Student Game Ulama Now Available on Steam

By on Apr 19, 2017 in News |

Ulama:  Arena of the Gods, a thesis game developed by Pedro Cori, Alexander Formoso, and Cong Liu, is now available to purchase on Steam Early Access.  The game was greenlit by the Steam community in just 15 days through Valve’s Steam Greenlight service. The gameplay is based on an ancient ballgame played by the Aztec and Mayan people. Only instead of people playing the games, the many deities that populate the myths of the ancient cultures face off.  According to Creative Director Cori. “My father used to read from me from these illustrated books of myths and legends from Mesoamerican cultures,” Cori said. “When we were told we could make a game about whatever we wanted, I thought a ball game that incorporated these stories could work.” While Cori developed the thematic aspects of the game, the rest of the team worked to bring his vision to life. “This is how it worked: Pedro would come into the room and would tell us about this awesome idea,” Formoso said. “I would look at Cong and ask him, ‘How much time do you need to build that?’” Cong Liu would give an estimate and Formoso would give it a thumbs up or down. “I was the technical director of the team,” said Liu. “We’d have some technical issues and decisions to make about what kind of approach to the gameplay and that kind of stuff. And I’m responsible for the development and implementation for several of the core functions.” Liu—the “coding wizard”—also developed the artificial intelligence for the game. Since graduating from the Silicon Valley-based master’s program last year, Liu was hired by Google, joining the team developing the company’s nascent virtual reality (VR) product line. Liu commends the UC Santa Cruz program, and said the project he undertook with his two teammates was an integral aspect of being able to land his dream job. “When I was interviewing with Google, they were asking about my project, about Ulama, my responsibilities, and what code I was contributing,” he said. “That project, with Pedro and Alex, it was a really good thing for me.” Cori agrees. He, too, is launching his own career in gaming, working for a VR gaming company in Seattle called Against Gravity. He has begun work on a VR game called Rec Room, which features the ability to play different recreational games in a virtual reality with the incorporation of a multi-player format. “Ulama was a gold star on my portfolio,” Cori said. Formoso works as a game programmer with Bohemia Interactive in the Czech Republic. “Anybody can pay to put their game on Steam Greenlight, but the fact that we got approved says something,” Formoso said. And while the three teammates undertook the master’s program and chose a commercial project for the express purpose of advancing their fledgling careers, they can’t help but be excited to see what happens now that Ulama is live. “It’s exciting,” Formoso said. “You can go to Steam and our game is there next to Infinity Warfare.” Cori says the game won’t supplant Call of Duty or other popular de-facto multi-player games that dominate the market, but the game, which resembles the gameplay one finds in Smash Bros. or Rocket League, will be fun for people to play together. “We built a casual, fun game—a family game,” he said. “We envision a bunch of friends on the couch playing at party. That’s good enough for us.” We at the Games and Playable Media MS are proud of Pedro, Alex, and Liu’s success and we wish them the best on their next...

Team Trainwreck Games Wins Game Jam Competition at E3

By on Jun 22, 2016 in News |

Trainwreck Games, consisting of grad students Pedro Cori, Alexander Formoso, and Cong Liu, recently won $10,000 as the winner of the Social Connection GameJam, a game design competition sponsored by the AARP and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). The competition, held in conjunction with the Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3), the world’s largest computer and video game event, challenged student game designers to develop new game ideas that promote positive and sustainable social connection among users, particularly for people age 50 and older. “This is a big achievement for the team, and a significant honor for the program,” said Michael John, director of the UCSC Games and Playable Media master’s degree program. “We’re especially pleased because the competition was outside the usual game design parameters, and the team did some impressive research on the demographic they were designing for, including their existing gaming habits, the hardware and software they typically have access to, and their motivations.” Their game proposal, Letters of Mystery, is a cooperative email-based “escape the room” adventure. Escape the room games in the physical world involve a group of players locked in a room who have to find clues and solve puzzles together to unlock the door. In Letters of Mystery, players work together in groups to complete objectives, getting clues from a server and discussing actions to take among themselves before submitting answers. The team decided that using email as a platform made the most sense for the target demographic. “Most adults over 50 use email, but they don’t necessarily want to install apps or register for gaming sites,” Cori said. The students also learned from their research that competitiveness tends to decrease with age, and people start to look for more intellectually challenging games. “So we came up with the idea of escape the room games, which are age-neutral, cooperative games played in groups, and thought about how we could adapt them to this medium,” Cori said. They didn’t have to create a working prototype for the competition, but the team did create a detailed mock-up of the game for pitching it to the judges. Letters of Mystery was a side project for the Trainwreck Games team, which has been focused on their capstone project for the master’s program, a game called Ulama: Arena of the Gods. The AARP/ESA Social Connection GameJam was produced with the support of the Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA). AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said games can help family and friends stay connected with one another. “The Social Connection GameJam demonstrates the innovative ways that video games foster social connections and enable us to keep in touch with each other,” she said. “AARP congratulates GameJam finalists for their creativity in bringing to life new games that foster social interaction.” “The AARP/ESA Game Jam was an unprecedented opportunity for our industry’s next generation of video game developers to push boundaries and expand the understanding of who plays video games,” said Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO of ESA, which represents the U.S. video game industry and owns...

