Growing the team
by Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
We are excited to announce David Lennon has joined MassDiGI as our Technical Director. David brings a wealth of engineering experience to our team – something we need in order to grow our operational and technical capabilities. His addition will allow us to better deliver our programs and services – be it the Summer Innovation Program, Live Code, Mentoring on Demand etc. – and expand our own game development activities. David, who is also currently consulting to Metaversal Studios, was most recently executive director of engineering at Turbine. Welcome aboard, David!
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Free speech in a culture of outrage
By Christopher Ferguson, Ph.D., associate professor and department chair, Stetson University
Last month ex-Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling publicly identified two young men who allegedly posted sexually threatening comments about his daughter. These comments were replies to a twitter feed by Schilling congratulating his daughter for committing to the Salve Regina softball team. Just last month the New York Times Magazine carried a piece on Justine Sacco, whose career as a PR executive imploded after she tweeted insensitive and racially charged remarks about AIDS in Africa before getting on a flight to the continent. Taken together, these incidents bookend the struggle modern society continues to wrestle with regarding free speech in the internet age. How do we balance civility and courtesy with respect for free speech, even offensive speech, when anyone can say anything publicly? And what are the proper ramifications for offensive speech? Is free speech only about the First Amendment?
The hateful, misogynistic and threatening comments toward Schilling’s daughter represent one end of the spectrum. If these statements threatened assault on the young woman as news reports suggest, they would constitute harassment or incitement to violence and wouldn’t be constitutionally protected by the First Amendment. But what if they were not physically menacing but were vicious, demeaning and bullying? Here I’d argue that even non-assaultive hateful speech targeted at specific individuals can threaten free speech, to the extent that they serve to silence the voices of marginalized or underrepresented groups. Young women (and their fathers) should be able to celebrate their successes without being exposed to a cascade of misogyny. Schilling was quite right to call out his daughter’s harassers. Whether a legal matter or not, these individuals should not be shielded from the professional and personal ramifications of their actions, as their behavior specifically sought to silence the voice of young women.
But what about Justine Sacco? Before a trip to Africa in 2013 she tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” This racially charged tweet makes light of a humanitarian crisis in Africa as well as centuries of white privilege that has held many people of color in lives of bondage and economic deprivation for generations. Was this a message of hate meant to silence African voices, or a stupid, even satirical off-the-cuff comment?
To be clear, I don’t support Sacco’s tweet, which, at best, was ill-advised and insensitive. But I’m also concerned about the “culture of outrage” that has emerged over such events. The New York Times Magazine piece details a frenzy over Sacco’s tweet that seemed more spectator sport than true moral concern. The narrative involved her being a PR executive (who presumably should have known better) and having her fate decided unbeknownst to her while she was on an 11-hour flight. Sacco’s case appears to me to have as much to do with the bloodsport of watching someone’s life splinter in real time as it does any sincere moral concern.
Perhaps more absurd was the case of Breanna Mitchell, a teen girl internationally condemned for the crime of smiling while taking a selfie at Auschwitz (something I suspect most people would unconsciously do). Why does the internet community seethe with rage over slights such as these to the point we demand that these people’s professional lives and self-worth should be ended for all time?
When it comes to saying insensitive, stupid or boneheaded things, if we’re honest with ourselves, most people do this from time to time. If we expected everyone to be fired for ever having said something awful, frankly, the world would be unemployed. In most day-to-day discourse when we say something insensitive, we are given the chance to be confronted and reply, “You know, I was just trying to be funny, but I now realize my comments were offensive. I should have been more thoughtful and I hope you’ll accept my apology.” A careful and constructive challenge to insensitive speech can often set up a situation in which the offender can reflect on what they’ve said and be enlightened why such speech can be hurtful. Sure, some people are jerks and don’t care, but often these situations can be resolve easily with both people satisfied and no one losing their jobs. Unfortunately our culture of outrage deprives people like Sacco of this opportunity.
Of course people need to be careful about what they post publicly. But we also need to think more about whether our outrage fits the crime, and whether our calls for public humiliation do society more harm than good. At what point does this culture of outrage begin to chill not only offensive jokes and tweets, but legitimate dialogue on sensitive issues? How do we have frank and open discussions about race and gender if people are worried that saying the wrong thing might cost them their jobs or place in society?
I think it boils down to what I call sanctimony bias: our tendency to feel better about ourselves by pointing out the moral failings of others. We tell ourselves “I would NEVER make a joke about AIDS” even as we laugh at jokes about a myriad of other public tragedies. It’s hypocritical and it does damage free speech. Sure, the First Amendment doesn’t protect us from professional and personal consequences of the things we say, and free speech should not be a license for public idiocy and bigotry without challenge. But neither should this observation be an open license for cruel overreactions to minor buffoonery that can both damage people’s lives and truly limit freedom of expression.
