Gaming students take interdisciplinary approach to summer TURC projects

Students Courtney Spivey and Cheyanne Wheat, enrolled in one of the College of Engineering and Natural Science’s fastest growing majors, are spending their summer diving into computer simulation and gaming development – with a humanities twist.

A career of creativity

Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) student Courtney Spivey wants to create video games. As an artist, drawing and being creative is all she’s ever wanted to do.

“I’ve always loved to imagine. My interests have expanded and changed form vastly over the years, but at the end of the day I want to be involved in a career where I can be creative and share my creativity with as many people as possible,” she said.

computer simulationSpivey is laying the groundwork for her future by triple majoring in applied mathematics, computer simulation and gaming and art (emphasis on graphic design) in the Kendall College of Arts and Sciences. The University of Tulsa’s computer simulation and gaming degree begins with core computer science classes in the fundamentals of programming and understanding computer systems, and then gives students the freedom to choose a specialization. As an example, the areas of design and development focus more on the artistic aspects of creating, screenwriting and drawing and also offer electives such as video editing and 3D modeling.

Courtney says she likes learning about code and the development side of the computer simulation and gaming program. In January, she began her TURC research exploring deep learning, artificial neuro networks (ANNs) and the capabilities and current limitations of artificial intelligence (AI). In addition to machine learning and AI, Spivey’s work has grown to include the study of human behavior in psychology in an attempt to find connections between the similarities of the creators and their methods for approaching deep learning.

“The human side is more flexible. When you look at why humans prefer one thing over another, you have to consider the validity of the research,” she said.

Gaming goals and future endeavors

In June, Spivey attended the International Computational Creativity Conference (ICCC) in Charlotte, North Carolina, to learn about mixing AI and machine learning with creative channels such as music and drawing. Her TURC adviser, TU School of Art, Design and Art History Director Teresa Valero, encouraged her to pursue the opportunity. Spivey will complete the community engagement portion of her TURC project later this summer when she visits Tulsa Public School sites to teach students about ANNs.

“The cool thing about TURC is that because I’m interested in media and art and how we perceive AI from a normal point of view, I can combine that with computer science analytics,” she said. “I find this research fascinating.”

computer simulationSpivey, who is from Jenks, Oklahoma, begins her senior year at TU this fall. After graduation, she hopes to work in game development as a creative manager for new projects.

In the meantime, Spivey is open to detours along her career path that pique her interest and challenge her skillset. Ironically, she is “not that much of a gamer” but credits video games like Detroit: Become Human and Legend of Zelda for leading her to this summer’s TURC project.

Gilcrease connections assist with museum technology

computer simulationFellow computer simulation and gaming major Cheyanne Wheat sits at a computer across TU’s campus in Rayzor Hall working on a similar project that also involves collaboration with TU arts and sciences programming. A junior originally from the Tulsa area, she has teamed up with TU anthropology Professor Bob Pickering to create a simulated time progression of an Indian burial mound’s construction. The interactive video game will benefit curators and preservationists at cultural institutions, such as Gilcrease Museum, where anthropologists are eager to incorporate more technology into interactive learning.

“I want to know how we can use games or game-like activities based on a museum collection to engage a younger audience,” Pickering explained. “Gilcrease has 10,000 years of human history objects from the Americas, but if you’re a 9-year-old, you don’t know these objects, you don’t have any connection to them and you don’t know why they’re important.”

According to Pickering, the museum video game concept is an experiment on every level, but collaboration with computer simulation and gaming students on a “museum forward” idea is important for the next generation of museum professionals. “This partnership is a way to start the process — to figure out what kind of technology we need and how much time it will require,” he said.

computer simulationPickering and JC Diaz, a professor in the TU Tandy School of Computer Science, have worked together on a few other museum technology projects in the past that have resulted in published papers presented at scholarly events such as the Electronic Visualization in the Arts Conference in London. The unexpected collaboration between TU’s anthropology and computer simulation and gaming programs is, Pickering noted, one of the first of its kind and sparks many interdisciplinary possibilities for curious students.

The TURC partnership weaves Pickering’s experience as an archaeologist, Gilcrease artifacts recovered from burial mounds of the Hopewell Tribe in Illinois and Wheat’s expertise as a computer simulation and gaming student. “He’s giving me the historical, accurate information, and as a developer, I’m building all of it into a museum context,” she said.

computer simulation
Cheyanne Wheat’s community service component of TURC involves volunteering for Animal Aid in Tulsa.

Wheat uses an Intel RealSense 3D camera to photograph models of Hopewell Tribe artifacts placed on a turntable. The hundreds of images are then plugged into a computer program called Unreal to develop a game that is fun and informative. Players will explore a landscape full of nature, animals and artifacts from the Hopewell Tribe 250 BCE to 250 CE while learning about history and civilization. The objective is to tell the story behind historical objects and discuss how museum-goers of all ages can learn from a video game feature.

“I’m hoping to complete development by the end of the summer and start testing it with real individuals to see how it captures people’s interest — if they like it and think it belongs in a museum,” Wheat said. “I’m focused on integrating more technology into museum culture. There’s so much technology the anthropology field hasn’t tackled yet.”