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Expo deals with the business end of game design



Having a hard time selling Mom on the idea that video games are a legitimate use of time? Want to show that the hours spent pouring attention over every detail in "Halo" or perfecting technique in "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" will pay off in the job market?


Head to the Oklahoma Electronic Game Expo, held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Oklahoma City Community College, where industry professionals will discuss the business side of video games. It's the second year for the expo, which celebrates the spectrum of computer arts, from game production and 3-D character design to modeling and computer animation.

A video game tournament will allow gamers to vie for supremacy on popular titles such as "Street Fighter IV" and "SoulCalibur." There will also be an exhibition floor featuring industry vendors.

The purpose for the expo goes beyond just gathering for the love of video games, according to Akram Taghavi-Burris, event coordinator and a professor in the computer-aided technology department at OCCC. The event is meant to demonstrate the rich career field open to those interested in the computer arts.

Okie AUG, an Adobe user group, will discuss how to design a Flash game; PL Studios will break down the steps in game design; and a panel of industry professionals will discuss the career applications of digital design.

Taghavi-Burris readily demonstrates her love for digital animation in her office, which she calls "the toy store." The walls are plastered with posters of video games, toys fill the shelves, and she transfers that love to her students enrolled in game design at OCCC.

There are plenty of opportunities for enthusiasts to adopt video games as a career. She said the video game industry produced $18 billion last year, so the industry is vibrant nationwide, but still budding locally.

"In Oklahoma, there might not be a video game industry," Taghavi-Burris said. "Not yet. But the skills that they will learn in this program don't just apply to video games. Everyone thinks of video games as console games, but it is also for simulation and educational games. Ft. Sill has an entire room they developed where they use video games for training. There are online simulations for cars, piloting and medical simulation so they can see if the cancer increases, then this is what happens."

First-year game design student Ben Frantz can attest to how hungry companies are for digital designers. After he completed an OCCC class in AutoCAD, a 2-D and 3-D design and drafting program, he quickly found a job that used his new skill in an unexpected way. He was hired by an oil rig designer to convert paper designs into an electronic format recognizable by an automated torch, which would then cut out the pieces needed to build the rig.

"So, I got a job and I made my own LLC, which was pretty awesome," he said.

Because technology changes so fast, Taghavi-Burris said it is difficult to stay out ahead of the newest advances. When a program called ActionScript switched over to the next generation, she didn't have time to master the nuances of the updated program, so instead she just stayed one lesson ahead of the students.

Even if she can stay up-to-date on modern advances, the applications of the technology are so varied that it would be impossible to familiarize the students with all the ways it would be used.

The new applications and changes in current applications are easy to pick up, as long as the person knows the fundamentals, Frantz said. For example, he said many of the most popular first-person-shooter games are still using the engine developed for "Unreal Tournament." One of the requirements of the curriculum is to be able to design a level and a character for "Unreal Tournament."

The applications will then extend beyond video games. Taghavi-Burris said a group of students coming out of the computer-aided technology department used their knowledge of the "Unreal Tournament" engine at an architectural firm that wanted to develop virtual walk-throughs of houses that had yet to be built.

What she said is critical is giving the students an introduction to all the fundamentals, so when they come across unfamiliar applications of the technology, they can adapt.

"I tell my students that we won't be teaching them exactly what they will need to know when they are out on the job," she said, "but we will teach them the skills they will need to figure it out." "Charles Martin

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