After their advisor, Dr. Jichen Zhu, rejected a handful of pitches for the game they’d create for their senior project, Drexel student Andrew Lichtsinn and his classmates didn’t have much confidence in one of their new gameplay ideas: a “dynamic splitscreen” that would change the size of players’ screens as they suffered damage in the game.
So the students, which call themselves 51st and Fire, were surprised when Zhu heard the idea and immediately gave them the go-ahead to develop the concept further into a game.
The top prize was $10,000 worth of Intel equipment for Drexel, which will be used to help the team and future teams develop even better games, said Zhu, an assistant professor in Drexel’s digital media program and director of the Procedural eXpression Lab, which focuses on narrative, experimental and serious games.
— Randi Rost (@RandiAtIntel) March 18, 2016
Lichtsinn said the win was a big surprise.
“There was definitely disbelief at first,” he said. “We weren’t going in thinking we were going to take first place.”
He — along with art director Evan Freed, lead programmer Tom Trahey, organic modeler/rigger Alison Friedlander, programmers Boyd Fox and Alex Hollander and artists Steven Yaffe and Pat Bastian — beat out other schools that have been recognized by the Princeton Review for having leading game design programs. (Drexel’s program made both the undergrad and graduate top 10, btw.)
In Mirrors of Grimaldi, four players share one screen as they try to survive against an onslaught of demons in a demonic carnival. They do this by punching demons into other players’ sections of the screen and as each player takes damage, their sections continue to shrink, eventually crushing them until one player is left standing. They made the game in Unity.
Watch Trahey talk about the game after their win.
Since a team only has nine months to make a full game, Zhu knew it was crucial for them to recognize early on a core, novel idea with a lot of potential.
“I think our game had a very clear focus and fortunately, this is something the judges responded to as well,” Zhu said. “I think we’ve built enough gameplay around that to support the idea instead of just [presenting] a concept.”
It was her and many of the students’ first time attending GDC, and with it being the world’s largest gathering of game industry professionals, Zhu felt it was a good opportunity for some two-way exposure: students got an expansive glimpse into the industry and Drexel got some of the spotlight with Mirrors of Grimaldi.
With the senior showcase on June 5, the team is hard at work polishing up the game and preparing it for a soft launch on game marketplace itch.io. Lichtsinn said they’re also looking into launching the game through Steam Greenlight or the ID@Xbox program.