For all to play: Making a game, making a difference – 4/23/14

For all to play: Making a game, making a difference

By Elias Aoude, producer, For All To Play

The idea for our game, Grail to the Thief, came about when we were researching (the For All To Play team are all alumni or current students at WPI) game design for the blind. We conducted interviews at Perkins School for the Blind and performed extensive research which led us to discover that few games are available to the blind and visually impaired, and many of the games that are available are severely dated, lack the quality and polish of games for the sighted, and rely on synthesized computer voices such as screen readers in order to play. Grail to the Thief will address these problems, and the game will be just as accessible and exciting an experience for the blind and visually impaired as it will be for the sighted.

So, with that in mind and a build in-hand, we started up an indie studio in Worcester and are at the halfway point of a crowdfunding campaign for Grail to the Thief on Kickstarter.

You can play a browser-based prototype of the game. It requires Google Chrome or Opera and can be found here: foralltoplay.com/prototype. If you have some time, please check it out.

holygrailThe game, when launched, will be an interactive audio adventure for Windows, Mac, and Linux (a standalone executable will not require a web browser) that can be played using only sound, without the need for visuals. Grail to the Thief  has been designed with the needs of the blind and visually impaired in mind but can be enjoyed by everyone. The game will deliver an exciting, immersive experience in which the player will always be fully aware of what is happening through the use of voice-overs, sound effects, ambient sound and music.

Game players will make choices through a conversation tree from which they can select commands, eliminating the confusion and frustration that comes with traditional text adventure games which require players to type in commands to progress. It is a nostalgic throwback to childhood favorites such as Zork, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Day of the Tentacle, and Grim Fandango, and draws inspiration from old BBC radio dramas and the movie Time Bandits.

If our Kickstarter campaign is successfully funded, Grail to the Thief will be available as a DRM-free download for Windows, Mac, and Linux in August 2014.

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SIP14 students selected – 4/15/14

SIP14 students selected

By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI

Each year applications to our annual Summer Innovation Program (SIP) have grown in terms of quality, quantity and diversity. This year we received applications from 157 undergraduate and graduate students representing 31 colleges and universities from across the country – making it our most competitive year ever.

sip14picNeedless to say, selecting only 22 was a challenge. After much discussion, the committee chose a great group. This year’s SIP teams will be made up of students from 12 institutions including Becker College, Berklee College of Music, Hampshire College, MIT, Mt. Holyoke College, New York University, Northeastern University, Rhode Island School of Design, Smith College, Tufts University, UMass Lowell and WPI.

SIP begins on May 20 and concludes on August 8.  Over those 11 weeks or so, with guidance from professional staff and industry mentors, SIP teams will be responsible for all the work required to successfully launch their games in the market. There is no internship program like it in the country.

As in past years, SIP students will receive housing courtesy of Becker College as well as a modest stipend. More importantly they will all receive the greatest game development experience of their lives. Sure, it may be a lot of work – but it’s also a ton of fun. We can’t wait to get started.

Revised on 4/23/14.

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The real video game high school – 4/4/14

The real video game high school

By Michael Morley and Duncan Elliott, students, Millbury Memorial Jr./Sr. High School

One word to describe the 2014 MassDiGI Game Challenge would be “phenomenal.” That “phenomenal” feeling was experienced by about 20 Millbury Memorial Jr./Sr. High School students during their participation in this year’s Game Challenge competition. With limited game programming or design experience, all the Millbury students, including us, jumped into the Game Challenge with both feet.  In addition to fielding six different teams for the competition, the Wasteland Trials team from Millbury took home the first place trophy in the high school category.

