GCC grad creating a videogame to help players deal with anxiety

  • Julian Olavegoya, 34, is graduating from Greenfield Community College and making an anxiety-calming video game. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • Julian Olavegoya renders 3-D objects on his computer, then sends them into the world of his videogame. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • Julian Olavegoya’s videogame will be about exploring and experimenting in an environment of islands. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS—

Staff Writer
Published: 5/31/2019 11:46:46 PM

GREEFIELD — Julian Olavegoya remembers finding a cure for his anxiety as a kid with a video game called “The Manhole.”

“There weren’t any stressful scenarios where you had to make something happen in the allotted time, or kill an enemy that was trying to destroy you,” he said. “It was just pleasurable.”

Now 34 and graduating Saturday from Greenfield Community College after 12 years of on-and-off enrollment, Olavegoya is making a video game that he hopes will have the same effect for its players that “The Manhole” had for him.

As a visual arts major, Olavegoya’s specialty is computer animation. He works by rendering the 3-D models of objects and characters, then importing them into the game engine, the virtual world where objects become programmed and animated.

The protagonist of the game is a deflated ball-looking blob, animated with a jump “like an egg yolk flipping out of a pan,” Olavegoya said. Exploring a world of islands floating in an ocean, the blob picks up and mixes colors that it drags behind it like a sponge with paint.

The finished game will have light puzzle-solving elements, but few objective goals, Olavegoya said. The point is to explore and play. Mixing colors will be a major game mechanic.

“I want them to discover that you can change things in a positive way through exploration,” Olavegoya said. “A lot of times, you enter a video game knowing exactly what you’re supposed to do. In this, it’s like you’re exploring in the woods, and you find that if you mix water and dirt, you get mud.”

Olavegoya used to work as a department manager in a factory. When he had nothing else to do, he would sit at his desk and write ideas, things he now sees as potential concepts for games.

About two years ago his father had a bad fall, and Olavegoya quit his job to help take care of him. He ended up reorganizing his time so that he could work part-time and go to school part-time.

Olavegoya had taken classes at GCC before but hadn’t settled into a particular subject like he did this time with visual arts.

“I like 3-D modeling and animating things,” he said. “If there’s one form of art that someone enjoys and is good at, that would be mine.”

For his video game, Olavegoya had to expand to fields he knew less about. He interviewed friends who had anxiety — most of them had it, he said — and picked up computer programming, a craft totally unlike anything he’s done before.

“It’s counterintuitive sometimes,” Olavegoya said. Virtual worlds don’t work by the logic of the real world. In his game, the blob appears to be painting the objects it touches. Really, the objects are programmed to be painted when triggered by the blob. “The table is painting itself,” he said.

He’s now been coding for a month and a half, and is learning mostly through the experience of making his game, of having to reprogram entire sections when they won’t fit with a new piece he’s adding.

“I’m waiting for that point where I unlock the next level,” Olavegoya said. “Like that scene from ‘The Karate Kid’ where he’s like, ‘All that painting is paying off! This is making sense!’ I haven’t reached that yet.”

Olavegoya hasn’t decided what to do with his game when he finishes it. He’s weighing pursuing a master’s degree in video game design, or going into social work and using video games the way some therapists use art or music.

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ex 261.


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