Student Profile: Carson Custer ‘23

Carson Custer

Graduation Year
2023
Major
Immersive Media (IMM)

Carson Custer was only a first-year student in the Immersive Media program when his work started attracting attention outside of Chatham.

Carson Custer was only a first-year student in the Immersive Media program when his work started attracting attention outside of Chatham.

“My academic advisor, Doug North Cook, posted a project I did on Twitter, and someone in the gaming community who I’ve heard of—he wrote the story for a game called Portal that I used to play—saw it and retweeted it and said ‘This is so cool.’ And it was just awesome to see that,” he says. 

Going into college, Carson was not sure what he wanted to do. “I know I wanted to do something computer-related,” he says. He toured the University of Pittsburgh and Chatham on the same day, and says he was drawn to Chatham’s campus—“it felt homier”—and IMM program over Pitt’s. “I knew I wanted to do something more creative than just computer science,” he says, “and Chatham’s IMM program fit the bill perfectly.”

One thing that the IMM program opened Carson’s eyes to is the idea of accessibility in gaming. “One of my favorite virtual reality (VR) games is called Beat Saver,” he says. “It’s a rhythm-based game with a controller where you slice these blocks that come at you. It’s a high-intensity game. But it has these different features and modes that make it accessible to a wide range of people. For example, there are different levels of difficulty, so a player can play on easier modes that require less mobility. It has a one-handed mode, so maybe if you have a broken arm or have only one arm, you can play it one-handed. You can adjust the floor height, so if you wanted to sit down and play, or say you’re in a wheelchair, you could.”

And the project that attracted attention on Twitter? That’s a VR experience that Carson built during his very first semester in the program, when he was just getting started using the programming language C#, and the gaming engine called Unity. 

“It’s called Clash Board,” he says. “It was this idea I had where you were in an arena built of cardboard, and you’re using the VR controller like a hammer. You hit these blocks that are coming at you, and the blocks fly forward. And I wanted to get the feel of the hammer correct, and make it feel good for people to hold, and I didn’t know how to do that within the game. So I made a hammer using a bamboo pole, and I used rubber hands to attach the controller to the pole. I had players hold this rod in the game, and it made it feel like they were swinging a hammer.”

I wanted to do something more creative than just computer science. Chatham’s IMM program fit the bill perfectly.

Carson credits the core courses he took during his first year–Immersive Media I, Immersive Media 2, and Programming for Immersive Media—with making the biggest impact. “At the beginning of the year, I had no programming foundation,” he says. “But now after a year, I have a basic foundation in C#, which I need to stay on top of, and I’ve learned a lot more about designing for VR. These classes have taught me so much about design and programming.”

“Over quarantine, I’ve been doing a lot of 3D modeling,” he says. “I did this thing called photogrammetry, where you take all these pictures of an object, completely circling it, and the program puts all the pictures together and made a 3D model of it. We’ve had to do some of that in the program, modeling spaces, modeling environments, so I’ve been doing some of that over break.”

In the fall, Carson will be taking courses including Human-Centered Design and Japanese. “I’ve always wanted to learn Japanese,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to go there—gaming is a huge thing over there, and it’s a beautiful country.”

Carson is open to possibilities for what he’ll do after graduation, but knows that creating for other people will be a huge part of it. But not just that: “After this first year at Chatham, I’m especially interested in accessibility and making experiences that pretty much anyone can enjoy. I’ve always known I wanted to create for other people, but now I want to create for everyone, if I can.” 

Any advice for students considering the IMM program?

“At first it’s a little overwhelming, you might be feeling like ‘oh man, I don’t know how to code, this is asking a whole lot of me,’ but don’t worry. Our professors will help you and get you through it. You just have to show up to class, put a little effort in, and you’ll be fine.”