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Nicholas Evans Awarded Carole and Ray Neag Undergraduate Research Grant

February 20, 2014

KUTZTOWN, Pa. - Nicholas Evans, junior computer science/software development major at Kutztown University, was awarded a $1500 Carole and Ray Neag Undergraduate Research Grant to develop a server architecture for large format local multiplayer gaming.  Evans is a native of Shillington, Pa. 

Currently, consumers are limited to playing interactive games on relatively small media, such as smartphones, tablets, video game consoles or computers. The game is usually played by one person, but consoles can sometimes support four players simultaneously. Evans plans to transform the gamer's experience by using movie theater or planetarium projection screens to display game graphics and action to many players at the same time. Participants will be able to use a device that connects to Wi-Fi to act as the controller, with a touch screen for optimal performance. Funds from the Neag grant will be used to upgrade Evans' hardware, hopefully enabling up to 200 users to play at the same time.

Evans' research also has applications for professional, educational and retail venues, among others. For example, conference or presentation attendees could use his program to post feedback and questions as real-time updates, in turn facilitating the presentation of content; and teachers would be able to create, grade and administer quizzes instantly, in order to gauge students' engagement and comprehension.

What is unique about Evans' project is that it does not require users to download a specific application; the only necessary components are a device capable of accessing the internet and a Wi-Fi connection. This format conserves battery power and consolidates commands, which makes the user experience quicker and the gameplay more responsive.

"My hope is to keep as many people connected as possible, while using as little data as possible, so more people can interface with the applications," Evans explained. "Many users can play the same game at the same time, either competitively or cooperatively. I've already developed a prototype dodgeball game, and I was able to keep up to 15 people connected using just a dated laptop. I'm still figuring out how to tune things to ensure the game stays responsive."

Evans conceived the idea for the project in a software development class with Dr. Dale Parson. While discussing a project to be presented in the planetarium, Parson announced that the software would allow users to draw on a tablet, with the resulting image appearing on the dome. After hearing about this, Evans thought an interactive approach to the large scale format, where users could play fast-paced games, such as "Asteroids" or "Frogger," in succession, would be a dynamic project to work on.

Through the process of developing the games, he has received assistance from Chris Walck, emerging technologies manager, who installed Node.js, an emerging programming language, on the university's server to facilitate Evans' programming; and Dr. Daniel Spiegel, professor of computer science, who helped Evans develop a research proposal and recommended him for the Neag grant. 

"Making these games intuitive is one of the design principles," Evans said. "I don't want any of them to be difficult to pick up. There shouldn't be a learning curve; users will be able to pick up and play very quickly."