Casey O’Brien is only months (and a capstone project) away from completing her Master of Fine Arts in Game and Interactive Media Design. A week after she graduates, O’Brien will start her dream job at her dream company, working on her favorite game.
“I grew up playing games, from elementary school into college,” said O’Brien. “My mom would always tell me: ‘If you don’t make money from this one day, I’m going to be very sad.’”
Mom O’Brien will get her wish, but not without a course correction. Casey earned her B.S. in Marine Sciences in 2020, and seemed to be ticketed for a non-game-related career path when she had a revelation.
“My senior year, I needed one more elective, and my friends recommended taking a game design class. I’m like, sure, why not?” said O’Brien. “I took it from Professor Lindsay Grace, who is now the head of my program. I had a great time.”
The Game and Interactive Media Design program is unique because it requires both creative chops and coding abilities.
Spring 2020 meant COVID, extended Spring Break and remote classes. O’Brien realized she loved game design more than any of her Marine Science classes. After graduating, she was accepted into the MFA program.
Like a Fish to Water
The Game and Interactive Media Design program is unique because it requires both creative chops and coding abilities. O’Brien started a little behind on the coding part—most of her Marine Science experience was statistical—but received a lot of help from Kim Grinfeder, Associate Professor and Department Chair of Interactive Media, Dr. Ching-Hua Chuan, and others.
“I tried to teach myself coding, but I was struggling,” said O’Brien. “I took a class called Creative Coding, which emphasized both the code and the logic behind it. Professor Chuan was absolutely amazing; she made sure I understood.” (pictured L to R: Lindsay Grace, Kim Grinfeder, Ching-Hua Chuan)
O’Brien was also inspired by one of Grinfeder’s classes, in which small groups were given a client and a project. O’Brien’s group worked with the Miami-Dade Fire Department, developing a game that would teach fire safety to middle schoolers—a tough audience.
“It was a hard class, but it was incredibly rewarding,” said O’Brien. “I’ll never forget the presentation day and actually handing the package over to the client. I thought, wow, we really accomplished something.”
The Perfect Internship
During summer 2022, O’Brien picked up a prized internship through NextGen Talent, working on the systems team at Apex Respawn*. This would have been a tremendous opportunity for anyone, but it had special resonance for O’Brien.
“I’ve played Apex Legends™ since the first day it was released,” she said. “I spent two weeks writing my cover letter because I wanted it to be so perfect.”
The transition was challenging. Legends uses its own proprietary language, but O’Brien’s familiarity with the game plus the coding logic she’d learned from Chuan helped her make the leap.
O’Brien also has her own work. She created a Mario-style game built around prisms (watch the VIDEO / PLAY the game) and an Alice in Wonderland-styled escape room (watch the VIDEO / PLAY the game). For her capstone project she is developing a fighting game but, as a challenge, she’s taking away the fighters’ abilities to move around.
“This is what my brain told me to do,” she says. “I’m taking out the core mechanic of fighting games, which is moving. So the entire game is going to be stationary fighter. I’ve enjoyed just goofing around with that.”
*Apex Legends™ is a free-to-play battle royale game where legendary challengers fight for glory, fame, and fortune on the fringes of the Frontier. The Frontier is a cluster of star systems with an unusually high number of habitable planets discovered in 2292 by the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC). The discovery sparked a “New Space Race” between the megacorporation and its various rival companies. (description from apexlegends.fandom.com)Tags: Apex Legends, Casey O’Brien, Ching-Hua Chuan, Creative Coding, Game and Interactive Media program, Kim Grinfeder, Lindsay Grace, NexGen Talent, Respawn Entertainment