To throw a cat: The making of a tutorial
By Fury Sheron, junior, Tufts University
At this point in development, with only two or so weeks to go, it’s almost impossible to take any more feedback from anyone, especially playtesters. We’ve fixated our scopes, finalized UI designs, solidified a large percentage of art assets…if you name it, we’ve probably had six design meetings about it. Just about the only thing still up in the air, at least for the Comet Cats team, is the tutorial.
Comet Cats screenshot
This is terrifying because a huge dropoff point for mobile players is the tutorial. How many times have you downloaded a new game, waited irritably for the credits and loading screens to clear, been presented with a bible’s worth of textual instructions, and promptly deleted the game? More than once, I imagine. Now, we could be lazy and use the excuse that contemporary attention spans are dropping like flies and it’s out of our control, or we could be realistic and admit that the quality in media has skyrocketed in the past 5 years alone. Players are used to levels of user consideration and respect on par with Apple and Nintendo in all of their preferred media, and if your game doesn’t meet those standards, players will find another game out of the 800-something launched weekly that will.
So taking that into account, it’s been worrying that our team has struggled to teach people how to play our weird little game from day one. Once they get the hang of it, most folks seem to enjoy it, but we always have to explain how it works first. People don’t often figure it out on their own. Which is not their fault.
“Our tutorial shall fix this,” we said.
“It’ll be fine,” we said.
The major blocker keeping us from putting one in the game to test immediately was that we were told not to do so. Instead, we were strongly suggested to come up with a series of paper tutorials. These are written instructions (sometimes with pictures) on slips of paper that you physically hand people while they play your game.
Thing is, paper tutorials Never Work.
Testers would be handed an instruction in thick-tip black sharpie reading “Tap the screen to throw a cat” and then instantly ask us what to do. This was preposterous to our team, who had been staring at cats flying through the air for weeks. As if procuring a cat from one’s fingertips would never follow as a logical thought after reading the horrendously unclear and garbled jargon “TAP THE SCREEN TO THROW A CAT.” I didn’t understand how we could have done better. I always ended up verbally explaining how the game worked out of sheer annoyance and ruining the testing session (my bad, guys). This is because when we break down our pretty simple game, there are quite a few concepts that a player must intuit to fully understand the experience:
- Tap to throw a cat
- Drag to rotate camera
- Pinch to zoom
- Cats of the same color stick together
- ·Black cats stick to everything
- The rounds are timed
- The stars give you more time
- You must build your tower towards the stars to get them; you can’t just toss a cat through a star hanging in the air
- Also you get cool collectable skins, portraits, and items if you do well
- Also there are seven ways of doing well
That’s a lot of stuff.
When Pokemon GO came out this month, our scrupulous mentor Walt Yarbrough immediately leapt into action, pointing out how brilliant it was that the lack of straightforward tutorial in the game made people talk to each other and forced them to build a community. In response to this, jokingly, one of my teammates suggested this week, “Let’s just not include a tutorial and say that it ‘builds community.’” Frankly, it’s starting to sound like a pretty sweet option.
In all seriousness though, like P.J. Keenan said in his blog entry, the important thing seems to be keeping a level head and putting one Kanban sticky note in front of the other. Keep going at the pace you’ve been going and trust your team that Everything Will Be Okay. Our head programmer Ben Page has started assembling a tutorial in-engine – simple textless things like a pulsing icon in the center of the screen that you need to tap (TO THROW A CAT) in order to advance – and that’s started to make me, for one, feel a lot better.
No matter what kind of tutorial you make, it’ll work for some folks and anger others beyond redemption. When you were a kid were you someone that mashed A and skipped even the cleverest form of instruction? Did you stare at the screen, terrified to explore any controls on your own without textual prompting? We can’t control how people like to play games. It’s taken me this long to realize that. It’s also taken me this long to see that it’s not our fault, either. Some people just won’t get our game when it’s done and launched. That’s okay, because it is statistically impossible that our tutorial won’t work for some people. The rest can figure it out from “the community.”
