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Virtual Reality on the Radio
WilmU game designers entertain Philadelphia drive-time DJs
Beanbag toss is about as low-tech as games get, but a team of students from Wilmington University’s College of Technology recently reimagined it to show what virtual reality can do — and what they can do with virtual reality.
On November 30, eleven game design students and two faculty advisors demonstrated an immersive, computer-generated version of the backyard pastime for a Philadelphia radio station’s morning show and a live audience of about 200 people, not to mention thousands of listeners across the region.
"The students created everything in the game," said Scott Shaw, who chairs WilmU's game design and development and its video and motion graphics programs. "All of the models, the mechanics of the game, the scripting and testing. Only the initial photos of the show's hosts and sound effects from the show were provided."
They exhibited their work during The Preston & Steve Show's annual "Camp Out for Hunger" food drive on WMMR (93.3 FM), on a big screen under the big tent that had been pitched at South Philly's sports complex for the weeklong event.
It was the end result of a frenetic production cycle — all in a day's work for game designers, said Shaw. At an initial planning meeting on October 25, students enrolled in the fall semester's Game Development I (GMD 401) and the spring follow-up Game Development II (GMD 405) were given a deadline to deliver the finished product by November 22, the day before Thanksgiving.
"Lots of intense weeks, lots of communication throughout the team, and weekly work sessions during class," Shaw described. "However, our lead guy, T.J. Phillips, barely broke a sweat! He was totally ready and up to the task. Our entire 3-D team churned out models as quickly as possibly and, without any real guidance, made everything work."
In addition to Phillips, the students who developed the game and attended its presentation included (in alphabetical order): Alan Beecham II, Rebecca Boulter, Jeremy Bregermann, Matthew Doyle, Joe Garrison, Gary Mayo, Daulton Nelson, Lehel Ouano, Maurice Roach, and Chelsea West.
WilmU's University Relations department suggested the opportunity to Shaw and assistant professor Timothy Day, who brainstormed ideas for buildable games and met radio station personnel with a proposal.
In this virtual version of bag toss, headshot photos of the show's hosts have been mapped onto "ragdoll" likenesses. But there are more than just holes to aim for. "The object of the game is to throw the ragdolls into anything and everything to score points," said Shaw. "Tim and the students came up with the idea of adding more stuff to fill out the area around the player. We added can knock-downs, boxes that were branded for the event, a basketball hoop, and some revolving billboards."
Also, "any time you throw someone's ragdoll, they make a sound effect or catchphrase from the show," he said. "For instance, Preston says 'Oh yeah!' when he's thrown."
On November 29, the day before their scheduled appearance on the show, the team traveled to Philadelphia to set up and test drive the game on site. "That was nerve-wracking," Shaw recalled. "We always prepare for the worst and try to assume nothing, but you still worry. I had my doubts for a second. Just a second, though. Once we got everything up and running, it was just the normal glitches that happen with any technology."
The next day, they just had to show up, bright and early. "Some of our students were up at 3 a.m. to get to campus, and to the show by 6:30," he said. "Keep in mind, most of my students — and sometimes myself — are just going to bed by then."
During the broadcast, which you can hear at WMMR's website, Shaw introduces the game and one of the morning's guests, NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor Michael Barkann, takes a turn at it. (The game begins about two hours and 29 minutes into the recording.)
There's a lot to be learned from an experience like this one. "I learned that I don't like getting up that early, and neither do my students," said Shaw. "But, all kidding aside, our students are amazing. Every one of them was a valuable part of the team that made this happen."
About Wilmington University
Wilmington University is a private, non-profit institution committed to providing career-oriented, traditional and online associate, undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree programs. The Wilmington University difference starts with our flexible, year-round class schedules, full online learning capabilities, and one of the lowest tuitions in the tri-state region. Combined with our intense focus on academic excellence and individualized attention to our students in our degree and certificate programs, the WilmU difference is reflected in our students' achievements and our alumni's successes. For more information, contact Wilmington University at 302-356-INFO (4636), via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.wilmu.edu.