four guys behind a computer

Code Like an Egyptian

four guys behind a computer

Jeffrey Mostyn, 23 | BS computer science ’19
Project lead and developer, Pharaoh Hound Games
Mark Hurley, 23 | BS game design ’19
Lead artist and game designer, Pharaoh Hound Games
Michael Heffner, 25 | BS computer science ’19
Programmer, Pharaoh Hound Games

Code Like An Egyptian

In 2020, the three newly minted Drexel grads behind Pharaoh Hound Games will release “Sons of Ra,” a long-awaited, award-winning video game adventure they created as students.

Want to battle pharaohs, build armies, call on Gods and expand your kingdom? The Drexel grads behind Pharaoh Hound Games has you covered. While still Drexel students, Jeffrey Mostyn, 23; Mark Hurley, 23; Michael Heffner, 25 (and also fifth-year game design and production major Joseph Brown, who is pictured on the far left but not yet an alumni) won the prestigious 2019 E3 College Game Competition for their Egyptian-themed adventure game “Sons of Ra,” and it will become publicly available this summer for Xbox and Steam.

But video gaming is more than just entertainment, it’s big business, and the friends are working hard to earn their place in this competitive market.

“Awareness is at a premium,” says Mostyn. “People only have so much time to pay attention, and there are hundreds of new games released every day. So we have to maintain social media, putting out periodic development updates. We go to conventions and try to interact with the people who actually play games.”

Beyond business smarts, there is a lot of engineering going on here. Hefner, a programmer, and Mostyn, the project lead and designer, completed bachelors degrees in computer science; Hurley’s degree is in game design. “We are focused on how to make the best experience at the level of game-play mechanics. It’s about taking the vision we have in our heads and translating that into the system,” Hurley says.

“Sons of Ra” is a two-player competitive tower defense game where players take control of opposing pharaohs in Egypt. Heffner says the land of the pharaohs is a sweet spot for gaming: Well known to everyone yet shrouded in mystery and the possibility of adventure. “When the idea of Egypt came up, everyone immediately had ideas about what that setting would involve,” he says. “There is that automatic level of familiarity, and yet there’s a lot that people don’t know about ancient Egypt, a lot to discover.”

The group met in the Games Workshop I course offered through Westphal’s Game Design and Production program, where they teamed up to develop video games using Steven Spielberg movies as inspiration. They then landed a spot in Drexel’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio (EGS), a campus incubator for student-designed games, and things took off from there.

“Drexel presented us with some great opportunities,” Mostyn says. “The presence of the Entrepreneurial Game Studio was a huge factor. It gave us a place where we could bring this project and engage with other students and mentors.”

“I had done smaller projects on my own, but Drexel gave me an environment where we could really work off each other,” Hurley says.

For Heffner, the multi-faceted nature of a Drexel education helped to lay a strong foundation. “I took to the programming side of video gaming, and Drexel gave me the basis and the foundation to make that happen,” he says. “Then with the Entrepreneurial Game Studio and my other classes, I really saw what kinds of things I needed to be doing to have a career in games development.”

At its heart, the game is about more than just mummies and mystery: It speaks to the human sense of adventure, the desire to explore and experience. “I like making something that other people can engage with, something that lets them find a sense of identity,” Mostyn says. “In a role-playing game you create an in-depth character, in a strategy game you have options about how you want to play and make your own style. I like creating those opportunities for engagement.” — Adam Stone

The change I’d most like to see in the world is…
“for everyone to have access to technology so they can follow their passion.”
Michael Heffner

The change I’d most like to see in the world is…
“a continued rise in everyone’s standard of living. I’ve been very fortunate in my life and I’d love other people to have those same opportunities.”
Mark Hurley

The change I’d most like to see in the world is…
“action that enables marginalized people to better their lives.”
Jeffrey Mostyn