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Getting through the grind
By P.J. Keenan, senior, Becker College
We all started our games this year with so much enthusiasm and vigor it was almost palpable. We were excited to make our games and had spent the time figuring out exactly where we wanted to go with the design. We all had a clear vision. So, what happens when the only consistent feedback about the game you envisioned is “This game stinks” or “I don’t get it?”
That’s what happened to the Gladiators team with our game Colosseum Coach. The even more disheartening thing was then when we asked all our testers what they wanted and we were either greeted with “Make it more like Minecraft” by the kids or a just a simple shrug from the adults. We didn’t sit around feeling sorry for ourselves though. We got back on that horse very quickly by making 5 very different quick prototypes over 2 days and playtesting with anyone we could grab. We got our feedback and settled on our choice of game, an intro to RPGs. The problem is, we didn’t finalize anything. And I mean anything. We made systems, tools and art resources having no idea if they were going into the final game, with communication errors going so far as not even knowing how many gladiators were in the party. We ended up often saying “we’ll figure that out later”. This is a horrible phrase. If you catch yourself saying this, stop procrastinating and decide on something. Everything can always be changed later, you just need to try something. We didn’t and left everything hanging in the air for a bit. This killed team motivation for a while. We were in a tired rut. MassDiGI managing director Monty Sharma likes to call this part of the process the Mesa of Misery.
P.J. Keenan at TouchTomorrow.
The fix was pretty simple though. Set in stone as much as possible. This gives everyone obtainable goals to make the tasks ahead not look so daunting. Everyone can see the document and know the exact details the team has agreed on. It cleared up so many communication issues along with giving everyone that little ray of hope of a near objective. We now had the goals to get through each day instead of each week. Make little mini-celebrations out of them, remember that you just fixed something in the whole picture of the game. It seems like this mesa is starting to get a little less miserable.
The point I’m trying to get to here is that you need to set your own vision. Your vision, not somebody else’s. You can certainly take advice from others, but you need to be able to filter it. I don’t really feel that incurring a lawsuit from Mojang by ripping off Minecraft completely is that great of an idea. Vision is what motivates you through the long work days. It’s tough staring at an LED screen doing the same repetitive things for a game that needs several more sprites or scripts. Making a game on a professional level is a huge undertaking that is hard to really understand until you have to do it. There are so many steps that have to be completed to get the ideas from paper to the actual working device that’s it’s so easy to lose track of the little accomplishments you’ve done. You need to grasp all of them tightly to remember you are in fact making progress. You are doing fine. You will get it done. Maybe not tomorrow, but someday. You just have to be patient and focus on why the game is making giant gladiators for some reason right now.
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Teamwork makes the dream work
By Conor Canavan ’16, Letterkenny Institute of Technology (Ireland)
So, I’ll start by saying that my personal favourite game is football (soccer), which means that my week did not get off to the best of starts (hint: tell your bosses the bad news first!). I watched my country, the Republic of Ireland, crash out of the UEFA Euro 2016 cup. But I wasn’t too upset as they had done themselves and the country proud. You see, individually, we were among the least talented nations in the tournament, but the team had made history by getting as far as they had. This was accomplished because they fought tooth and nail for each other. They had proven to me once again that with teamwork you can accomplish huge achievements against the odds.
With all that in mind I want to talk about my team and by extension, our game which is for now named Takeover Trail, formerly Tap’n’Takeover, formerly Campaigious, formerly Infectiganda. The initial idea was to produce a cross between Plague Inc infection-style gameplay and politics. That has changed dramatically from then to where we are now. The changes have been made as a result of many playtesting sessions and events, which you can read about in past blogs. Our game tried to mix two very different mechanics together, which were just not mixing well when it was tested. So we had a meeting. We then devised a plan, but largely ignored it and continued development. After more playtesting it was apparent that we were not moving in the direction we had hoped. We were straying away from each other and not working together. Ideas were spoken about but never acted upon, or critiqued in a helpful way. So we had a meeting.
