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Mayor announces competition for developers to create video games

Coming soon to a smartphone near you: a video game based in the Queen City that promotes diversity, job-training skills and paints in animated detail a futuristic Buffalo.

In announcing the “Serious Computer Game Design Competition” on Wednesday, Mayor Byron W. Brown encouraged game developers to compete for a top prize of $5,000. Developers will have 48 hours to create the most innovative serious video game prototype.

“Serious games’ doesn’t mean they are not fun or that they don’t have a certain entertainment value because that is what engages the player to play them,” said Przemyslaw “P.J.” Moskal, associate professor in the Digital Media Arts Program at Canisius College. “Games have gone mainstream. They’re everywhere now. They’re used in education, in business. What’s great about them is a player can become immersed in a slightly different reality and learn important skills.”

Game development generally takes a lot of time, local game experts said. It also requires a team approach, with game developers collaborating with programmers, musicians, designers and animators to develop a prototype.

“So you have artists talking to programmers,” Moskal said. “It’s like west meets east when it comes to the two hemispheres of the brain. That’s when it gets interesting. These 48 hours are enough to generate ideas. You can’t create a polished game because that takes more time, but what you can do is come up with a prototype.”

The first round of the competition will take place from 7 p.m. March 20 to 7 p.m. March 22 at Buffalo Game Space in the Tri-Main Center, 2495 Main St. In that round, the three finalists will receive cash prizes – $1,250, $750, $500 – and advance to the next round. Round Two takes place in April, with the date to be announced, and requires the finalists to present their games to a panel of judges. The winner will receive $5,000.

“I’m excited and surprised that the mayor proposed this type of competition because it rarely comes from government,” Moskal said. “We’re like underground game developers in Buffalo, and all of a sudden the mayor’s office is contacting us to do this. So that was really, really great.”

The winning concept will teach skills that can lead to meaningful employment and highlight the importance of diversity. In promoting Buffalo, the winning video game must have the ability to be played on multiple formats – smart phone, desk computer, game console.

Buffalo Game Space, a grass-roots organization, conducted a successful campaign on Kickstarter that raised $40,000 in October. The funding enabled the video game developer to move its office from Sportzone at the Dome in the Town of Tonawanda to Tri-Main.

“We’ve been hosting events like this for a couple years now,” said Game Space President John Futscher. “We were looking to do it full time. The time was right to upgrade. Our mission is to raise game development hubs in Buffalo so, instead of moving to places like Seattle and San Francisco, our talented people will stay here. We’re trying to be ahead of the curve.”

Last month, Buffalo Game Space and Canisius teamed up to bring Global Game Jam to Buffalo.

The world’s largest game-development event was held at hundreds of sites throughout the world.

“It can get pretty crazy at times with people in these brainstorming sessions,” said Moskal, a member of Games Space’s board of directors.

In 2013, Buffalo was selected to receive an IBM “Smarter Cities” grant, a program that funds the deployment of IBM experts to municipalities worldwide to help them address issues such as jobs, health, finance, public safety, transportation, housing, social services, energy, education and sustainability. Brown’s computer game design competition was one of the concepts recommended by IBM.

“Now is the time to start designing a game about Buffalo that will be produced and taken to the market,” Brown said. “I thank IBM for its support on this project and, of course, for its plan to bring 500 employees to downtown Buffalo.”

For more information, go to buffalogamespace.com

email jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com