Game Changer

An undergraduate digital media student is changing the way people play games on their mobile devices and, in doing so, helping to change the game design industry itself.

Greg Lobanov has been making games for as long as he can remember.

“When I was little, my mom told me I used to play with pieces of string for literally hours. Playing with things interests me, every human being has that aspect about them but some are better at it and better at teasing it out of others.”

From elementary school when he would invent his own card and board games, to middle school and high school when he learned how to make games on PowerPoint and eventually more sophisticated platforms like BYOND and GameMaker, Lobanov has been obsessed with discovering new ways for people to play.

Now, as an undergraduate at Drexel, Lobanov is turning his passion into a profession and joining a growing community of independent game makers who produce their works of art –and entertainment- using the mobile device as their canvas.

“The fact that you can touch the screen to control it is better because you connect with the game on a more human level. It’s more instinctual to touch the screen than to use a controller to interact with the game.”

A self-taught designer, Lobanov’s digital brush of choice is currently a program called GameMaker. With it he has created a pair of works that have already been well-received by the gaming community.

His most recent offering, released on May 8, is a game called “Perfection” that challenges players to deconstruct shapes by rapidly slashing their way through them. The game, which has been called “fruit ninja for smart people,” was selected as part of the IndieCade Showcase at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, a Mecca of the gaming community. And Lobanov has been noted as an up-and-coming designer in several tech blogs and publications, including Technically Philly and Indie Statik.

According to one of his mentors, Drexel computer science professor Frank Lee –of skyscraper Pong fame, what makes Lobanov unique among game designers is that he is willing to experiment and innovate in making games.

“Most game designers tend to recycle the same ideas with better graphics or with little tweaks here and there. However, what I appreciate about Greg is his desire and willingness to risk coming up with new ideas.”

pollushot-1Pollushot, an iOS game, he published with YoYo Games in 2011 is a pull-and-shoot game that lets the player operate a slingshot with the flick of a finger. As his follow-up, the Chestnut Hill-native created a role-playing game with a storyline based around growing up in Philadelphia’s suburbs –and chasing ghosts through those suburbs. Phantasmaburbia, which was the first game Lobanov designed for a PC, also draws inspiration from the classic game Zelda.

Lobanov is part of a new generation of game designers who are fortifying their creativity with the business acumen to subsist as independent entities. He is in the process of taking his game design company, Dumb & Fat Games, to LLC status and has even hired himself to fulfill his co-op requirement at Drexel where students spend six-months working in full-time, professional jobs aligned with their field of study..

“I started making Perfection as part of Dr. Frank Lee’s game design class and I finished while I was on co-op working for myself in the spring,” Lobanov said. “It was a great experience because I was able to work on all aspects of the game. If I had gone to a larger gaming studio, I wouldn’t have had the same diversity of opportunities and work experiences.”

This spirit of self-motivation and creativity is something that Lee is working to nurture as the founding director of Drexel’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio.

“I think the sea change we have seen in the business of gaming, is moving from console systems and PC’s to mobile devices,” Lee said. “Because of this shift, a small game studio with five people or less can do really well. My hope is to bring entrepreneurial students who are interested in starting game companies together to provide advice in a supportive environment.

For Lobanov, who taught himself the trade, coming to Drexel to learn from others was an important step toward creating his own game design company.

“Drexel was one of the top two gaming programs in the country, so it was a natural choice,” Lobanov said. “I picked up some skills here that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I got a more structured view of programming and learned the industry standard.”

Lee understands exactly why Lobanov chose the Drexel program and often tells his students, the perfect time to start their own mobile game company and take risks is while they are in the safety of a university setting. “I try to encourage them to begin starting their companies in freshman year so they have plenty of chances to fail, learn from failure, and grow,” he said.