RIT Creates One-of-a-Kind Courses in Computer-Game Programming

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New information technology graduate concentration unveiled

One in five homes in the United States has a computer-game console.

Sony Online Entertainment makes more money than Sony Pictures.

Computer-game programming is an estimated $20 billion industry predicted to grow to a $100 billion industry within a decade.

Facts like these paint an electronic picture of Americans with plenty of disposable income, not to mention time, on their hands.

They also drive demand for computer-game programmers. Helping meet demand and tapping student interest, Rochester Institute of Technology created a master’s concentration in game programming, one of the first of its kind anywhere, offered by RIT’s information technology department in the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences.

Three courses comprise the just-approved concentration: 2-D Graphics Programming, Introduction to 3-D and 3-D Graphics Programming. The concentration may grow to include additional courses and expand into a full-fledged degree program, says Andy Phelps, instructor, who developed the concentration. Currently, 28 students from each program in the computing college—computer science, information technology and software engineering—are signed up.

Students learn about application programming interfaces in game-engine development using Microsoft DirectX. "Essentially, they’re a set of base libraries and code bits that a developer builds on to create their own applications," explains Phelps. "If you’ve ever played with Lego blocks, it’s the equivalent of a base plate with prongs so that blocks stick."

But Legos it’s not. Instead, we’re talking artificial intelligence, hardware-accelerated graphics and real-time animation. And, while gaining respectability as a discipline in its own right, game programming is increasingly applied in specialized areas like defense, distance learning and ecological studies.

"It’s maturing as a field," Phelps says, pointing to the use of 3-D technology such as environmental simulation developed for games that’s also being used in military training. "It’s really cutting-edge."

"The IT field is hot in so many areas right now, from national security to home entertainment," says Edith Lawson, chair of RIT’s information technology department. "It’s an extremely competitive industry, especially among small and mid-size companies that have difficulty finding enough qualified employees. RIT grads will help many companies stay on top."

RIT is also working with the Cornell Theory Center at Cornell University on a National Science Foundation-funded project using game technology for high school biology instruction.

Phelps’ interest in game programming and enthusiasm from students led to creation of the concentration. "I’ve always wanted to do it, and now we’re seeing they can do what they like and make a living doing it," Phelps says. "It’s a natural outgrowth of multimedia. Everyone’s excited about it."

Student Zachary Welch enthusiastically agrees. "The idea is awesome," says Welch, leader of the Electronic Gaming Society USA (www.egsusa.org) and president of RIT’s student chapter of the organization. "RIT is a center for gaming and has an opportunity to lead the country in this cutting-edge field. There’s nothing else like it in the country right now."

So the phrase, "Mom and Dad, when I grow up I want to play games," may not be every parent’s nightmare once they realize that little Johnny or Susie’s far-out fantasy isn’t so far out after all— especially in a $100 billion industry.

Note: RIT’s B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences (www.rit.edu/~gccis) offers undergraduate and graduate programs in computer science and information technology and an undergraduate program in software engineering. The college is home to the university’s Information Technology Lab, which partners with industry to develop innovative applications in emerging information technologies. RIT was the first university in the nation to offer a degree in information technology and is leading the nation’s accreditation criteria for information technology education.

Note: Digital photograph of Andy Phelps available. Send request to mjsuns@rit.edu. Phelps’ book, Gentle Introduction to Game Programming, is scheduled to be published later this year.