XPBLOG: Instant metaphor, just add title screen – 7/19/21

Hi there! We’re Team Napoleon, part of MassDigi’s XP2 program. We’re making a heartwarming bubble shooter about a teddy bear protecting a child from nightmares. Team Napoleon is a ragtag band of coders, artists, and Greg (the wonderful sound dude). We’re striving to create puzzles you can solve quickly in a dreamlike-yet-cozy atmosphere. 

Team Napoleon

Clockwise, from the top left: 

  • Hannah Kim (Rhode Island School of Design, Illustration, 2021) – an enigmatic artist who won’t show us her doodles
  • David Wu (Fitchburg State, Game Design, 2023) – a programmer who works too darn hard
  • Taylor Feld (Northwestern University, Theatre, 2021) – a sleepy gremlin of an artist
  • Liam Day (Quinnipiac University, Game Design & Development, 2021) – a programmer with an endless collection of relevant images
  • Sean Fan (Becker College, Game Development, 2021) – a man who will soon achieve world domination through programming

Concept sketchFor our artists, this week has been all about sharpening our metaphor. In other words, we’ve been concepting and re-designing assets to instantly convey the “story” to the player. For example, our title screen began with this concept sketch from Hannah.

The sketch evolved into this rough pass from Taylor, with help from Hannah’s nightmare bubble concept art. (The nightmare designs have already undergone several revisions at this point.)

The title screen is particularly important, as we’re aiming for no opening cutscene, just immediate gameplay. This means the title screen is our only shot at establishing the situation before the player starts the game. In the second image, Taylor chose to draw the nightmares descending from the top of the screen, like the nightmare bubbles do in gameplay. However, this caused them to read more as monsters or germs than nightmares. Additionally, the kid shouldn’t be smiling if they’re having nightmares! With that feedback from our XP peers, we revised.

Monsters

Now the nightmares are ascending from under the bed, like in Hannah’s original sketch. Additionally, Taylor added a thought cloud (also visible during gameplay) to indicate that these are creatures of the child’s imagination.

After some polishing by Hannah, here’s the current version:

And that’s the trajectory of one asset, which isn’t even final yet. Wow, it sure does take a lot to make a game!

– By Taylor Feld

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SIPBLOG: Sprinting towards the finish line – 7/16/21

Our firsthand experience as fiery and motivated interns at SIP has been transformed into a fighting game about climbing the corporate ladder and fighting your bosses – as a very cute raccoon. Team Creme, made up of Nicole, Connie, Georgia, Tristan, Daniel, Miquel and Cal, has spent the past months working through the question of what makes a fighting game fun. These games take so much more than balanced numbers and punches that feel juicy. Our biggest struggle has been progression, as we constantly asked ourselves what we could do to incentivize the player to not only learn the mechanics of our game, but want to experiment with them multiple times? We found, through playtesting with friends, family, and various industry mentors, that slowly introducing attacks and blocks to the player through fights that increased in difficulty made for the most effective feeling of player exploration and excitement about what mechanic they would unlock next.

Team CremeAt this stage in development, we have a core loop that is fun to play. Now our game requires some extra pizazz to make it feel incredible. While we don’t want to distract the player from the main action with major bells and whistles, things like the health bar shake when a punch lands and the thud of a stamp marking your grade for the round enhance the overall experience and give the player something to remember. Finalizing these details while polishing our overall product is the last task on our to-do list.

As we prepare to leave SIP and jump right back into our academic careers, all of Team Creme is excited about our future as game developers. One summer is miniscule amount of time to build a complete and rich game. Creme handled this difficulty by keeping each other in check and learning what unique limitations exist for artists, programmers, and designers. Every time we found ourselves on a new imaginative tangent about additional features and play modes, we would recenter and reference our previously established goals. We found that, through establishing our own criteria for success early, we can achieve our late stage goals with fewer distractions.

MassDigi has taught us how to respect scope as we simultaneously explore concepts, mechanics, and artistic modes of expression that enrich us to our core. We are all so grateful for the space that this program has allowed for us to grow and look forward to our race to the finish line! See you there!

