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April 27, 2009
By John Trent
There is a sense of momentum on the University of Nevada, Reno campus right now, one that is emanating strongly from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering in ways that could profoundly affect the region for decades to come.
Yaakov Varol, chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, has seen the talent in his department build in the areas of Serious Games and Artificial Intelligence. The day is not far removed when northern Nevada could become one of the major hubs for emerging technologies in these areas and others like them, which impact not only games players throughout the world, but other critical areas such as enhancement of the state’s gaming industry, and national security.
“I really do think Reno, and the University, can become a major player in the industry,” Varol said on Friday, April 17 following the morning session of the IGT-UNR Engineering Symposium: Emerging Technologies in Games and Gaming, which took place at the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center. “If the pieces come together as I think they could, if the stars become aligned properly, Reno could become a major game developing venue.”
Earlier, in one of the presentations, James Kosta, the CEO and founder of 3G Studios, a Reno-based independent game development studio, did nothing to refute Varol’s notion. In fact, Kosta encouraged the gathering of industry representatives, students and faculty to “get people involved with your games … and see if they enjoy them.”
“I’m going to implore you to try and find games that already exist in your life … invent games that people want to play, play them constantly, and do the proper data collection and reporting,” Kosta said.
Kosta was one of several presenters that included Donna Djordjevich, a senior member of the technical staff under the Homeland Security and Defense Systems Center at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M.; Michael Mateas, a computer science faculty member at UC Santa Cruz who helped launch the game design program at that institution; and Larry Dailey, professor of journalism in the Reynolds School of Journalism, Jim Hunt of Bally Technologies, Kosta, Tim Page of 5000ft, a Reno-based independent video game software developer and James Vasquez of IGT, who all joined together for a panel discussion on “The Convergence of Casino Gaming and Computer Games: Potentials and Barriers.”
Varol said he hoped the students, in particular, would take away from the day a heightened sense of motivation and excitement for the work they are doing at the University.
“Jim Kosta talked a lot about payoff … and one of the payoffs from work like this is professional satisfaction,” Varol said. “And professional satisfaction is not something that you get through extra money or another corner office. Really, what is interesting about emerging games right now is the fact that people involved with it are doing good work, work that others haven’t done before. They are doing something that is successful in all aspects from all angles. There is an excitement to this field, a sense that it is constantly changing and that in order to be successful, you have to put your heart and soul into it.”
The event was made possible from an endowment created by the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. This came about 15 years ago, following a $1 million gift from gaming technology powerhouse IGT of Reno, a part of which was set aside as an endowment.
Varol said IGT is one of perhaps “half a dozen” of computer and gaming technology companies in northern Nevada – 3G Studios and 5,000ft among them – that have either catered directly to the gaming industry or have served as subcontractors.
Having already produced a number of graduates who have gone on to careers with major companies such as Sony or Microsoft, the College of Engineering is not sitting still as the games field continues to innovate and change.