As a group we said enough was enough. Our core mechanic had become tapping, a feature we all hated, so we used this hatred to bring us together again. The tapping was removed, debates were removed, and even Jimmy Chonga our now infamous AI was left in the cold where it belonged. Plans were made and stuck to this time. We are where we are today because of a decision taken in week 3 by us as a group “let’s just make Plague!”, and so the drawing board was taken out of storage and we went back to it.
(This is where you tell your boss some positive things before they send you packing). So we took my fellow programmer’s aptly named project Ian’s Idea and built upon it with one core idea in mind. We now started making decisions together, all while keeping scope in mind. After further playtests the feedback we received was more and more positive while retention rose every time we demoed at events. So whisper it quietly, but team Campaigious seems to have finally left the valley of DOOM! Although, we still need a new name.
Team Tap’n’takeover with Walter Somol
This past week we had two more in-studio visits including Walter Somol, the VP of publishing at Harmonix, who came in to talk to us about things he liked and disliked about the industry. He gave us great insight into his past experiences in the world of games and game development, and where he thinks the future lies for the industry. It was a very interactive experience, in which Walter asked us as many questions as we asked him. On Thursday the tech director of RatDog Games, Aaron Horne, came in and spoke about overcoming setbacks. He offered insight into his team’s experiences spending 3 months developing a map that went out of scope and no longer fit the game they were making. They came together as a team to make the decision to remove it and work towards the new deadline they set. It was a decision that our team could relate to, and I’m sure the other 3 could as well.
Finally, I want to end this blog by reintroducing my team, which you may already know from our producer Sarah Spiers’ blog in week one. Sarah attends Emerson College and is currently working on the business side of the game which includes things like marketing the game, and how the game will make money. On Tuesday we welcomed back one of our artists Erica Lyons of Becker College, and are delighted to have her, along with our other artist Liz Lanahan of RISD, to help the team ease into the next phase of production and get the game looking as fancy as possible! Of course, we have our audio specialist Joe Marchuk of Berklee College of Music. And, lastly we have the programmers, myself, Ian Clinkenbeard of Becker and Fandi Charifa of NYU. They are extremely talented, experienced and a pleasure to work with. They also comment code, which is pretty frickin’ fantastic.
So, that’s got you all caught up as far as I know. You can follow us on our Twitter and Facebook, and find information about the other games Slime Break, Comet Cats and Colosseum Coach on their social sites too. Also Eid Mubarak to Fandi who breaks his last fast next week after Ramadan.
Slán go fóill!
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Breaking in, breaking out
By Sam Luangkhot, senior, Smith College
When our core team of five was first assembled, I thought we were doomed. Out of the four MaSIP teams this year, we had the fewest members and none of us had interacted with each other outside of work hours. We struggled for the first two days as we adjusted to each other’s work styles, and we were lagging behind the other teams in the demo phase. Now, just a month after we all met for the first time, we’ve learned to rely on each other to build Slime Break, our endless side-scrolling version of BreakOut.
Team Slime Break
Marc McCrevan from Becker College is our lead artist and the most relaxed member of the team. He puts all of his heart into painting the game’s backgrounds, and even after scrapping 4 entirely different versions of parallaxing sceneries, he still has the energy to laugh whenever something goes wrong. “J” Tuason from Rochester Institute of Technology is our “dad” of the team, and tackles programming and art tasks while being our lead designer. J is never afraid to tell us when we’re straying outside of the intended scope or if a feature seems unnecessary, which has proven to be an invaluable strength on our team. They also make the best food, but the rest of us aren’t even competing. Andrew Barrett from Northeastern University is one of our programmers, and when he isn’t singing, dancing or making jokes to cheer us up, he’s picking out game bugs and gathering crowds to playtest the game. Liam Doherty comes all the way from Letterkenny Institute of Technology in Ireland and is our lead programmer. While he’s usually a silent worker, his playful personality shines through on his (rare) breaks. Joe Marchuk is everyone’s music man from Berklee College of Music, and we’re so thankful to have him as he puts up with all of our conflicting tastes in music. As for myself, I’m Sam from Smith College and I’m the team’s producer and final artist. I check on everyone else’s progress on the team while producing sprites, doing research, and keeping our social media up to date, which happen to be my favorite parts about making games!
