Meet the Drexel sophomore who's programming Tetris on the Cira Centre - Technical.ly Philly

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Apr. 3, 2014 2:28 pm

Meet the Drexel sophomore who’s programming Tetris on the Cira Centre

Colan Biemer, a Chicago native who didn't know how to code until he came to Drexel, first started working with Drexel's Dr. Frank Lee after he saw him talk at a Drexel event. Biemer asked Lee if there were any projects he could work on, and Lee liked that initiative.

Colan Biemer inside Drexel's ExCITe Center, one of two places that he does game development work. The other place? His bedroom.

Colan Biemer was yawning.

It was 10 a.m. and last night, he stayed up late playing the biggest video game in the world.

Biemer, 21, is the developer who’s programming Tetris for the Cira Centre. He’s a Drexel sophomore who works with Dr. Frank Lee, the game design mastermind behind Tetris. More than 100 people will get to play the game on the 437-foot-tall skyscraper at this Saturday’s Philly Tech Week Kickoff, but Biemer gave it a test run Tuesday night. It was the first time he saw his work on the big screen.

What was it like?

“It was awesome,” he said.

Biemer, a Chicago native who didn’t know how to code until he came to Drexel, first started working with Lee after he saw him talk at a Drexel event. Biemer asked Lee if there were any projects he could work on, and Lee liked that initiative.

Lee, who cofounded Drexel’s game design program, said he’s especially open to students who volunteer their time to work on his projects.

Impressed with Biemer’s work on an iOS game project, Lee asked Biemer to work on Tetris. And that’s how he ended up programming the biggest video game in the world.

The whole project took about a month and a half. Biemer had never worked on anything even close to this size before, and yeah, he was “incredibly” intimidated.

“It was a big jump to go from writing 100 to 200 lines of code to one thousand,” he said.

He used the codebase from last year’s Pong on the Cira Centre, written by Drexel student Marc Barrowclift, and revamped it to work for Tetris. The code was written in programming language Python.

The biggest challenge with coding the game, Biemer said, is latency, or lag. The game was experiencing packet loss, which means that when a player, say, pressed the button to go left, it wouldn’t register on the screen. He worked on fixing that bug Monday night during the test run.

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The Tetris tech team is lean: it’s Biemer, Lee and Drexel systems administrator Gaylord Holder, who set up and maintains the server at the Cira Centre that supports the game. (Holder also worked on Pong last year.)

Biemer never played Tetris on a Gameboy, but his favorite game is old school, too: Soulcalibur for Dreamcast.

“It’s what made me like games,” he said.

Read about the technology behind last year’s Pong on the Cira Centre on FastCoLabs.

Companies: Drexel University
People: Frank Lee
Projects: Philly Tech Week
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