UCF video game program gets top marks

What do fire-breathing robot dinosaurs, alien spaceships, and wise-cracking demons all have in common? They're all the work of grad students at the University of Central Florida's Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy.

“A bunch of people from my class wanted to go, and I wanted to further my skills, especially in gaming. Learning how animation is applied in gaming. So that's what brought me here,” said Mary Sumner, who’s studying animation.

She's one of 68 students in her class this year, a program the Princeton Review recently ranked fifth in North America. Ben Noel is the executive director. “It's about team building and communication, and taking high-wage-earning-potential people in production, programming, and art, and putting them in an environment that challenges them at a rapid pace so they're ready for the gaming industry in 12 to 16 months,” Noel said.

Instead of a traditional Master's Thesis, each student becomes part of a team that creates a "capstone project," a finished video game that they build from scratch. The work pays off.

One of the walls has the logos of some of the 230 companies who have hired their graduates. They also have another special wall, the school's wall of fame, featuring the console-based video games has one or more alumni whose names are in the credits.

“I'd say if you want to be in the game industry, and you're in the Southeast or Florida specifically, there's no better place to come learn,” Noel said.

Mary Sumner says the program's put her on the road to success. “It's just really cool to see how everyone improves and can bring that into the project.”