Our team and game have gone through a few iterations ever since we settled on Slime Break’s direction four weeks ago. The game is currently an endless version of BreakOut, the classic brick-breaker arcade game, but with a fantasy-inspired art style and some cute slime creatures transformed into balls. The player controls a paddle that redirects the slime character (the ball) into oncoming bricks that scroll across the screen. As the slime character breaks bricks, the background changes to different phases which increase the game’s difficulty and different types of bricks are encountered in the various environments. The goal of our game is to get high scores and unlock new ways to play once your lifetime accumulation of points reaches certain thresholds. (Our initial pitch was a Portal-meets-BreakOut game; we’re all glad we ditched that early!)
The past two weeks in particular had been rough on us as we struggled with our biggest obstacle: BreakOut is already a well-established and fun game, but how do we make Slime Break stand out? We want to take advantage of our horizontal orientation and our unique characters, but it’s hard to come up with a new core mechanic. As we’ve gotten better about perfecting gameplay and nailing down an art style, it’s become more apparent that we need something special about our game to make it more than just a BreakOut clone. Our biggest day of feedback was last Thursday, when we visited several studios in Boston and then had a fantastic time at Boston TechJam. We first went to FableVision Studios, who applauded our story and encouraged us to pursue it. Next was Proletariat Inc., and the veterans prompted us to look into social integration so we could start thinking of ways to make the game a more social experience rather than as a single-player time-killer. Our harshest but most honest critique came from the incredibly experienced game developer Craig Alexander when we were visiting MassTech. He immediately challenged us to consider: “Why should I play your game? There’s a million other BreakOut games just like this one. The art isn’t enough.” Our art team (which also doubles as our design team) had been so focused on making our art style unique that we had overlooked making the gameplay distinct.
With this feedback in mind, we made some necessary changes to the scope of our gameplay. We cut out the different classes of characters that would have been unlockable ingame as different ball types and we are no longer working on a guild system, which would have worked as an ingame shop. With these endearing but distracting features removed, we now have time to further develop the core mechanics of our game and figure out a way to make it a “breakout” of its hybrid genre. Players (and the team) are attached to the cute slime characters, but the ball doesn’t do anything special yet. We’re currently trying to decide whether we should give the ball a slime-related ability or if we should improve the gameplay to give it better escalation and crazier payoffs, like ultra combos and unique drops. We’re leaning towards testing the second kind, since it sounds like more fun for players anyways.
As we brainstorm ways to implement these, we’ve realized our biggest challenge overall has been juggling “making this game fun” and “making this game work.” Now that we’ve finished making the basics of our game, we need to push it to an extreme so players aren’t bored with our working but predictable gameplay. We can finally focus on pushing the limits of our format and inspiring our players to keep coming back with timed reward systems and cute slime characters.
If you’re interested in seeing more of our slimes and our game, consider following our twitter and facebook! We love hearing feedback and interacting with other game developers, either online or at conventions. We just came back from Playcrafting Boston, and we’re planning on going to MassiveCon this weekend. We look forward to making this game the best we can, and we hope players enjoy playing it as much as we have enjoyed making it!
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Play, test, test again
By Abby Jackson, senior, Wheaton College (MA)
We have been in the swing of things here at MassDiGI SIP16 for a few weeks now. In this time our four teams have worked on many ideas trying to find the best ones to implement in our games. While my team had the core idea for our game within the first day or so we have been working hard to try new ways to make our game enjoyable. We want it to be as polished as possible. Of course, one of the best ways to do this and to try out ideas is playtesting. Even though we enjoy bouncing ideas off of each other and trying them for ourselves there is nothing that quite compares to the feedback you can get from people playing your game for the first time.
