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case western reserve university



"Virtual Worlds" laboratory at Case School of Engineering opens this fall, but it won't be just for engineers

Marc Buchner
Marc Buchner

It's been talked about on National Public Radio, written about in The Wall Street Journal and now it's about to become a reality. The Virtual Worlds Gaming and Simulation Laboratory at Case Western Reserve University is about to open for business in Fall 2005—with courses, research and experiential learning opportunities that will bring together an interdisciplinary group of advanced undergraduate students in the fields of electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), art, music and English.

The new lab will form the basis for experiential work in existing game related courses such as artificial intelligence, graphics and simulation, and for the development of new gaming/simulation courses in the department. Significant cross-disciplinary immersive learning opportunities are also available with the Cleveland Institute of Art, the Case Music department, and the Case School of Medicine. The lab will be the classroom for students taking EECS 396L, "Special Topics: Advanced Game Development Project" and similar courses.

Students from all disciplines who take this game development project course will focus on the design and development of a complete, fully-functioning computer game—as a team, says Marc Buchner, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of the Virtual Worlds lab.

"The students will be designing a game from initial idea through to the wrapped box," Buchner said. "They will experience the entire game development cycle as they execute their projects. They'll be responsible for creating a game idea, writing a story, developing the artwork, designing characters, implementing music and sound effects, programming and testing the game, and documenting the entire project."

What used to be primarily the exclusive domain of universities and high-tech businesses in California and other West Coast areas, faculty and students at the Case School of Engineering are aiming to turn Northeast Ohio into a hub for video game publishing by training students in the latest game technology at the Virtual Worlds lab. The hope is to possibly attract game publishers to the region so they can tap into the students' expertise, as well as encouraging the students to become entrepreneurs and launch their own companies, Buchner said.

The lab, located on the fourth floor of the Olin Building on the Case Quad, will feature a PC room, a console room, an immersion room, an audio room, a medical simulation room and a virtual reality room containing:

  • 22 High-performance gaming quality PCs
  • Virtual reality components, e.g., HMDs, data gloves, trackers, and haptic interfaces
  • Game consoles, including PS2, Xbox, Gamecube, Nintendo DS, PS
  • Large screen 2-D and 3-D projection displays
  • Audio and music production equipment

In March, Case's new program was featured in an article in The Wall Street Journal on how courses and labs in video game development are sprouting up at several universities throughout the country, not only for the purpose of educating students and answering the demand for new, more educated workers in the billion-dollar video game development industry, but also as economic development strategies. Electrical engineering and computer science student Christian Miller, 20, was sent to the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco to make industry connections for the university.

"I want to give people a better idea of what we're doing [at Case]," Miller told the Journal. "Cleveland is pretty much nowhere on the game-development map, so it's an important step."

While it may sound funny to some that these students will be spending a lot of their time in and outside of class playing video games, Buchner emphasizes that students won't learn unless they're actually experiencing actual game play.

"We want students getting their hands dirty, working on specific projects and learning by doing," he said.

EECS won a $375,000 Provost Opportunity Grant to start the lab.


About Case Western Reserve University

Case is among the nation's leading research institutions. Founded in 1826 and shaped by the unique merger of the Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University, Case is distinguished by its strengths in education, research, service, and experiential learning. Located in Cleveland, Case offers nationally recognized programs in the Arts and Sciences, Dental Medicine, Engineering, Law, Management, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Work.