Interested in learning how to become the ultimate hibachi chef? Just ask Rensselaer undergraduate student Uyen Uong, and the team of college students who participated in the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDiGI) Summer Innovation Program (SIP). Last December, the team, along with mobile game publisher Thumbspire, launched “Hibachi Hero,” a new mobile game that has sliced and diced its way to the Apple App Store.
In the fast-paced, first-person food game, the goal is to work your way up to being the Ultimate Hibachi Chef. The game was developed by several students enrolled in MassDiGI SIP, an 11-week program operated by Becker College to encourage students to design, produce, and develop mobile games.
Uong is a junior with a dual major. She’s pursuing an electronic arts degree with a concentration in visual arts and animation in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and a degree in computer science in the School of Science. Known for her passion for integrating math into animation, and inspired by the luscious landscapes and exaggerated expressions in movies such as Spirited Away, Up, and Wreck-it Ralph, Uong served as the “culinary artist” for the mobile game project, and was responsible for the “delicious food sprites seen in the Hibachi Hero game.”
“Working on Hibachi Hero was an incredible learning experience for me,” Uong said. “I was one of the youngest people who entered into the summer program. I am a casual gamer, but I really enjoy playing games, mostly Nintendo games, so my range of video game knowledge was very limited. At the beginning of the program, I felt like I did not have the skills required to do a good job. All that changed as the program progressed.”
MassDiGI is a statewide center, designated by the Commonwealth, for academic cooperation, entrepreneurship, and economic development across the Massachusetts digital and video games ecosystem. Last year 157 students from 31 different colleges and universities applied for 22 available slots. Students studying game design, development, programming, animation, art, production, and computer science make up most of the teams, but there is room for marketers, writers, and musicians, as well as others.
In order to develop the “Hibachi Hero” game, students took on several roles. Uong worked as the lead user interface artist, 2-D artist, and assistant programmer. She created the layouts of the different screens for the game, including the icons (such as the pause button and the logo), and she also created some of the food sprites. In addition, Uong worked on some user interface programming, including the appearance of a gong when the game is over.
“I was new to digital painting so throughout the summer I was working on learning a new medium while also having to create assets for the game,” Uong said. “In working on the game, this was also the first time I created art in a professional manner that was not just for fun or for a school project. So having my art be seen by so many people, including mentors in the games industry and all the play testers, really boosted my confidence that my art can become a part of something great!”