Curt Schilling: http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Family/Modern-Parenthood/2015/0302/Curt-Schilling-defends-daughter-from-Twitter-bullies-with-help-of-followers
Justine Sacco: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/how-one-stupid-tweet-ruined-justine-saccos-life.html?_r=1
Breanna Mitchell: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/24/auschwitz-selfie-girl-breanna-mitchell_n_5618225.html
Christopher Ferguson, Ph.D., is an associate professor and chair of the department of psychology at Stetson University. His research interests include examining the effects of media on behavior, such as video game violence, thin-ideal media or advertising effects.
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SIP15 roster chosen
By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
Year after year applications to our annual Summer Innovation Program (SIP) have grown in terms of quality, quantity, geographic reach and diversity. This year we received applications from 214 undergraduate and graduate students representing 55 colleges and universities from across the world – making it by far our most competitive year ever.
Choosing only 24 was a challenge. After much discussion, the committee selected a talented group. This year’s SIP teams will be made up of interns from 15 institutions including Becker College, Berklee College of Music, Brandeis University, Champlain College, Hampshire College, IUPUI, MIT, Northeastern University, RPI, RISD, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Southern California, University of Southern Maine, WPI – and our first international institution, Letterkenny Institute of Technology in Ireland.
SIP begins on May 19 and concludes on August 7. Over those 11 weeks or so, with guidance from professional staff and industry mentors, SIP 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, SIP 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 ton of fun. We can’t wait to get going.
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Ready, set, go! MassDiGI and HackerRank announce CodeSprint
By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
Are you the best game coder in the world? Prove it by competing in our MassDiGI CodeSprint challenge. The challenge, conducted in partnership with HackerRank, gives competing students the chance to test their programming mettle with the winners taking home some great prizes like $250, a Nvidia Shield Portable or a 3-day 2015 PAX East badge. Click here to enter. The online competition starts today and closes on March 3 – with the final bot competition presented at the Pre-PAX East Made in MA Party on March 5.
HackerRank is a site for hackers from all over to solve programming problems in different computer science domains like algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and to excel in different programming paradigms like functional programming. It is the planet’s fastest growing developer platform and it is on a mission to make the world fast by making hackers the best at what they do.
Companies like Riot and Pocket Gems use HackerRank as part of their recruiting process – so competing students just might find they get a call after this CodeSprint is over! Good luck to all.
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Update – Read full results announcement here on Gamasutra. Read the story here on VR World and here at the Daily Herd.
Update – Winners announced:
- Grand Prize – Wooplex “Wooplex”
- People’s Choice – Team Future “Black Hat Oculus”
- Indie Demo/Alpha – Mob Made “Descendants” [Runner up Zephyr]
- Indie Beta/Near Release – Wooplex “Wooplex” [Runner up Team Future]
- College Demo/Alpha – Play Nimbus “Private Eyes” [Runner up Deli Bar; 2nd Runner up Two Brothers]
- College Beta/Near Release – Maximum Crash “Starlot Derby” [Mustachio]
- Serious Demo/Alpha – Studio REKS “Paper Pests”
- Serious Beta/Near Release – Skylight “Lyrical” [Runner up DynamicX]
- High school – The Kilskast “Math for Honor” [Runner up Nostradingus]
Update – Finalists announced:
- Indie Demo/Alpha – Mob Made “Descendants” and Zephyr “Florafiora”
- Indie Beta/ Near Release – Team Future “Black Hat Oculus” and Wooplex “Wooplex” (honorable mention to UE Games)
- College Demo/Alpha – Deli Bar “Carpe Diem” (Becker, UMass Lowell), Play Nimbus “Private Eyes” (Becker) and Two Brothers “Hyper Syntax” (Champlain) (honorable mention to The Hurly Birds “Get Up, Chuck”(Northeastern))
- College Beta/Near Release – Maximum Crash “Starlot Derby” (Becker) and Mustachio Games “Red Survivor” (Binghamton, Northeastern, Hampshire & RISD)
- Serious Demo/Alpha – Studio REKS “Paper Pests” (WPI)*
- Serious Beta/Near Release – Skylight “Lyrical” and DynamicX “The Shield: By Sword and Knowledge”
- High school – Nostradingus “Insula Noe” (Millbury, MA) and The Kilskast “Math for Honor”(New York, NY)
Stay tuned for more detailed posts soon.
* Category winner
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Think summer: 2015 SIP application period opens
By Timothy Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
SIP ’14 – Team picture
There may be 33.5″ of snow on the ground as I write but it is never to early to think about our annual Summer Innovation Program. Since the program began in 2012, of 296 total applications, 61 students from 16 different colleges and universities have earned a spot to spend their summer making games with us.
This past year, the 22 accepted students came from Becker College, Berklee College of Music, Hampshire College, MIT, Mt. Holyoke College, Northeastern University, RISD, Smith College, Tufts University, UMass Lowell and WPI. Working on teams – in just a little over 11 weeks – they produced four great games, all of which will be available to play soon, with two being published by Thumbspire. To get a sense of their games and the process, scroll back through some of last summer’s blog entries.
