Honors College Senior Uvick Designs Mobile Game for Department of Energy

Posted on 9/19/2012 9:21:57 AM

The concerns Cook Honors College students face when deciding on an internship are many—will the experience be meaningful? Can I get credit for this? How far away should I go?

For Katharine Uvick, of Camp Hill, the answer to her questions came in the form of a virtual internship with the U.S. Department of Energy. Working with a team of about 20 other students across the country, Uvick virtually collaborated on a mobile game for iPhones and Android smartphones.

“I’m used to working with people in person, so it was an adjustment,” Uvick said. “But [web conferencing] lets you have access to people with different talents in different parts of the world. This experience showed me challenges actual companies might face.”

The game (which has yet to be named) targets players interested or working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. Uvick has experience programming PC games as a Computer Science major and Communications Media minor, but she was new to the world of mobile games.

To play the game, users become secret agents and link buildings and energy resources on a map. It provides a challenging puzzle that roughly simulates the energy challenges the Department of Energy faces when conducting research and creating policy, Uvick said.

“The Department of Energy is involved in research and policy, so we wanted to provide a challenging game to promote that,” Uvick said. “The game simulates what they have to think about.”

Uvick’s internship required about 20 hours of work per week, which she divided among three groups: design, artwork, and programming.

As a member of the design team, she created the secret agent aspect of the game’s narrative, which will be integral in the final version of the game.

She was also involved with the creation of artwork for the game.

“It was a challenge because I was making a 3D model of a gas station,” Uvick said. “The game has a clean aesthetic, but I always picture those old-fashioned gas stations, which wouldn’t work. So I had to figure out how to make a gas station that’s modern-looking, but you still know what it is.”

Prior to her internship, Uvick had “minimal experience” with the language used to program mobile applications, JavaScript. She had to learn a lot as she helped to code the game from scratch.

“I had used JavaScript in my Web Architecture class prior to my internship, but not to the extent used in the game,” she said. “I was looking things up and learning it while coding the game.”

Production is still underway, but the team intends to release a public test version of the game in October.

Though she learned on-the-go during this internship, gaming and programming are nothing new to Uvick. Her mother, Della Hoke-Uvick, has a degree in animation, and her twin sister, Sarah, is a Communications major at IUP. Her father, Don Uvick, is an operations research analyst for the Navy, a job which mystified her until she learned the basics of computer programming in school.

“Even when we did Take Your Daughter to Work Day, I still had no idea what he did.”

Uvick dreamt of being a game developer since childhood, but she “gave up” on this in high school.

“If you tell your parents that you want to be a game designer, they might tell you to be a doctor or a lawyer instead,” Uvick said. “But they were supportive, and the Communications Media department really gave me hope.”

Uvick is excited to continue to build her knowledge of the gaming industry and production. She intends to apply for an internship at Lighthammer, a local independent gaming studio in Harrisburg close to her home in Camp Hill.

She also plans to attend the annual Game Developers Conference in California for the second time, and hopes that her internship experience will give her networking opportunities “and maybe even a job.”

By Emily Weber