May 28, 2012: Hoops of Fire: A Smartphone App Promotes UIC’s Athletic Department and Engineering College
Maxine D. Brown
April 23, 2012
Basketball enthusiasts can now shoot hoops with the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Flames team’s mascot, Sparky D. Dragon, when playing “Hoops of Fire,” a newly available smartphone app. Gamers are challenged to play ball in UIC’s unique urban backyard, as game levels start with a basketball hoop on a quiet street, and then add obstacles in front of the hoop – from pedestrians on busy streets, to cars whizzing by on the Dan Ryan expressway, to “L” trains rambling aboveground, and boats on Lake Michigan.
“Hoops of Fire” demonstrates only a fraction of all the many academics, athletics and extracurricular activities that UIC has to offer its students. While the game specifically promotes the Athletic Department’s Flames, it also promotes the College of Engineering’s Computer Science Department, which offers the course “Video Game Design and Development”.
UIC undergraduate Derek Bolt, who in 2011 took the course from Computer Science professor and Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) director Jason Leigh, was selected to work on this project, which was the inspiration of UIC’s head of Marketing & Communications, Kevin Tynan. Bolt, who did all the programming under Leigh’s supervision and received independent course credit, worked with freelance artists Pat Bradley who did the art and storyboarding and Chris Bradley who did the music.
One of the hardest parts of the game, Bolt acknowledged, was transitioning from a computer-based game to a phone-based game. “Phones don’t have the same graphics power, processing power and memory as computers, so too many images and too many calculations quickly reach the limits of a phone’s capabilities,” he explained, which caused him to rethink how he had to implement the game. Another challenge was making the game fun and easy but still challenging so that it appeals to both avid gamers as well as casual gamers.
Bolt received academic credit for implementing the game an independent class project – meaning he had to supervise his own time. “I could have spent years on this project doing a ton of stuff,” said Bolt, but he wanted to graduate. Bolt already has a job with a local marketing company that he needs to focus on full-time. The company, which develops interactive Kinect-based marketing kiosks for public places, utilizes skills that Bolt learned both in the video game class and in developing “Hoops of Fire.”
Leigh is considering establishing EVL Game Studios to enable students to work with game companies to explore new gameplay concepts using emerging technologies that are invented at UIC. “I believe EVL Game Studios could help companies think outside of the box in their future products, and at the same time provide students with a valuable understand the real world constraints that game companies must operate in.” Last summer, a Youtube video of EVL’s Fleet Commander, a videogame homage to Star Wars played on a giant 25-foot touch-screen wall, went viral, and Lucasarts invited EVL to visit them to learn about its design.
Hoops of Fire is currently available as a free download for iTunes and Android.
ABOUT UIC “VIDEO GAME DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT” COURSE
Rated by Princeton Review and GamePro magazine in 2010 as one of the top 50 programs in North America, UIC’s “Video Game Design and Development” course teaches game design in a unique setting. It is taught both at UIC and remotely at Louisiana State University (LSU) using high-definition video tele-conferencing over high-speed networks between Chicago and Baton Rouge. It is interdisciplinary, attracting students from a variety of university departments, such as computer science, art, music, and the social sciences, to name a few. The students are organized into decidedly distributed teams, and each team has to design and develop a video game as its class project. And, students must use advanced visualization technologies as the platform for game development. Programming is important, but so are all the skills that go into developing multimedia games to make them creative, compelling and challenging, within the timeframe of a semester, in distributed team environments. On the last day of class, students demonstrate their video games, which are judged by faculty, students, and local video game company representatives – yet more incentive for students to complete their projects on time. Prizes are given and a pizza party for all follows. For more information, see http://www.evl.uic.edu/core.php?mod=4&type=4&indi=702