UW Bothell releases free Halloween-themed computer game

Friday, October 31, 2014

A new Halloween-themed computer game from the University of Washington Bothell uses ghosts and goblins to hit the mark in family fun and higher education, while serving as a model of team diversity.

Ghostlight is a new style game that harkens back to the time when games were about puzzle solving,” says UW Bothell’s Digital Future Lab executive director Jason Pace. In fact, puzzle solving and education are at the core of Ghostlight.

Computer and software systems (CSS) professor Kelvin Sung initially received Microsoft Research funding, “This began as an investigation to figure out how to use the building of video games to attract, engage, and retain students in introductory programming courses.” 

While Sung’s team quickly developed simple game-themed teaching materials, it became obvious that higher quality games were needed to significantly improve results.“We needed talents from commercial, aesthetic, and creative disciplines to complement our mostly academic, technical, and computer science-based research group,” says Sung.

Sung began piecing together the puzzle, which included a collaboration with Pace’s team. “Jason’s team and additional funding from the National Science Foundation arrived at precisely the perfect moment.” Sung added, “Soon after we started collaborating, Ghostlight was born”.

Pace’s background in human-computer interaction and game design at Microsoft, including a number of creative leadership roles in 343 Industries (the Microsoft studio currently responsible for the Halo franchise on Xbox) and MSN Games, provided him with the opportunity to explore in depth how aesthetic design can be used to elevate interactive digital experiences and capture the imagination of users.

Both Pace and Sung captured the imaginations of everyone involved in the game development process. Undergraduate students comprised the majority of the project’s contributors, including artists, musicians, sound designers, puzzle makers and programmers. Half of the contributors were female.

After spending several months becoming fluent in common casual game types, the team began innovating in ways that were at once interesting, yet well within their ability to deliver.

While the game began with a goal of providing entertainment and educational value, Pace brought other equally important goals and all of the pieces are there. Ghostlight meets high quality industry standards, it adheres to the Digital Future Lab’s moratorium on game aggression and violence, the development involved a collaborative effort that reflected the UW Bothell experience, captured students’ imagination and involved high level critical thinking – a skill students can take into the classroom and their professions.

Both Sung and Pace agree that Ghostlight and other games being developed through this collaboration are densely packed opportunities for both faculty and students to explore art, design, and technology. They are hopeful that can secure a new round of funding that will allow the team to develop Ghostlight for mobile as well as other games.

“We believe our unique production environment – a model that includes the same kind of multi-disciplinary teams and diverse skillsets found in many technology companies -- has allowed us to significantly raise the bar for what undergraduate teams have traditionally been able to deliver,” says Pace.

Learn more:
  • Download Ghostlight and view the trailer here
  • Learn about Digital Future Lab here 
  • Learn about UW Bothell’s Game-Themed Research Group here 

About UW Bothell: With more than 40 undergraduate and graduate degrees, options, certificates and concentrations, UW Bothell emphasizes close student-faculty interaction and critical thinking. UW Bothell builds regional partnerships, inspires change, creates knowledge, shares discoveries and prepares students for leadership in the state of Washington and beyond. More information here 


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