MIllbury winners

Millbury winners

The impetus for the participation of Millbury students in the Game Challenge was created by a school visit from MassDiGI’s Monty Sharma.  After learning a bit about game designing and careers in the game design industry, the Millbury students enthusiastically took on the Game Challenge.  Millbury teacher Mark Sutphen allocated classrooms and set-up meetings that allowed students to gather and formulate ideas and join teams.  As an after-school activity, students were left to form groups on their own, usually dividing teams up into specific tasks. One student played the role of “Creative Director”, and another as the “Lead Sound Manager”.  Other students filled vital roles such as, level design, character artists, code-programmers and business manager.  These high school teams met weekly, every Wednesday, in Mr. Sutphen’s classroom. Additional time spent on the project had to be found outside of the school setting where meetings were run through social media, e-mail and social gatherings.

On the first day of the two-day competition, the Millbury students boarded a school bus headed down to the Microsoft New England Research and Development building, located near the campus of MIT in Cambridge.  Though initially somewhat intimidated by the surroundings, the students quickly adapted and fully participated in a fantastic fun-filled day. From the vendors, food and eventually the competition, the students thoroughly seemed to enjoy what the Game Challenge had to offer.

On day one, each group attended lectures from Monty Sharma, Jason Della Rocca and industry professionals who talked about how to improve game quality, how to market games more effectively, and how to make contacts in the gaming industry.  Feedback from professionals and peers was a key to the students’ learning experience. This feedback would then be used by the students to make final adjustments before the day two of the Game Challenge.

During downtime at the competition, students were able to test out some awesome games and game technology from several indie game companies who were displaying their latest design prototypes and ideas. A friendly atmosphere allowed the students to feel comfortable in hobnobbing with college students and professional designers. Students felt right at home exploring the playground known as floor one of the Microsoft N.E.R.D.

Win or lose, every student left the competition with a smile on their face and a full belly. It was obvious that MassDiGI spared no expense to provide a generous banquet of pizza, club sandwiches, salads and desserts. Soda and chips were laid out by the table, and a hot chocolate/coffee machine was left out for almost every Millbury student to indulge upon.

To top it all off, each and every student had the opportunity to learn something new. Not a barrage of dates from history but instead on a topic that draws the attention of teenagers with the same intensity as iron to a magnet: video game design. More importantly, the Game Challenge left students with a lesson on the marketplace – how to create a successful game in terms of generating revenue – making a profit!  While it can be seen as beautiful for designers to view their game as a work of art, it is no doubt also important that their game possesses relatable, feasible business concepts that allow for the prospect that the game will actually make it in the market.

As students of Millbury Jr./Sr. High school and Game Challenge competitors ourselves, we can say that Millbury High is already looking forward to competing in the next year’s Game Challenge.

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Game Challenge winners – 3/8/14

Quick post. Winners!

3/10/14 update: Read the press release here.

Grand prize

People’s choice

 

College entertainment categories

- College concept

  • Spaghetti Flavored Cake – String Theory – winner – (Becker College)
  • Double Trouble – Duo – runner-up – (Becker College)

- College prototype

  • 80HD GamesBümbardia - winner – (Becker College)
  • Mustachio Games – Red Survivor – runner-up – (Binghamton University and Northeastern University)

- Honorable mention

  • Supergeneric – SunBots – (Champlain College)
  • K^2 – Mythitarium – (Becker College)
  • Subconscious Games – Synaptattack – (Becker College)

Indie entertainment categories

- Indie concept

- Indie prototype

College/indie serious categories

- Serious concept

- Serious prototype

  • Little Worlds Interactive – The Counting Kingdom -winner
  • PBn’ GamesZeebi Zoo – runner-up

- Honorable mention

  • Logan Harrington – Gone – (WPI)
  • Subaltern Games – No Pineapple Left Behind

High school category

  • Wasteland Trials – Millbury Memorial High School – winner
  • Wonderful Nightmares – Newton South High School – runner-up

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Game Challenge finalists – 3/8/14

