gabriel Schumacher, Marina Roswitha Späni)
LSBA is a 2d/3D Single-Player-Platform-Puzzle-Game. The player needs to get from one point of the map to another by manipulating the size of the objects. Tricky object arrangements and the nascent physical forces help the player to get through the six levels. For example could a falling plank work like a catapult and throw the player on a higher platform. Also there’s a “back in time” mode to correct recent mistakes immediately to not break the game-flow. Because of the well designed and adjusted level-designs and the exceptional implementation of Large vs. Small by manipulating object – sizes LSBA won both the audience and the Black-Rock Award.
5.) ADAM! ( LINK )
(Marko Bencun, Fabian Andreas Hahn, Florian Michael Köhl, Remigius Jonas Meier)
ADAM! Is a Multiplayer Cooperative Boss Fight Game. Up to 4 players fight together against monstrous Bosses like a Snowman with a Bazooka (!) or a brutal Sandworm. The superior bosses can only be killed with good teamwork and a team-strategy. But be careful, if the team is too good they bosses throw in everything they can – like exploding penguin mines.
6.) LIAMS & EGRAL ( LINK )
(Boris Dalstein, Marco Felix Jenny, Rahul Mukhi)
LIAMS & EGRAL, a Fantasy-Sidescroller. The player has to control 2 characters between he can switch during the game. The dual hero combo consists of a big troll like fighter and a small but fast gnome. The player needs to fight through the world and take care of his 2 characters. Nice – the player can merge the both characters and then they are played as one. Hint: Read the title of the game backwards!
7.) OFFICE ONSLAUGHT (LINK )
(Dominik Robert Giger, Marco Felix Jenny, Michael Bruno Morandi)
Who says that office work is harmless? Not if coffee machines, computer screens and other office supplies begins to attack you like a zombie crowd. Fight your way through the office and TRY TO SURVIVE.
– It is enormous what the students have done in such a short time frame. The students profit from that well sophisticated course as they can be creative and productive at the same time and also work closely to commercial game development under real life conditions. It’s good that Game-Design gets more and more acknowledged as a serious field of study and a good playground for technical vs. artistic skills. Let’s look forward to the next Game Lab Finals.
Feel free to contact us for further questions.
 http://graphics.ethz.ch/teaching/gamelab11/home.php (Game Lab Home)
 http://graphics.ethz.ch/teaching/gamelab11/twiki.php (Wiki)