Comet Cats, a free and fun mobile game in which you stack cats to reach towering new heights is now available to download on the Apple App Store and Google Play. The game was created during the 2016 MassDiGI Summer Innovation Program (SIP) by students Tyler Haddad and Ben Page from Becker, Joe Marchuk from Berklee, Sienna Cornish from Hampshire, Fury Sheron from Tufts, Abby Jackson from Wheaton (MA) and Graham Held from WPI.
Working over that summer, the team produced a playable beta of the game – watch the trailer here. From there, we brought the game into our LiveStudio program at Becker during the fall ’16 semester. Through LiveStudio, more students across a range of disciplines had roles in polishing the game and getting it ready to launch. You can download it today for iOS and Android.
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Lotto Boxes opens for business
By Timothy Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
Lotto Boxes, a free, fun and fast-moving mobile game now available for iOS and Android devices, lets players tap to open boxes, sort them and collect Golden Tickets – while hidden amid all the action is a secret.
The experimental game, underwritten by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, was created by a team led by MassDiGI in collaboration with MassDIGI SIP alumni, Becker College students and alumni as well as Petricore Games. The Lotto Boxes effort, which began this past spring, is directed primarily at young people (7th through 10th grades) and focused on messages and feelings around the issues of income inequality, economic insecurity and the wealth gap.
Over the coming months, the Lotto Boxes team will be focused on distribution, the development of teaching materials and raising additional resources to update and expand the game.
Watch the Lotto Boxes trailer here and download it from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store today.
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Read more about it at Gamasutra, Engadget, McGovern.House.Gov, WBJ, Worcester Sun, Telegram.com, and GoLocal.
Official press release:
MassDiGI at Becker College Awarded $583K in Federal Funding
The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), a bureau within the U.S. Department of Commerce, has awarded a five year, $583,000 University Center program grant to MassDiGI at Becker College to support its ongoing efforts to promote entrepreneurship, academic cooperation and economic development across the state’s video and digital games ecosystem. This is the second such grant for MassDiGI from the competitive University Center program. The first was awarded in September 2011.
“The work MassDiGI does in leveraging our state’s strengths in higher education, technology, innovation and creativity continues to stand out,” said U.S. Representative James P. McGovern (MA-2). “This EDA grant will give MassDiGI the chance to level up their ability to have an even greater impact. I’ve seen their work firsthand and I’m excited for what the next five years will bring.”
Established in April 2011, MassDiGI is the result of creative collaboration among academia, industry, and government, aimed at nurturing the growth of the game industry cluster in the region.
“As chair of the MassDiGI Advisory Board, I am extremely pleased that we have been selected again by the EDA for funding,” said Becker College President Robert E. Johnson, Ph.D. “MassDiGI is one-of-a-kind and delivers tremendous value to the many students, faculty, startups and industry professionals it reaches each year, be they on campus, here in Worcester or throughout the Commonwealth – and increasingly, across the country and around the world.”
“Worcester is proud to be the home of MassDiGI at Becker College,” said Worcester City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr. “Our city’s future is brighter because of the work they do in helping to foster the growth of our local game development community.”
MassDiGI offers a number of programs and activities which nurture collaboration among students, faculty and the public, private, and non-profit sectors.
Best known among its offerings is the Summer Innovation Program (SIP). During this Worcester-based internship program students take a game from concept to market in 12 weeks.
More than 700 students from dozens of institutions around the world have applied since SIP began in 2012. Of those applicants over 100 students have participated from schools such as MIT, Tufts, Carnegie Mellon, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, University of Southern California, Rhode Island School of Design, Northeastern University, Letterkenny Institute of Technology in Ireland, Smith College, Berklee School of Music, New York University, and Becker College.
SIP alumni have gone on to work at a range of companies including Harmonix, Microsoft, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Amazon, Warner Bros., 2K, Disruptor Beam, Uber, Nickelodeon, Sony, Facebook, and Hasbro or startup their own studios such as Zephyr Workshop, Starcap Games, and Petricore Games.
Among MassDiGI’s other programs are its Game Challenge pitch competition for aspiring game developers held every year in Cambridge, Mass., Live Studio cross-registration courses at Becker and Mentoring on Demand advisory services for entrepreneurs and non-profits.
“The EDA University Center program has been a key to many of the successes of our first five years,” said MassDiGI Executive Director Timothy Loew. “And, this grant will allow us, over the next five, to build on those successes, deepen our capacity, and scale up our efforts over all our programs and activities.”
“In my work with game industry communities across the globe, MassDiGI shines as a leader for its support of game companies,” said California-based M2 Advisory Group CEO Wanda Meloni. “This funding is a testament to MassDiGI’s outstanding work and the acknowledgement of what can happen when you have the right combination of leadership, collaboration from academia, and support from the local community and businesses.”
Meloni is also the editor in chief of Gaming Business Review and executive director of the Open Gaming Alliance.
With its experienced staff and a cadre of veteran game development mentors, MassDiGI works to help strengthen the area’s games sector, advising on everything from strategy and marketing, to financing and hiring.
“Starting up a game studio as a novice entrepreneur right out of college is a risky proposition. There’s no question we wouldn’t be where we are today without the continuing advice and guidance we get from MassDiGI,” said Petricore Games Co-founder and CEO Ryan Canuel.
Canuel is also the 2016 Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year and a Becker College ’15 and MassDiGI SIP ’14 alumnus.
More information about MassDiGI can be found at massdigi.org or by following @mass_digi on Twitter.
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Next stop, Gamescom
By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
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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By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
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 Store, Google 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 iOS, Android and PC/Mac.
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Fusion Galaxy blasts off
By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
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
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.
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
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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