little girl sits alone on a small bed in a cabin of a
large boat. She cries as she tries to remember what
brought her to this place. Inside the room, books float
in the air, held aloft by some kind of psychic energy.
wrong here, but you probably already knew that when you
passed by a line of shadows on the way to this room. It
doesn’t take long to figure out that this ship is full
of spirits. The only question is whether you’re alive
and, if so, where this boat is headed.
the gist of a spooky, atmospheric video game, "Port
of Call," that was developed over the spring
semester by six University of Texas students in a
Capstone Course, part of the Game and Mobile Media
Applications, or GAMMA, program.
game is short (it takes about 30 minutes to complete)
and its themes of self-acceptance and regret aren’t
your typical shoot-’em-up or action platformer video
game fare. But "Port of Call" might still have
a hard time standing out given the explosion of indie
video games in recent years. Like many of them,
"Port of Call" has been submitted to Steam
Greenlight, a community game publishing program from
gaming giant Valve Corp.
Team Underdog Games, the developers of "Port of
Call," have an ace up their sleeve. Their game will
be showcased this week at the Electronic Entertainment
Expo’s College Game Competition. Universities can only
submit one game per school, and "Port of Call"
was only one of five games accepted to the competition.
Toprac, who is in charge of the GAMMA program, was
thrilled. It was his first submission to E3, and now he’s
batting 1,000. Toprac says he’s impressed by how
quickly the team was able to settle on a game idea and
use the different talents of the team members to create
an immersive 3-D world and a compelling narrative. The
entire game was completed in only three months.
easy way out would have been to make a party game,"
Toprac said. "It’s really easy to make a bad
narrative game. It’s really hard to make a good
team had to learn to use Unity, a game-design engine
that allows "Port of Call" to be made easily
available as a Web browser game as well as a
downloadable game for Mac, Linux and PC systems. Team
members combined skills as varied as programming, art
design, script writing and lots of communication. They
even released a YouTube trailer for the game as it was
learning all this and creating the game at the same
time. Putting all that in one semester is crazy,"
Toprac said. "But what’s cool is they stepped up
to the challenge and they did it."
Villegas, a computer science and radio, film and
television senior at UT, worked on dialogue and
descriptions for the game with co-writer Ricky Llamas, a
computer science and journalism senior. "It started
off as this concept of getting on the ship where there
are lots of interesting passengers going somewhere. They
all have some relation to you," Villegas said.
game was influenced by exploration video games such as
last year’s indie hit "Gone Home" and in its
visual style by "The Legend of Zelda" and
"Okami." Lynn Vuong, a fine arts graduate,
said the game was also influenced by the atmosphere and
environments in the Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film
version of the work-in-progress game I played was not
perfect. It ends abruptly and, compared to other
narrative games, it’s narrowly linear; no matter what
decisions you make, you’ll wind up at the same
the game’s moody tone cast a spell on me in a way few
other games do, and I found myself playing through a
second time to catch elements I missed the first time
and to see an alternate ending.
team received feedback from game design veterans Richard
Garriott and Warren Spector, who played through the game
and sat through a post-mortem, respectively. The team is
continuing to tweak the gameplay and the visuals in
"Port of Call" and is planning to post details
about the game developments on a website,
the E3 event, they’ll rub shoulders with Sony,
Nintendo, Microsoft and thousands of others from the
game industry. "It’s definitely a dream come true
for all of us," Villegas said.
STORY CAN END HERE)
Kart 8," a gorgeous racing game for the struggling
Nintendo Wii U, has been a blast of fresh air in my
video game world. But the game I really can’t stop
playing is "Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft,"
an online collectible card battle game from the evil
geniuses behind "World of Warcraft."
available on Windows PC, Mac and Linux, but its most
dangerous format is the iPad, where it can become
addictive as an on-the-go game you might never want to
stop playing. And it’s free (unless you decide to
engage in Arena battles or buy extra cards, which is
completely optional). It has that Blizzard Entertainment
polish that is very tough to resist.
"Hearthstone" with caution, as you may lose
hours and hours of your life if you’re not careful.
STORY CAN END HERE)
SAVANT MICRO: WILL APPLE’S ‘HANDOFF’ SIMPLIFY
this space every week, we’ll define a tech term, offer
a timely tip or answer questions about technology from