Canisius College team takes top honors in Buffalo computer game design competition

From left, Mayor Byron W. Brown poses for a photo with Canisius College students David Kaplan, Pat Kesterson, Brooke Ballard, and Jared Brown, the winners of the city’s first serious computer game design competition, on Saturday at the Tri Main Building in Buffalo.
John Hickey/Buffalo News
  • By Jay Rey
  • Updated 11:47 AM
    May 3, 2015

Four students from Canisius College won the City of Buffalo’s “Serious Game Design Competition” by designing a video game that teaches kids about career paths and making good life choices.

Brooke Ballard, 22, of Clarence; Jared Brown, 21, of Lancaster; Dave Kaplan, 22, also of Clarence; and Patrick Kesterson, 21, of St. Louis, were named the winners Saturday by Mayor Byron W. Brown and will share in the $5,000 grand prize.

“Our hope is to work with the team to continue to refine the game and to either bring the game to the marketplace or use the game for training applications for the Buffalo Public Schools and/or the city’s youth programs,” Brown said.

The digital multimedia arts students edged out a team of software programmers from Libram Games, a gaming company. Libram received $1,250 for taking second place with the game “Queen City Careers.”

The city created the competition – the first in what officials hope is an annual event – to encourage entrepreneurship in Buffalo and the growth of technological industries, such as computer game development.

A field of six competitors was narrowed to three finalists in March. Canisius and Libram – the third team had to drop out – squared off Saturday at Buffalo Game Space inside the Tri-Main Center, where a panel of judges decided the winner.

“Both teams – Canisius and Libram – had great concepts in which they were trying to teach employable skills,” Brown said. “It seems like the judges felt that this game – the Canisius game – as it taught employable skills, it would be more fun from a playability standpoint.”

The Canisius students designed a “choose-your-own-adventure” game that begins in middle school and allows players to make daily life choices as they work their way through high school and into careers.

“Our whole theme was the choices you make in life affect your future,” Ballard said, “but there are so many opportunities to redeem yourself.”

For example, the game begins with the player deciding whether to wake up when the alarm goes off or hit the snooze button. Wake up and you have time to shower and eat. Hit the snooze and you set off a chain of negative consequences.

Should you be late for class and get a snack at the school vending machine? How about cutting class and going for a smoke with the school tough guy, Mitch?

“It basically teaches the kids to make good decisions,” Brown said.

“Bad choices and there’s long-lasting implications,” said Kaplan, “but it’s never too late to go back.”

Ballard, Kaplan and Kesterson are all seniors at Canisius; Brown is a junior. The four huddled for a group hug after Brown announced them as the winners.

“None of us ever built a stand-alone game like this, so it is a whole new experience,” Ballard said.

The four put their video game onto a big screen and showed the mayor how to play. The game still needs a lot of work, Brown said.

In fact, instead of the taking part in Canisius Spring Fest on Friday the four worked into the wee hours of Saturday morning ironing out some wrinkles in their video game to be ready for the competition.

Their hard work paid off.

“We would miss the quad party every year for this,” Ballard said.

email: jrey@buffnews.com

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