There is no other internship program like SIP in the world. Accepted students will have a game development experience they will never forget. Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? Details on the program, as well as the application, can be found here. The deadline for applications is March 20, so apply today!
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The gates are open: 2015 Game Challenge registration begins
By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
One of the events I look forward to most each year is our big MassDiGI Game Challenge pitch competition. There really is nothing like it. Come experience it for yourself – team registration and general admission for the 2015 edition is now open.
Game Challenge ’14 – Grand Prize winner Jenna Hoffstein, Little Worlds Interactive, The Counting Kingdom
Since the Game Challenge began in 2012, over 120 teams have entered some pretty amazing games including titles like The Counting Kingdom, Catlateral Damage, PWN, Wobbles, Depression Quest and Pathogen – just to name a few of the winners from past years. In addition, over 700 competitors – be they indies, students or hobbyists – had the chance to meet with industry mentors, hear from experts, share knowledge, split $50,000 in prize value, have fun, play and celebrate games.
This year, we made a couple of changes worth pointing out – 1.) moving the event from early March to early February and 2.) redefining Concept and Prototype to Demo/Alpha and Beta/Near Release.
In addition to those changes, we are also pleased to note that this year’s event t-shirt design will come from the winner of, you guessed it, the Game Challenge t-shirt design contest. Give it shot.
Other than that, thanks to the sponsors, mentors, judges and volunteers, it should be as exciting as always.
Of course, we couldn’t pull any of this off without such great teams and their games – the competition is the show. I look forward to seeing you there.
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Launch! Many Mini Things coming soon to the Leap Motion App Store
By Pat Roughan, senior, WPI
Many Mini Things is a fun motion-control party game for the Leap Motion controller that combines many mini-games with mini capsule toys. The mini-games challenge you to win as many as possible before losing four times. You preform actions, like spinning a DJ disc or kicking a hacky sack into space, by moving your hand over the Leap Motion. Each victory is rewarded with a virtual collectible toy, and high scores for each difficulty are saved to an in-game score table.
Download Many Mini Things for free here, invite your friends over and have a blast!
When our team of developers looked into the Leap Motion, we wanted our players to immediately understand the controls for our games without instruction. We decided on motion, grip, and spin as our three controls, and looked at real world activities that used these motions. We then added a level of unexpected wackiness to it, like fireworks going off after petting a rock, to make the activies more engaging than their real world counterparts.
The game, made for players of all ages, was created by a team of six students from WPI, Becker College, Smith College and Berklee College of Music during the 2014 MassDiGI Summer Innovation Program (as well as Becker students from a fall ’14 /spring ’15 Live Code course ). Our team of interns worked over the eleven weeks to create a game that would be published for all to enjoy through the Leap Motion app store. With help from game industry mentors and MassDiGI staff, we turned Many Mini Things from a concept into a reality – and we hope you love it as much as we do.
Find us online!
Web – http://games.massdigi.org/manyminithings/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/manyminithings
Twitter – https://twitter.com/ManyMiniThings
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Click here to read Renzo Heredia’s post about SIP ’14 on BetaBoston.
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Why analytics matter
By Benji Smith, sophomore, Northeastern University
As game developers, we often tell ourselves stories when making games. Not the ones that you see in a script, but ones about the people who will play the game. “Okay, so this part will introduce the player to mazing, and then they use that to defeat the boss, and then they’ll feel awesome.” Every pixel, line of code, or variable changed all has a purpose, and we tell ourselves that the player will interact with it in a particular way and get a specific reaction out of it.
In reality, things aren’t that easy. Our stories about our games are often as fictional as the stories within them. That’s why we playtest. But playtesting isn’t an exact science; it’s often much more qualitative. And that’s good! There are a lot of changes that require qualitative feedback more than raw data. But there are also a lot of risks that come with it. We tend to gloss over feedback more easily. Every piece of info we receive gets contorted into our story. It’s all too easy to assume that the tester is an anomaly, that most players will play the game ‘properly.’
But with quantitative feedback collected from all players, the illusions disappear. It’s no longer, “I didn’t see the button,” but rather “Out of 100 players, 63 didn’t see the button.” Likewise, it’s no longer “This player just doesn’t understand,” instead “63 percent of players just don’t understand.” This summer, we’re using Splyt Analytics to help drive our decision making on Midnight Terrors. It’s hard to argue with the data, because data doesn’t tell a story. Data is the story.
That’s not to say data is infallible. It can be outdated or incomplete, and it can certainly be misinterpreted. But it can never be wrong. That’s because data is just what happened. It doesn’t carry any analysis of its own, it’s just a series of numbers and events.
In some ways, it’s a bit intimidating to use analytics. It’s effectively handing off your game, and letting whatever will happen, happen. You can’t coach people, and you can’t hide from the results. In some ways, it’s like launching a title (just with a quarter the stress). But it’s absolutely necessary, because polishing a game can’t just be an art. It needs to be an art and a science. And for that, we need data.
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