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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education

Last modified: Thursday, March 27, 2008

School of Education's serious game designers get an edge with Vicious Cycle software

Interactive entertainment company gives students access to game design middleware

MARCH 27, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Indiana University School of Education has signed a contract with Chapel Hill, N.C.-based Vicious Cycle Software Inc. to provide access to its game design software solution, called Vicious Engine, for students working on computer game design. Vicious Engine is a middleware solution, which allows designers to tie together software components and applications to develop games.

Middlewares like Vicious Engine often save game companies millions of dollars in development costs, and this partnership will afford students the same professional software package that developers use to create games that are now on store shelves. A cohort of graduate students in the Instructional Systems Technology department of the School of Education will use the program to design games; students in an undergraduate class will use the program to build the designs into prototypes.

Vicious Engine

Bob Appelman introduces Vicious Engine to his graduate students.

Print-Quality Photo

The program will give students working on developing "serious games" the ability to produce desired outcomes much more precisely. Serious games are games intended to educate or inform, rather than simply entertain. Such games might be used in a classroom, but also for training in the workplace and other situations. Until now, School of Education students could not create serious games using professional development software.

"We haven't had the option of building our own testing environment," said Bob Appelman, clinical associate professor in the Department of Instructional Systems Technology.

Since Appelman's students and researchers are focused on outcomes of game play, an ideal environment would allow them to test whether a game design actually allows for learning a specific task or knowledge.

"We can standardize the testing with our particular software, whereas before we haven't been able to standardize anything," Appelman said. "Every one of our researchers has had to pretty much start from a different point with commercial off-the-shelf games. So, it was hard to compare what the results were that we get from one researcher to what we get from another researcher."

Eric Peterson, president and CEO of Vicious Cycle, said the company wants Vicious Engine in the hands of students for several reasons, but key among them is the chance to give them another hands-on development experience besides what already exists in schools.

"This way, they have a better shot of getting into the industry and ending up at a company that might either use our technology or something that looks very similar," he said. "They gain that much more of a leg up to actually jump into the job and be very creative and active right off the bat."

Vicious Engine is capable of developing games for a variety of game platforms, including Xbox, Playstation2, Nintendo Wii and mobile devices. Japanese company D3 of America bought Vicious Cycle Inc. last summer to enhance its production of software for personal computers and game consoles. The company launched in 2000.

The leaders of Vicious Cycle said the deal made sense largely due to the attitude the School of Education's IST program. "One of the driving forces behind making this deal with IU is Bob Appelman's enthusiasm for the technology," said Vicious Cycle Vice President Wayne Harvey. "It really helped drive us to make it happen and close it and get it going. So I'm very, very anxious to see what he does with it in the coming months and years."

Appelman said the ability to design and develop serious games on this level is rare among IST programs across the country. It will be a major step forward for his students focusing on serious games. He said that up until now, they've only been able to design games on paper.

"Now, they can actually develop a prototype, allowing people to play through their game and determine whether or not they really learn what was intended for them to learn," Appelman said.

More about the IU School of Education IST Department is available at The Vicious Cycle company homepage is

A video of Appelman showing the Vicious Engine software is available on the IU School of Education podcast page at ENGINE-IST

Media Outlets: The following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at Look for this news release under "News" on the home page. The sound bites below will have a clickable link to hear and to save the files.

Appelman says the Vicious Engine program allows his students to work on serious game design without having to become expert programmers:

"Our students are going to be directors and designers, so they need to be familiar enough with the engines and what you can do in them to be able to design. But they don't need to create anything more than a prototype that's an example of their design. Then, if the design is good enough, and it works, and it is at least testable, then we actually pick that up and build it for real, and then it could go into the market. Right now, serious games don't have a market. Serious games where learning is the outcome are not something that kids would go to and buy off the shelf at EB Games or Gamestop or anything like that. So we're having to at the same time create a market for the development of these games. And we have to have our instructional designers know how to build the games, because a lot of our clients, like the military and what the students want to have in their classroom, need to have a game type of virtual environment to learn from. That's what the students want. So we need to have our designers know how to build these games. So now we've got an opportunity."

Adding Vicious Engine to his students resources will allow them to take ideas from paper to the computer screen, Appelman says:

"In our game classes, we start with existing games. And we have our students tell us what the content is, what the decisions are, and what the fun is in the game. Then we say, 'now build your own game.' And they come on paper and design a game. But they've never had the opportunity to build the game until we've gotten this engine. So now, they could do it on paper, come up with a plan, and by the end of the semester, they might have a prototype where they could actually have some people play through their game and see whether or not they do really learn what they intended for them to learn."

Vicious Cycle President and CEO Eric Peterson says the Vicious Engine tool makes student work more real-world:

"It's very hard to develop something that you've never even utilized as a technology in that period of time and say 'Hey, I have a portfolio piece that I can utilize when I get out of college to show that I actually am capable of doing a professional job at a studio.' And we hope that by giving our technology to the university that the students there will inevitably benefit from that and have a portfolio piece to show when they go out for their first job."

Vicious Cycle Vice President Wayne Harvey says Appelman's enthusiasm and the possibility of students getting more familiar with the program is the reason for the deal:

"And for us we get exposure in terms of Vicious Engine being listed on their resumes, that experience. Maybe some students come out of the university and become very excited about this technology and what they were able to do with it so they evangelize it to their new employers."