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The Future Starts Today - USC Demo Day

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Posted May 10, 2012 - By Rob Manuel


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The future of gaming graduated this year from USC, the number one game-design school as ranked by USA Today, and I was there this year to take part of their Demo Day activities.

Among the student and their projects, you couldn’t help but run into some of the big names in gaming like EA, Sony, and 2K Games. All of them were looking for their next superstar. With games like flOw and The Misadventure of P.B. Winterbottom coming out of this program, it’s little wonder why everyone is looking to grab the talent coming out of this school.

While you might not have made it for the finger food and cups of coffee, here are some of the big games you need to know about from the USC Demo Day event.

Blink

Not all student games need to look as though those who have never dipped their feet into the professional waters made them. Take Blink for example. From the very first cut scene, you feel as though you’re playing a triple-A title.

As a spy caught by the evil corporation, they try to make you into the perfect warrior by giving you the power to warp over short distances or blink. Even tied down and surrounded by an army of bots, you find a way to escape. (When will evil corporations ever learn?) Now with a new ability and only a knife by your side, you navigate the twisted hallways and training areas as you try to escape.

The blink ability lets you cover distances quickly and attack your opponents before you know what hits them. The bots roaming around change from a pleasant green to a raging red glow when they see you. Blink to them when they’re green and you get in a one-hit kill. Find your next victim and you can warp from place to place, leaving behind a heap of scrap metal in your wake.

Quick, kinetic, and beautiful; Blink proves that the line between student and professional sometimes blurs if not disappears all together. After the students presented their project, the auditorium erupted in applause. Clearly they impressed their peers with this one.

Combiform

Move the purple. Don’t touch the blue.

With every move, the lights in the boxes strapped to our hands changed colors. Magnets on the side snapped the boxes back into a two-by-two grid with every move. Even though the screen kept the score, our eyes were glued to the blocks in our hands as we danced around each other keeping the blues together and moving only the purple. We ended the session with the highest score of the day. But that was only the beginning.

Combiform is more of a platform than a video game though you’ll be using video elements to play many of the games. Each of the four units comes in a self-contained box with lights, a nob, a button, and one sturdy handle underneath for you to hang onto as you pull apart and reassemble each of the units.

From these four units, you can play dozens of games from an electronic form of hot potato to a fighting came where you need to shake and pose in order to fight. Even in such a crowded room, every game of Combiform drew a crowd of spectators watching and laughing at a distance. Part performance and part game, everyone needs to get their hands on these cubes.

Nevermind

Take a trip to the dark side of the looking glass. Nevermind takes you into the minds of patients wrestling with their own demons and disturbing past. Your job is to piece together past memories through pictures collected through the level. Five of the photos will show you the truth while the other five will be lies. By using the clues found in each of the levels, you can figure out what really happened.

As an added twist, a heart monitor keeps track of every scare and disturbing image you come across. As your heart begins to race, the world around you distorts and twits. Sound slows down and the image becomes nearly incomprehensible. You’ll need to catch your breath and calm down if you want to make it through meat lockers of hanging bodies or the twisted rubble of bloody cars. Here is where the game reveals it’s dirty secret – it wants to help you.

By monitoring your stress level, these junior developers hope to teach people how to regulate their stress. Think of it as gaming as therapy. While you see and experience a horror game, you experience low levels of stress that you can manage through calming techniques. With no zombies to shoot or platforms to jump, the students behind this title are looking to get it into the hands of many non-gamers in order to help them in life.

Tales From The Minus Lab

Some people have that crazy uncle that they never talk about. This one has their very own mad scientist. When your bother goes missing after trying to clean up around the lab, you go in after him only to get caught in the same shrink ray as before. Hot on his trail, you’ll need to use your new diminutive size to explore the lab, solve puzzles, and hopefully, get back to something close to normal.

What’s most astounding about this game is that it all takes place in one room. No loading screens. No weird elevator sequence. You move from one section to the next without a pause in the game.

Puzzles take advantage of your changing. Growing in size lets you get to new heights and weigh down object while being small lets you find new areas and ride on a solid updraft. As you gain the power to grow larger and smaller, more puzzles open up for you to explore. Soon, you’ll be larger enough to move sections on the outside only to shrink and manipulate the puzzles from the inside.

Quirky and ingenious, Tales From the Minus Lab displays the kind of fun and ambition you rarely see in even professionally made games.

The Future Starts Today - USC Demo Day
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