– By Nicole and Connie

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SIPBLOG: Two steps forward, one step back – 7/9/21

Game making continues here at SIP this week. Team Chiffon is now deep into development as we deliver bug fixes and find new ways to teach players about our game. Our team is composed of 7 game developers: Dylan, Courtney, Frank, Fergus, Mac, Cal and, of course, myself (Justin). After some much needed feedback from our playtesters, we decided to go back to the drawing board and devise a plan to better teach the players how to play our game.

Team ChiffonFrom the beginning of the team’s development process, we were faced with the challenge of communicating our game’s rules to our players in a meaningful and effective way. After a long week of playtesting and demoing our app with different people from around the greater Boston area, we came to the conclusion that most players were struggling to understand what exactly was going on in our game. Luckily, this is just one of the simple setbacks that a team might face during any form of healthy game development. We gathered around the drawing board and after some back and forth discussion, we were able to devise a plan for how best to develop a set of steps that our players could follow in order to better understand the game.

Our decision, to better explain the rules of the game, came after a series of sessions in which our playtesters couldn’t tell which characters were their friends or foes. Naturally, this poses a large problem for us from a gameplay standpoint. Without an understanding of which characters belonged to the player, very little is possible which makes the game significantly less interesting. In addition to this, playtesters told us on multiple occasions that they didn’t understand the reason for the grid layout which our game makes use of. To solve this problem we integrated an upgrading mechanism to add an additional layer to gameplay.

Over the span of this next month, our team will be hard at work as we finish the final weeks of SIP. In this time we plan to finish the larger introductory segment of the game and implement many additional enemies and characters. Had it not been for our willingness to take risks and swap out design decisions, we would likely be in a much different stage of development. Thankfully, our team feels confident that we have what it takes to deliver a great game.

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XPBLOG: Sun, sand and scope – 7/8/21

Team BlondieHowdy! Team Blondie here, from MassDigi’s world-famous (probably) Experience Program. If you’re reading this, you probably know that the Experience Program (or XP) is an eleven-week internship program in which college students and recent graduates collaborate in teams to develop and publish their own mobile game. Team Blondie has been working on a brick-breaker game in which sea creatures fight back against rowdy beach-going spring breakers. 

Wanna meet us? Too bad, here we are anyway!

Left to right, beginning at the top

  • Mya Labrecque (University of Massachusetts Dartmouth 2022), Artist – sporting aviators to confirm that she is the coolest person in the group
  • Robert Marzec (University of Michigan 2021), Producer/Programmer – winner of the 2021 “Least Tan” competition 
  • Stanley Zheng (Becker College 2021), Programmer – serving us baywatch lifeguard realness
  • Jay Lam (Bridgewater State University 2020), Artist – would really like to go home, please
  • Jeff Katz (Brown University & Rhode Island School of Design 2021), Artist – lost his hands in a tragic green screening accident
  • James Nunes (Becker College 2021), Programmer – currently plotting his next pun 
  • Gregory Bonini (Becker College 2021), Auditory Magician – not pictured because clearly he cannot stand us

Blondie GameSettling on our current game idea (in which crabs, whales, and sea urchins do their best to rid their home of messy vacationers) was a matter of analyzing several different game models to understand what made them tick, then building test versions of those models to see if we could capture exactly what made them fun. We whittled away at our options by debating which ideas were most interesting and within the scope of our time frame and current abilities. By the end of the summer, would we be able to complete this particular game, and more importantly, would it be good? So many times, we had to break through our delusions and realize that our incredibly cool, unique idea was just too big to complete in our limited amount of time.

But at this point in the process, we’re confident that the answer to both of these questions is yes. Choosing an achievable genre like a brick-breaker has given us ample time to work out the various kinks in our build, to balance and refine our work so that it is compelling, unique, but not daunting to complete. Team Blondie’s programmers have been hard at work refining the physics and difficulty of our brick-breaker, making sure that gameplay is challenging yet intuitive. The artists have been designing and drawing several iterations of the game’s assets, from blocks to backgrounds to pause screens to power-ups, making sure that the visuals are juicy while still being clear and precise.

