Embracing simplicity – 6/23/17

Embracing Simplicity

By Emily A. Ramirez ’19, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Monty Sharma, our boss, picked up the iPad and gazed down at the screen through his glasses. He hit “Start,” dragged his finger across the screen, evaded the walls like a true Snake expert, and scored a thousand points before dying. There were maybe forty seconds total of gameplay, silent save for the game’s placeholder music. He politely grimaced and said, “It’s alright.” He then held up a hand to his chin and looked at us. “Guys, I want to play the best snake game of all time. You guys need to get at the root of it: what makes a good snake game?” We slunk back to our computers, wondering how we could amount to the task we’ve just been given.

Receiving feedback on our game from Connelly Partners advertising agency.

This was maybe the start of June. Three weeks later, we’ve finally moved on from our pre-production days. Now when we playtest our game, one of our testers’ first comments is usually, “this is really fluid and fun!” But it took us countless iterations to get there. At our first public playtest, we had three very different versions of Snake—a classic grid-based version, a slither.io version, and a wild 3D version. Kids hate classic Snake; adults hate slither.io controls; everyone was overwhelmed in 3D. Nobody agreed on anything except that our game didn’t have “enough” to do.

Tung Than Vu (Becker College ‘19), a fellow designer and I had endless conversations about what we could add to our game while our producer, Emmanuel Mallea (Becker College ’18), thought we needed to make our core more fun. With the tug-of-war between focusing on what we have and what we could have, Tung and I had to learn to work on both the core and our twist to snake, or ‘Plus One.’  If people were getting bored playing our game, we had to figure out a design that would keep them engaged, and a ‘Plus One’ seemed like the obvious answer. Making the core fun seemed manageable enough.

John Conaghan, lecturer at Letterkenny Institute of Technology, playtests our game at a MassDiGI Advisory Board Meeting.

Well, it turns out making “simple” into something fun is one of the hardest challenges of all. It’s not that something simple is too little to be fun—it’s just that if we can’t nail that one vital thing, a fun snake game, players have no choice but to notice we’ve failed as designers. If we get our core right, adding more details to our game is infinitely easier, since our players are already having fun. A simple game means a more accessible game. A simple game is a great game, and as a person training to break down the world’s most complicated problems, I had to learn what simple even meant.

Meanwhile, Tung and I conceptualized several Plus One designs, none of them truly “simple.” There were morality systems, randomly generated areas, changing colors, and puzzle systems. Embracing simplicity wasn’t immediate for me, especially as a lover of complex systems. Days after I designed a “simple” morality system (inspired by Undertale and The Witcher no less!), I finally realized why my mentors preached simplicity. Our designs were way out of scale and didn’t revolve around our core. Our Plus One shouldn’t just be about adding something interesting; it should also be about augmenting the heart of our game. If we couldn’t keep players entertained with the base gameplay, what’s the point of all those add-ons? If our design layers weren’t complementing our base, why did we bother with our base in the first place? If we can manage to keep it simple and build everything around our core loop, we will be adding petals around our rosebud. There is beauty in simplicity, and I am ready to embrace it.

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Puzzling problems – 6/16/17

Puzzling problems

By Joey Pagano ’19, Pratt Institute

Imagine working your way through a 100 piece puzzle only to realize that after 99 pieces, that one godforsaken last piece is nowhere to be found. Now normally, you can still easily see the picture for what it is and you more or less completed the puzzle 99% of the way. Awesome. A+.

Now imagine working on that same puzzle except the box doesn’t show you what it’s supposed to look like and then if you don’t finish with all 100 pieces then the whole thing explodes into a fiery vortex of misery. This is why SIP17 is a blast.

Making that transition from educational work to production work is a difficult change to make. But in doing so, a very different, more empowering way of creating work is thrust upon you. Gone are the days of getting graded on how well your assignment met demands, and here are the days of expertise. Working on SIP teams erases the work structure of working for a professor that returns your work with a percentage based on how much they think your work meets the requirements of their syllabus. Instead, it’s up to you as an individual to be the expert your team needs.

Our team getting feedback at Dailybreak CP.

Learning to adapt to being the “expert” on something was certainly one of the most difficult things to do on our teams, because now there is no correct solution to a problem like in a class setting. Being thrust into the real world workforce means that when there is a problem, that does not guarantee a solution. And finding that solution, if it exists, relies entirely on your ability to capitalize on your skills and learn some new ones along the way.

On our team, a problem arose in how we moved animations into the game for our character. Developing a 3D game and being a 3D artist for it, I was tasked with modeling and then animating a character to control in our game. When animations were not working as we intended, I couldn’t be all “oh well whatever, guess I’ll just take a hit on this and get a B instead of an A.” In school, that’s a very real way to approach this problem, if you so choose. On a project, this problem meant life or death for our game. I then took the rest of the day looking into new ways to interpret animating, finding newer ways to build my character using concepts I didn’t even know about yet. In doing so, we were able to get the animations to function in our game!

The point of this is that creating art for a production means you are expected to solve problems when no one else has a solution. And in doing so, you learn a lot about things you wouldn’t have otherwise been taught. By being the expert on something instead of the student, you learn in a whole new way. Being able to work on a team with other experts and being able to focus on one discipline really helps you to continue to learn your own craft. It ends up culminating in all around amazing experience! And you get paid too, I guess that’s cool.

