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Frontline: In Prince William County, VA, Serious Gaming Boosts Training Simulation

Directory 2015
SGI serves as the applied research, business development, and corporate education arm of the Computer Game Design Program in Mason’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. It offers cutting-edge game design research and development; simulation and game training and certification; visualization and simulation software development; and rapid prototyping. The facility also provides offices, studios, research space, and a product development lab for individuals, entrepreneurs, and companies in the field of simulation, modeling, and game design. In addition, SGI provides access to commercialization and marketing channels; student development talent; research faculty; industry experts; mentors; business counseling support; and the potential of financial investment from foundations and equity partners, according to SGI Director Scott Martin.

Emerging companies choosing to reside in SGI receive business assistance services through the Mason Enterprise Center and the Prince William County Department of Economic Development. The five emerging businesses already accepted into the institute are Bruxe Studios, Little Arms Studios, Zaah On Campus LLC, Professions Quest LLC, and MediaShock LLC.

Kyle Bishop, CEO of Little Arms Studios, founded his company in October 2012 and moved into space at SGI 11 months later. The firm develops software for training simulations and video games. Bishop calls the institute “a very creative and productive environment, with a number of young teams doing similar things.” He says the firm has also received nontechnical assistance from SGI, including “helping us develop a business plan and find resources, such as accountants.”

The Result: More Information and Realism
Martin says the new institute is modeled on the Serious Games Institute at the University of Coventry. While planning the institute at George Mason, “we visited there, looked at their model, and found that it was a scalable model.”

While computer simulation is not a new discipline, “what is new is that simulation modeling is being incorporated with game engines,” to enable simulations yielding much more information and realism, Martin says. For example, Little Arms Studio is developing a sophisticated training simulator for the Fairfax County Fire Department. It uses proprietary algorithms to show how a fireman would likely react in a fire situation, with the ability to factor-in variables such as oxygen and poisonous gases in the air.

“We’ve also brought our fire and police department there to see if that software may be applicable for them,” says Jeff Kaczmarek, executive director of the Prince William County Department of Economic Development. “We’ve also brought a large defense contractor, Newport News Shipbuilding, to show them what these companies can do for them.”

The new institute already has “a number of interns working at companies in the area, building things to solve problems…and serving as an incubator for new companies,” Martin notes. SGI also performs community outreach, with a summer program that teaches programming, “cyber defense,” game design, and mobile app development to kids from ages six through high school. Another 150 to 200 kids attend weekend sessions during the school year.

But the institute’s most valuable asset is the ability to “funnel university students with these skill sets that companies need today,” Martin says. “Prince William County has a pipeline of incredible talent and unmatchable expertise to support companies in the region.”
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