Next stop, Gamescom – 8/13/16

Next stop, Gamescom

By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI

kolndom

Cologne, Germany

Thanks to the Goethe-Institut Boston, I’ll be traveling to Gamescom, the giant European games show, in Cologne, Germany. The Goethe-Instituts make up the international cultural arm of the Federal Republic of Germany. There are 159 institutes in 98 countries – including the one in a handsome Back Bay brownstone.

In addition to their typical work, the GIB is beginning to explore the games space from multiple perspectives from cultural to economic. I’ll be supporting their efforts in helping to build relationships between the German game development community and ours here in Massachusetts.

Also joining the mission will be folks from the MIT Game Lab.

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to all the meetings and activities we have planned. It’s going to be awesome. Thanks again to the Goethe-Institut Boston for making it possible.

+ Check out our social media channels for regular updates from Cologne.

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GAME LAUNCH Ophidia rising – 7/29/16

Ophidia rising

By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI

oph1

Ophidia screenshot

Ophidia, a beautiful, free and fun artistic action game in which you play as a serpent encircling creatures to win is now available to download on the App StoreGoogle Play and Itch.io. The game was created during the 2015 MassDiGI Summer Innovation Program (SIP) by students Glinda Chen from RISD, Gary Charlton from Becker, Rachel Burton from WPI, Liam O’Donnell-Carey from LYIT, Matt Williams from Becker and Alex (Ripple) Parrish from Berklee.

Working over that summer, the team produced a functional beta of the game – watch the trailer here.  From there, we brought the game into our LiveStudio program at Becker during the 15/16 academic year. Through LiveStudio, more students across a range of disciplines had roles in the further development of the game and getting it ready to launch.

Then, over the course of this summer, a team made up of past students from SIP, LiveStudio and other efforts put the final touches on the game and it is now available to download for iOSAndroid and PC/Mac.

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GAME LAUNCH Fusion Galaxy blasts off – 7/29/16

Fusion Galaxy blasts off

By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI

Fusion Galaxy screenshot

Fusion Galaxy screenshot

Fusion Galaxy, a free, fun game which challenges players to gather elements through fast-paced sorting and craft new things is now available to download on both the App Store and Google Play. The game, originally titled Crafting Life, was created during the 2015 MassDiGI Summer Innovation Program (SIP) by students Devi Acharya from Brandeis, Ari Green from MIT, Shannon Mitchell from Champlain, Joseph Gillen from LYIT, Isaiah Mann from Hampshire, Matteo Lanteri from Becker and Alex (Ripple) Parrish from Berklee.

Working over that summer, the team, using Unity, produced a solid game – watch the trailer here.  From there, we brought the game into our LiveStudio program at Becker during the 15/16 academic year. Through LiveCode, more students across a range of disciplines had roles in the further development of the game and getting it ready to launch.

Then, over the course of this summer, a team made up of past students from SIP, LiveStudio and other efforts put the final touches on the game and it is now available to download for iOS and Android.

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The final countdown – 7/26/16

The final countdown

By Joe Marchuk, junior, Berklee College of Music

Holy wow. So it’s come down to this; the final week of development. In these harsh and trying times, the words of MassDiGI’s managing director, Monty Sharma, echo…

“…it’s always the audio guys who get put off until the end and get screwed over…”

Wise words indeed, and as much as I knew it was coming, as much as I prepared myself and prepared each team, I still feel the pressure. Inevitably, there have been a multitude of last-minute requests to get some new sound effects in or provide a new mix on a track. On top of that, we’re trying to get trailers finished for each game ASAP. The pressure is on-like-Donkey Kong, but the good thing is, I don’t feel it alone.

Joe Marchuk

Joe Marchuk

As the sole resident “audio guy” (aka “Lord of the Dance”), I have the unique perspective of being on all four SIP teams at once. I’m responsible for the bleeps, bloops, bangs, whooshes, and sweet jiggity jams that get put on these games. Approaching the eleventh hour of development, my experience has been a roller coaster ride that has fluctuated between the relaxing high points of being pleasantly surprised with the amount of work left, to the sudden fast-paced drops towards the low points of realization upon playing a build that there is much, much more to be done. It’s a vicious cycle. While this may have its stressful moments, it’s also comforting to know that no matter how far into production-beta-omega-post-polish-whatever phase, and no matter how much progress is left to be done, big or small, every team and every team member is pushing their hardest to get as close to a finished product as possible by the end of the week. Last Friday, we had the pleasure of getting feedback from some of the folks at Intrepid, Harmonix, Demiurge, and the Indie Game Collective. As exciting as it was to be able to get more professional feedback, it was radically stressful making a mental list of every recommendation that we wouldn’t have time to consider. What I can safely say from having one limb in each game is that we are all feeling that same pressure on one level or another, and beyond any anxiety, stress, or fear that it induces, there’s a gung ho attitude among the teams that makes me feel motivated to contribute everything I can to get the best product we can by the end of the week.

After all, we’ve worked our butts off, even on our bad days. We’ve pushed to promote games that, a month ago, some thought wouldn’t be worth promoting by now. And yet, we’ve had a blast. I’ve spent this summer doing exactly what had I hoped my career would become back when I was a hopeful high school student, plus more.

Thinking back to when these games started as mere conceptual seeds of serendipitous aspiration back in orientation week, I’m absolutely amazed with how far the teams have been able to come and how much work has been done to get from then to now. Looking at myself, I’m extremely proud with how I’ve grown this summer as a composer and sound designer. All of it is thanks to the people who have grown next to me. I’ve met some incredibly talented, friendly, unique people in the program. I have watched them revel and improve in in their respective skills. I’ve watched them break out of the shell they bore when I first met them. I have watched them learn from each other and I have learned immensely from them. I’ve seen all four teams go through rough patches, smooth patches, and just plain old collective confusion and despair. I have watched a poorly translated version of Star Wars with them.

Every one of us is walking away this summer with a fat new set of killer skills for paying bills, a whole bunch of new contacts, some great stories to tell, and some fantastic new friends. These people are paragons of a pastime made more than a hobby, and I can’t wait to see where video games will take us all in the coming years.

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To throw a cat: The making of a tutorial – 7/18/16

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

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.

Fury Sheron

Fury Sheron

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.”

Comet Cats

Comet Cats

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