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UT Austin Gaming Academy Students Release First Game

The Denius-Sams Gaming Academy releases “The Calm Before” video game, the culmination of a year’s work from the inaugural class in the Moody College of Communication’s new video game leadership program.



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AUSTIN, Texas — The inaugural class at The University of Texas at Austin’s Denius-Sams Gaming Academy will release its first video game, “The Calm Before,” available for free download May 1.

“The Calm Before” is a first-person, action adventure game featuring platform jumping, puzzle-solving, light combat and multiple paths to victory in which players attempt to turn back a looming storm by battling beasts, solving ancient puzzles and calling upon timeless rituals. The game was partially inspired by “The Legends of Zelda” and “Deus Ex.”

The Denius-Sams Gaming Academy in the Moody College of Communication is an intensive, nine-month game development program focusing on leadership and production. Students in the academy learn the challenges that face video game studios by working to create their own game, with each student serving as creative director, producer or discipline lead during the production process.

“Nine months ago, 20 strangers — talented programmers, artists and designers — got together to participate in the grand experiment that is the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy,” said industry veteran Warren Spector, director of the academy. “They spent nine months learning about leadership and management in the classroom and putting these lessons to use in a professional game development environment. The result is ‘The Calm Before,’ a game made and led by those 20 people, no longer strangers but a team of future leaders of the game business.”

Spector (M.A., Radio-Television-Film ’80) is a 30-year veteran of the video game industry who has worked on more than 20 production teams as a designer, director and producer. He is best known for his work on the game series for “Ultima,” “System Shock,” “Deus Ex” and “Disney Epic Mickey.”

The Denius-Sams Gaming Academy also recruited as instructors gaming veterans Joshua Howard, an industry speaker, guest lecturer and consultant; and David (D.S.) Cohen, who has written over 400 published articles on gaming history and industry.

“Thanks to this academy and the immense wisdom passed down to us from Warren, Joshua and David, we have been taught to think like executives and consider the big picture within a development cycle, regardless of the position we currently hold,” said Graciela Ruiz, one of the inaugural students. “Leadership is not a title — everyone can lead from any position — and that’s what a production team strives to achieve.”

The academy will host a release party on campus for “The Calm Before” on Friday, May 1, from 5 to 8:30 p.m. so people can play the game and meet the creators.  

The Denius-Sams Gaming Academy is currently accepting applications for the 2015-16 academic year. Participating students receive a tuition waiver and a $10,000 stipend to assist with fees and housing expenses.

The Denius-Sams advisory council includes numerous industry notables such as Stephanie Barish, founder of IndieCade; Starr Long, executive producer at Portalarium; Erik Bethke, CEO of Bee Cave Games; Greg LoPiccolo, CCO of Harmonix Music Systems; David Bettner, founder of Curious Science and co-creator of “Words With Friends”; and others.

The Denius-Sams Gaming Academy was made possible by contributions from the Cain Foundation and Paul and Susan Sams.