The team I have had the pleasure of working with is making a game about stacking cats on top of each other. The goal of this is to get the highest score you can and have a bit of quirky fun. The team is comprised of six other talented folks, the first being our star producer, Tyler Haddad, who attends Becker College. Another Becker College student on the team is Ben Page, our head programmer. Our head designer and one of our other programmers is Sienna Cornish from Hampshire College. Graham Held is our primary 3D artist from WPI along with helping the programmers. Fury Sheron from Tufts University does a bit of everything, while also being our primary UI designer. Joe Marchuk from Berklee College of Music does all our audio. My role consists of head artist, which has been an incredible experience so far.
Our first true round of playtesting (that did not just involve all the SIP teams playing each other’s games) came from the students at Worcester’s Elm Park Community School. They were a wonderful bunch of kids eager to play our games and give us feedback. Through watching them play, my team realized that there was a competitive aspect to our game that we had not even thought of. Many of the boys would compete against each other to try and get the highest score. One kid impressed us all by achieving the then highest score of stacking 126 cats. While the kids gave us a lot of positive feedback we also started to realize we had a few problems. Parts of our game seemed difficult to figure out. Even though the kids were smart enough to teach each other and ask questions, we did not have the intention of making our UI or gameplay mechanics confusing. We were able to ask the kids what they found difficult and resolved to come up with ways to fix the issues.
Our team: Back row – Joe, Graham & Ben – Front row – Sienna, me, Tyler & Fury
When it came to encouraging feedback the kids were not shy about letting us know what they liked about the game. While it seemed to be an even 50/50 split on people who loved cats versus people who disliked them, the theme did not seem to get in the way of people enjoying the game. Though, some of the kids did have the suggestion of making the cats into babies you could throw instead. They also told us about how they liked the shapes we had chosen to make the cats and that the gameplay was addictive. (Yes, a 12 year old used the proper form of “addictive”).
After our playtesting session with the Elm Park kids we got the opportunity to demo at Petricore Games. There, we received positive results. We were told that the core gameplay was fun but there seemed to be one little thing missing to really make the game great. We also realized another aspect we needed to make clearer. One important part of my team’s game is that there are sticky cats. These particular cats let you build your tower even higher. One could say they are a vital aspect to the game and yet, people didn’t realize they were sticky until after we told them. With this in mind we knew we would have to figure out some way to make sure people knew about the sticky cats so they could properly enjoy the game.
The next big play testing opportunity came from attending Touch Tomorrow at WPI. At this festival we took turns showing our game to kids and their (often, though not always,) reluctant parents.
We received a lot of similar positive feedback as our first playtest. Certain people found themselves unable to put the game down. Boys would play the game and then come back with their friends to make them compete. Through this we realized that while girls would play the game they did not seem as eager to continue to play it as the boys. This realization gave us something to consider with how we were going to try and get any kid to enjoy our game. Also through this test we were able to see if our improvements from all the previous feedback were working. We tried to make the sticky cats more apparent and had tweaked some of the UI to hopefully make it less confusing. Stars were also added around the cats as a collectible element to improve your score. In doing this we hoped that we had found a possible solution to that “one missing thing.”
While the stars received mixed reaction there were bits and pieces of feedback that we realized were really helpful. We even had a former SIP intern come and playtest our game while at Touch Tomorrow. He let us know what was working with the technical mechanics of our game and overall really liked it. However, even with the stars he agreed that the game was missing something. With all of this in mind we left Touch Tomorrow with a better understanding about what was working with our game and what we still needed to work on.
