The Ultimate Gamers Guild

A look inside CSULB's Video Gamer Development Association

 WORDS BY: ANTONIO HENRIQUES
GRAPHICS BY: CODY CANO

Remember the first time you battled Bowser or scaled buildings with Donkey Kong? Now try to walk in the shoes of those game’s creators – a daunting task that CSULB’s Video Game Development Association (VGDA) is once again ready to take on.

For five semesters, the gaming group comprised of students with an interest in game development has created various types of video games with the goal of having each completed by the end of a semester. Nathan Moore, president of VGDA, hopes to exceed expectations set during previous semesters and is optimistic that his goal will be met.

“There’s going to be a lot more people who step up to be leaders,” Moore said. “We’ll focus more on design, having more game developers come speak and a new way of managing teams. But, like always, there’s going to be a lot of learning.”

By using the game development software Unity, members have the opportunity to work in a professional environment where they develop their own game. The 75-member roster is divided into teams of programmers, scriptwriters, producers and illustrators. Each of them have their own ideas but share the same ambition.  

“Games just happen organically through the experience,” new member Andrew Halbrooks said.  “Strong story, visual aesthetics can be great, but without gameplay you have nothing. Infinite design, but no depth.”

Halbrooks’ ambition to make a quality game is shared amongst his colleagues, such as new members Krista Paulsen and Darwin Perez, who hope to make an impact through an illustrative aspect.

“For me, this is about meeting new people and discovering some new unfound skills,” Perez said. “This may not be my career path as of now, but it’s something I’m definitely looking into. I want to work on projects like live animation.”

Paulsen shares these ideas and also sees VGDA as a great networking opportunity.

“As an illustrator, I look into specifics like background design and visual aspects of the characters,” Paulsen said. “This is my first time ever working on a project of this size, and it’s something I’ll be looking forward to.”

The same also goes for journalism major Anthony Lim, who has worked for VGDA as a programmer for a year. The third-year student discussed not only the work that goes into implementing a quality game, but the need for constant collaboration.

“The process of making the game and creating what you ultimately want your viewers to see and what you want to establish is a lot like the process of journalism,” Lim said. “It’s a repetitive process but with collaborating and working with others. It's a lot like an expanding art form.”

While the group’s primary focus is creating a game, VGDA also hosts various charity events and invites professional game developers to speak with members and create networking opportunities. VGDA alumni have gone on to obtain positions as programmers.  

Aaron Gutierrez, who graduated CSULB in spring 2015, is a programmer for Blizzard Entertainment, and Aaron Lane, who graduated in spring 2013, is a digital-content manager for the Atlanta Falcons football team.

While many join out of a casual interest, for group president Moore, VGDA represents a goal the super senior has had his eyes on since the age of 12 – to work in the video-game industry.

“A game can come from so many places. A great game can make people feel a certain way where they just get lost in its world,” Moore said. “For us, it’s about looking at the game we’re making and saying, ‘OK, what’s this really well-known thing and how [can] we take something that’s well understood and take it to uncharted territory?’ It’s about practicing taking ideas. And while it’s not meant to be a carbon copy of a game like ‘Flappy Bird,’ we have to start off with a basic concept and then go from there one step at a time.”

Through hard work and team management, VGDA’s primary focus for the first couple of weeks is getting new members comfortable, helping to create the game’s story and then going on from there. By joining, each member affirms a willingness to dedicate one to three hours a week working on the game. VGDA’s game’s launch date is December 1, with availability on PC and mobile.  

And while many college students play video games to escape reality, for VGDA, video games represent a professional pathway to a reality that will allow them to use their creativity and skills to capture the imaginations of gamers.

“Games can give you such an emotional feel, and your actions in a game allows gamers to question what their actions tell them about themselves,” Moore said. “It’s truly something phenomenal.”

For more information, visit vgda.net.