Award-winning video game highlights top game design program

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Imagine taking one’s love for playing video games and making it into a career. The Michigan State Game Development program helps students do just that.

Princeton Review’s list of top Game Design programs ranks Michigan State in the Top 10 for both graduate and undergraduate students.

They even get the opportunity to play video games with their professor. They do this in the Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab, nicknamed the GEL Lab.

“We’re almost like a little game dev studio,” director Brian Winn said.

It’s like a second home for the game development students at Michigan State.

“Yeah I’m in the lab pretty much every day,” PhD student, Declan McClintock, said.

But, this home isn’t just for playing video games.

“I think just being able to say I make games is huge,” master’s student, Andrew Bonczyk, said.

They create them.

Just like they created a game called “Plunder Panic” last year.

“When you finish it and put it out there it feels really rewarding to have people play it and enjoy it,” McClintock said.

It’s a pirate-themed battle game between two games that plays up to six people on each team. Winn says the idea popped into his head in one of the strangest ways.

“I basically pitched the idea and literally over lunch we pretty much walked away with a vision for what this game was going to be,” Winn said.

“Plunder Panic” became the name, and development started in the early summer of 2017. The GEL Lab team first publicly showed the game at a booth at the Traverse City Film Festival later that summer.

The game quickly created a buzz among the game development community as a promising student-made video game.

Later in the year, the team took it to the IndieCade festival, a video game convention in Los Angeles. Plunder Panic competed against games from professional studios and even won the Audience Choice Award from its popularity among the crowd.

They also took the game to South By Southwest and PAX East, which garnered even more attention. This opened the opportunity for the team to reach out to Nintendo and try to get Plunder Panic on the Nintendo Switch.

“We’re currently working on that now and plan on having the Switch version out by early 2019,” Winn said.

“Just being able to say I’m working on a game that will be available on the Nintendo Switch is just huge,” Bonczyk said, who works on the visual design of the game. “That’s everyone who plays video games’ dream is to make a game that’s gonna be played on the Nintendo console.”

The game has blown up in a way they could have never expected, and Winn said it’s one of the biggest projects the Lab has ever had.

“Plunder Panic was really a passion project because it’s really more of an entertainment game than anything else so we did it really based on very little money and mostly our blood sweat and code.”

The game development program started in 2005 and normally hires around 20 students at a time.

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