Quick post noting Game Challenge finalists (and honorable mentions). Please forgive any spelling errors…

college entertainment

college concept

  • spaghetti flavored cake – string theory
  • double trouble – duo

college prototype

  • 80hd – bumbardia
  • mustachio – red survivor

honorable mention

  • k^2
  • subconscious
  • super generic

indie entertainment

indie concept

  • renfroe/stimpaq – virtuoso vengeance

indie prototype

  • chris chung – catlateral damage
  • golden hammer – big mountain snowboarding 2
  • now and zen – big bat baseball

college/indie serious

serious concept

  • spherical cow games – stickman
  • giant otter – bread and roses

serious prototype

  • little world interactive- counting kingdom
  • pbn games – zeebi zoo

honorable mention

  • gone – wpi
  • sub altern – no pineapple left behind

high school

  • wasteland trials – mmhs
  • wonderful nightmares – nshs

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SIP14 now accepting applications – 2/5/14

SIP14 now accepting applications

By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI

Looking for an internship? Well, you are in luck – again. MassDiGI is now accepting applications to our annual Summer Innovation Program. SIP is one of the largest game development internship programs in the region. Last year, of the 84 applicants from 24 different colleges and universities, 21 students from 9 were accepted. The students spent 11 weeks working on 5 great games.

The experience gives students a unique opportunity to build games with the support of professionals and mentors, live for free and earn a stipend.  SIP also allows students a level of autonomy – and responsibility – that is hard to find anywhere else.

You can find more details about SIP here as well as the program application. Click here for information about SIP ’12 and SIP ’13. Students with additional questions are welcome to drop us a line. May the force be with you.

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Making our games better, making ourselves better – 1/12/14

Making our games better, making ourselves better

By Jake Farrago, senior, Becker College

With the next generation of video game consoles now officially this generation, and with PC gaming continually pushing the bleeding edge of technological abilities, we are nearing the end of many disparities that have plagued video games’ pursuit of real world mimicry. The uncanny valley will soon be crossed, artificial intelligences will cease behaving as bumbling toddlers, and digital worlds will begin teeming with immersive life. However, as we tick these boxes and diligently scale the various stages of the hierarchy, our concerns should now be turning to a new aspect of video games. An aspect, whose inevitable arrival will ask us as game designers to think in a way that many of us have only given fleeting moments of consideration to. In the act of creating digital realities, are we not simultaneously becoming gods of these realities in the process?

The assertion that those who create life become imbued with a sense of godliness should not be that which is scoffed at or ignored. Just because the historical legacy of human beings’ own struggle with the concept of a creator is one riddled with conflict, tension, and doubt, it would do a great disservice to allow such bias to prevent us from taking up the omnipotent reigns as we forge ahead on the path of breathing life into digital existences. In fact, it’s a moral imperative that we not deny our critical roles in the creation of life in video games. For, doing so, we’d leave unattended the responsibilities and tasks that are traditionally charged to those in positions of divinity. The most important of these responsibilities perhaps being that of providing purpose and meaning for each and every part of our creations.

Currently, video games only serve to satisfy the player, an individual from our reality who chooses to transport his consciousness into the digital realm in order to entertain themselves. Everything else in the video game, from the blade of grass to the reactive organism, is in the service of this singular endeavor. Which, shares some self indulgent parallels with the gods of old, such as those present in Greek mythology. As it goes, those deities pursued as much gratification through meddling in the worlds of their creations, as we currently do through interacting with the various video games at our disposal. However, this approach will need to be transformed in tandem with the evolution of technological complexities present in video games. One day it will no longer be acceptable to dabble in these digital worlds with little concern for the repercussions of one’s actions. If you destroy an artificial intelligence, a truly intelligent one, what happens to it? While the game code may simply say it ceases to exist in its current state, what happens to its intelligence, its spirit? As game designers, are we prepared to create beautiful digital landscapes and profound virtual beings whose only express purpose is to serve at the beck and call of any whim our players may have? Personally, I find the prospects of such a state of affairs just as displeasing as the archaic religions that preach a god who demands we serve his commandments blindly and without question. Though, then again, when faced with that analogy with the roles now reversed, perhaps we’ll finally be able to empathize with the pressures that face those in a position of omniscient power.

