Ready Player One: Gaming with Dr. Dar-Jen Chang

DarJen ChangSince 1983, Dr. Dar-Jen Chang has worked to engage his students in the world of video game programming. A member of the Department of Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Chang received his undergraduate in his home country of Taiwan, before moving to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor where he received an MA in Engineering, and a PhD in Mathematics.

“I enjoyed applying math to solving problems. Usually you need a computer to get to that. A lot of things you can’t have a formula for solving problems. You need a computer for some sort of simulation or approximation,” says Chang.

Now, Chang focuses his research on graphics processing and compiling, which he applies to courses on 3D modeling and computer games. Chang, who grew up with Atari and Intellivision, was inspired to apply his education to gaming, a pursuit he’s followed in the Department of CECS since his arrival.

“When I came here, I taught a computer graphic class, kind of related to computer gaming. Initially, many years ago, now like a painting program was novelty. So, we created one years ago,” says Chang.

Chang believe that the gaming industry has a direct impact on driving the technology. That innovation is on display in Duthie Hall in the virtual reality lab courtesy of an Occulus machine, which represents a milestone in gaming design. One of Chang’s objectives is to encourage the next generation of game builders then, by showing them both ends of the spectrum from the complex to the simple.

“For people that want to create a game, it’s relatively easy. One of the most powerful gaming industry is free, powerful, and so-called indie. They don’t have to invest a lot of money, not like the old days,” says Chang. “You cannot publish games unless a big publisher published your game.”

Despite the limitation of available classes, Chang has pushed his students to engage in gaming and building their own games. Given that, he’s made his own furtive push in the past too, a simple platform that he built out after a class project.

“I made one, but didn’t publish. We made one for class. A really simple first person shooting game. I just enhanced it. When the student takes the game class, then they graduate, and there is no continuity. We always stay in the first stage. We cannot go beyond the first stage. Over time, there has come along some good students,” says Chang.