SNHU Alums, Students Form Indie Game Studio, Launch New Game
When it comes to video game development, passion is often the driving force behind some of the most successful and innovative games. For a group of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) students and alums, this ardor for gaming enticed them to create their own video game.
Drawing on their diverse backgrounds in game design, programming and art, the peers pooled their talents and resources to build an indie game studio from the ground up — Belfrost Studios was born.
Like any fledgling project, there were challenges to overcome, including the Covid-19 pandemic. The team persevered with hard work and a strong resolve which resulted in the development of, “Maxix Robotics,” a first-person horror strategy game.
How it All Began
Troy Campbell III ’21, founder and creative director at Belfrost Studios, came to SNHU in 2019 for his graphic design degree. He soon was immersed in the world of 2D design, captivated by the work. He crossed paths with Joseph Whitworth, an adjunct instructor of game art and development at SNHU, who would be instrumental in shaping Campbell’s future.
Whitworth made video tutorials and live streams that sparked Campbell's enthusiasm and kept him focused on learning. “To date, (he) has been the greatest professor I ever had,” said Campbell. “He made me excited about game design (and) he helped me learn."
Campbell couldn’t wait to initiate 3D asset design in addition to the 2D graphic arts he was learning in his program. In 2020, he was prepared to begin development on a game and was going to embark on it alone.
“But I saw that there were passionate peers (that were a) part of Professor Whitworth's courses that wanted to develop games,” Campbell said. “Programmers, animators, level designers and designers like myself.”
He saw their enthusiasm and invited them to join him on his journey.
Connecting Over Video Game Development
Belfrost Studios has a diverse group of game developers and designers. The team has come together at various points of their academic and professional careers. Some members have industry experience, and many have earned online college degrees, but all of them share the love of developing games.
Michael Peck ‘19 has been a lead programmer at Belfrost Studios, assisting with a variety of projects. He first met the team in a game art and development community on Discord — a place where students, alums and instructors can discuss courses, receive feedback and seek assistance on passion projects.
For Peck, earning his bachelor’s in game programming and development from SNHU was the first step in building his professional resume. “Most game developers want to work with a big-name studio (or AAA studio),” he said. “But in order to appeal to these studios, you need to have a portfolio of example works and projects that meet the criteria for the bigger studios.”
Ryan Weathers is earning two bachelor's degrees at SNHU: game art and development as well as graphic design and media arts. While Weathers lives in California, he noticed a job post on Discord, seeking a 3D modeler for Maxix Robotics. This provided him an opportunity to develop experience in the gaming industry before finishing his degrees.
Weathers found the team to be warm and inviting. “With a small team like ours, there is a strong sense of community with open communication,” he said. “An independent game studio like Belfrost Studios affords the team flexibility, creative freedom and a sense of ownership in your work.”
Tim Barrett ’22 was finishing his bachelor’s in game programming and development when he first connected with the Belfrost team. He had known for a long time that he wanted to create his own games.
“I grew up playing ‘The Legend of Zelda’ and ‘Final Fantasy’ with my grandmother,” he said. “As I got older, I realized that I could turn playing video games into a career and create my own games to bring the same experiences that I cherished with my grandmother to other people.”
Barret was nearing completion of his degree when he too came across a job post on Discord, similar to Weathers. He reached out and interviewed and, within a few days, was a member of the team.
With team members located across the country, from California to Massachusetts, they continue to utilize Discord for business operations.
“Discord has helped bridge the communication gap inherent to remote work,” said Weathers. “We can send files, video chat, screen share, etc., creating engagement close to being in person.”
Developing Games as a Team
As the team continued to come together, it became time to actually develop a game.
“We originally wanted to do a fantasy game of a large scope,” said Campbell. But, in 2020, Covid hit the team hard. The studio had nearly half of its people step away from the project, some due to the loss of family or friends.
“I was going to call it quits when the team rallied behind me and said, ‘We should keep going,’ so we decided to do a horror game,” Campbell said.
While the team started setting up a structure for the new game, they also began doing “game jams,” which are short development challenges.
"The host of the game jam will release a theme, then students will assemble into teams and develop a game based on the theme," said Whitworth.
Game jams can typically last a week and are held over Discord. Even though a week is not much time to create a game, Whitworth said they can help students develop skills beyond game development, such as:
- Project management
- Source control
Campbell, along with other team members, began to experiment during these game jams using Unreal Engine 5, a tool used in game development to create high-end graphics and visual designs. During one of these sessions, he developed the foundation models for Maxix Robotics.
Taking the initial game models developed during a game jam, Cambell spent some time brainstorming ideas and building up the engine with more Maxix Robotics-related materials with another team member. In mid-2022, they introduced the idea to the rest of team, who began working on the project for months before making an official announcement at the end of 2022.
What is Maxix Robotics?
Maxix Robotics is a first-person horror strategy game that “takes place at night in an old robotics factory," said Campbell. The game is about a scientist who was injured during World War II and wanted to create beings devoid of the evil he witnessed during the war. So, the scientist focused on creating these things called “BOTTs.”
While in the factory, Campbell said you use a piece of equipment called a "DOTT" that allows you to explore the facility by operating doors, puzzles and elevators to uncover the mysteries within Maxix Robotics.
The game’s anticipated release is spring 2023. “We are finalizing our product, and while we may encounter bugs, we are excited to patch it all up soon and debut it,” said Campbell.
A Supportive Network for Aspiring Game Developers
Peck was in the game industry before attending SNHU but said his education taught him about how to do appropriate research. He credits Whitworth as being one of his most significant resources as a student.
“He encouraged new students as well as alums to engage in small teams during (game jams),” said Peck. That allowed students like himself to learn hands-on from other experienced community members.
Barret feels that his SNHU education helped prepare him for work in the industry with the skills he learned in Unreal Engine. Those skills gave him a solid foundation for creating level designs.
“Without SNHU, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet the Belfrost Studios team,” said Barret. He also said Whitworth showed him what it meant to be a great game developer.
“We received so much support from friends, family and those at SNHU,” said Campbell. “Honestly, that support has carried us into making our product.”
It has been a long journey for many at Belfrost Studios, with hundreds of 3D models and designs created over the past year while the team juggled jobs, school and their families.
“We wouldn’t be here without SNHU, and we are grateful for the skills they gave us to become skilled in our respective fields,” said Campbell. “Thank you, SNHU.”
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Nicholas Patterson '22 is a writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
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