They're game for
Right: Jason Leigh’s
course in computer games is no trivial
Photo: Troy Heinzeroth
Since he was a teenager in the early 1980s,
Jason Leigh has been playing — and creating —
Now an associate professor of computer science
and a researcher in the Electronic Visualization
Laboratory, Leigh took his love for gaming and
created a hands-on laboratory that teaches
aspiring gamers how to create their own electronic
Leigh named the course “renaissance computing,”
but after word got out students started calling it
“video game programming.”
“It filled up almost instantly,” says Leigh.
“There was a waiting list, but there were no
dropouts so none on the list got in.”
Thirty students enrolled: 27 computer science
majors and three art students. Computer donations
from Microsoft Corp. helped equip the class.
Leigh started the course by asking each student
to fill out a questionnaire about their computer
science skills and experience with computer games.
He picked 10 student team leaders who, in turn,
were given “resumes” from which each recruited two
more students to form teams simulating mock
computer game companies. Jobs ranged from
programmer to graphic arts designer to technical
Each team made class presentations on their
game concept, in part to refine their presentation
skills but also to allow Leigh to advise the
students on whether their projects were becoming
too ambitious to handle in a semester.
Leigh was pleasantly surprised by the
“It went extraordinarily well. Of all the
computer graphics to come out of UIC as complete
products of one semester, this is the highest
quality I’ve ever seen.
“These were kids who had never done this
before, but they had the raw energy to work at it
until it came out right. And they had to spend a
lot of time at it.”
Computer science senior Don Olmstead was team
leader of the virtual company “Mindless Thinking
Games,” which won the top class prize for its game
“Bomberbot,” a 3-D remake of a classic computer
game called “Bomberman.”
“I was kinda raised on Nintendo and other
computer games,” says Olmstead. “I’m amazed at
what we ended up doing. I didn’t think we’d make
something so tangible.”
Fellow team member Dmitry Svistula, also a
senior in computer science, was artistic
“I tend to enjoy things that are not part of my
major, so I do art and music as a hobby. It was
quite enjoyable,” he recalls.
Not so enjoyable, however, were the all-night
sessions spent tweaking game details before their
“We communicated through instant messaging,”
says Svistula. “But we were organized and got
things done on time.”
Leigh and colleague Andy Johnson, associate
professor of computer science, who judged the
games, were blown away by Bomberbot.
“Not only did they pull off the most amazing
graphics, for amateurs, but they also composed
their own music from scratch,” says Leigh. “It’s
so good that I saved it and put it on my MP3
Another student team’s mock company, Jogos
Studios, won second place with its game “Qbert:
Escape from Flatland.”
Students remade that classic arcade game in 3-D
as well, with enhanced graphics and sound.
“I tried playing it at home,” says Leigh.
“It took me six tries to reach the first level.
The game had simple but incredibly challenging
Jogos team leader Kevin Kahley, a graduate
student in computer science, says he enrolled in
the class to satisfy a curiosity about how
computer games are developed.
“There’s a lot more thought put into video
games than I ever imagined,” he says.
“There’s so much detail that goes into writing
video games: Should a flag wave if a wind blew it?
When do you use 3-D sound? Every angle was
Leigh and Johnson scored each game based on how
much fun it was to play, how polished the final
product was and how sophisticated and innovative
the computer science work was in its
“The ‘A’ student teams were so amazingly
polished that you’d think they were actual
independent game companies,” says Leigh. “They
were that good.”
Leigh hopes to teach the class again fall
semester using different software packages,
offering more sample games for student analysis,
and bringing in guest lecturers from the
Based on what he saw last semester, Leigh is
confident some of his students may someday have
good careers in this highly competitive area.
“I’d absolutely love to get into the field,”
“Who wouldn’t want to write and play video
games for a living?”
Below: Bomberbot, the class top-scorer.