Breaking in, breaking out – 6/24/16

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

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.

Sam Luangkhot

Sam Luangkhot

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 – 6/17/16

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.

Abby Jackson

Abby Jackson

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

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.

Fury

Fury

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 – 6/9/16

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).

Yeehaw team selfie - fixed

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 – 6/7/16

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.

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! – 4/26/16

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 – 4/6/16

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.

sip16img2Choosing 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.

*updated 5/6/16

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Boston Globe: VR game that lets you pilot a spaceship won top honors at 2016 MassDiGI game pitch contest

“Whether it’s the Starship Enterprise or the Millennium Falcon, many of us have long dreamt of piloting a spaceship.

Now, thanks to a team of college students, that dream can now become a reality — or more like a virtual reality nightmare.

“Intern Astronaut,” created by Broken Door Studio, a five-student team from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, won the grand prize at the fifth annual Massachusetts Digital Games Institute Game Challenge pitch contest held over the weekend.”

Read the full story here in the Boston Globe.

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