GEMS Game Project Clicks With Design Students

Digital Competition Gets Under Way With Opportunities to Win iPod Shuffles

Feb. 8, 2008

When you design video games for a living, it’s all about getting to the next level.  Having fun in the process, of course, is a given.

Click on the BeGEMmed page and play for a chance to win an iPod shuffle.

That’s what two talented arts and technology students — Steve Petterborg and Eric Wenske — think, anyway.  And along with faculty member Dr. Monica Evans, the two created an interactive game that went online this week to heighten campus awareness about a new undergraduate learning initiative called GEMS, which is scheduled to debut in the fall semester.

Petterborg and Wenske’s game — fittingly called BeGEMmed — is modeled after the popular game Bejeweled.  Its premise is simple:  Match similar jewel-shaped pieces to reveal an answer to a question about GEMS.  The payoff is just as easy: Students, faculty and staff can play the game as often as they like and enter once per day for a chance to win one of 30 iPod shuffles.

“When I was approached about recruiting a couple of talented arts and technology students to develop a game about GEMS, I instantly thought of Steve and Eric,” Evans said.  “Like many of our students, they’re fast, efficient and great at building a variety of interactive games.  I’m impressed with their effort on this project.”

Petterborg has long been interested in games and animation and has worked on such UT Dallas initiatives as “Dig:  The Maya Project,” an interactive exhibit for the Dallas Museum of Art. He has also been involved in programming in conjunction with the Center for BrainHealth’s virtual reality training for patients with Asperger's Syndrome; and the UTD MobileLab, an emerging media lab at the University.

He hopes to receive his master’s degree in arts and technology, or ATEC, in May.  A 2003 graduate of Richardson High School, Petterborg was one of the first students to enroll in the University’s ATEC degree offering, which was established in the 2003-04 academic year.

The ATEC program prepares students for a wide range of careers that involve digital content design and development.  The degree is a collaborative effort between the School of Arts and Humanities and the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.

“I’ve always dreamed of going into some aspect of game development or 3-D animation,” Petterborg said.  “Creating games like BeGEMmed is enjoyable because I look forward to the problem-solving aspect of what I do.”

Wenske, a senior in ATEC, is an expert in game-level design.  Levels are the different environments that a gamer moves through as he or she completes certain tasks.  Wenske has designed several games and is currently part of a team entered in the University’s Computer Gaming Entrepreneurship Competition that will take place in April.

Wenske, a graduate of Memorial High School in Victoria, Texas, estimates he and Petterborg spent 30 to 40 hours creating BeGEMmed.

“Creating games sometimes feels like work when you’re starting a project, but then you get into it and becomes really fun.”

The iPod shuffles will be awarded every other day through the first week in March.  Players who reach high enough scores can enter to win. Winners will have the option of selecting from one of four shuffle colors: silver, aqua, green or purple.

GEMS, which stands for Gateways to Excellence in Math and Science, is a comprehensive plan that emerged from a campus-wide conversation about ways to enhance the learning experiences of UT Dallas students.  One of the suggestions was to make strategic changes to introductory math and science courses.  A 16-member council of faculty, staff and students selected this idea as the one with the greatest potential to enhance student learning and achievement, and GEMS was born.

The GEMS plan will be implemented over the next five years.


Media contacts:  Jenni Huffenberger, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4431, jennib@utdallas.edu

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Game designers Eric Wenske (left) and Steve Petterborg

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