Essentially, this line of reasoning leads to many questions being raised. Far too many to be covered in any one sitting. But, what may be more important than considering the countless forms this issue will take, is how best to go about addressing them. And, since I have no doubt that there will be countless ideologies that will spring forth in effort to achieve this very goal, I suppose now’s as good a time as any to throw my humble hat into the ring for consideration: If we make an effort to study the very existence that we’re witness to in our own lives, through unblinkingly looking within and without, we may discover how to not only better our creations, but also how to better ourselves.

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Where do we start? – 1/2/14

Where do we start?

By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI

Video games have never been more popular than they are today. More people are playing more games than ever before. As as result, it’s no surprise that making games is also more popular than ever particularly with young people.

To that extent, although our expertise is focused at the university-level, we often receive requests from parents and teachers asking “Where do we start?”  -  how to best direct their interested elementary, middle and high school students to a starting place.

In general, we try and point them to peers or at the myriad of existing resources on the Web. There are great options for beginner’s of all ages – from Scratch and Gamestar Mechanic to Game Salad and Game Maker to more advanced programs such as Code Academy. Sites of all sorts (like Reddit) offer informative tutorials and videos that provide valuable insight. There are even summer camps. In addition, organizations such as MIT’s Education Arcade, LGN, Joan Ganz Cooney Center, STEM Challenge, MinecraftEDU, AMD, IGDA and many others provide helpful information about games and K-12 education.

Of course, making games is tons of fun and can really help encourage and engage student interest in subject areas like algebra, calculus, physics, computer science, programming, art, music, design, writing, psychology, business and so much more.

Over the course of 2014, thanks to the ESA Foundation, we plan to take MassDiGI 101, a new program we are designing to help parents, teachers and high school students learn more about game making, on the road and visit communities across all the New England states. Keep an eye on this site or on our Twitter or Facebook feeds for information on when we’ll be in your neighborhood!

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A meaningful experience – 11/6/13

A meaningful experience

By Jake Farrago, senior, Becker College

Look at a painting. Read a book. Listen to a song. Do any of these activities and by the conclusion of them, it’s highly unlikely that the incessant stream of thoughts we call the human mind will be concerned with the pricing model, longevity, or format of said subject. No, what matters to each and everyone of us in the immediate aftermath of any of the aforementioned events is whether we can deem it as having been a meaningful experience. But, what is that exactly? How can one even begin to understand that vague abstraction, especially because when in the throes of it, in the tightest embrace of that feeling, most find themselves speechless and literally unable to describe it.

This rumination is hardly a new one, nor an unexplored one. Industries that churn and steam without pause spend every moment of their existence attempting to understand the aspects of this phenomenon. After all, there is big money involved in cracking the code behind its inner workings. Big egos too. Everyone wants to be known as the charmer who can induce people into a state of temporary engrossment amid the thrashings of a busy life, the luminary who can lower the barriers of a rigid mindset and deliver unto it new meaning. But the reality of the situation is that no matter how much we may covet or transact with those who have been accepted as having this skill, their roles are inherently that of an incomplete one. Much like a magician who reaches his hand into the hat and returns with it sans rabbit, the act is nothing short of crippled without the proper pieces present. But, if it’s established that those who conceive of and create these meaningful experiences that we ingest are, indeed, one part of the equation, who or what is the mysterious other half? Me. You. Us. And, no medium in human history to date has the potential to make this truth clearer than that of video games.

There is not a single medium of art that is truly a “passive” experience. That is to say, regardless of how little response we may give the stroke of a brush or the lick of a melody, we are fundamentally still engaging with it by perceiving it. However, video games have, and continue to make, this notion more and more explicit. For, in a video game, the subject-object relationship is never more apparent. In order to take an experience from a video game, we must in turn give our experience to it. And, this is where things start to get interesting. Since video games are not birthed in a vacuum, but are instead created by beings just like ourselves, they inherit traits from both parties responsible in this interchange. Meaning, the essences of both creator and the consumer are what makes a video game. Yet, this still fails to solve the initial question posed in this roundabout frustration of an article. If video games are, thus far, the pinnacle of an artistic and entertaining experience, how then does this translate into understanding the consistency of a  meaningful one? Why, the answer to the enigma is only but a skip across the proverbial pond.

