Computer science graduate student Clarissa Bernardo won two awards at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. The awards, which included “Best in Play” and GDC “Pitch Day” honors, validated her decision to change careers a few years ago and enroll at LMU, she says.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bernardo had spent many months holed up at home in Los Angeles trying to teach herself how to write computer code. She had left a successful career in advertising and marketing and was questioning whether she could make the jump to a career in computer science when she signed up for an online computer science class at LMU.
Logging into Zoom each day, she was met by the cheerful and enthusiastic Robert Johnson, graduate program director and clinical assistant professor of computer science. It wasn’t long before Bernardo was hooked on learning the craft—and became resoundingly successful at it.
“I had a great career in advertising and marketing for about 10 years before I made the career switch about five years ago to teach myself how to program,” she says. “I signed up for the LMU operating systems class just to see what it was like. I had never interacted with fellow engineering students, and I had some insecurity about that. But I was really impressed with Professor Johnson. He’s incredibly knowledgeable. He is always so available to his students, and he made me feel so welcome in the program.”
In addition to her coursework at LMU, Bernardo spent much of the past year working with her husband, Tomáš Jech, on a computer game. She was inspired to create a game to enhance her coding skills. “Game development was my vehicle for rapidly learning how to code,” she says. “This is a conversation my professors and I have all the time. At LMU, the professors are looking for creative ways to get students to learn how to code.”
Bernardo’s award-winning game, “Begone Beast,” is a spooky, cooperative, top-down action game for one to four players. She and Jech, who drew the characters while Bernardo created the code, were tweaking the game right up until the Game Developers Conference in March. The conference draws gamers, journalists, publishers and investors from around the world. Bernardo and Jech walked away with a “Best in Play” award and a GDC Pitch Day award. The Pitch Day award involves a five-minute presentation before a panel of game publishers and an audience of several hundred.
“It’s a good chance for indie game developers to find out what publishers are looking for,” she says. “The pitch needs to captivate the audience with compelling hooks, data and our vision to create excitement and a case for potential investment.”
Bernardo and Jech continue to develop the game while Bernardo begins her second year at LMU. Computer Science Professor Ray Toal, she says, has been instrumental in helping Bernardo make connections with people who can advance her interest in the world of game development.
“My LMU classes have challenged me to become a better creative thinker,” Bernardo says. “I hope to use all of that knowledge in creating games. That’s what I want to do for a long time. I really enjoy this new career—having the creative freedom to make what we want to play. We just hope the people who play the game feel the personality and love we poured into it.”