Video game research turns into game-making startup

From left to right: Ben Chung, Josh Eiten, and Hank Zwally stand in front of the map of Annora, the fictional setting for their video game. (credit: Jennifer Golda/Staffwriter) From left to right: Ben Chung, Josh Eiten, and Hank Zwally stand in front of the map of Annora, the fictional setting for their video game. (credit: Jennifer Golda/Staffwriter)

At last year’s Meeting of the Minds undergraduate research symposium, skeletons of characters gracefully walked around the screen of first-year computer science major Hank Zwally’s laptop in a high-quality, 3-D environment. His independent study research, which aimed to create a video game, would eventually lead to the start of his own company.

Fast-forward through finals and summer vacation, and Zwally and his team are applying their research on a fully developed version of the technology presented last spring. Since Meeting of the Minds, their company — Mojo Game Studios, LCC — has begun its work on its premiere product, a game scheduled for release in early 2014. In the fictional land of Annora, players will be able to choose a character from five unique character classes, each with six distinct weapons. The decision on the game’s official title is still pending.

Zwally, now a sophomore, is president and executive producer of Mojo Game Studios. He described the game as a “first-person adventure fantasy RPG with goals to combine immersive, emotionally tantalizing, and provoking scenes and environments with exceptional and revolutionary first-person combat.” Mojo Game Studios’ goal is to produce a game as skill-based and fluid as Halo while as aesthetically pleasing as Crysis 2, all applied to a medieval melee combat environment.

The team aims to redefine the experience of playing a traditional character class. For instance, the “Ranger” class fights as an archetypal marksman at long ranges, and as the distance between the character and its target decreases, the motions and attacks increasingly transition into that of a unique marksman/ninja class.

The company, consisting primarily of full-time students, believes it is on track to completing its goal of making a superior first-person role-playing game. They are employing CryENGINE®3, considered by game reviewer IGN to be among the best game engines on the market, and are coding primarily in C++ and C#. Their team of 10 students from last semester has expanded to 30 globally distributed members from Carnegie Mellon and abroad.

Zwally’s company is made up solely of volunteers. One of the key factors to the volunteer-based enterprise’s success is its contributors’ enthusiasm for the project and their self-driven natures.

“We are using one of the best game engines in the industry, and this foundation will help our own work be even better,” said Ben Chung, Mojo Game Studios’ technical director and a sophomore computer science major. “I am excited about all of the potential, and hope that our technical work will allow our game to really shine.”

Josh Eiten, a sophomore Bachelors of Humanities and Arts student, feels the same way. Eiten — who is the company’s creative director and lead concept artist — and Chung are two of the core members alongside Zwally.

“I’m both living my dream and tackling exceptional problems that arise in globally distributed software development,” Zwally said regarding starting up and running such a project. “I think the biggest problem we have so far is working with a team that has varying levels of commitment and involvement and [that] these people are also globally distributed.”