Business & Economy

Gamers scout out new offerings at E3 Expo

Al Yang created AquariYum as his thesis project at USC.
Al Yang created AquariYum as his thesis project at USC.
Brian Watt

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At the Electronic Entertainment Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center, KPCC’s Brian Watt observed the hordes of gamers looking for the next fun time.

[Game trailer narration: “Civilization is in danger. A new hero must emerge...."]

Brian Watt: Computer game promos sound just like movie trailers – and games are looking more like movies every day.

[Game trailer narration: "The world will never be the same."]

Watt: The Entertainment Software Association stages the E3 Expo with over 100 exhibitors and 40,000 people in attendance. It points out that the best selling game two years ago, Halo 3, earned more dollars in its first day of release than the movie Spider-Man 3 did in its first weekend.

Celia Pearce: All you have to do is look at the show floor at E3 and you'll see that this is a recession-proof business.

Watt: Celia Pearce teaches digital media at Georgia Tech. She used to design interactive attractions in Los Angeles. She says the computer game industry has grown every year for the last 10. Last year in the U.S., it raked in close to $12 billion – up from 9-and-a-half billion the year before.

Pearce: You know, parents will go "Oh, uh, video game, that's not a career choice." Actually, it's a pretty good one. It's a pretty bulletproof economy.

Watt: Bulletproof perhaps because there's more to it now than bullets, daggers, and lasers. Games get you up and moving, fire off trivia questions, and Pearce even told me about a game that promotes spiritual enlightenment.

Twenty-six-year-old Al Yang showed me the AquariYum game he's created for the iPhone and Facebook. In it, marine critters try to move through a cartoonish underwater world.

Al Yang: So there's a puffer fish, I'm just gonna move him around... and here's a piranha...

Watt: Yang graduated last month with a master's in game design from USC. AquariYum is his thesis project. He wants to work for a big video game company and he's sent out a lot of resumes.

Yang: Haven't really heard back from anyone, but we're hoping, like, people can walk by during E3 and see the game and it gives us an impression of... like we're not just applying, but we're actually out there doing something in our own time. We're making games. We're not just talking about them or playing them.

Watt: On the other side of the showroom, Henry Liu, another recent USC gaming grad, demonstrated a game called “Reflection” that he worked on as a student.

Henry Liu: You control a character named Kirra on the top screen and her reflection on the bottom screen with the same set of controls, so you press left on the D-pad, they both move left, right, they both move right, 'A,' they both jump – but the catch is kind of the levels are different on both screens.

Watt: As I realized I'd better just stick with Pac-Man, his former professor Michael Zyda chimed in.

Michael Zyda: This is a historic occasion.
Watt: All right, tell me.
Zyda: This is the first time a student-built game has gone directly from class to sale. Other than recent iPhone games, this is a DS game.
Watt: And what is a DS?
Zyda: This is a Nintendo DS, which is their mobile handheld device...

Watt: Just a few years ago, Zyda founded USC's gaming program in the school of engineering. He also runs the school's Gamepipe Laboratory, where computer science, design, film, fine art ,and music students collaborate on new games. Nintendo is introducing one of that lab's creations next month.