Cranford gamer gets European immersion

Sam Finston, second from left in the back row, received and immersion in European video game design and culture along with six fellow students from the Rochester Institute of Technology this past summer as part of the university School of Interactive Games and Media curriculum.

CRANFORD, N.J. — Sam Finston considered himself more arts-oriented when he was going to Cranford High School but felt he also did well at math and science. Like many American youth, video games were a staple of his free time.

At the 11th-hour suggestion of a teacher, he discovered a way to combine his interests. It’s a choice that has led him to the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York — and even Europe this past summer.

“In high school in Cranford, I was really interested in the arts but also confident with math and science stuff,” he said in a recent interview. “I wasn’t really sure what path I wanted to follow as far as college went. I really liked video games, and at the last minute, one of my teachers said, ‘If you want to make video games, you have to take computer science.’ It was just starting to be a thing.”

His decision to study video game design at RIT sent him and six of his fellow students to Germany in June for two weeks, part of the university’s School of Interactive Games and Media curriculum to broaden their approach to the field.

Europe’s video game industry is considered one of the most dynamic, having developed games such as “Angry Birds,” by the Finnish company Rovio, and “Football Manager,” a soccer game by Sports Interactive in Britain. German companies are particularly notable, such as Wooga, which have created games such as “Diamond Dash” and “Agent Alice,” Goodgame Studios and Crytek.

Finston and his RIT colleagues were hosted by the University of Paderborn, where they received an immersive experience into the European video game industry.

It included a four-day “game jam” and explored artificial intelligence and virtual reality in video games.

The group visited museums and toured video game design studios. They worked with students at the University of Paderborn, located in the northern part of German midway between Dortmund and Hanover, but also managed to find more than enough time for sightseeing in places such as Frankfurt and the town of Eltville.

“It wasn’t really a study abroad program,” Finston said. “We actually did more sightseeing than game design for maybe five days. Then we toured video game studios in Frankfurt.”

The RIT group documented its travels and the details of the tours in a blog. The group visited Frankfurt’s Nintendo office, as well as Crytek, the original developer of “Far Cry,” and Kalypso Media, the creators of “Tropico 6.”

While in Frankfurt, the group sampled one of Calypso’s most recent games, a virtual reality climbing game called “The Climb.” They even visited Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum, the world’s largest computer museum.

The highlight of the trip was the “game jam,” a hackathon with a video game focus. A hackathon is an event that usually lasts 24 hours or more in which people gather to write code for video games or other purposes.

The University of Paderborn had several groups, each comprising approximately 50 people; in each group, one American student typically worked with the larger group of German students. The theme of the hackathon was “better together.”

Finston’s group created a multiplayer, first-person shooter online game called “Strike Counter.”
“You’re given a theme and a certain amount of time to make a game from scratch,” Finston said. “It’s really hard to make an online multiplayer game work. So, our angle was that you would play with the team, and the closer you are to your team, the more powerful you become.”

The RIT group tested “Q,” a game which the German students spent several months developing. It is a physics-defying game in which a small “character” jumps through neon obstacles. The RIT group developed a number of games including “Return to Otter Space,” “Strike Counter” and “Beat the Boss.”

The trip gave a wider scope of the video game industry to Finston. He characterized German developers and their games as more modern than his preferences, which he considers more “old school,” such as Mario Kart, a game Nintendo initially developed for its home video game system in 1992.