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Early days, early development – 6/2/17

Early days, early development

By Amber Skarjune, Wellesley College ’19 and Veneta Cholakova, Mt. Holyoke College ’19

Coming straight from the end of finals at our respective schools, the students selected as interns in MassDiGI’s Summer Innovation Program (SIP) found themselves settling into the facilities at Becker College. Step by step we started getting ready for three months of dedicated entrepreneurship and game production.

For the first week of SIP17 we spent time getting oriented. MassDiGI managing director Monty Sharma introduced us to the  program. Along with help from executive director Tim Loew and producer Walt Yarbrough, he covered each aspect of the program and made sure all of us knew our responsibilities. During orientation we all got to know each other throughout various group tasks. We got accustomed to the surroundings and even had some “off-site” team building exercises, such as board game evenings and group meals.

Veneta Cholakova (L) and Amber Skarjune

At the beginning of the second week we game jammed to build a simple AR application. This was simultaneously an interesting and challenging task that facilitated the transition to the actual start of the work. Then on that Tuesday,  the 28 of us were split into five teams (ed. note – more on the 5 teams coming soon) to begin their development process. Each team had a combination of artists, designers and programmers, along with one lovely music producer, Lisa Jeong from Berklee College of Music.

Once the five teams were formed, we started discussing, conceptualizing and designing a fun core mechanic to build off of. To make sure the starting point was engaging and entertaining each team presented their game idea to the producers. The feedback we received was crucial to our further progress.

After exploring the core mechanics chosen, each team began building a demo version of their game. All teams were working hard towards their common goal – to present their core game ideas to each other, SIP mentors and visitors. Meanwhile, each team’s artists began working on conceptualizing ideas to suit the specific mechanic the team had begun to build.

Forrest Dowling

We also had our first industry mentor come by the studio, Forrest Dowling from The Molasses Flood of The Flame in the Flood fame – and a former designer on Bioshock Infinite. The questions asked during his talk helped the teams to better understand early stage game development. After the talk Dowling tested each team’s demo game and provided his feedback. He emphasized the importance of the presence of a clear idea where a game is going. His suggestions on how the games should progress were particularly useful for us to shape our short and long term goals.

While each team is progressing at a different pace, our end goals all converged when demoing of what we’ve built so far. And, while we’ve all got a long way to go before we have a finished product, we are really excited to see what we’ve created so far and how we’ll progress into the future!

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GAME LAUNCH: Surf’s up for Cat Tsunami – 4/27/17

Surf’s up for Cat Tsunami

By Timothy Loew, executive director, MassDiGI

Cat Tsunami, a free and fun endless surfer where you play as Kai the Cat surfing on waves of other cats, is now available for download on the Apple App Store and Google Play. The mobile game was originally created during the 2014 MassDiGI Summer Innovation Program (SIP) by then students Ryan Canuel from Becker College, Paige Coblentz from RISD, Renzo Heredia from Berklee College of Music, Aislynn Kilgore from Hampshire College, Matt Metzger from UMass Lowell and Lili Sun from MIT.

Working over that summer, the team produced a prototype of the game – watch the much-beloved trailer here. From there, we brought the game into our LiveStudio semester-based program at Becker from fall 2014 through spring 2017. Through LiveStudio, many more students across a range of disciplines had key roles in rebuilding the game, polishing it and getting it ready to launch. For a roster of all the contributors to the game, check out the credit roll. You can download Cat Tsunami today for iOS and Android.

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“Insight into the casino gaming world” by Floyd Barroga, MGC – Franklin M. Loew Lecture Series at Becker College: April 18, 2017 – Worcester, MA

Insight into the casino gaming world

When: Tuesday, April 18, 2017, 5:30 p.m.

Where: Becker College, Health Science Building 306/309, 51 Sever St., Worcester, MA

Floyd Barroga is currently responsible for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) Gaming Technology Test Lab, Network Operations Center & Technical Regulations (Electronic Gaming Devices).  Previously he was the Manager of Jurisdictional Engineering & Program Requirements at Scientific Games (SG Interactive), one of the largest casino gaming companies in the world.  With 10+ years’ casino gaming experience, in software/hardware development, online gaming, test engineering & technical compliance.

The Franklin M. Loew Lecture Series at Becker College is free and open to the community. This lecture is sponsored by MassDiGI. RSVP to lectures(at)becker.edu. Seating is limited.



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SIP17 team selected – 4/14/17

SIP17 team selected

By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI

Applications to our annual Summer Innovation Program (SIP) have grown year over year in terms of quality, quantity, geographic reach and diversity. This year we received applications from 242 undergraduate and graduate students representing 50 colleges and universities from around the world – making it our most competitive year yet.

Choosing only 25 as interns (we added one spot this year) was very challenging. After much discussion, the committee selected a talented group – including a Fulbright Scholar. This summer’s SIP17 team will be made up of interns from 14 institutions including Becker College, Berklee College of Music, Letterkenny Institute of Technology (Ireland), MIT, Mt. Holyoke College, Northeastern University, Pratt Institute, RPI, RISD, RIT, Swarthmore College, Tufts University, Wellesley College and WPI.

SIP17 begins on May 16 and concludes on August 13.  Over those 12+ weeks, with guidance from professional staff and industry mentors, SIP17 teams will be responsible for all the work necessary to successfully launch their games. There is no internship program like it on the planet.

As in previous years, SIP17 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 started.

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