AURA shows at Intel University Games Showcase

By on Apr 1, 2016 in News |

Student game AURA, a musical shooter made by GPM alumni Patrick Trinh and Lun Cao, was featured as part of the Intel University Games Showcase during the 2016 Game Developers Conference.  The event celebrated the innovation and achievements of games developed by college students and teams, with awards given to the games who excelled in both gameplay and visual quality.  We are delighted that Patrick and Lun were chosen to represent our program. You can learn more about the event on VentureBeat. To learn more about AURA visit

Erin Swink Chosen as Creative Director for Master’s Program

By on Dec 16, 2015 in News |

The Baskin School of Engineering at UC Santa Cruz has hired acclaimed independent game developer Erin Robinson Swink to be the creative director of the master’s degree program in games and playable media offered at UCSC’s Silicon Valley Center. Swink comes to UC Santa Cruz with 10 years of successful game development experience as an independent game designer and developer, with credits on more than 10 independently developed games, most recently Gravity Ghost. She has taught game design and prototyping at Columbia College in Chicago for the past five years. Swink is a frequent speaker at national and international conferences, such as the Game Developers Conference (GDC) and Gaming Insiders Summit. With a background in neuroscience, she has written and lectured on the connections between neuroscience and games. “We’re excited to have Erin bring her tremendous skills and knowledge in indie game development to our students,” said Michael John, program director of the M.S. in games and playable media program. “Her story as both a creative and highly successful indie developer will bring awesome perspective and opportunity to students in the games and playable media program. We are also excited by Erin’s commitment to games as a broad cultural practice, evidenced by her recent first place in NOAA’s National Climate Game Jam, and her successful #beatthedev charity fundraiser.” Creative vision As creative director, Swink will develop the overall creative vision for the program, consistent with the goal of pushing forward the expressive potential of games as a medium. She will also represent the M.S. program to the international game development community through talks and interviews, as well as by developing and exhibiting her own creative projects. Swink said she was excited to join the team at UCSC’s Center for Games and Playable Media as creative director of the professional degree program. “I can’t wait to help tomorrow’s game developers create innovative and inspiring work,” she said. “I hope that my experience as both an independent developer and an entrepreneur helps our students understand the challenges of our industry and face them head on.” The M.S. in games and playable media is a yearlong (12-month) degree focused on combining technical and design innovation. The program includes a project-oriented course sequence in which students work in teams to create innovative games. As creative director, Swink will be the instructor and mentor for the M.S. students during the course. UCSC art professor and noted game designer Robin Hunicke said she was thrilled to have Swink joining the program. “We are creating a unique interdisciplinary program here that spans the Arts and Engineering divisions, enriching undergraduate and graduate education in games,” Hunicke said. “Erin’s experience as a game designer, artist, coder and advocate make her the perfect fit for us. We welcome her passionate belief that games are art, and her conviction that we can make a lasting and measurable difference through that art.” Swink joins several other recent hires in the games and playable media program, including program director Michael John (formerly at Glasslab) and computational media professor Katherine Isbister (formerly at New York University). “With these and other planned hires, we aim to build the top research and education destination for game students and faculty,” Hunicke said. “We are excited to have Erin on board, helping us make that vision a...

GPM MS Alumni’s Game Nominated for Indiecade Award

By on Sep 16, 2015 in News |

Recent GPM graduate Akira Thompson is an award finalist at this year’s Indiecade Festival for his game &maybethewontkillyou.  The annual event showcases and recognizes independent developers for their innovations in interactive artistry.  Akira’s game, which was also featured at IndieCade’s Showcase @E3 2015, is a live action experience that examines the nature of police violence and what it means to be black in America.   Akira and his game were recently profiled by writer Leigh Alexander for

