For most people, video gaming is simply a hobby but for students in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University it’s serious business.
The world of gaming has evolved drastically since the 8 bit video game era into a massive $107 billion industry that is showing no signs of slowing down. As technology advances, the expectations of consumers and hard-core gamers alike continues to rise to new levels and the computer science program at WVU is keeping up with demand.
The Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering offers a graduate certificate program in interactive technologies and serious gaming as well as elective courses in game development. They provide students with the background necessary to produce high-quality games as well as innovative gaming technologies.
Internship paves the way
During his time at WVU, Walter Ferrell, BSCS ’16, landed an internship with Blizzard Entertainment, the powerhouse company known for creating the “Warcraft” series. That internship turned into full-time employment upon graduation. Ferrell currently serves as a reliability engineer for the company’s most recent release, “Hearthstone: Knights of the Frozen Throne,” the sixth installment in a series of free-to-play online collectible card video games.
Although he may be a rookie in the industry, Ferrell possesses one of the most important jobs for the company: keeping the servers running around the clock. He frequently adds new features to the Hearthstone server software to increase user functionality and fix bugs related to client interactions to ensure that players can seamlessly enjoy live action online gaming without technical interruptions.
Linked to best seller
Chaim Gingold, BSCS ’01, kicked off his career as a video game developer at Electronic Arts Maxis, where he worked for the creator of the life simulation game “The Sims,” one of the bestselling video game series of all time.
He is recognized for being the lead designer of the Creature Creator, computer software that allows players to create and design their own specimens that become real playable characters in the game “Spore.” Since its debut in 2008, more than 189 million creatures have been made through the Spore Creators.
Gingold now works as a freelance consultant in California and focuses on creating inventive and playful simulation games and learning tools. He most recently launched a digital book, “Earth: A Primer,” which allows students to learn about the makings of the Earth through a playful simulation experience.
An entrepreneurial spirit
Not all students have to leave WVU to become successful video game innovators.
Jordan Hallow, a senior entrepreneurship and innovation major and computer science minor from Gerrardstown, launched his own video game development company in Morgantown. With help from the WVU LaunchLab and the WVU Forensic Science Academy for Professionals, his company, Vandalia Softworks, is developing game-based forensic investigation learning software that will benefit both law enforcement professionals and students.
Although it’s a big undertaking to bring a new gaming product to market, Hallow is not tackling the project alone. He recently hired Conner Haynes, a computer science major from Cross Lanes, and alumnus Ahmed Mian, BSCS ’17, to help develop the project. They are currently testing a prototype of the game that they except to hit the market by summer 2018.
According to Frances Van Scoy, associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering, interactive simulation games are the learning tools of the future.
“Current students have lived their whole lives accustomed to screens and constant stimulation, making it hard for educators to simply lecture in front of a classroom or write notes on a chalk board,” said Van Scoy. “Younger generations expect to have multimedia in the classroom so we need software that adapts to those needs and our students are taking the initiative to make that possible.”
Though many of them go unrecognized for their contributions, Van Scoy emphasized that engineers are the driving forces behind bringing both entertainment and learning based video games to life.
“Video game designers and storytellers are great at envisioning games but engineers are the ones who make them a reality,” said Van Scoy. “It’s a very technical process to create the video games that people know and love but our students are some of the best in the business and their success is a reflection of the exceptional computer science program here at WVU.”
For more information on news and events in the West Virginia University Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources:
College Relations office: 304-293-4086
Office of the Dean: 304-293-4157
Other College administrative and department offices: Administration