We’ve learned so much about how to plan and execute the huge collaborative project that is a game, and we couldn’t be more excited to share our work with the world. It’s tubular, dude.

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XPBLOG: Finding the fun – 7/2/21

Hello! We’re Team Butter Tart, one of three teams that are a part of MassDigi’s second Experience Program (MassDigi XP2). Our team is made up of recent graduates and current students from around the world. MassDigi XP2 is a special eleven-week virtual internship program which has us develop and publish an original game. These first few weeks our team has been honing the core of our game mechanics by finding what makes it fun. 

We began the brainstorming process by breaking down game genres and searching for what makes them fun – and the core game loops. Then we used rapid ideation to come up with different metaphors for the genres and repeated the ideation process by putting a small twist on it. An example of this process is taking a metaphor “look who brought a gun to a sword fight” and adding a small twist, “look who brought a cat to a sword fight.” We would later throw these twists into genres and analyze what stuck, forming our game pitches.

Currently, we are at the stage of presenting our clean “dirty builds” where we quickly craft prototypes to test ideas, concepts and reject failures while finding our core game loops as soon as possible. Our goal was to have a solid first 10 seconds of fun that is engaging and exciting. 

Of the many important things that we’ve learned til now, the trivial yet most necessary thing was shifting from student to a professional mindset. It was time to reinforce the change in our mindsets, reinforcing the fact that we are professionals. Working 9 to 5 every weekday, and pencils down when the workday is over give us a set amount of time to get our work done. You’re not allowed to take work home – and unexpected interruptions will happen, between guest speakers, mentors, and cross-functional teams, stressing the importance of time management skills. Utilizing one of the Agile methodologies, Kanban, we’ve been able to stay attentive to what needs to be done. Kanban allows us easy transparency of work helping the day-to-day workflow.

Kanban boardOver a span of the month, Team Butter Tart has come up with various interesting game ideas such as a “Match 3” baby sword fight game, a cardboard box cat breeding game, a dumpster farm endless runner, a stretchy cat rhythm game, a catfishing woody block puzzle, a stretchy cat one tap game, and finally, a cat-themed precision platformer. As a result of quick prototyping, playtesting, and peer reviews, we ended up rejecting all but one of our ideas. We would be lying if we say that it was easy to scrap an idea that we thought would be the next hit and move on to a new idea, but it was something that had to be done because of various issues that we discovered during our prototyping and feedback phase. As a result of this, we finally have a game that we believe is fun to play, fits our scope, and can be monetized easily. If not for this approach, we would have easily started working on an out-of-scope idea, which we would have only realized near the end of our program, and would have had to settle for an unfinished game.

Meet the team

  • Jacob Siegel – Producer, Game Designer – Graduated Becker College 2021
  • Kshitij Gajapure- Programmer – Graduated IIT Gandhinagar 2021
  • Camden Gamlin – Programmer – Graduated Becker College 2021
  • Melanie Thibodeau – Programmer – Rising senior UMass Dartmouth
  • Nathan Moura – Artist – Rising senior UMass Dartmouth
  • Kiria Bentley – Artist – Rising junior Fitchburg State University 
  • Gregory Bonini – Audio – Graduated Becker College 2021

team butter tart

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SIPBLOG: Overcoming challenges – 6/30/21

Hey there! I’m Darren Chen, a senior Computer Science major at Temple University and the producer for Team Diplomat. At the time of writing, we’re into our sixth week of MassDigi’s Summer Innovation Program and still going strong

For those of you not in the know, our team name comes from the “diplomat” in diplomat cream: a unique blend of pastry cream and whipped cream that combines the light, fluffy texture of the latter with the rich flavor of the former to create the best of both. Not a bad way to describe the “blend” of talent in our team – which leads us to introductions!

