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University of Utah Student Video Game Nabs First Place

A screenshot from the PC game, "Cyber Heist," produced by a team of graduate students from the University of Utah's Entertainment Arts and Engineering video game design program.

Dec. 05, 2014 – Student video game developers from the University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering (EAE) video game program have won Best Student Game in the Serious Games Showcase & Challenge in Orlando. The award was announced Thursday, Dec. 4, for their two-player action game, “Cyber Heist.”

The PC game is a heart-stopping adventure where two players who portray college students try to infiltrate the Department of Education in the year 2114 to erase their student debt from the agency’s computers. One player controls a student who sneaks through the building in a first-person perspective, trying to avoid security drones, while the second player uses an overhead map to act as a guide. The point of the game is to help players use good communication skills and teamwork to succeed.

In addition to winning Best Student Game, the winning students also received $30,000 worth of Autodesk 3D modeling software.

“Not everyone gets to call themselves award-winning game developers, and the amazing students behind ‘Cyber Heist’ have proved they are among the best young game developers out there by winning the Serious Games Showcase & Challenge,” said Roger Altizer, director of EAE’s game design and production.

“Cyber Heist” was one of 18 finalists worldwide competing for awards in the contest. Other categories in the Serious Games Showcase & Challenge included Best Mobile Game, Best Government Game and People’s Choice Award.

“As always, this year’s competition really showcased the best serious games being used today,” said Stu Armstrong of QinetiQ, one of the co-sponsors of the event. “The quality of the games were exceptional.

It took a team of 13 EAE graduate students a year and a half to create “Cyber Heist,” said the game’s lead designer, Jake Muehle, who graduated this past spring with a master’s in Entertainment Arts & Engineering, a new graduate degree at the University of Utah for video game developers.

“The idea is we’re enhancing trust and communication between two people through gameplay,” he said. “When people have different problems and interfaces in the game, they have to verbalize their problems, and it’s that struggle that we wanted to capture.”

The game is available free for download here. Muehle also is working to sell a version of the game through the popular digital distribution service, Steam.

“Cyber Heist,” which also was a finalist for Best Student Game at last spring’s 16th Annual Independent Games Festival in San Francisco, is one of many award-winning games to come from the U’s EAE program.

In its first seven years, EAE has become a nationally recognized game design program. Its undergraduate program was ranked second in the country, while its graduate program was ranked fourth, according to The Princeton Review’s annual survey.

The Serious Games Showcase & Challenge is a competition for video games about serious topics or those created to educate or train its players. The contest is hosted by The Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference, an event for U.S. armed services, and industry, government and academic institutions focused on improving training and education through computer simulations.