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Video games bring grads into working world

A graduation requirement for seniors in the growing game design program at the University of California Santa Cruz may become a gateway into the business world for some of the hard-core gaming students looking to design games for PlayStation, Zynga and the iPhone.

Over the past year, the 27 students in UCSC's Baskin School of Engineering computer science department had to design and build a video game, developing a detailed storyline, game levels and graphics. On Thursday, five teams presented the final product to a packed room filled with friends, fellow designers, play testers, family and teachers.

"My favorite part of college has definitely been this class," senior Josh Scorca said. "I've learned the most here than anywhere else."

Scorca, along with his team, Stack and Deploy, plan to release their game as an iPhone application at the end of the month. Stack and Deploy combines a card game with a video game. The player is a commander of a ship and must defeat his opponent by destroying his base using a variety of cards to gain health and weapons.

"We had eight people and put in 40-50 hours a week putting this together for a school project and all of it was free labor so we thought why not try to turn it around into a commercial product," senior Vinit Agarwal said. "I went ahead and got a developer's license to make an app way before we started. We worked hard and I think we got it."

The four other teams, which created games ranging from spaceship shooters to puzzle games, also plan to get their games noticed, by releasing them on the Internet to the public.

The 4-year-old UCSC course, which is restricted to senior computer design majors, brings in guest lecturers from PlayStation, Microsoft, EA Video Games and other gaming companies to discuss design strategies and techniques. Students get hands-on experience through multiple rounds of prototyping, developing technology infrastructure, design adjustment and, of course, multiple rounds of play testing.

Once Stack and Deploy goes public, the team plans on fine-tuning it even further and creating more cards to release on a weekly basis that gamers can buy. They hope to begin building their own company as soon as they graduate.

"It just keeps getting better every year," associate professor Michael Mateas said. "As we become more well-known, we attract better students and are figuring out ways to better guide them."

The class is expected to grow from 27 students to 75 in the next year, Mateas said. And despite hard economic times, the students who graduate do find success in the real world, including landing jobs with Xbox Live and Zynga.

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