Team DiplomatIntroducing Team Diplomat! Pictured from left to right, Niko Olivo from Northeastern University is working remotely as our 3D artist and animator. To their right is Calvin Tillman, our audio producer from Berklee College of Music who is working with all the SIP teams this year. Below him is another of our artists, Sarah Madar from Becker College (transferring to Clark University), and in the center is Michael “Mikey” Schubert, our lead programmer who also hails from Becker College (also transferring to Clark). Next we have Dorothy Zhang, our lead 2D artist and animator from the Rhode Island School of Design. To her right is yours truly, and to mine is Jack Hill, our third representative from Becker College (transferring to Clark), who is also working remotely as our lead designer and programmer.

We’ve been hard at work on our idle game, in which you play as a witch running a boba shop! Our team  struggled the first few weeks, experimenting with different concepts and trying to nail down the fun of an idle game. Now, we’ve reached a point where we’ve built out and refined what we believe is the “first fun” of our game: tapping to create boba tea, and watching the drinks assemble in a “juicy” blend of prismatic tea and multi-colored boba. Now we’re working on refining the art and UI, as well as upgrades and (most importantly!) the “idle” part of our idle game.

These past six weeks have been a fantastic learning experience. As someone with very limited experience working on a project like this, I’ve found mentors and friends alike who have helped me grow and taught me so much about game development. I have nothing but praise for all the talent in SIP this summer. I’m excited to see the results of everyone’s hard work, and I hope you are too!

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SIPBLOG: Learning the business – 6/21/21

Hi! We’re Team Custard! That’s Brandon #1, Brandon #2,  Shirley, Liam, Matt, Cal and me – Jen! Besides Matt, Shirley and Cal (who are Comp Sci, Bio/Japanese and Scoring majors, respectively) we’re all Game Design or Production majors! We come from Becker->Clark, Swarthmore, Northeastern, UMass Amherst, Berklee and NYU and have a ton of experience designing and developing games. Our unanimous new experience working at MassDigi is the focus on not just creating, but publishing a game. Here we feel compelled to work hard and to develop a polished game ready for release in a way that is not “mushy”, where our educational experience so far focused on churning out projects we like quickly.

Rather than creating passion projects, Team Custard was told to kill our darlings. If we loved an idea too much, we would baby it. If we babied it too much, we wouldn’t be able to make the tough decision to rework things if the game was not fun. In Team Custard, there is a thick atmosphere of mutual respect for both developer and game. We work very hard to give ourselves and each other due respect and motivate each other to do our best. Together we killed lots of darlings, from plants who rescue an ecologically ravaged Earth, to robot birds spying on humanity. In the end our best (and most marketable) option was House Haunters, the Rock Paper Scissors game about exorcising furniture to sell haunted houses.

Over the first month of MassDigi’s Summer Innovation Program, Team Custard learned so much. As a team of extremely cool and talented student professionals, we (and our game), are taking steps out of the educational nest and into the world of the game development industry. College is a wonderful place to grow as a person and in skillset. MassDigi is a great place to learn to make a game from a business minded perspective. In the wise words of Shirley, “Yeet.”

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SIPBLOG: Making progress – 6/14/21

Hello! My name is Daniel Narvaez, and I’m a fourth year game design student at Parsons School of Design. We’re now at the end of our fourth week of the 2021 MassDigi Summer Innovation Program. While none of us have yet to see the fruits of our labor bloom, I can say for certain that we’ve been appreciating all the progress made as we go along.

My primary role om my team is as our designer, and I’m joined in-person by my five, very talented teammates. Nicole Strubinski, an animation student at Rhode Island School of Design, is our team’s producer and main 3D artist. Connie McGinnis is a game design student at Rochester Institute of Technology and she’s our main technical artist, with strengths in 2D illustration, animation and coding. Georgia Liu is the team’s main 2D artist with strengths in character design and concept art, and she is currently an English major at Brown University. A Game Programming student transferring from Becker College to Clark University, Tristan Sistare is one of the team’s two main programmers. Our other programmer, coming all the way from Spain, is none other than Miquel Sans Cornet, and he’s an Interactive Media and Game Development graduate student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. And, of course, Cal Tillman from Berklee College of Music is our un-pictured sound star. Together at MassDigi we are SIP21’s Team Crème!

