Each year for the past five years, students at BYU’s Center for Animation have been tasked with creating an entire video game from concept to finished product. This spring, the latest team made history by creating the first game to win first place in two different categories at the Intel University Games Showcase.
The game, titled Avast Ye!, was awarded the number one game for best gameplay and best visual design.
IUGS is the premier student games showcase in the industry and only invites the top 30 ranked collegiate programs in the world to compete. Patrick Spencer, one of the leaders on the team, described IUGS as a research conference where schools show the new things they’re doing in video game creation.
"The competition in the IUGS is as high-quality as it gets,” said Seth Holladay, a professor at BYU and one of the main project advisors. “I am extremely proud of the passion and enthusiasm and work ethic of our students on Avast Ye! They drove the entire project. They were willing to work and learn and iterate and improve until they were satisfied with their product. And this led them to a historical win."
The swashbuckling adventure game centers around the main character, Captain Kate, who is an ant. She is a pirate on a quest to find the treasure of chocolate gold doubloons. Her team must work together as a crew to fight the bad-guy insect pirates.
Avast Ye! was directed by Jessica Runyan, a media arts student who graduated in December 2019 and is currently working for Epic Games. After pitching ideas to their peers, students in the program voted on their favorite submission. Runyan’s idea was chosen, and in the summer of 2018, she started prototyping and fleshing out the game.
The project is run by three distinct teams, game design, technical and art. Collectively, the teams add up to 30-35 people, a core group of about 15. In addition to their normal full-time schoolwork, each member spent a large amount of time each week on the development of this project. Spencer said he put in about 40 hours per week during summer and at least 20 hours per week during the school year.
“I was pretty much living and breathing this [game],” Runyan said.
Spencer recalled that the difficulty in needing to cut back on the grandeur of their ideas. They cut out two-thirds of what the team originally wanted.
“The hardest part was really our inexperience. And that’s the point of the project, to get experience,” Spencer said.