2016 Intel® University Games Showcase

By Randi Rost, Published: 04/06/2016, Last Updated: 04/06/2016

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Q: What do the following things have in common?

  • A multiplayer game set in a demon-possessed carnival town that uses split screen as a novel and fundamental game mechanic
  • A game where cute but bloodthirsty octopi take out senior citizens accompanied by happy elevator music
  • A 3D single-player action puzzler where players use fire and ice to manipulate their environment as they progress through an ancient, mysterious temple
  • A driving game with an extreme art style that uses only three colors
  • A third-person, physics-based flying soccer game where players control a robot athlete in a space arena

A: These were all games developed by student game development teams participating in the third annual Intel® University Games Showcase (IUGS).

One of last year’s winning teams coined a term that described this year’s event as well: “Super fun deluxe!” Intel was privileged to once again invite the best student projects from the best university game developer programs from around the United States. Intel provided USD35,000 in hardware prizes to the top three games in the categories of Best Gameplay and Best Visual Quality.

Once again the quality bar was high and the competition was fierce. The games and presentations were so good that in his GDC wrap-up article, VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi praised the students participating in the IUGS in the same sentence with Epic’s Tim Sweeney. “The game industry is full of innovations and bright people, including the luminaries like Epic Games Chief Executive Tim Sweeney, who has more than two decades of game graphics and engine experience, and the students from 11 universities who attended the Intel University Games Showcase on Thursday night.” VentureBeat later published a great article summarizing the IUGS and the games that were presented and stated that the games “should be published right now.”

Congratulations to the winners at the 2016 IUGS (video of winners being announced here):

Best Gameplay:

  • 1st place, USD 10,000 prize – Drexel University, Mirrors of Grimaldi
  • 2nd place, USD 5,000 prize – Denius-Sams Gaming Academy, University of Texas, Roots of Sarkos
  • 3rd place, USD 2,500 prize – Savannah College of Art and Design, Battery Jam

Best Visual Quality:

  • 1st place, USD 10,000 prize – The Guildhall at Southern Methodist University (SMU), Inua
  • 2nd place, USD 5,000 prize – Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), Battery Jam
  • 3rd place, USD 2,500 prize – Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), Hack, Slash & Backstab

The crowd of nearly 500 people roared when Drexel University’s Mirrors of Grimaldi was announced as the first place winner for Best Gameplay. The game’s designers describe their creation this way: “Mirrors of Grimaldi is an experimental local multiplayer game. You play together with three of your friends in the same physical space. It innovates the core gameplay of its genre – split screen. Unlike the standard split screens that are fixed, such as in Mario Kart*, players of Mirrors of Grimaldi constantly fight for their portion of the individual screens. Each player scrambles frantically to avoid swarms of enemies or swat them away and into the screen of an opponent. The better they survive in this fictional demon-possessed carnival town, the larger their screen size. The split screens themselves can become a friend or foe. For players who are not doing so well, the smaller screen size makes it easier for them to whack enemy trolls across the split-screen boundaries, and this provides them with a chance for a glorious comeback.”

Figure 1: In addition to being non-rectangular, the split screen in Mirrors of Grimaldi is used as a fundamental game play mechanic in the game. Note the different sizes and shapes depicting views for four players.

The Guildhall at SMU put on another strong showing with their game Inua, which lets you use your powers of ice and fire to change the environment and advance through the game. The Guildhall won both first place prizes in the first IUGS in 2014. This year, their game’s visuals impressed the judging panel and allowed them to win their third first-place prize in the three years of the event. According to The Guildhall team, in this game “the player takes the role of a young woman named Kaya, who ventures into the temple of a nature goddess. Kaya must obtain her totem element, an external expression of her nature that each individual in her tribe must achieve. To her surprise, she obtains control of both ice and fire. Presented with more questions than answers at the start of her spiritual journey, Kaya’s adventure continues to the highest terrace, the Elemental Temple.” The shifting color palate, cool for ice powers and warm for fire, is a unique feature of the game.

Figure 2: Two different scenes from the game Inua by students at The Guildhall at SMU, illustrating the differing color palates used in conjunction with ice powers (top) and fire powers (bottom).

SCAD, this year’s lone newcomer to the contest, impressed and took home two prizes with Battery Jam. In their words, “Battery Jam is a competitive party brawler game where you and up to three friends kick the bolts out of each other in multiple game modes. You’ll use tricky gadgets and flashy abilities to take out other Jammers by maneuvering them into deadly environmental hazards. Choose from multiple Jammers with distinct personalities and some of the sharpest dance moves a robot arena has ever seen. Ever.”

