Normally, a computer game is the last thing a college teacher wants to see on a screen in his classroom. But in Professor William Muellner’s Computer Simulation and Animation course, scenes like this are the whole point. His students learn to master the animation techniques that are the foundation of the booming computer gaming industry.
“It’s a fun class, but it’s not all fun and games,” says Muellner.
The skills his students are learning can be applied not just to gaming but also to the kinds of computer simulations used for everything from weather forecasting to military training to scientiﬁc research. So it’s no surprise that Muellner’s students need more than just a passion for the latest PlayStation game to thrive in the course. Knowledge of calculus, advanced physics, and artiﬁcial intelligence come in handy. “It’s a lot more technical than people realize.”
Some of the assignments are deceptively difﬁcult. Making a stick ﬁgure walk up a ﬂight of stairs might not sound very ﬂashy, but “there’s quite a lot involved, Muellner says. Want to climb into a virtual cockpit and simulate an airplane’s ﬂight? Don’t forget to factor in the effects of gravity, acceleration, and wind resistance. You also might want to try an exercise in simulating particle systems such as cloud formations or ﬁreworks.
The course is part of the major in computer game and entertainment technology (CGE), launched two years ago. Since its debut, the program has grown from eight to twenty students. The ﬁrst-ever CGE graduates earned their degrees in May.
Like the simulation and animation course, the CGE major is about a lot more than just gaming. “Computer games are creating a lot of interest in these ﬁelds,” says Muellner. “But there are so many applications for multimedia, from medical imaging to animated movies to educational simulations. Our major is about preparing students to succeed in any of these areas.”
Sounds like some serious fun and games.
Photo by Roark Johnson