Is Connecticut poised to be the 'East Coast Hollywood' of video game development?

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Fri., May. 10, 2013
(L-r) David Calabrese and Edward Hogan teach Video Game Design at Manchester Community College. Photo by Christian Mysliwiec.
(L-r) David Calabrese and Edward Hogan teach Video Game Design at Manchester Community College. Photo by Christian Mysliwiec.

Video game development is a rapidly expanding industry, and Manchester Community College is at the forefront of a group of Connecticut colleges equipping students with skills to meet the demand. “Right now we're seeing an industry that is growing and doesn't have enough people to man the positions at this point,” said Edward Hogan, the program coordinator of Graphic Design and Multimedia Studies at MCC.

Hogan has developed the Video Game Design Program for those seeking an associates degree at the community college. The curriculum focuses on the design aspect of video games. As such, it is concerned more with graphics and aesthetics than in-depth, technical coding. Nevertheless, students are taught to “open up the code and read it,” said Hogan, “and not see hieroglyphics.” 

A common assignment is for students to take the “match three” game format, like the popular game “Bejeweled,” and give it their own personal flair while leaving the game-play mechanics intact. “It's like putting a new body on a car,” said David Calabrese, who also teaches Video Game Design at MCC. Calabrese freelanced for small game developers like Clear Crown Studios near San Francisco and Left Brain Games in Torrington, Conn. He now teaches at Quinnipiac University in addition to MCC.

Students pursuing the game design degree will find that the skills they learn are not necessarily specific to video game development. “The programs we learn are broadly used across several disciplines and are applicable to many fields,” said Calabrese. Students gain experience in Flash, Poser, ZBrush, Lightwave, Photoshop, Illustrator and web design software, all of which have multiple applications. The only software that they use which is specific to game making are Game Maker and Unity.

Hogan was hired by MCC as the director of the graphic design program. When he saw that computers were becoming mainstream household items, he taught himself how to use the design software available at the time. “I started to see the potential in 3D modeling, animation and things like that,” Hogan said. He incorporated computer graphics into the graphic design curriculum, and the Multimedia Studies Program came into existence at MCC. 

“When we started the Multimedia Studies Program, we were teaching this subject matter where the jobs didn't really quite exist yet,” Hogan said. “We were a little ahead of the curve.” He believes that the Video Game Design Program is in a similar situation at this time, as many video game design jobs are not in Connecticut – yet.

Back in the day, parents of future game-makers would have to reconcile with the fact that their child would have to move to game development hubs like Boston, Austin, Texas, or southern California to find work. Now, Hogan and Calabrese believe that Connecticut game designers will be able to stay in state for their job search.

With the entertainment tax credits available to Connecticut businesses that encompass video game development, more companies will be moving in, said Hogan. He points to the recent relocation of Blue Sky Studios to Greenwich. A 3D animation studio that has worked on “Ice Age,” “Robots” and “Rio,” Blue Sky Studios may not be game makers, but the company's move is an indicator that the state is becoming more and more attractive to entertainment firms in a time when the industry is becoming increasingly dependent on 3D graphics.

While the demand for skilled game makers is currently high, the competition, like all art careers, is intense. Both Hogan and Calabrese observe that it is the student who is completely committed to their art that succeeds in the industry.

“You need that internal drive that's going to keep you going,” said Hogan. “It's a difficult life, but very rewarding.”

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