Grumpy Snowmen: MSU's Answer To Angry Birds

Mar 1, 2012

One of the biggest video games in recent years is “Angry Birds”. In the game, birds slingshot themselves at structures protecting pigs, and the object is to destroy the pigs.

For a few months now, there’s been a similar game on the market, aimed squarely at the Michigan State University market.

It’s called Grumpy Snowmen.

Spartan pride is at stake in Grumpy Snowmen. You play Sparty, and your job is to shoot footballs or hockey pucks or other sports equipment at snowmen built on the MSU campus by people from rival Big Ten Conference schools. When a level is completed, Sparty celebrates by dancing or doing pushups.

The winter scenes are accompanied by falling snow, music, and other sound effects.

The game was developed by MSU’s Games for Entertainment and Learning, or GEL Lab.

Work on Grumpy Snowmen began in October when the MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences asked for a holiday-themed game. It became available just before Christmas. Since then, 16 levels have been added to what’s now called the deluxe version of the game, bringing the total to 20.

Lab co-director Brian Winn says the game’s popularity has exceeded his expectations.

“It’s hard to track that to players because people will share their device amongst multiple players,” Winn explains, “but we’ve had 14,000 downloads and I think over 150,000 levels have been played in the game.”

The free game can be found in Apple’s App Store, the Macintosh App Store, and there’s an online version, too.

App store users have rated the game four out of five stars, with negative reviews mostly related to incompatibility with older devices. Winn says those issues have been addressed.

“This is actually the first game that we’ve done that’s been in the iTunes store and distributed across so many different platforms,” says Winn, “and whenever you do that, it’s really hard to test. We don’t even have an iPad 1 to play with! We have an iPad 2, of course, and you can’t buy iPad 1’s anymore, so we had to dig deep amongst our friends to find people that had all the different devices to test.”

Some bug fixes have been made. Now, the game should work on most devices made in the last three years or so.

Winn led a team of five students, including Media Arts and Technology senior William Jeffery. He helped design the game, including effects like exploding soccer balls. He also recorded the grunts, groans and evil laughter of the snowmen. Scheduled to graduate this spring, Jeffery hopes to gain by having Grumpy Snowmen in his pocket when the time comes to look for a job.

“It’s definitely an accomplishment,” Jeffery states, “to be able to pull something out and say ‘this is what I created in this time frame; here’s some of the info on the design process’, and it shows them that you’ve actually accomplished something that you can see a project from start to finish.”

Second year masters degree student Kristina Cunningham has similar thoughts. She created the two-dimensional background scenes such as Spartan Stadium or the Broad Art Museum for Grumpy Snowmen.

“You don’t always have that opportunity as a student to be involved in projects like that,” Cunningham says, “and I think it does set you apart from applicants when you can have an experience like Grumpy Snowmen on your record.”

One last note about Grumpy Snowmen: If you play it, you need to shoot for the high score of 61,355 on the Brody Hall level. That score was posted by me. Really.