The Center for Animation program’s game Beat Boxers took first for Best Visuals this year at one of the most prestigious game competitions in the country. The Intel University Games Showcase (IUGS), an affiliate of the Game Developers’ Conference, invited BYU to participate in the showcase.
The IUGS only invites the top twenty-nine gaming schools in the country to compete every year. This year, that lineup included gaming programs from universities such as New York University, Carnegie Mellon, University of Southern California, and of course, Brigham Young University.
In the animation program’s 2-D fighter game Beat Boxers, characters Riff and Maestra go head-to-head in a rhythmic battle in front of a huge, wild audience. Although the focus of the game is music and action, there is no question why the game’s visuals stood out to the esteemed panel of judges.
Riff is a massive force to be reckoned with. His character design is part-guitar, part-speaker, all rock’n’roll. Riff starkly contrasts his foe Maestra. Her character design is part-violin, part-clarinet, all classical.
“I didn’t want the characters to be musicians wielding instruments as weapons, but rather [I wanted] the instruments themselves to embody their genre and go toe-to-toe,” said art director Vanessa Palmer. “The smooth curves and fluid motions of Maestra mark her apart from the explosive heavy shapes and attacks of Riff.”
The symbolism behind the fight drove the entire project. “We’re pitting these two genres against each other, which is very similar to what people already do in real life,” said Jessica Runyon, the producer of the game.
Maestra and Riff jab, kick, and punch to the beat of the music. At the points in the game when Maestra has the upper hand, her violin theme comes through loudly and triumphantly. When Riff is winning, his blazing guitar theme plays louder.
“It’s a fighter game where the focus is music, but also the actions of the characters determine the music,” Beat Boxers music composer Alastair Scheuermann explained.
Scheuermann and environmental artist Do Park represented BYU at the Intel University Games Showcase. The event took place in two parts: a showcase in the morning and a competition in the afternoon. Of the twenty-nine schools invited to attend the showcase, only fourteen would move on to the competition round. The showcase began with participants setting out their games in a long conference hall. Participants from each university then got to spend a few hours walking around and playing the games crafted by their competitors.
After the showcase, judges determined who would move on to the next round. Nine winners from the previous three years automatically qualified for the competition round. This left only five “wild card slots” open to the rest of the participants.
Professor Seth Holladay, who mentored the Beat Boxers project and attended IUGS with Park and Scheuermann, explained how the competition part of the event worked. “[The panel] judged them on look, gameplay, everything,” he said. Once the universities were chosen to move forward, they would have five minutes to sell their game to a different panel of judges. The second panel of judges was made up of “big players in the game industry from game studios, game engine-making studios, and people who make the software to actually make the games,” Holladay explained.
Once the judges announced that BYU had made it into the competition round, composer Alastair Scheuermann and environmental artist Do Park had an hour to rehearse the five-minute presentation they had prepared.
“I think just looking at the competition we were hopeful that we could make it in [to the competition round], but we weren’t expecting first place or anything,” Park said.
The two main categories being competed for were best visuals and best gameplay. There are first, second, and third place winners for both categories. They presented second-to-last, and then all they could do was wait.
“It was nerve-racking because they announced the third place winner, [then] second place. We didn’t hear our names, so we were like, ‘Oh man.’ We didn’t really know,” Scheuermann said.
At last, they announced that BYU won first place for Best Visuals, “essentially one of the top game awards you can get in the nation,” Holladay said.
“It was so cool to see something that we cared so much about actually make it to the end and be really appreciated by not only people who worked on it, but also people who were seeing it for the first time,” producer Jessica Runyon said.
The animation program will compete in the IUGS in 2020 with their new game, Avast Ye.