Hidden in a quiet corner of Washington lies DigiPen Institute of Technology, a little known college that was the first in the world to offer a degree aimed at the video game industry. As a front runner in entertainment media education, DigiPen has developed rigorous programs that are equipping future industry leaders to push the boundaries in video game and other entertainment fields.
Since it’s located in Redmond, Washington, the Institute is in the heart of the video game community. There are over 70 game companies, ranging from those in their infancy to big games like Microsoft, Nintendo and VALVE, making it one of the largest industry communities in the nation. With DigiPen’s main campus in the same building as Nintendo of America’s Software Technology Corporation, it’s the premier college for anyone looking to get into the industry.
DigiPen’s history begins in Vancouver, British Columbia. In 1988, Claude Comair founded DigiPen as a computer simulation and animation company. By 1990, demand for a training program influenced the decision to implement a 3D training program at DigiPen and to approach Nintendo’s American Headquarters. Working together, Nintendo and DigiPen developed a two-year program for 2D and 3D video game programming in 1994.
With consoles quickly becoming more and more complex, DigiPen began the arduous process of developing a Bachelor level curriculum. In 1996, they were granted permission to award a bachelor’s degree in Real-Time Interactive Simulation, the world’s first bachelor degree dedicated to video game development. A mere two years later, DigiPen Institute of Technology opened its doors 17 miles outside of Seattle, WA and beautiful Redmond, Washington became the location of a new main campus.
Over the next decade DigiPen added 5 new programs and a second campus for the Art programs. Last year the first international campus was opened in Singapore. DigiPen has also developed summer workshops and academies for aspiring young geeks. DigiPen has also grown significantly in the area of enrollment. The first graduating class in 2000 was 6 students; currently more than 900 students attend DigiPen.
Degrees and Programs
The ultimate form of geek-dom is to dedicate your life to your area of “geek-xpertise.” For many people, that means pursuing a career in video games. DigiPen offers these geeks the following degrees geared toward the entertainment industry:
- Bachelor of Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation (RTIS)
Basically, this degree is for those who want to make video games. The degree focuses on the skills and technological mastery necessary to develop games such as programming, networking, game engines, and physics engines. DigiPen is unique when it comes to the RTIS graphics requirements, since students must show proficiency in more extensive aspects of graphics like creating a graphics pipeline. Each year, student development teams go through the entire development process from conception to an implemented game. This provides the opportunity to apply skills from the classroom to a realistic and relevant situation.
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering (CE)
These are the people who will be developing the next console or hardware for a new game. This degree gives students an in-depth understanding of both hardware and software. Each year, students work in teams to build a prototype of a product that may be on the market, such as game hardware, toys, and touch screens.
- Bachelor of Fine Arts in Production Animation (BFA)
People who seek this degree are generally those who want to create the graphics for a game. This degree focuses on a range of visual art forms. Students learn to use traditional mean to create art, as well as contemporary digital tools.
- Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts in Game Design (BSGD and BFGD)
These people are the future producers of video games. The degrees focus on going beyond mechanics or art. Each year students prototype and present their projects to teachers and personnel from local game companies.
- Masters of Science in Computer Science (MSCS)
This degree is intended for those who want to specialize in game development. The program focuses on more extensive knowledge in mechanics, 3D graphics, research, and game projects.
But it isn’t all fun and games, even if it is video game college. The curriculum DigiPen requires is difficult and complex, definitely not for the faint of heart. But this leads to something very valuable and unique: a degree from DigiPen is highly versatile. They are not only applicable to the video game industry, but also to other industries as well. For example, the RTIS degree could be used to program military training software and the BFA could be used to work with movie animation.
In addition to their college curriculum, DigiPen offers programs for a younger crowd, too. ProjectFUN Workshops are for 5-12 grade students who want to explore what a career in video games would be like. The workshops are 1-2 week sessions in programming, animation, and robotics every summer. These workshops are also available as live online courses taught by DigiPen faculty through ProjectFUN Online. For high school juniors and seniors who are serious about pursuing computer science as a possible career path there are ProjectFUN Technological Academies, which take a more advanced look at workshop topics.
Students at DigiPen have a long history of greatness. Since 2001, more than 20 students have had games recognized at the Independent Games Festival. In fact, it is the only college whose students have had games place in the professional category at IGF. Remember Portal? The game named Game of the Year for 2007 at the Game Developers Conference in 20008? Yeah, that was a DigiPen student project. When the team won the IGF Student Showcase in 2006 they were approached by VALVE to make their game into a full blown, published game. This year a student game from DigiPen, TAG: The Power of Paint, was in the PAX 10 and won Best Student Game at IGF 2009. DigiPen alumni have worked on some pretty high-profile games, as well, including GuildWars, Halo 2, Forza Motorsport, F.E.A.R., Half-Life 2, Metroid Prime: Hunters, and World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade.
When you consider the growing market for video games, it’s important to have institutions like DigiPen ensuring a bright future. Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at the people who want to be that future: the “Geek-xperts.” You don’t want to miss Elder-Geek.com’s series of interviews with students who are pursuing careers in video games. You’ll get an inside view of what a day in the life of a professional gamer looks like in exclusive interviews that you won’t see any where else.
If you want to know more about DigiPen, you can visit their website at www.digipen.edu.