Game Developers Use ATEC Skills for Award-Winning ‘Solar Purge’
Oct. 16, 2017
“Solar Purge,” a top-down, cooperative shooter game set in the 23rd century, is “a little bit ‘Star Wars,’ a little bit ‘Star Trek,’ and even some ‘Starship Troopers,’” said Josh Carter BA’12.
A passion to create a sci-fi video game of their own has paid off for two UT Dallas alumni, one of whom is now a faculty member at The University of Texas at Dallas.
Josh Carter BA’12 and Daedra Christopher BA’12, MFA’15, a senior lecturer in the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication (ATEC), recently received an Indie Game Developer of the Year award for their sci-fi game “Solar Purge.”
The award was presented in August during competition at the Let’s Play Gaming Expo at the Irving Convention Center.
“Solar Purge” is a top-down, cooperative shooter game on PC with an exploration theme. The game’s four characters start out on Earth at the end of the 23rd century. They discover a massive space-time distortion and travel to another planet, where they find an alien species. After being cut off from Earth, they begin their new life in uncharted territory, exploring new worlds, eliminating threats and securing their foothold.
“It’s a little bit ‘Star Wars,’ a little bit ‘Star Trek,’ and even some ‘Starship Troopers,’ with bugs coming out of the ground,” said Carter, who teaches game design at Richland College. “Everybody likes flamethrowers and rocket launchers.”
Each of the playable characters has their own customizable skills that can be upgraded. There are plenty of strategy options for multiple players because each character has different skillsets to fight enemies. Players can select their loadout, or armor abilities, and skill modifications for characters before they start a mission.
Four levels of the game have been completed. The team wants to finish 10-plus levels before launching “Solar Purge” by next summer. They are focusing on using Steam platform on PC, but want to optimize the game for other platforms, including consoles like Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
UT Dallas Classes Spawned Passion for Game Design
Carter and Christopher met while taking classes together at UT Dallas in Photoshop, programming, 3-D modeling and game design. The University’s undergraduate game design programs were ranked 11th in the country last year by The Princeton Review.
A course in virtual environments lit the fire for Christopher and Carter to pursue developing a game of their own.
“You could actually make a working game, be part of the game pipeline,” Christopher said of the class. “You had this broad scope of what you could be involved in. I just loved it.”
Using Unreal Engine 4, a suite of creation tools for video games, they started to build game prototypes and scripted levels.
Carter is a level designer and creative director. He also handles scripting, or what he calls “coding lite” for the game. Christopher also designs levels and places assets — characters or objects that are meant to appear in a video game.
“You can say, ‘Oh, I want to make a flying unicorn on this level.’ That can happen. You don’t have restraints on what you can make. You can be very imaginative, creative or unique,” she said.
Their collaborative effort now includes a team of 10 across the country, including composer Marty Meinerz in Chicago and lead artist Brandon Michaels in Ohio, as well as game simulation students and alumni from Richland College and UT Dallas.
“When somebody has an idea, they share it with the group and we start bouncing more ideas around. Then it usually ends with: ‘This is awesome! We have to go make this right now!’” Carter said.
The public had its first look at the game at the Lets Play Gaming Expo competition, which drew entries from groups such as Dallas Society of Play, an indie game developer collective that includes alumni from UT Dallas.
“It was cool to see them there and get to play their projects,” Carter said.
Feedback on “Solar Purge” was very positive, Christopher said. People were lining up to play the game and stayed an average of 15 to 20 minutes.
“Solar Purge” has been ranked as high as 535 out of more than 44,150 games on Indie DB, an independent game ranking site.
With the gaming industry still very young, Christopher encourages her students to begin networking while they are still in school.
“I tell my students all the time, ‘The people you’re sitting with in the classroom, you’re going to make a game with them someday. You need to look around and consider networking, and make sure you do a good job because that’s what people will remember,’” Christopher said.