So, where are we right now in our development process? Well, we’ve all agreed our game is going to be an arcade-style fighting game. To keep things in scope as we go along, we’ve asked ourselves a lot of questions about the genre. On the programming side, I’ve guided the steps necessary to build the “fun” of fighting games starting from the most fundamental pieces of them. As we enter the fifth week, our next step includes integrating the art with the basic code.

Every day has been trial and error. From my own experience, my teammates are giving it their all, and it encourages me to do the same. I learn a lot from them; not only about the iterative design process, but also about my own strengths and weaknesses. I look forward to continuing working on the project with them in the coming weeks!

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SIPBLOG: Getting going – 6/4/21

Hi! My name is Mac Li and I’m a 2D animation major at the School of Visual Arts. It has been almost about three weeks since the MassDigi Summer Innovation Program started, and each team is currently working really hard!

Team ChiffonAt SIP, we began with a few days of orientation and then we were assigned teams. So far the summer has been especially interesting due to the hybrid format of the program since some people are working remotely while others are in person. I’m on Team Chiffon along with Dylan Valev from WPI, Frank Liu from RISD, Fergus Ferguson from Tufts, Courtney Manbeck from Cornell, and Justin Gaborit from Becker->WPI! As someone with very limited knowledge of game design, I have definitely been learning quite a lot about it these past couple of days and my teammates have been extremely helpful with that. This is my first time being able to work on a game, so I’m very excited to learn even more about design and also how to contribute art to this project!

For the first few days in teams, we mainly focused on looking at different types of genres of games and we chose three that we’d like to focus on. Then, we came up with a bunch of different metaphors to go with these genres and started to develop some game ideas. Currently we have been building on these ideas and have been able to narrow our choice to the genre of “deckbuilding roguelikes” and mainly focus on that.

On the art side of things, we have been creating concept art for each of the three metaphors. We spent a couple of days just doing free for all concepts where we designed characters, environments, cards, user interface designs, and mock-ups of what the games could potentially look like in different art styles we thought that could fit the metaphors and genres. We also have been playing around with animation too! We came up with the idea of doing puppet or rigged animation and have been experimenting with that. In addition to that, we’ve now started to look at how we could potentially combine our art styles and settle on one that we can all replicate effectively and efficiently for smooth sailing in future production.

So far working on this team has been great! It’s a little challenging when some people are remote and some are in person, but we’ve been getting by and communicating as best as we can. I can’t wait to continue working with them and see where we go from here!

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Happy Birthday! – 4/26/21

Ten years ago, on April 26, 2011, MassDigi was established and yesterday we celebrated that milestone with a little event at the Barrett Center to commemorate the occasion. They say time flies when you’re having fun and that’s certainly true in our case. For the last ten years we’ve had the great honor and pleasure of working with people of all kinds who all share a common passion – games.

We were very thankful that joining us at the celebration were some of the many folks who have been, and will continue to be, so instrumental to our growth, development and success. Becker College President Nancy Crimmin, Petricore Founder and CEO Ryan Canuel, Western New England University President Robert Johnson, WPI President Laurie Leshin, Congressman Jim McGovern, Lieut. Governor Karyn Polito, Mayor Joe Petty, City Manager Ed Augustus, UMassD Dean Lawrence Jenkens, Clark University President David Fithian, WPI Senior Emma Lowry, The Deep End Games Creative Director and CEO Bill Gardner, Beamable CEO Jon Radoff and Founder, Vivox CEO and Chairman Rob Seaver all took the time to share some kind words with the small audience.

Amongst all those kind words President Leshin made the first big announcement that MassDigi would be moving to WPI over this upcoming summer – exciting news! After a fantastic run at Becker, we’re thrilled to be joining WPI. We’ve had a great relationship with WPI since MassDigi was established a decade ago – folks from WPI have been with us since day one – and count ourselves lucky to have found our new home just across Highland Street.

Lt. Governor Polito made the second big announcement that our longtime friends at MassTech will be working with us to launch a $100,000 Game Prototype Matching Fund, the first of its kind in the country.

Below are some links to various stories about the move, the matching fund and the celebration.

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