SMU students win big in 2011 Indie Game Challenge

'Inertia' screencapEight graduate students from The Guildhall at SMU have been named as big winners of the second annual Indie Game Challenge (IGC). Their 2D arcade-style game, Inertia (pictured right), won the top prize in the Non-Professional category, as well as the Gamer’s Choice Award selected through online voting.

Founded by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, GameStop Corp. and The Guildhall at SMU, the IGC was created to foster innovation in gaming by independent developers. The top teams for 2011 were named on the closing night of the annual D.I.C.E.™ (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain) Summit at the Red Rock Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

The SMU squad, who call themselves “Team Hermes,” graduated in December 2010 from the Guildhall’s nationally recognized graduate-level video game development program. They are the first SMU students to make the finals in the international competition and won $130,000 in cash and prizes for their efforts.

A total of 90 individuals selected by the AIAS served as judges for the competition – all professional game designers with groundbreaking titles on their résumés.

John Bevis of the Guildhall at SMU
John Bevis
Waylon Fong of the Guildhall at SMU
Wayland Fong
Michelle Hayden of the Guildhall at SMU
Michelle Hayden
Evan Skarin of the Guildhall at SMU
Evan Skarin
William Swannack of the Guildhall at SMU
William Swannack
Brandon Stephens of the Guildhall at SMU
Brandon Stephens
Christopher McCrimmons of the Guildhall at SMU
Christopher McCrimmons
Erasmo Simo of the Guildhall at SMU
Erasmo Simo

The team members include:

  • Evan Skarin – Team Lead, Level Design, and Art
  • John Bevis – Level Design and Music
  • Wayland Fong – Level Design and Programming
  • Michelle Hayden – Art Lead
  • William Swannack – Programming Lead
  • Brandon Stephens – Executive Producer and Level Designer
  • Christopher McCrimmons – Producer and Level Designer
  • Erasmo Simo – Level Design and Programming

“We’re so excited for Team Hermes,” said Peter Raad, The Guildhall at SMU founder and executive director. “Our graduate program is extremely challenging and our students are very busy on class projects. When we decided to become one of the founding members of the Indie Game Challenge, we realized that our own Master’s degree candidates would have very little chance to create a winning entry.

“The total production time for Inertia was 12 weeks while some of the other professional and non-professional finalists worked on their entries for two years or more,” Raad explained. “This winning game is a tremendous accomplishment that our students essentially did in a six-week class project and then six weeks on their own during a break in the summer. We could not be prouder of them.”

Inertia features an innovative mechanic that allows players to suspend gravity and use inertia to bounce off walls, float through space, and move through the game’s environment – a decaying space station on the brink of collapse. The game has been published on Xbox Live Arcade and is available in a full version and as a free demo.

“Since Inertia was developed at SMU, without a doubt the hardest part about making it was finding the time to balance between working on the game as a team and individual assignments from other classes,” said team leader Evan Skarin in an interview for the IGC website. “Our artist and programmer were also required to split time with other projects, so the level designers had to fulfill multiple roles in order to get the job done.”

The winners and awards include:

  • Professional $100,000 Grand Prize and $15,000 EEDAR DesignMetrics™ Winner: LIMBO
  • Non-professional $100,000 Grand Prize and $15,000 EEDAR DesignMetrics™ Winner: Inertia

Category winners include:

  • Kongregate Award for best browser-based game: Symon
  • Technical Achievement ($2,500): Inertia
  • Achievement in Art Direction ($2,500): LIMBO
  • Achievement in Gameplay ($2,500): Inertia
  • Gamer’s Choice Award, selected through online voting ($10,000): Inertia
  • Electronic Entertainment and Research DesignMetrics™ title research assessments to Inertia and LIMBO worth $30,000 for both groups combined

SMU’s role in the contest is limited to preparing the games for judging. The University has no part in the official judging of the contest. Teams are identified by team names only.

The recipient of the $50,000 Indie Game Challenge SMU scholarship will be announced later this year. SMU students are not eligible for this award.

The 2012 Indie Game Challenge will be open for entries May 1-Oct. 3, 2011. For more information on the competition and to learn more about each of the winners, visit