Author: Tompkins, Meira

(Via UConn Today) DMD Professor’s Historically Themed Video Game Receives Industry Accolades

A Virginia mansion burned by the British during the Revolutionary War provides the setting of Professor James Coltrain’s award-winning “Blackhaven” game (contributed photo).

The historically themed video game “Blackhaven” from Digital Media & Design assistan professor James Coltrain has grabbed international praise and industry-wide attention for its narrative structure that centers on the efforts of a fictional plantation-turned-museum that attempts to cover up its past.

Three months after its July release, “Blackhaven” was one of only 47 official selections and garnered two nominations at the prestigious IndieCade Festival for best Narrative and best Impact Game, going home with an unexpected juried award for best Innovation in Experience Design.

IndieCade – described by Time magazine as the “Sundance of Indie Games”– works year-round to support independent video game developers and their pursuits, culminating with its two-day awards festival.

In giving “Blackhaven” one of their top awards, judges commended the game for allowing players to unveil “layers of personal and national history that help make pointed realizations about modern life and its roots in the past.” They also noted that “the game creates a surprising new experience by delicately balancing its detailed aesthetics and unobtrusive mechanics around this simple narrative that ties each element together into a surprising and exciting new experience.”

Coltrain was excited to see the game be received so positively noting, “Blackhaven is a slower, quieter game drawing from real historical documents, and so it’s really exciting to see it get this kind of attention.”

“Blackhaven” is the first release from Coltrain’s Historiated Games. He collaborated with students and faculty at Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically Black institution. A student script team under the direction of Shearon Roberts, an Xavier associate professor of mass communications, helped craft the game’s protagonist, Kendra Turner, a student from a historically Black institution.

In the game, Kendra, voiced by TikTok personality Darby Farr, works at the Blackhaven Hall Historical Society and discovers how it has whitewashed its slave-owning past.

Beyond IndieCade, “Blackhaven” in January received another notable recognition, an honorable mention for Excellence in Narrative at the Independent Games Festival, part of the larger industry-leadingGame Developers Conference (GDC) to be held in March. Coltrain also will speak at GDC on his experience developing “Blackhaven.”

Since its release, the game has had 30,000 downloads. It is available to play on PC for free on Steam.

“We are thrilled that James joined our growing game design program,” says DMD Department Head Heather Elliott-Famularo. “IndieCade and GDC are the top venues in the world, and IndieCade is arguably the most prestigious festival for independent games globally.”

She adds, “In a year when over 10,000 games were released for PC alone, winning the award is a remarkable achievement, particularly considering that his game studio, Historiated Games, is essentially a one-man show, and the release of ‘Blackhaven’ happened amidst a global pandemic, which brought great challenges to the production.”

“Blackhaven” is only the beginning for Coltrain and Historiated, as the game began as an offshoot of a larger project called “Cassius,” which will take players back to Blackhaven Hall during the 18th century. That game is slated for 2023, but first Coltrain will release “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” a historically accurate account for all ages inspired by painter Grant Wood’s work by the same name. It will be Historiated’s first game in virtual reality.


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UConn SFA Professor Oscar Guerra Wins Big at Emmy Awards

University of Connecticut’s School of Fine Arts professor Oscar Guerra was a winner at the 42nd Annual NewsOscar Guerra and Documentary Emmy Awards Tuesday night. He won Best Story in a Newsmagazine for his documentary film, Love, Life, & the Virus, which tells the story of a local immigrant Guatemalan family and the impact COVID-19 had on their lives.Professor Oscar Guerra

The film aired on PBS Frontline, which also won two additional awards for its programming. Univision also aired the film in Spanish.

“It was already an honor the be nominated in two different categories, but the win feels amazing! Love, Life & the Virus is simultaneously a story of uncertainty and hope, darkness and light, but above all, what happens when people come together and support each other. Miracles do happen!” said Guerra. “And I am grateful to share this win with my family, my Frontline team, and UConn.”

“All of us at UConn are very proud of Oscar and his achievement,” said Dr. Carl Lejuez, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs. “This transformational film makes an important statement about an immigrant family’s experience in the Covid era, giving a voice to those who are marginalized in our society and disproportionately affected by the pandemic. It’s also a great example of why community engaged scholarship and creative work among our faculty is so important to our role as a research University for the State of Connecticut.”

In Love, Life, & the Virus, Guerra follows the family as mother, Zully, is admitted to the hospital due to her COVID-19 diagnosis and pregnancy with her second child. Her husband, Marvin, and son, Junior, also contract the virus. With the entire family ill and unable to care for the baby, they turn to Junior’s teacher who agrees to care for the newborn. Cameras follow the family through every step of their lives as the Stamford community rallies around the family until they eventually reunite.

Guerra Productions Team

“Oscar’s Emmy win is huge and comes at a wonderful moment for our young Digital Film/Video Production major. Just last year, we announced a new Human Rights Film and Digital Media Initiative, partnering with our Human Rights Institute at UConn, and this is evidence of the quality of our program and the kind of impact we intend to have on the medium – and in society,” said DMD Department Head, Heather Elliott-Famularo. “Oscar’s dedication to human rights filmmaking and our ongoing partnership with PBS Frontline are integral to this future.”

Guerra and his team are currently working on their next film which focuses on the aftermath of the Trump Administration’s Zero Tolerance immigration policy and family separation. This is a collaboration between UConn, Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and PBS Frontline.

As seen on Broadway World.