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SBU’s Annual Game Programming Competition Turns 20

Game competition 2024 1

Game competition 2024 group

It is said that the most important quality of a good game is its “replayability.” The same might be said about Stony Brook’s annual Game Programming Competition, presented by the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Not only did the event recently celebrate its 20th anniversary, but it has maintained relationships that go all the way back to the very first one in 2004. 

On May 10, the SAC Auditorium hosted the 2024 event before a live crowd and was broadcast with the help of Stony Brook TV live on Twitch. Richard McKenna, lecturer in the Department of Computer Science and founder and coordinator of the competition, said the event grew out of the game programming course he first taught in 2004. 

“In that class, the final project was to create an original game, which they were going to program themselves,” said McKenna. “I thought that might lend itself to a competition.”

Thanks to enthusiastic students and a handful of industry contacts, that inaugural event was a success. “The games were great,” said McKenna. “The students got competitive and they really got into it.” 

Game competition 2024 2To McKenna’s surprise, as students who participated in the early events began to graduate, their love of the event remained. “Those students were graduating and getting jobs in industry and I stayed in touch with them,” said McKenna. “As the years went by, I would ask them to be part of the competition and they were always happy to.”

One of this year’s judges, Alex Turner ’07, computer science, now a program manager at Microsoft, competed in the very first game programming competition in 2004.

McKenna said that the participation of Stony Brook TV and the Game Development and Design Club (GDDC), of which he is the faculty advisor, has helped bring the event to a new level. 

“We’re getting a little bigger and better at doing it each year,” he said. “The contributions of the GDDC has really given these students a chance to step up front and shine.” 

This year’s winner was a game called Rust Walkers, created by computer science majors Aidan Foley, Joseph Hess, Nurul Hussain and Gleb Kozlov.

“Our game is a community driven, free-for-all, top-down shooter,” said Kozlov. “Players queue into lobbies with random individuals, or with friends, and blast each other with their arsenal of provided weapons until one person is left standing. It’s a particularly fast-paced experience, especially once the number of players in any given lobby goes up. We are very proud to have created a game the judges felt was worthy.”

RustwalkerslogoKozlov, who has aspirations of a career in video game development, was impressed by the games that were presented.

“There was so much passion, effort, and experience put into these games, and it was exciting to participate in that atmosphere,” he said. “Additionally, we all got to see different ways that people put these games together. The different points of emphasis in each game really opened my eyes to many different perspectives of the video game development process.”

“The competition was a lot of fun and there were a lot of interesting games presented,” added Foley, who also hopes to one day work in the video game industry. “It was inspiring seeing all of the work that some of my fellow students put into their projects. The whole event was much more laid-back than I expected, which made it easier to present on a stage.”

“All the games were great and the winning game was a participatory game,” said McKenna. “They had a server for the game and they solicited anybody who wanted to join in to go to the server. So during the competition, people in the audience got on their computers and joined the game and were up on the big screen, competing against everybody else. That was pretty great. And they wrote all their code from scratch, they didn’t even use an engine. I think the judges appreciate that.”

As for prizes, there is but one.

“You get your name on a plaque, and your name goes on the website forever,” said McKenna, tongue-in-cheek. 

The bigger prize is that many students have found both McKenna’s class and the Game Programming Competition to be stepping stones to bigger things. While McKenna says that most of his students don’t end up working in gaming, they leave with the skills to excel in any number of industries.

“They do all kinds of things,” said McKenna. “I know of one who works for NYPD cybersecurity, and some go into finance, some go into small companies and startups, and some go to big technology companies like Google and Microsoft. The Game Programming Competition is just a fun thing that we do on campus, but if the students didn’t make great games, nobody would care. I still get notes from former students who are in the workforce asking if I know of anyone with these skills who’s looking for a job. So while the competition is designed as a fun thing, if it helps them get the kind of jobs they want, that’s a pretty nice thing too.”

Playable versions of competition finalists since 2017 are available on the event website. All games are playable via a web browser.

Watch the trailers for the 2024 finalists on YouTube.

Robert Emproto


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