Re-Development Agent 

A U of U grad student wants Salt Lake City to return to video-game prominence.

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Aaron Knoll would like to see Salt Lake City take a bit of a trip into yesteryear—not culturally or socially, but electronically. Well, at least in terms of video game development.

The University of Utah doctoral candidate student remembers a time a decade or so ago when the Salt Lake Valley was one of the top two or three regions in terms of video-game development. Games like Twisted Metal, Amped and—more recently—Rainbow Six and Van Helsing were all developed here. As for technology, Salt Lake was the birthplace of 3-D computer graphics. And there are still a few companies that are major players in the world of game development—Avalanche Software and Saffire, to name a couple.

But it’s nothing like the heyday—a time to which Knoll knows Salt Lake City can return.

For his part, he is the president of the University of Utah chapter of the Student International Game Developers Association (SIGDA). Through his work with the organization he received a scholarship to attend last week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. A previous attendee of the European GDC, Knoll knows the conference will feature a who’s who in game development, with presentations on the cutting edge of the business.

For some the conference is a place to network, show off their wares and hopefully, Knoll explains, get a contract with a major company. But his reasons for going are definitely nobler than self-preservation. Once he becomes Dr. Knoll, he wants to work in academia, teaching cutting-edge development techniques to a new generation of developers. He wants to help return Salt Lake City to the position it once had in the world of game development.

“I’ve worked locally for some small companies, but that’s not really where I see myself,” he explains. “I want to teach technologies that will take development to the next level. And I think that transition can happen right here in Salt Lake.”

There will be changes in hardware development, Knoll says, using multiple processors on the same motherboard. Until now, these have been issues that developers haven’t worried about. But with the increased desire to improve on existing next-generation consoles, changes will have to be made.

“How are we going to advance game play is the question,” Knoll says. “How are we going to push new programming technologies into great and interesting game play? The answer is a little vague right now and that’s why these conferences are so useful.”

But the usefulness for such an event doesn’t stop there. While Knoll wasn’t networking for a job, he was still working the room. Besides gathering information, he also wanted to work on securing speakers for lectures sponsored by SIGDA at the university.

Past lecturers have included Paul Steed, technical game Manager for Microsoft XBOX; and Russell Hunter, lead programmer for Microsoft Salt Lake City Games. On March 28 at 6:30 p.m. in room 105 at the university’s Engineering/Mines Classroom Building (80 S. Central Campus Drive, 1620 East), SIGDA will present Valve Software’s AI programmer Tom Leonard, one of the developers of Half-Life 2. Programs like this, Knoll says, will keep Salt Lake City in the mix as game development advances.

“I intend,” Knoll explains, “to use this conference to open my eyes to the future of game development and use that knowledge and the contacts I’ve made to help the community of developers we have here.”

In Brief


There’s a fine line between love and hate. And somewhere in the middle is Constantine by THQ. The video game based on a movie that was based on a pretty darn good comic book gives me a case of the blahs, while simultaneously keeping me interested enough to keep my thumbs on my controller. As you weave through the fairly easy levels you get a feeling that in an effort not to make a horrible game, designers settled into a bit of mediocrity. The look of the game is good using dark scenes and active backgrounds to make this third-person shooter visually appealing. The movements of John Constantine aren’t as smooth as you need in an action game; his actions seem labored at times as he spins or turns around to fight. Your demon adversaries come at you from all sides, but Constantine struggles at times to whip around to fight them. But the look and the feel of the game aren’t its main problems. Where the title flounders is in its inactive action sequences and its choppy storyline. If you saw the movie you’ll probably understand the story, but the game doesn’t provide a coherent, flowing storyline for those unfamiliar with the film. That overshadows the game’s positives to produce an astonishingly average disc. (THQ; PS2, XBOX; Rated M; $39.99)

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