Baltimore Sun, May 2003
Unfortunately, not many people have the wonderful opportunity to go to work every day and do something they love — something they enjoy doing at work as well during their personal free time. However, due to innovative programs at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) and through a partnership between The Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) and the University of Baltimore, game enthusiasts are making a career out of a hobby they love.
The Hunt Valley-Timonium area represents the largest regional concentration of game development companies on the East Coast and one of the largest concentrations in the country with approximately 30 companies in operation. In fact, the state of Maryland boasts the largest concentration of computer game developers outside California. Hence, the demand for talented individuals with a knowledge and passion for computer games is exploding, and area schools are working hand-in-hand with the game development industry to provide the workforce for this growing industry.
UMBC formed a unique partnership with Discreet, a Montreal-based company that develops systems and software for 3-D animation, and the school is the only Discreet-authorized training center in the mid-Atlantic region.
“UMBC pursues industry-standard platform and technology leaders to be active partners in order to guarantee industry employers thoroughly and appropriately trained employment candidates,” says Doug Kendzierski, associate vice-provost at UMBC and president and CEO of UMBC Training Enterprises Inc., and UMBC Training Centers, LLC. “Discreet is the developer of the industry-standard platform for animation and effects [3ds max] in the computer game sector. Given that virtually every developer in the Hunt Valley community, and then in turn the national and international game development sector, relies heavily on this platform, Discreet is the logical partner for UMBC.”
Kendzierski says the partnership works great because “Discreet knows best what game developers need to learn, and we know best how to teach and deliver [this information].” UMBC also has partnerships with Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and Oracle, among others.
The computer game development program at UMBC is a certification training program, which is different than a traditional certificate program, and is composed of two primary courses taught by instructors who are also Discreet training specialists. Students first take “Effects and Animation Fundamentals,” which focuses on achieving base proficiency with game development products, such as 3ds max 5, character studio® 4 and combustion2. Students gain such knowledge as how 3-D animation works and attain such skills as how to directly transform objects using the 3ds max tools and how to create character animation and understand motion capture theory.
The “Advanced Effects and Animation” course focuses on the more sophisticated features of the Discreet 3ds platform and the integration of the various effects and animation design products. Students learn how to use three-point lighting, understand the importance of shadows in defining the scene and the mood and how to create a model for animation.
Kendzierski says the program attracts many different types of students, including professionals already in the industry who need more formal training and recent graduates who want more practical experience. Additionally, Kendzierski says the program attracts “career explorers who love to play games and are intrigued by the prospect of a career but don’t really know enough to invest totally in that pursuit.” Kendzierski says some of these students confirm their passion through the program, while others discover that working in the field is not “all fun and games.”
“Like any creative field, you have to really love what you do,” says Deborah Tillett, president and CEO of BreakAway Games, a game development and design company based in Hunt Valley that develops commercial products as well as software applications for the military. “Passion in creative fields is so important, and passion shows in the final product. However, some people get into this field and quickly realize that if playing games is part of your job every day, the work can ruin the hobby.”
BreakAway Games was founded just five years ago, and the members of BreakAway Games have already brought over 50 titles to market. “We’re very successful in one of the most successful game categories — real life strategy and city building — and the technology for these cutting-edge projects easily transforms to the military.”
Tillett adds that BreakAway Games looks for well-rounded individuals with a broad base of education in liberal arts. “As an entertainment medium, the subject matter is diverse, so we need a wide skill set,” says Tillett, who uses the example of a recent BreakAway Games product, “Emperor, Rise of the Middle Kingdom,” which required historical research on ancient Chinese culture. She adds that each game produced can involve 15 to 25 individuals, and the industry needs to fill a wide variety of jobs, including programmers, game designers, historians, artists, producers, as well as administrative roles, such as management, quality assurance and testing.
With this in mind, Kendzierski says the 84-hour UMBC program is a great tool to determine if this field is really what one wants to do for a living and if animation and effects — the focus of the UMBC program — is the segment of the field most appealing to the student. After completing the UMBC courses, Kendzierski says, students still interested in the field should enroll in a degree program.
One such area degree program was formed by a partnership between CCBC and the University of Baltimore. Through this partnership, beginning this fall, students can enroll at the CCBC, Essex Campus and earn an associate’s degree of applied science with a focus on designing computer and video games. The associate’s degree provides the first two years of study in the bachelor’s of technical or professional studies in simulation and digital entertainment degree at the University of Baltimore. After completing the CCBC program, students can transfer directly to the University of Baltimore, which will begin offering its program in the fall of 2004.
CCBC’s program includes such courses as, “Digital Imaging,” “3-D and Advanced Animation,” “Studies in Mythology,” “Philosophy” and “Ethical Responsibilities in the Computer Age.”
“The game industry is huge, and they need all sorts of skill sets; however, our program is centered on game design,” says Kathleen Harmeyer, associate professor at CCBC, Essex Campus. “Game designers are in great need, and we had a lot of help with the industry in shaping this program.” Harmeyer notes that BreakAway Games assisted in the formation of the program, as well as the program at UMBC.
“The impetus for this degree program came from the game community,” says Harmeyer, who stresses the importance for students to complete the CCBC program and the University of Baltimore program together. “They came to us, and we were thrilled to make it happen.” In fact, the International Game Developers Association has an education committee that helps set curriculum guidelines by suggesting core topics to be included and promotes collaboration between the industry and academia.
For more information on these programs, go to www.umbc.edu/cctc, http://student.ccbcmd.edu/immt or http://iat.ubalt.edu/sde.