ETC Students Create Video Games for Disney Theme Park
By Michael M. Whiston
Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) has teamed up with Walt Disney Parks and electronics company Siemens this semester to create a collection of arcade games called Project Spaceship Earth for Disney's Epcot Center.
According to the Siemens website, this project is part of a 12-year alliance between Siemens and Disney. Siemens is a technology company devoted to creating a wide range of products, including communications, transportation, and power technologies. Siemens has agreed to sponsor a post-show attraction for Spaceship Earth at Disney's Epcot Center.
The Entertainment Technology Center's website stated, "The games offer a fun and exciting look at how Siemens technologies make our lives better."
In particular, this attraction will take the form of several exhibits that relate to health care, transportation, and energy. It will occupy 9000 square feet.
ETC master's student DaeHong Kim said that Siemens recruited students from the ETC in Silicon Valley to create web-based games designed to teach gamers about Siemens. According to Kim, the games are intended for individuals between the ages of 10 and 14.
"It's more like an educational, casual game," DaeHong said. He said that gamers are expected to play less than half an hour to get an idea of what Siemens is all about.
Master's student Jake Rheinfrank, who works as an artist on Project Spaceship Earth, said that the biggest perk about working in Silicon Valley is being near Electronic Arts.
"We can see all of their concept art," Rheinfrank said. "We can hear Simpsons dialogue down the hallway."
Kim said that working on a project in Silicon Valley is different from working on a project in Pittsburgh.
"First of all, there's a lot of companies in Silicon Valley," Kim said. "It's really easy to network with people."
While it is possible to work on a long-distance project from Pittsburgh, Kim said, "It's better to talk face-to-face."
"ETC is extending the campus," Kim said. "We were sort of born here for ETC West."
Kim said that his team works closely with Disney producers and game developers on their ideas. "We learn a lot from their feedback," he said.
In addition to having regular meetings with a game designer, Rheinfrank said that the team has also been involved in the brainstorming sessions for the project.
Rheinfrank said, "We came up with what we're working on.... We were given complete creative freedom."
Kim said that his team members — two artists, two programmers, one sound specialist, two game designers, and one producer — work closely as well.
"They're really, really talented, and we learn from them," Kim said.
As the sound specialist, Kim said that he makes music and sound effects for the game.
In particular, he uses a synthesizer, bass guitar, electric guitar, and virtual instrument to create the appropriate sounds. Kim said, "I have to think [in] a new way, a different way to make music — how could this music be interactive, how could this sound be interactive?"
It is also Rheinfrank's first time working on a game.
"This is the first interactive project that I've been able to work on long term," said Rheinfrank.
Rheinfrank, who has a background in film, said that the principles of filmmaking are similar to those of game creation. In particular, he said that it is important to consider what the audience gains from the experience.
"What do you want to show them ... to take away," Rheinfrank said. "That's pretty much the same from video games to film."
Despite having never made music for a game before, Kim said that it is not difficult to bring it all together. He said, "It's quite fun and quite easy."