Prior to taking the game modification development course taught by University Lecturer D.J. Kehoe last spring, computer science major Angela Vitaletti ’18 had never developed or programmed a videogame before.
“I would always bite off more than I could chew, and never finish,” said Vitaletti, who is from Middlesex and transferred to NJIT from Northampton Community College in Pennsylvania. “I took game mod as a way to motivate myself because it has real deadlines and projects that D.J. helps make achievable.”
To guide the learning process and create a culture of accountability, Vitaletti worked side-by-side with Kehoe to determine her individual project deliverables.
“We feel that this approach is a good analogue for working in industry and gives students a sense of ownership of the work that they do,” said Kehoe, who graduated from NJIT in 2009 with an M.S. in computer science. “It’s nice to give students portfolio-building projects that they can feel proud to show off.”
Upon completion of the course, not only was Vitaletti armed with work samples for her portfolio, she managed to publish a game on Google Play.
It’s called Doodle Doo, a digitally hand-drawn mobile game that puts players’ short-term memory to the test. The scribbles that live inside students’ notebooks inspired the concept. Offering four levels of difficulty, Doodle Doo personifies the youthful joy and reckless fun of high school, where wacky hijinks and tomfoolery abound.
Level one requires you to memorize which students hurled paper balls behind a teacher’s back before the pesky pupils scatter back to their seats, while level four transports you to a gymnasium during a power outage. When the lights come on, you must remember and identify what has disappeared from the space.
“The scenarios are ridiculous, but a lot of fun,” said Vitaletti, who drew the entire game by hand, down to the font. And while she’s ear-to-ear smiles now, the journey to complete Doodle Doo was often challenging.
“I spent nearly every single day developing the game,” she recalled. “I would spend hours trying to work out what seemed like a simple problem. There were a lot of times I wanted to give up. But I didn’t. I kept going.”
This display of perseverance, along with salable skills, project management experience and a strong work ethic, is exactly what Kehoe wants the students to take away from the course.
“The game development projects are substantial and daunting,” he admitted. “But after getting through them, our students can face a large project and complete it.”
A permanent fixture on The Princeton Review’s list of top schools to study game design, NJIT is hailed for its game development program, which offers a unique combination of art and technology, leveraging the faculty and resources of the information technology and digital design programs.
“NJIT provides a solid core computer science and information technology foundation for us to build on in the game development courses and a solid fine art background for the game design courses,” explained Kehoe.
Students interested in the coding aspects of game design pursue the B.S. in information technology in Ying Wu College of Computing, while those interested in the art, character and environment design of games prefer the B.A. in digital design within the College of Architecture and Design.
NJIT also hosts a very active community of game developer students and serves as the key location for the Northern New Jersey sector of Global Game Jam, the world’s largest game-development event.
“Student chapters of the Association for Computing Machinery, SIGGRAPH and International Game Developers Association help support our students through their class projects as well as their passion projects,” said Kehoe. “It is a great place to meet like-minded, well-motivated students that you can network with and learn from.”
Vitaletti agrees: “If you ever need advice or help, I would be willing to bet you could find it at NJIT. There are a ton of clubs, students, gamers and professors who can help you grow and make your games better.”
With her first published game in the books, Vitaletti now has her sights set on graduating in May and expanding her budding company, Blacklight Snowstorms.
“I want to grow into an indie-studio that makes unique games no one has seen before,” she shared. “That is my passion, and I will persist until my dream comes true.”