Features of Battery Jam include:

  • An easy-to-learn, four-button control scheme that brings even your clumsiest friends up to speed in minutes.
  • Clever and clean mechanics designed to let anyone play, while being clever enough to keep you thinking.
  • Dynamic maps with unique traps and hazards that can be used to take out your opponents.
  • Eight extraordinary items that are built to knock, blow, pull, and bounce your opponents into the deadly arena traps.

The panel of judges and the audience loved the game’s frenetic pace and the bright, bold visual style.

Figure 3: Judges awarded TWO prizes to SCAD’s colorful and fast-paced game, Battery Jam.

The Denius-Sams Gaming Academy at the University of Texas had a strong showing their second year in the competition, nabbing second place for Best Gameplay with Roots of Sarkos. According to the team, “In Roots of Sarkos, communication is key. It’s a networked, asymmetric platformer with an emphasis on cooperation between two players. Both players must rely on each other's individual strengths and abilities in order to escape the mysterious floating islands of Sarkos. One player guides, the other acts, and both work together in this digital equivalent of a trust-fall.”

Figure 4: The wide angle view of Roots of Sarkos (top) shows the 3D terrain that must be cooperatively navigated by characters with differing powers. In the close-up screenshot (bottom), one character is climbing an obstacle while aided by the second player. Players can reverse gravity in order to make it past seemingly impossible obstacles.

RIT came to defend their first-place finish for Best Visual Quality in the 2015 IUGS. They didn’t disappoint, taking third place in that category with Hack, Slash & Backstab. In this game, you and some of your so-called “friends” cooperate to progress and ultimately compete to become the sole survivor. Trust and betrayal abound, just like real-life team situations where individual success is still an important goal. “We offer this tool of momentary exploration without real-world consequence as a mirror to our own behavior. Can we be better team members, players, managers, and collaborators? Can we somehow change our environments to more readily accept and value friends, colleagues, and partners? Can we begin to understand that there doesn’t have to be a clear winner in life? Can we use a small arcade game to reflect on the real world, and rethink in earnest some of the ways in which we work and play? Or will we learn only to defend more cynically, shift alliances faster, and betray with ever more subtlety and surprise?”

Figure 5: A screenshot from the RIT game Hack, Slash & Backstab.

While not every team took home prizes for their university, all of them succeeded in entertaining and impressing the large crowd that had assembled for this must-see event at GDC 2016. USC’s Magnus team gave a spirited demonstration of their third-person, physics-based flying soccer game. The University of Utah showed Tentacult, a “cute-yet-brutal horde-mode puzzle game.” UC Santa Cruz showed Aura a 2D exploration-based music game that combined the designers’ encompassing love for games and music. Carnegie Mellon University gaming students showed an interactive graphic novel that educates and empowers people to act in situations that have a potential to lead to sexual harassment or assault. New York University showcased a racing game called Dire that used an extreme art style consisting of only three colors: red, white, and black. And DigiPen Institute of Technology brought Orion to life to explore the mysterious lands of Krino in their game, Ascension.

The lively evening was made even more fun with audience prizes provided by Epic, Unity, Disney, and Intel. The all-star panel of judges kept the contestants on their toes by asking insightful questions to help draw out more details about the games and the choices made in development. Some of the tweets from those in attendance summed it up:

March 18, 2016
GGWP to all of the competition at this year's #IUGS ! Seriously inspiring to see all the awesome work other student devs accomplished!

March 17, 2016
So excited to see the amazing games at the Intel Student Showcase!!! #supportStudentGames #iugs

#GDC16 !! So excited to show off #MirrorsOfGrimaldi in the Intel walkway! #intelgamedev #indiedev #studentdev https://t.co/xZK0TAP0ql
March 16, 2016

I finally got to #iugs like 15 minutes ago, and had no idea what to expect. YOU GUYS. This is all so cool!! #gdc16 #intelgamedev
March 18, 2016

March 18, 2016
So awesome to have this group of students, alumni, staff & faculty gather togetherat #GDC16! #IUGS

@Official_GDC https://t.co/2RvQ9bnRpe
Thanks to all participants, judges, faculty, and partners for supporting the 2016 Intel University Games Showcase. See you in 2017!

Figure 6: Nine of the IUGS projects were on display and drew a constant crowd in the Intel Engagement Zone at GDC 2016.

Figure 7: The IUGS trophies took a lickin’ but kept on tickin’. One was knocked to the floor twice during the event, but suffered no apparent damage.

Figure 8: The audience had its share of winners too!

Figure 9: Congratulations to the Mirrors of Grimaldi team from Drexel University!

Figure 10: Congratulations to the Inua team from The Guildhall at SMU!

Additional Information

Event Video

Team and Game Information

Product and Performance Information


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