Any true gamer knows the rush of accomplishment that comes from leveling up their half-elf fighter or “pwning n00bs” on Xbox Live.
But to create from scratch a video game that earns first place at the largest video game convention in the country? That’s winning on a whole different level.
Josh Herbert, a 2008 graduate of Onalaska High School, was lead programmer on a 12-person team from UW-Stout that designed Flash Frozen, a horror-survival game in which players must escape from the sinking ruins of a haunted cruise ship. The game won the inaugural Electronic Entertainment Expo College Game Competition held June 11-13 in Los Angeles. Put on by the Entertainment Software Association and geared toward industry professionals, E3 drew more than 48,000 attendees from 102 countries.
Flash Frozen was the capstone project for a two-semester game design and development course at UW-Stout. It was one of five finalists narrowed from more than the more than 400 colleges invited to submit entries to E3.
Herbert and his team tied for the win with a team from Savannah College of Art and Design from Savannah, Ga.
“We never imagined we would win,” Herbert said. “One of the most surprising things for the entire team was what a positive reaction we got to it.”
Creating an outstanding video game is a challenge that requires countless hours of work, planning and attention to detail, said Dianne Christie, program director for the game design and development program at UW-Stout. Many students are interested in the program because they enjoy video games as a hobby, but it takes a special kind of dedication to be successful as a developer.
“Playing games is fun, making games is work,” she said.
Flash Frozen stands out among other student-designed games because it creates a mood, Herbert said. Typically, first-time game designers gravitate toward shooting or running games, but Flash Frozen is more about the playing experience of navigating through a map with minimal display clues.
“It required a lot of design work,” Herbert said. “We had to use noises and various environmental things to give (players) feedback.”
Founded in 2009, the game design and development program at UW-Stout is still relatively new, but it has been quickly gaining national attention. The Princeton Review named it one of the top 30 programs in the United States and Canada for 2013, and it was the only program in Wisconsin or Minnesota to earn the distinction based on a 2012 survey of administrators from 150 schools.
“Entertainment games are big industry, but there are also serious games — things that are used for training, education and simulation,” Christie said. “Those are expanding as well.”
Herbert, who graduated from UW-Stout in May with a double major in applied mathematics and computer science with an emphasis in game design and development, currently works as a mobile software engineer for Thomson Reuters in the Twin Cities.
A few companies approached him about the possibility of publishing Flash Frozen, but in the meantime, his team is still working on a “final build” of the software, which eventually will be available for download at www.flashfrozengame.com for PC or Mac.
“I’m planning on doing a couple more games,” Herbert said. “But for now, I’m pretty happy to stay as a software developer.”