Overall, I have really enjoyed playtesting our cat game with my team. We have received exceptionally helpful advice (and some not so helpful advice). Through this experience we have learned to think critically about what people are saying and how to pick out the most important parts of what will possible improve our game. Meeting people and watching them have fun with something I have helped create has been incredibly rewarding. Thankfully, I will get to do this for a while longer with my wonderful team because there is always more playtesting to do!
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Strength and honor
By Grace Barrett-Snyder, senior, Smith College
Our team was two weeks into development when we were met with confused faces of playtesters. It was then we realized we had revisit the drawing board, as reluctant as were. You see, the game we were making here during MassDiGI’s SIP16 was too complex and lacked direction. Distracting visual elements overwhelmed our players, and the goal wasn’t simple enough to explain without a tutorial. Even worse, we didn’t have decent comps (comparables) or a target audience. Everything needed to change.
Our original concept was a rapid decision-based game about gladiators, where you play as the emperor and decide who wins or dies to please the audience. When we tested our prototype, players didn’t like the timed decisions, as the mechanic lacked real consequence and the “right” choice was not clearly communicated. With this feedback, we concluded that the premise we were tasked with was ultimately what held us back.
Before I tell you where we’re going next, let me tell you about us! While our title is still up in the air, we just call ourselves the Gladiator Team (you can identify us by who uses Ryver the most). There are 7 of us: 3 programmers, 3 artists, and 1 audio designer. The programmers are PJ Keenan and Anthony Popp, both from Becker College, and myself. Coding our prototypes coincided with turning to each other and saying “Guys, I promise I can write better code than this.” Mariel Rodriguez from RISD, Sofia Syjuco from Carnegie Mellon, and Catherine Litvaitis from RPI make up our art team. Their ability to deliver numerous high-quality assets is unreal (the gifs are a sweet bonus). Sofia, also our producer, rocks the Kanban board and has a real voice in leadership. And finally, Joe Marchuk (who you’ll probably hear about a lot on this blog) is our sound designer from Berklee College of Music. The compositions he writes blow everyone away, and somehow he does it without musical references from the rest of the team (whoops).
The Gladiator Team
The first couple days were easy for us, but the rosy glow began to fade (as MassDiGI’s Monty Sharma warned us). We needed to work together and faced some problems trying to do so. Growing pains, let’s call them. But we learned. In fact, we’re still learning. So by no means are we perfect, but we’ve developed better understanding of each other’s work-styles and methods of communicating in a respectful and honest way.
Now… where are we going from here? Well, we conducted thorough playtests yesterday and had a long design meeting this morning. We decided to center our new mechanics around a roster system, now approaching the project with a fantasy football perspective. Players seemed to really respond positively to the day-old prototype that explored this idea, instantly picking favorites among the new gladiators, who were each accompanied by combat stats, a name, and flavor text. We really want to encourage these relationships moving forward.
The Gladiator Team is heading back into the alpha stage stronger than ever. Now with clear direction, let’s keep up the momentum. Get excited for the next build!
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Starting off strong
By Sarah Spiers, senior, Emerson College
Orientation seems so distant now that we are starting the third week of the program. At the start of MassDiGI’s Summer Innovation Program, the interns were ushered into a lecture hall and met Monty Sharma, Tim Loew, and Walt Yarbrough. We talked about game business, production, and some marketing. Between these discussions, we were grouped together several times a day to learn how to create game ideas and pitch them to the rest of the participants. We quickly learned how to get into the mindset of creating games that sell rather than pitching vague what-ifs.
Team Campaigious hard at work.
The next week we were divided onto our teams. Monty announced producers and team members assigned themselves various roles. I was named producer and voted lead designer for a political game, which is affectionately (and temporarily) called Campaigious.
The Campaigious team is comprised of incredibly talented and dedicated artists and programmers. Liz Lanahan from RISD and Erica Lyons from Becker College, the artists, have pumped out more assets and backgrounds than I thought possible. The programmers, Ian Clinkenbeard from Becker, Fandi Charifa from NYU, and Conor Canavan from LYIT have gone above and beyond what is expected of them. Currently we are struggling to choose between a more strategic route or a fast-paced clicker. Regardless, we hope to release the game at the end of the program, and if we keep up the momentum, I’m sure we can.
