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Western among top in game design programming

By Paul Mayne, Western News

 Western Science students Mathias and Karsten Babin

Paul Mayne // Western News

Western Science students Mathias and Karsten Babin, who are part of the gaming design program, laud the program’s approach to teaching and offering hands-on experience with experts in the gaming industry. For the second straight year, Western was named as one of the Top 50 schools for game design in The Princeton Review’;s eighth annual rankings of the best undergraduate and graduate schools.

Mathias Babin admits to staying up until 3 a.m. when it comes to video games. But it’s not what you think. The fourth-year Science student spends more hours behind the scenes then he does in front of the screen.

“I play less videos games than I ever have in my entire life,” said Babin, a game design student at Western. “This is actually this busiest I’ve ever been at school, but it doesn’t feel that way.”

Just ask his brother, and classmate, Karsten. The pair isn’t playing around when it comes to working on the next big thing in the gaming industry. Their first success was unlocking the achievement of picking one of the best schools to get them to the next level.

For the second straight year, Western was named as one of the Top 50 schools for game design in The Princeton Review’s annual rankings of the best undergraduate and graduate schools. Ranked as the No. 45 undergraduate program in the world, Western was one of only three Canadian schools on the list and the only Ontario university.

“Game design is an exciting field and programs are springing up in colleges all over the world,” said Robert Franek, The Princeton Review’s Editor in Chief. “We want to help students find the best program for their needs and interests. The top schools on our lists have outstanding faculties and great facilities, which will give students the skills and experience they need to pursue a career in this dynamic and burgeoning field.”

The University of Southern California captured the No. 1 spot on the undergraduate schools list, while Southern Methodist University ranked No. 1 on the graduate schools list. In Canada, only the Art Institute of Vancouver (Undergrad No. 8) and Vancouver Film School (Undergrad No. 11) joined Western on the list.

Mathias said it really isn’t until fourth year that he begins anything game related, having worked on general programming and computer science knowledge up to that point. He likes this approach.

“It’s almost a testament to our program, as a whole, the fact we’re ranked Top 50 in gaming,” he said. “The department prepares us and gives us the knowledge we need, so when we get to fourth year, within six months, we are able to pick up game design and development and simply do it. When, for the first time you get a finished product, where you can say, ‘I built this whole thing myself, this is all me and my work,’ it’s really rewarding.”

The Princeton Review chose the schools based on its 2016 survey of 150 institutions in the U.S., Canada and abroad offering game design degree programs or courses. The 40-question survey gathered data on everything from the schools’ game design academic offerings and lab facilities to their graduates’ starting salaries and career achievements. More than 40 data points in four areas (academics, faculty, technology, and career) were analyzed to tally the lists.

According to The Princeton Review‘s 2016 survey of administrators at the schools, about 89 per cent of their undergraduate and/or graduate game design students that graduated in their 2016 classes developed actionable plans to launch games while in school. Moreover, 57 per cent of undergraduates and 65 per cent of graduate students worked on games that were shipped before they graduated.

Karsten said the early years of the program, where “they give you the tools you need,” along with collaboration from those in the local gaming industry, give you the best of both worlds.

“They are very focused on letting us take advantage of industry people from around the area,” he said. “What makes this program special, from other places, is how much hands-on experience you get. Whether it’s in the game development or design process, you are able to run it by folks and get that immediate feedback. It’s great to have that industry tie and be able to go there and see what the process is all about.”

In fact, Western’s gaming students were able to run their programming prowess by the folks at London’s Big Blue Bubble, Canada’s largest independent mobile gaming company. The Babins presented their team’s initial gaming ideas earlier this semester – an “ambitious, online, team-based strategy fighting game” –  and five months and hundreds of labour hours later, returned earlier this week to show off their final product.

“I want to be part of the creative process,” said Karsten. “I don’t want to be a part of one of those big studios where you have to be a ‘master of a niche’ and that’s your only position. I like what they do at Big Blue Bubble where everybody does a little bit of something, allowing you to have more say in the creative process.”

For Mathias, it’s the cool factor, not the money, that keeps driving him to do more.

“If I’m going to work in the software industry, I’d much rather work on games, even if it’s just a small part of a game, than work on some website tool I have no passion or care about ever using,” admitted Mathias. “There are a lot of things you can do, be it general programming or perhaps the business intelligence end through using your other computer science knowledge.

“But I still want to be a programmer because there are so many new skills you can pick up every day. I don’t care if I make $100,000 on a game or $20; it’s just knowing someone is playing a game with my code running, something I created.”