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She’s a little bit classical; he’s a little bit rock and roll. And they fight to the beat of a classical-rock mashup in a video game that just earned BYU students top prize in E3's College Game Competition.

As one of five finalists in the competition, BYU students have been showcasing “Beat Boxers” — a cross between Mortal Kombat and Guitar Hero — for thousands of industry big-wigs and gaming superfans in Los Angeles.  

"Being in the top five was already a huge win, since all the college games are so high quality," said Seth Holladay, animation professor and advisor to the team of 15 core students who worked on the project. "So being selected as the top of this caliber speaks volumes about the quality and work ethic of this group of students."

“So many of us have worked so hard on this thing and just wanted so badly to see it pay off,” said Jessica Runyan, a media arts major and the game’s producer. “Getting accepted into E3 was a mix of waking up on Christmas morning to presents and finding out you passed all your finals all rolled together.”

Since E3 launched its annual college competition in 2013, only four schools have been invited more than once, and BYU has now been invited four out of the six years.

“We have this small undergrad program, and we’re consistently going against the top schools and graduate programs in the nation,” Holladay said. 

The project, facilitated by design and computer science departments, is a capstone project under BYU's Center for Animation. But Holladay attributes BYU’s ongoing success to the smarts, commitment and collaboration of illustration, animation, computer science, theatre and media arts and music majors involved in their projects: “If they’re passionate and they have the talent, we let them in.”

In this year’s 2D fighting game, classical-music-inspired character Maestra and rock-music-inspired Riff standoff in front of hundreds of stadium spectators in what the creators hope feels almost like a performance. The closer their moves are to the beat of the music, the more love they get from the audience (and the more likely they are to win).

Simple enough concept? Not so, said Mike Towne, the game’s lead designer and recent computer science grad. Towne called Beat Boxers “the most ambitious game the department has done before. We needed two fully designed, rigged and animated characters, each with dozens of unique animations.”

Additionally, the team had to “blend your musical rhythm game and your traditional fighting game together in an intuitive and cohesive way,” Runyan said. “We worked for months trying to figure the best approach before we finally found something that actually worked in a way that made sense.

After a year’s worth of concepting, designing, coding, and iterating and iterating and iterating — helped along by the occasional programming-and-pizza party — the team is celebrating its success at E3, where the College Game Competition winner was just announced.

“It was a fun idea, but we knew it would be hard,” Holladay said. “We let students fail: they fail a hundred times before they come together on a consensus. If students are not afraid to chase after a challenge, then they do things that are more successful in the end.”