GAMMA Professor Q&A: Dr. Sarah Abraham

Dr. Sarah Abraham recently received her PhD from the University of Texas at Austin. For her dissertation, she worked in the UT’s high-performance computer graphics lab on non-photorealistic rendering and intuitive simulation-based tools for artists. Since graduating, she has become an adjunct assistant professor teaching Game Technology for the GAMMA Program in the Department of Computer Science (UTCS).

Sarah Abraham headshot

What are your interests in game development?
Video games are such a new, relatively unexplored creative medium, and that alone makes development exciting and challenging. I personally find the intersection of narrative, player immersion, and social mechanisms to be the most compelling aspect of the medium, which is why I like to focus on cooperative game mechanics. The creation of in-game narrative is also interesting for me, since I’m a writer and artist.

What does your indie game company do?
As the president of Akula Games, I’ve published small apps and done contract for other businesses, but I’m currently focused on creating a cooperative, exploratory narrative that draws from Russian fairytales and Siberian folklore. It’s sort of a love letter to Lake Baikal and Team ICO, and it’s also a way to experiment with purely cooperative mechanics in games. The process has been slow going, since I’ve focused on teaching more this past year, but I hope to have a whiteboxed version ready at the end of 2016.

What drew you to teaching Game Technology?
I particularly like teaching Game Technology because game development is a great way to explore core computer science concepts (as well as IT and DevOps skills that are essential in a modern workplace), but it also touches on graphics and tools for artists, which are my primary interests in computer science. The students also come up with really unexpected and interesting ideas for their games. I’ve taught the class two times now, and every semester, I’m impressed with the results. These students are building game engines from open-source libraries over the course of the semester, and the fact that they can make a functional game with unique gameplay features on top of that engine in four weeks is amazing.