GRATTAN TOWNSHIP — This year’s ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids, which comes to an end this weekend, is showcasing some of the world’s most talented individuals who aim to inspire and create items more unique than the next.
Sitting at GrandLAN Gaming Center on Division Avenue was an entry from Lowell High School graduate Marie Lazar, 24, that, on the surface, may not have seemed like much — a laptop, mouse and keyboard with a black screen that read a single word, “Reveal.”
But upon sitting down and clicking on the screen, spectators at ArtPrize were taken into a digital world by playing a game completely designed by Lazar, with vivid textures and colors in a small room that showcased how art is incorporated into the digital gaming world.
A three-month project in which she collaborated with three other individuals, Lazar’s entry showcases who she is as a person, bringing people directly into her imaginative world.
“’Reveal’ is a short first-person game made in the unreal engine, same as popular video games like Gears of War and Bioshock,” she said.
According to Lazar, she made the game with the intent to show people how society perceives the human body.
“I wanted to push people toward a more objective way of viewing the body, much like the way a doctor or an artist would,” she said.
Visitors to ArtPrize who sat down to spend a few minute’s on Lazar’s game hacked and slashed their way about a small room, tearing down wallpaper, wood walls, pipes and other elements, until reaching the final room, which placed the gamer in a stunning, colorful and beautiful room leaving you standing below a beating human heart.
Lazar said entering her game into ArtPrize was a unique experience, as this was not only her first entry in ArtPrize, but her first time as a spectator as well.
“This was my first time even going to ArtPrize,” she said. “I learned so much. I didn’t design the game anticipating an audience of nongamers. Watching other people play it was really illuminating. A lot of people, they just didn’t know what to do with the game. They started hitting keys, but they weren’t sure what they were supposed to do.”
Lazar said her inspiration came from a summer camp she attended at Ferris State University when in high school that taught the basics of video game design.
“I thought it was the neatest thing, that I could create these fictional places that I could then show to other people and bring them into my world,” she said. “That was the first time I connected with games as a potential career. Before that I had no idea what making games was like, I assumed it was just punching 1s and 0s into a computer all day.”
Lazar went to Michigan State University and earned two degrees, one in telecommunications and one in studio art. She then earned her master’s degree in interactive design and game development at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Ga. She hopes to be able to use her experience and accomplishments to one day work for a much larger gaming company, such as the one she worked an internship for this summer, Blizzard Entertainment.
“I spent the summer working for them making plants and trees and putting them into World of Warcraft, one of their most popular online games,” she said.
Right now Lazar is working on a prototype game for Tale of Tales, a company based in Europe.
Lazar said if she enters into ArtPrize again, which she fully expects to, she would make adjustments to make the game more user friendly for nongamers.
“I think generally, the people who stuck with the game liked it,” she said. “I’ve gotten positive feedback and I think a lot of people were excited just to see a game in the competition.”
Lazar’s mother, Michelle Lazar, said she and her husband could not be more proud of the accomplishments of their daughter.
“We’re just really glad that she is so passionate about this,” she said. “She worked really, really hard at it, but that hard work has paid off because she’s had these incredible opportunities that have panned out.”
Michelle, who is not a gamer by any trade, said she had fun playing her daughter’s game, and could easily see her daughter in the game itself.
“Both my husband and I, after looking at it, we could see Marie right in it,” she said. “It was Marie putting herself out there. The artistic side of it and the meanings behind her work, we could see it all.”
For Marie, she said she is just happy to be doing something that she loves.
“I would do this if it never paid a cent,” she said. “It’s just the best feeling in the world.”