While a basic experience is simply the act of both a creator and a consumer giving presence to an object, a meaningful experience is that in which both parties each give a piece of their very soul to it. Not to sound eerie, or, even worse, grandiose about it, but that’s the formula. It’s not really that complicated. It does not require hundreds of thousands of hours of quality assurance, or a deluge of slick marketing (although it may indeed include all that). It simply needs a pure, untarnished, part of ourselves. Sometimes it only takes one half of the birthing duo to realize this end, but, overall, it’s so much more potent when it comes from both parents. For, it’s only then when you immerse yourself in a video game that you feel yourself being enriched for it. It’s only then when you go to sleep at night that you are contented by that which you had a hand in making during your spent day. Video games and meaningful experiences, sometimes synonyms other times antonyms, are signposts to the realities and joys of life. Perhaps the most obvious of
which being this: by knowing you, I better understand me.

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Innovating for growth – 11/3/13

Innovating for Growth

By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI

Last week, entrepreneur and philanthropist Desh Deshpande and Governor Deval Patrick had a great conversation about the culture of entrepreneurship and its potential for the state’s Gateway Cities. No city represents that potential better than Worcester, which is why the conversation, part of “Innovating for Growth: A Gateway Cities Symposium,” took place, appropriately, at WPI’s Gateway Park.

govdesh2The symposium, which was moderated by Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki, brought leaders from the private and public sectors together for a dialogue on the growth of the innovation economy in Gateway Cities.

Of special interest was a panel discussion among Becker College President Robert E. Johnson, UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse and New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell that featured thoughtful comments on the progress of innovation and entrepreneurship in their respective communities.

Over the course of the symposium one message came across loud and clear; leadership at all levels is critical.

Gateway Cities like Worcester, Lowell, Holyoke and New Bedford are fortunate to have a diversity of smart, creative and driven private and public sector leaders, institutions, foundations, entrepreneurs and companies that are committed to strengthening their communities – economically, socially and educationally – through collaboration, cooperation and partnerships.

From my own perspective, leaders in Worcester are doing a great job of aligning people, resources and ideas in ways that leverage the intellectual, creative, innovative and capital assets within the city. This is hard work – and intentional work. Fostering the conditions that allow for success is not a random adventure. It is all about planning and execution.

Over the last decade key initiatives have positioned Worcester to compete. The city’s transition from smokestacks to stem cells has been remarkable – an amazing success story in its own right. And, given the work done in recent years, it is reasonable to expect that transition to continue into areas such as software (ehealth, big data, games, apps) and robotics. In fact, we are already seeing green shoots coming up across many of those areas.

At MassDiGI, we feel not only are we serving the needs of students and entrepreneurs at Becker, in Worcester and across the state, but we’re fostering the start-up spirit so critical to competing in today’s world be it locally or globally.

And, MassDiGI is just one small example of a campus-based initiative that is having an impact. WPI’s Gateway Park is a national model for what can happen. All the work at MCPHS University has been fantastic. At UMass Medical School, many incredible things are happening. Clark, Holy Cross, WSU, QCC and Assumption are engaged and involved. On the campus edges across the city we’re seeing new businesses opening – be they spin-offs, restaurants or shops. Not to mention all the activity surrounding City Square, Union Station, DCU Center, Shrewsbury Street and the Canal District.

Yes. There is plenty of work to do. Worcester has challenges but the prevailing conditions are in its favor. The building blocks are in place. With a sustained, collaborative effort, I imagine an exciting decade to come.

*This post originally appeared on Worcester Connects.

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