UC Santa Cruz to host Natives in Game Dev Gathering

By on May 8, 2015 in Events, News |

Natives in Game Dev Gathering Friday, May 22, 9:00am-5:00pm University of California Santa Cruz Extension 2505 Augustine Drive, Santa Clara, CA 95054     RSVP on Eventbrite   With the recent overwhelming reception of Never Alone developed by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council with E-Line Media, it’s clear that Indigenous games are on the rise. The Natives in Game Dev Gathering recognizes the work that comes before and that which is coming ahead to honor the ongoing impact of Indigenous people of North America on game industry ranging from AAA to indie.   Schedule 10:00am to 10:25am – Welcoming, Brenda Romero and Elizabeth LaPensée 10:30am – 11:55am – Ishmael Angaluuk Hope (Never Alone) 12:00pm – 12:25pm – Allen Turner (Stubbs the Zombie, Ehdrigohr: The Roleplaying Game, Hail to the Chimp, Disney Guilty Party, Marvel XP) 12:30pm – 12:55pm – John Romero (Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM, Quake) 1:00pm – 1:25pm – Jason Edward Lewis (Initiative for Indigenous Futures, Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace, Skins Video Game Workshops) 1:30pm – 2:30pm – Lunch 2:30pm – 2:55pm – Elizabeth LaPensée (Survivance, The Gift of Food, Animism, Singuistics: Anishinaabemowin) 3:00pm – 3:25pm – Darrick Baxter (Rez Bomb, Ojibway) 3:30pm – 3:55pm – Manuel Marcano (Max Payne 3, BioShock, The Darkness, Treachery in Beatdown City) 4:00pm – 4:25pm – Renee Nejo (Ever, Jane, Gravity Ghost, Blood Quantum) 4:30pm – 5:00pm – Closing Speakers Darrick Glen Baxter’s long and distinguished professional career in technology includes helping to build a stronger National Aboriginal Television Network, teaching Computer Science at the University of Winnipeg’s DCE new Buhler Centre, and working provincially to build a connected eHealth infostructure within Manitoba First Nations, including speaking engagements both nationally and internationally. Darrick has studied at the University of Winnipeg and the Banff New Media Institute. He engineered locative media applications with an experimental HP technology using GPS and location based hardware. He also served a secondment at The Score sports broadcasting network. Under the tutelage of their Mobile Media Director – he experienced first hand the essence of successful business strategies that lead to the development of a hugely successful iPhone sports app. Darrick has now returned to his passion of creating exciting applications as the President of Ogoki Learning Systems.   Ishmael Angaluuk Hope (also known as Khaagwáask’ and Shis.hán) is a storyteller, writer, and actor who shares his stories, culture, and writing at community events and classrooms in Alaska and around the nation. He was a lead writer for Kisima Ingitchuna: Never Alone, produced by E-Line Media and Cook Inlet Tribal Council. In the winter of 2014 he released his first book of poetry, Courtesans of Flounder Hill, published by the Ishmael Reed Publishing Company.   Elizabeth LaPensée (, Ph.D. is an Anishinaabe, Métis, and Irish designer, writer, and researcher whose focus is Indigenous game development. Her design, writing, and art are informed by cultural values and teachings. She also expresses herself through comics, experimental animation, and other interactive media. Her dissertation looks at the Indigenous social impact game Survivance (2011), which encourages ongoing healing through storytelling and art. She contributed writing and consultation for the transmedia property Animism (2011). She has consulted and written for games such as Andy Schatz’s Venture Arctic (2007). Most recently, she co-designed Tulalip Tribes: Connected to the Land: Gathering Native Foods (2014), a suite of games about Tulalip traditional foods for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. She also designed The Gift of Food (2014), a board game by the Northwest Indian College about Northwest Native traditional foods. The research network Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace has supported her contributions.   Jason Edward Lewis is a digital media poet, artist, and software designer. He founded Obx Laboratory for Experimental Media, where he directs research/creation projects on computation as a creative material, emergent media theory and history, and methodologies for conducting art-led technology research. He co-directs the Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace research network, the Skins Workshops on Aboriginal Storytelling and Video Game Design, and the Initiative for Indigenous Futures. Lewis’ creative work has been featured at Ars Electronica, Mobilefest, Urban Screens, ISEA, SIGGRAPH, DHC/Art-Centre Phi, and FILE, among other venues, and has been recognized with the inaugural Robert Coover Award for Best Work of Electronic Literature, a Prix Ars Electronica Honorable Mention, several imagineNATIVE Best New Media awards and five solo exhibitions. Lewis is a Trudeau Fellow and a former Carnegie Fellow. He is the University Research Chair in Computational Media and the Indigenous Future Imaginary as well as Professor of Computation Arts at Concordia University, Montreal. Born and raised in California, he is Cherokee, Hawaiian and Samoan.   Manuel Marcano ( is a Taíno developer born in New York City. He has worked on Max Payne 3, BioShock, The Darkness, Treachery in Beatdown City, and more. Also known as “Hurakan” to his tribe, the former AAA dev now makes RPGs about diversification, racism, poverty and tribal history.   Renee Nejo is a freelance 3D artist and independent game designer in Denver, Colorado. She has been making independant games for about 4 years. She is a proud Diegueno and a literal card carrying tribal member of the Mesa Grand Band of Mission Indians. Renee is an unapologetic advocate for education and self determination of Native people. She has recently contributed to the art and design of Ever, Jane, a video game in the world of Jane Austen as well as a few illustrations for Gravity...