By the end of week two, all teams had blazed through their concept and prototype phases and started production. We had some mentors visit and had a couple of demo sessions. We also had many, many meetings discussing ways to keep up our energy, make smart decisions, and prevent us from falling too far behind in production.
Looking forward, we have several demos coming up in June and I think everyone is excited to start showing off our games to the public. Until then, we’ll keep moving along!
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Happy fifth birthday to us!
By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
Five years ago today, MassDiGI was officially established. Time really does fly. Just wanted to post this up today in recognition of the date – I’ll circle back later with a few thoughts on where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going.
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SIP16 team selected
By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
Applications to our annual Summer Innovation Program (SIP) have grown year after year in terms of quality, quantity, geographic reach and diversity. This year we received applications from 216 undergraduate and graduate students representing 66 colleges and universities from around the world – making it our most competitive year yet.
Choosing only 24 was a daunting task. After much conversation, the committee selected a talented group. This summer’s SIP16 teams will be made up of interns from 15 institutions including Becker College, Berklee College of Music, Carnegie Mellon University, Emerson College, Hampshire College, Letterkenny Institute of Technology (Ireland), NYU, Northeastern University, RPI, RISD, Rochester Institute of Technology, Smith College, Tufts University, Wheaton College (MA) and WPI.
SIP16 begins on May 17 and concludes on August 5. Over those 11+ weeks, with guidance from professional staff and industry mentors, SIP16 teams will be responsible for all the work necessary to successfully launch their games. There is no internship program like it in the country.
As in previous years, SIP16 students will receive housing courtesy of Becker College as well as a modest stipend. Most importantly they will all receive the greatest game development experience of their lives. Yes, it may be a lot of work – but it’s also a lot of fun. We can’t wait to get going.
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Official Press Release:
Virtual reality game Intern Astronaut takes grand prize in fifth annual MassDiGI Game Challenge pitch contest
Above: L to R – Broken Door Studio’s Kedong Ma, Yingying Chen, Shane Stenson, Sean Halloran, Jake Hawes and MassDiGI’s Monty Sharma
Cambridge, MA – February 29, 2016 – Intern Astronaut by Broken Door Studio, a team of students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), won the grand prize in the fifth annual Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDiGI) Game Challenge pitch contest this weekend.
Intern Astronaut is a virtual reality game that takes on-the-job training to new heights. Made for Gear VR, Intern Astronaut is an immersive and funny game that enrolls the player as an intern tasked to fly a spaceship.
Taking on the role of an untrained intern in the game, players must watch their spaceship’s monitors for urgent instructions from mission control on what to do to keep their ship flying. Any instruction completed incorrectly or not quickly enough will damage their ship until their internship ends with them stranded in space! Every time players start the game their ship is equipped with different control panels and they are given new instructions on how to pilot it, ensuring that every playthrough is as challenging as the first day on the job.
- View the Intern Astronaut trailer here
Broken Door Studio, which also won the College Beta/Near Release category, is made up of Sean Halloran, Yingying Chen, Shane Stenson, Kedong Ma and Jake Hawes. The game will be released for Gear VR in late spring 2016.
“Our team is thrilled to have won the Game Challenge. It was a great event for all of us,” said Sean Halloran, the team’s programmer. “We got terrific feedback from so many amazing mentors and judges. We learned so much. Everyone making games should go to it.”
The MassDiGI Game Challenge helps indie, startup and student game developers and entrepreneurs shape their ideas and products for launch. This year 35 teams from across the northeast competed in front of a packed room at the Microsoft New England Research & Development Center in Kendall Square.
Since the MassDiGI Game Challenge began five years ago, over 175 different teams from around New England and beyond have pitched games and taken home prizes valued at over $100,000. Top past winners include titles such as PWN, Catlateral Damage, Depression Quest, Pathogen, Wobbles and Starlot Derby.
