Growing Interactive Media and Game Design Program brings Gaming Industry Veteran, Investor to SUNY Poly
As incoming students began to adjust to their new routines at SUNY Poly, they received supportive perspective from someone who has valuable experience with the hard work that it takes to achieve success—2017 Convocation Speaker Guha Bala. Not only did he inspire students with his vision and work ethic, but also highlighted how SUNY Poly is leading the way in creative educational opportunities for its students.
Bala is President of Velan Ventures, Inc, an innovation investment company with a focus on video games and game-related technology companies, as well as Velan Studios, Inc., a game studio that focus on the discovery of new play patterns.
“Lots of you come from different walks of life,” he told the students, faculty, and staff at the annual ceremony which formally marks the start of another academic year. “From households that may be a single parent household, others that are picture perfect, from income bases that are very well to do and others that maybe are struggling to get by. Well, the amazing thing about a place like this is, none of that really matters. This is really the secret weapon of all human beings. The start of an education is the start of your future. And you get a big say in how that goes.”
Prior to Velan Studios and Velan Ventures, Guha and his brother co-founded Vicarious Visions when they were still in high school, growing it to become an industry-leading game developer and shaping popular culture around the world, producing games like the pop culture phenomenon “Guitar Hero.”
“The story of success, and by some measures I’ve had some of that, it cleans up over time,” he explained. “It’s usually very messy. If anybody says, ‘hey, look, it was an overnight success somewhere, someplace,’ it starts looking like a lottery ticket. You know the odds on the lottery. I wouldn’t play it on a regular basis hoping to become rich.”
Success in something he was passionate about took time and plenty of work, but he and his brother had focus from the start as to what they wanted to achieve, even if they were unsure how they were going to get there. When the siblings first decided they wanted to create video games, they weren’t quite sure what that entailed, as the resources required did not resemble what they do in today’s landscape.
“At the time, we didn’t know what that meant. We knew we liked to play video games. We knew we liked to make things that are creative, but there were no game programs like the Interactive Media and Game Design program at that time, in 1990.”
And though the tools used in video game creation, and the accessibility to them has changed over those 27 years since, the enthusiasm felt by Bala and his brother in their desire to create virtual worlds of play has not. That excitement continues through each generation of player turned designer, like those enrolled in the constantly-growing Interactive Media and Game Design (IMGD) program at SUNY Poly.
Students in the program are gaining access to the latest virtual reality technologies, thanks to the efforts of IMGD faculty lead Dr. Ibrahim Yucel and a grant from SUNY’s Innovative Instruction Research Council.
Through the council, SUNY Poly and Dr. Yucel have been awarded a $20,000 Innovative Instruction Technology Grant (IITG) for the Immersive Augmented Reality Classroom Project - an effort to incorporate the latest in augmented and virtual reality headsets into a variety of classrooms.
“The first subject area we are exploring is anatomy, and using devices such as the Microsoft Hololens and HTC Vive to provide detailed 3D bodies to students who would have to rely on plastic models or flat 2D images in the past,” Dr. Yucel explains. “We plan to study the technologies’ effectiveness and make more general purpose educational tools for this hardware. I hope the “ARC” will allow students to interact with the computing interfaces of the future and give them the opportunity to innovate in a new design space.”
IITG is a competitive grants program open to faculty and support staff across the SUNY system and all disciplines. IITG encourages development of innovations that meet SUNY’s transformative vision. Grant recipients openly share their project outcomes, enabling SUNY colleagues to replicate and build upon an innovation. Funding from this award will go toward more headsets and development costs of the software.
The Interactive Media and Game Design (IMGD) program continues to build constant momentum since it was approved in Summer 2016 by the New York State Education Department and the State University of New York. The Bachelor of Science degree program welcomes its first full freshman class this Fall 2017 semester, with 44 freshmen and 9 transfer students enrolled.
The addition of the IMGD program to SUNY Poly curriculum came in response to the continued growth of the gaming and interactive media industry and addresses the increasing demand for skilled workers who can maintain that growth.
As part of the program, students choose one of three concentrations: Interactive Design; Business, Marketing and Entrepreneurship; or Asset Production. Students learn how to successfully create, deliver, and market interactive content and gaming entertainment through hands-on research and development opportunities. Potential career options include lead designers, concept artists, scriptwriters, and project managers, among others.
“Our program is in a terrific position to expand the boundaries of interactive media & game design,” says Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences Dr. Andrew Russell. “The program is very well aligned with industry partners, and we also have applied learning initiatives with local K-12 schools as well as partners in health care and other fields. With new facilities under construction, and such strong interest from students, industry, and community partners, we feel like we're taking the first steps into an exciting and dynamic new field.”
It was through the IMGD program and Dr. Yucel that Bala came to campus to welcome all new students—not just to the start of their academic life, but to all the adventures and success that await them.
“It’s so interesting to learn how to make things, and the ways of making things have changed so much and in so many interesting ways today,” Bala told the Convocation crowd. “I can’t imagine the future you guys have waiting for you.”