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New HCC degree turns games into serious learning

February 20, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

tiffanya@herald-mail.com

The first crop of students will know how to make their own video games by the end of the semester, said Patrick Bishop, an instructor at Hagerstown Community College.

Bishop teaches multimedia authoring, the first course in HCC's new video game degree track.

The school offers an associate degree in Simulation and Digital Entertainment, known as the video game degree. The program began this semester.

The degree also is offered at Howard Community College and at the Community College of Baltimore County, Essex campus. HCC, the most recent to offer the degree, will serve Western Maryland, said Margaret C. Spivey, director of the Advanced Technology Center.

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The two-year program, Spivey said, was structured to align with a similar four-year program offered at the University of Baltimore.

Seventeen students are enrolled in the video game track. All of them are signed up for the program's introductory course, Multimedia Authoring, Spivey said.

Bishop, a 26-year-old Web developer, teaches the course.

By the end of the course, Bishop said, students will know how to make elaborate, interactive "shooter" games with online, multiplayer capabilities.

Bishop explained that a "shooter"-style game isn't a "bang-bang, kill 'em dead" kind of thing.

"I created a game where a chef tosses (mincemeat) pies at turkeys," Bishop said, giving an example of a shooter-style game. "Every time you hit a turkey, you get points. Their feathers fly all over the place. It's a riot."

Spivey said talks of starting the video game degree program began last year as a way of sparking interest in the school's computer science program, which has seen enrollments decline.

Last year, video game companies raked in about $10 billion in the United States and $25 billion worldwide, James Brightman, editor-in-chief of a San Fransisco-based online newsletter that covers the gaming industry, said in a telephone interview.

That's a long way from the two-bit Atari games of the '70s and '80s, Brightman said.

"It's a very viable industry, and it's only getting bigger," he said. "It's a very worthwhile degree to get because studios are always looking for talent."

Game companies often endorse undergraduate and graduate programs that offer gaming degrees, "ones that churn out talent," Brightman said.

Before, game makers were a collaboration of computer science majors and graphic artists.

Zachary Mentzer, a second-year graphic design major and avid gamer, said he took Bishop's multimedia class to learn more about online animation.

Mentzer, 20, of Hagerstown, said he would have enrolled in the degree program if it had been offered when he started two years ago.

"I'm kind of disappointed that they didn't offer it until this year," said Mentzer, who is graduating this spring. "I don't want to have to go back and take all of those classes."

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