Above: L to R – Competitor Chaima Jemmali meets with mentor Wizdy’s Nikita Virani
The annual event is a showcase for the expanding game development cluster in the region. Over the event’s two days, dozens of game industry veterans served as speakers, mentors and judges.
As the Grand Prize and College Beta/Near Release Category winner Broken Door Studio won cash, legal services from Greenberg Traurig, computer hardware and game merchandise valued at over $7,500.
“This year’s contest was the closest competition ever,” said Monty Sharma, managing director of MassDiGI, “We were really impressed by the teams, their creativity and skills. Each year we see improvements in the games and in their market potential.”
Other top winners include Worcester-based Zephyr Workshop which won the People’s Choice Award as well as the Indie Demo/Alpha Category for Florafiora, a game they are making in collaboration with Mob Made Games of Cambridge.
“Winning not only our category but the People’s Choice Award is rewarding and humbling,” said Breeze Grigas, Zephyr Workshop’s Co-Founder and Designer. “We’ve been coming to the Game Challenge for five years, each time we get better and this year it really paid off for Florafiora.”
Florafiora is a single-player experience where you help planetoid-dwelling “Seedizens” explore and expand their tiny universe, meeting other cultures and keeping everyone happy and productive.
“With so many exciting games from indies and students in the competition, it was a challenge to make a decision,” said Caroline Murphy, CEO of the Boston Festival of Indie Games, one of the contest’s judges. “To me, just entering the MassDiGI Game Challenge shows a commitment to creating games that speaks to success.”
The other top Indie winner was Jig Time which won top honors in the Beta/Near Release Category. Jig Time is a fun, new photo-sharing app – like Snapchat but with more game elements – that allows users to exchange their images in the form of interactive jigsaw puzzles.
I++, another team of WPI students, won the Serious Game Category with Chinmoku, a mystery game which seeks to teach the player hiragana, one of the Japanese writing systems, through immersive gameplay.
Serious Game Category runner-up honors went to EduSaga, a team from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, with their eponymous Chinese language-learning detective game.
Heist Night, made by yet another team of WPI students, won the College Demo/Alpha Category.
Winning the High School Category was PolyThief made by Nostradingus, a team of students from Millbury (MA) Memorial Jr./Sr. High School.
“We met these students three years ago. Since then their teacher has given them encouragement and brought them to the Game Challenge each year. The students have learned from mentors and from each other how to build an award-winning game,” said Sharma. “It’s great to see.”
Runner-up in the High School Category from Westborough High School was Hoksy with Shelter Shock.
Other Category Runner-up honors went to:
- Indie Demo/Alpha: Petricore Games with Traveling Merchant
- Indie Beta/Near Release: Copper Frog Games with Tattoo! A Game of Ink
- College Demo/Alpha: Omnitone Games from Becker College with HotWired
- College Beta/Near Release: French Frogs from Becker with Make Bonds Now and Jeremy Slavitz from Tufts University with Metamorphic
Honorable Mentions were given to:
- Indie Demo/Alpha: BareHand with Big Boi Little Boi
- College Demo/Alpha: MOTU from Fitchburg State University, Revolver: Rebound from WPI, Convergence from Becker and The Experiment from the Five College Consortium
- College Beta/Near Release: Lily Leap from Becker
Indie and College Category winners also received prizes including cash and legal services from Morse, Barnes-Brown & Pendleton valued at $1,000. The event is supported by MassDiGI’s annual sponsors and hosted by Microsoft New England Research & Development.
About the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDiGI)
MassDiGI is the statewide center for entrepreneurship, academic cooperation and economic development across the games ecosystem. MassDiGI’s many programs and activities support business growth and enhance the talent pipeline between higher education and the game industry.
For more information about MassDiGI, please visit massdigi.org or follow them on Twitter @mass_digi.
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