“He’s gonna look more like a dude. I promise,” game art student Keith Parker tells me. The avatar on his screen is exploded, each 3D body part floating separately in digital space. He rotates the perspective, chiseling away with a cursor at the contours of an explorer in a safari hat. He’s got a lot left to do on his sprint list. In four days, he and a team of designers and programmers will drop the reconstituted explorer into the navigable catacombs of Trials of the Buried for the public to play and critique.
Trials is one of two games — the other is a VR vampire game — dropping at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment’s annual Artcade on May 11, an event that convenes indie game developers, comic book artists, animators and more. This is how they do capstone projects at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment — with a game premiere and a food-truck roundup.
The event is the most visible percolation of a still-burgeoning game development industry in Lafayette and the state of Louisiana at large. AIE is essentially a two-year technical college for folks who want to make games, visual FX and animation. There are only two such programs in the state.
While still small compared to other hubs, Louisiana’s game development community is growing, Donald Gremillion, an AIE teacher, tells me. Over the past few years, indie developers have sprouted in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Like the music industry, the advent of easy-to-access distribution channels have democratized the industry. You don’t have to be a big gaming house to get a title in front of millions of gamers.
AIE’s program in part emulates the development house experience. Students, mostly college-aged, park in front of development engines for hours at a time, cranking through the iterative process of coding and designing games.
The school has quietly pumped out more than 250 graduates since it opened in Lafayette in 2012. AIE is an international program, founded in Australia, and has only two campuses in the U.S., one tucked inside of Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise and the other in Seattle.
Gamification across industries has opened opportunities beyond games development and film production for AIE students. The development team at Digital Twin Studios, an outfit that develops immersive simulation programming for health care and energy companies, is made up of AIE graduates. Digital Twin intends to graduate from LEDA’s Opportunity Machine this year and maintains board seats at AIE to help the school tailor its programming to industry needs.
“We’re promoted and advertised as a games school and VFX school, but you can use a lot of the same skill sets in other areas,” Gremillion says.
Artcade will not be Trials’ last stop. The public debut is more of a beta-test, a first look at a work in progress. Gremillion says the team will take feedback from the public and iterate further from there, ultimately wrapping production by July.
With days to go before the Artcade debut, Parker and teammates Trinity St. Pierre and Bryan Evans, both fellow students in the school’s game art track, pluck away at the game’s 3D environment. Evans animates rough-hewn blocks of obstacles and passes the elements of the game’s Zelda-like puzzle dungeon down to St. Pierre, who “makes them pretty.”
On the other side of the simulated gaming studio, a team of programmers taps at the underlying code. Trials is taking shape in the 11th hour. How’s that for a final exam?
Artcade 2019 is a free and family-friendly event. It runs at LITE from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 11. For registration and more info visit https://artcade.us/.