Santa Cruz Tech Beat


Sammy Awards Recognize Student-Designed Video Games

by Tyler Walicek

Annual award ceremony represent the culmination of the Game Design sequence at UC Santa Cruz

[Editor’s note: In May, Santa Cruz Tech Beat published Aspiring UCSC game designers hope for recognition at the Sammy Awards as students were putting the final touches on their games in anticipation of The Annual Sammy Awards.]

Two members of the student design team introduce their retro-styled game Introversion (photo credit: Tyler Walicek)

Two members of the student design team introduce their retro-styled game Introversion (photo credit: Tyler Walicek)

Last Friday, hundreds of UCSC students and their families gathered at Santa Cruz’s Rio Theater for the 4th annual Sammy Awards. The awards represent the culmination of the Game Design sequence at UCSC – a multi-year series of classes that give students the skills they need in programming, animation, art, and design to succeed in the blossoming field of video game creation. The students built over 130 games this year, which were demonstrated to eight judges. This panel consisted of a number of experts in the field, including Alice Carter, a professor of animation at San Jose State, Steve Horowitz, founder of the Game Audio Institute, and AJ Glasser, a developer of independent games at Facebook.

The ceremonies opened with the jazz band Terminal Degree, which featured dual saxophones and a guest vocalist. They covered a number of selections from game soundtracks, including the theme from Chrono Trigger, as well as a number of more traditional jazz standards.

Local jazz band Terminal Degree opens the Sammys with a sampling of game music covers (photo credit: Tyler Walicek)

Local jazz band Terminal Degree opens the Sammys with a sampling of game music covers (photo credit: Tyler Walicek)

By 7:00 P.M., the crowd was energetic and anticipatory. Professor Jim Whitehead, Chair of Computer Science at UCSC, served as the charismatic host of the evening, dressed for the part in a tuxedo. He provided anecdotes from the year, as well as explanation of the unique challenges faced by each student-run design group. After his opening remarks, the top twenty games were screened to the audience.

Each team gave a short introductory presentation followed by a gameplay video. The students of Foundations of Game Design – the first class in the sequence required to earn the major – rolled out a series of 2D platformers and mobile-style games, including Vis-à-Vis, Cat Escape: Meow Or Never, Cocooned, and Bar Crawl.Interspersed with these early efforts were the impressive, 3D worlds of the Game Design Experience Class.

On display in all games was an impassioned blend of the imaginative and the technical. The amount of complexity involved in video game design is staggering, and the results that such small groups of college students were able to achieve over the course of a year were remarkable. However, some games came together with particularly strong results, and the judges recognized these with a selection of eight prizes:

  • Audio Award: Nocturnum – A combination third person shooter and real-time strategy game, Nocturnum features stunning graphics. Players are thrown into a struggle for survival on a planet of perpetual night.
  • Visual Art Award: DJ Gone Rogue – Players must move their character through a neon world pulsating with music – while avoiding various traps that are synchronized with the soundtrack’s rhythms.
  • Technical Achievement Award: Immunogen – Play as a cell in the human bloodstream, neutralizing pathogens and absorbing nutrients.
  • Design Innovation Award: Intrigue – Mixing online multiplayer, copious 3D animation, and advanced AI, Intrigue lets players assume the role of a human spy or robot guard at a cocktail party for the mechanical leaders of the robot oppression.
  • Foundation Prize: Introversion – At a party, an introverted character may expend energy attempting to make conversation – or retreat into his head, where arcade-game style battles rage. Features an 8-bit soundtrack in homage to classic games.
  • Experience Prize: Resonance – The player’s avatar uses echolocation to find his way through a dark labyrinth. Hidden environmental obstacles like sand and water make the passage more challenging.
  • Peer Choice Award: DJ Gone Rogue
  • Grand Prize: Horror Stories – Two players cooperate to rescue a documentary team lost in in a macabre city that has been overtaken by a cult. The game forgoes combat in favor of tension, scares, and the search for clues in a setting full of looming dread.

Tyler Walicek is a literature student at UCSC.


Sara Isenberg publishes Santa Cruz Tech Beat for the benefit of the extended business and technology community. When she is not volunteering her time for the tech scene, Sara makes her living by managing software projects, web strategy planning, and providing development team services (including account management, vendor management, strategic partner management, beta project management, referrals to qualified technical team members, and more). Please visit her website: Sara Isenberg Web Consulting & Project Management, or contact Sara by email if you have any project management, account management, or Development Team leadership or service needs.


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