Groundbreaking Video Games Made By University Students

Bestselling, innovative video games aren't always the products of AAA publishers – or even small indie studios. Sometimes, it just takes a group of college students with a creative vision and the willingness to forgo many hours of sleep to create truly groundbreaking video games – ranging from modern indie titles on like Octodad: Dadliest Catch to older games like Spacewar! that were the first of their kind.

The first two student-designed video games listed below – one created in 1962, the other in 1978 – couldn't have been created anywhere else but in a university. Before the release of personal computers people could purchase for home use, the computer science departments of universities were the only places where the hardware, know-how, and motivation to create fun games existed. Even after PCs became a household item for many, the processing power of college campus mainframes acted as a sandbox where could bring their increasingly sophisticated ideas to life.


Even though it's hard for students to make games with the same complexity and graphical detail of AAA titles, there's still a thriving community of self-published video games made by computer science majors for fun, by video game design students for their class projects, and by passionate amateurs on the side. "Game Jam" events on websites like itch.io encourage aspiring game makers to create short, focused games based around certain themes - and maybe even hit the jackpot with gaming concepts as innovative and entertaining as the ones below.

Years before Pong, there war Spacewar!, described by  as a simple, but engaging two-player game of space combat coded by students at the Massachusetts University of Technology in 1962. Displayed on a monochrome cathode-ray tube, controlled with early versions of game-pads, players took charge of two slender rocket ships that moved in orbit around a central star and shot projectiles at each other. This early spread like wildfire among the CompSci departments of various educational institutions, eventually inspiring the creators of Asteroids and other genre-defining arcade games of the 1970s and '80s.

Before modern MMOs (Massive Multiplayer Online), there were MUDs - short for "Multi-User Dungeons." These collaborative online games, the multiplayer equivalents of like Zork, were and are generally played on Telnet clients, with players using keyboard commands to interact with the game's text-based environment and their fellow players. The very first "Multi-User Dungeon," according to , was designed by Rob Trubshaw and Richard Bartle in 1978, back when they were college students at the University of Essex.

The first , released as freeware in 2011, was designed by a team of students at DePaul University, who later formed the game studio Young Horse Inc. and released a premise-expanding sequel called Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Both these physics-based puzzle games are centered around an orange octopus in a blue business suit, desperately trying to keep his true taxonomic classification a secret from (human) strangers, his beautiful (human) wife, and her two precious (human) children. The deliberately finicky controls of the Octodad games make even mundane chores like cleaning the yard or shopping for groceries an epic, grueling adventure for both players and their cephalopod protagonist.

Arid, a free survival game on Steam made by students from Berkeley University, is about a 1930s airplane pilot who crash-lands in a fictionalized version of the Atacama desert, a South American wasteland that's one of the most moisture-deprived locations on the planet. The gameplay of Arid is centered around the player avoiding sunstroke and dehydration by day, scavenging for resources and supplies by night, and discovering the hidden stories, belongings, and shelters left by people who dared to live in one of the most desolate places on Earth. From Spacewar! to Octodad, these impressive games were actually made by students.


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