In Greek mythology, an enraged Hades punished Sisyphus, the former king of Ephyra, for twice cheating death by forcing him to endlessly roll an immense boulder up a hill – only to have it roll back down every time it neared the top.
In 2021, Sisyphus is also dealing with the inconvenience of a rather large rock – but his modern-day struggle is captured in a constantly moving array of pixels, and is for amusement, not revenge.
“Sisyphus” is one of several computer games designed by students in the Game Design Initiative at Cornell (GDIAC) program, whose work will be available for the public to try and critique at the annual Game Design Showcase, to be held virtually from 4-7 p.m. May 25. The showcase can be accessed here.
For the second year, the event will be streamed on the communication platform Discord, which will allow participants to stream their own games, watch others stream games and interact with the game developers. Pre-pandemic, the event was held in the ACCEL Labs in Carpenter Hall and would generally draw 500 to 600 people.
“The nice thing about Discord is it allows us to recapture the old spirit, where you would go from room to room, and there would be a different game and you could experience them,” said GDIAC director Walker White, M.S. ’98, Ph.D. ’00, senior lecturer in the Department of Computer Science in the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.
“We were worried last year that no one would show up,” he said, “but it turns out the numbers were as big as they ever were.”
Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, White said the approximately 155 students in his two classes – CIS 3152 Intro to Game Development, and CIS 4152 Advanced Game Development – have come up with some gems.
“Sisyphus is exactly what it sounds like,” White said. “In this game, Sisyphus is chained to a boulder and he’s trying to move about the map by either pushing or throwing the boulder. … It’s got very high production quality; it looks festival-ready.”
Another top game, White said, is Graveyard Shift, an action game with a stealth bent. A janitor in a scientific lab is trying to evade mutants and zombies, but there’s a twist: The attackers cannot see.
“All they can do is hear you,” White said. “So when you walk along, you create sound waves. If you pick up keys, that causes your sound waves to jingle a little bit more. You’re throwing bricks to break glass in another location to send the mutants in a different direction, so you can make it to an exit.”
Other games to be unveiled at the showcase include:
- Dire Deal, a monster-filled card strategy game;
- Panic Painter, in which the player must paint quickly for one client before other clientele get impatient; and
- Lumia, in which the player attempts to move through the game using Angry Birds-like sling-shotting action.
White is excited for the public to get a look at his students’ creations. “These games are all professional-looking,” he said.
A total of 21 games – including 12 desktop and nine mobile – will be available for the public to try out.