Jumping right in: Actually making games
By Pat Roughan, senior, WPI
Being a student of game design and being a game designer are two radically different things. In the classroom, time is spent explaining the terms and ways of the industry, explaining the successes and analyzing the failures. Sometimes, in one class of a term, students get to try their hand at making an actual game, but it’s usually only brought into the prototype stage when the class ends. Work on it is done at random hours, whenever the students can find time between meetings and other class assignments. The rough husk that’s made by then is either brushed up a bit for a portfolio piece or forgotten, and the student group breaks up and moves on.
Actually making a game, a full game with intent to sell, is a whole different challenge. Do you have the required budget? Is the scope reasonable compared to your resources and allotted time to work? Is there a market for the game? If so, who is it? How much will they pay? These questions are either briefly touched upon or ignored in the classroom setting; after all, no one expects a profitable game to come out of such an environment. They are very real questions that game designers have to answer (that is, if they want to eat). On top of that, in a work environment of making games, there’s no other work interfering with the game creation process. Your job is to make the game and get it out to players, not write a ten-page essay on Paradise Lost and do a biology lab while maybe getting some coding done on the side.
Jumping right in
The first two weeks of MassDiGI’s 2014 Summer Innovation Program were the first time a group of students, including me, from colleges across the northeast got a taste of what being a working game designer is really like.
The goal of the program is to create then launch a product, and the student interns are given all the tools to succeed in a space where it’s okay to fail. We are tasked with making a game that will get an audience and, hopefully, a profit, and work eight hour weekdays with no other obligations. The space operates as a small studio, where the we have to openly keep track of tasks, create builds to show higher-ups, and work towards having a finished product by the end of the eleven-week program.
To help us learn and create better games, industry professionals come in once a week to talk about a section of the game-creating pipeline and offer advice to the us about their own games.
The program is currently beginning it’s third week, the first week being orientation. During that orientation, the staff explained the development pipeline to us, and showed us how to work out well-scoped ideas with a discernible market. We came up with a number of different ideas for games to make for the program, and voted on four games from that pool to work on. The first week of work had us jump right into creating, with a demo build deadline at the end of the week. During that week, four teams of students who had only meet the previous week and had only a brief design to start with created four working demo builds and full documents outlining the plans for the finished games and our target markets.
As one of the interns in the program, the experience has been great. Making games in the classroom is one thing, but making them for players, real paying people, is different, exciting, and nerve-wracking, all at once. Speaking with people in the industry about your game and having them give you great advice back, putting your demo in front of a player and watching them completely break it, making a quick draft of the art and having people respond exactly as you had intended, and everything else I’ve been through these past weeks has been this exhilarating roller coaster that makes me certain of my love for creating games in a way that learning definitions and working in hypotheticals never could.
And the best part is, it’s only just begun.
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The importance of community in games
By Malinda Statder, sophomore, Becker College
A little over a week ago, Ichiro Lambe from Dejobaan Games stood in front of a crowd of Worcester-area college students in the lecture hall at Becker College. He spoke animatedly, not about the secrets of creating a great game or the magic to becoming a big name indie, but about something few think about when the subject of game making comes up: community and collaboration.
Students already know the value of collaboration on a small scale; we have all taken part in game jams or, failing that, have worked with one another to complete a project. But, the idea of an entire community based around the creation of games is still a bit of a foreign, out-side-looking-in concept.
Ichiro discussed the growth of gaming communities in different places around the world – from Boston to Vancouver; beginning with, in some cities, a few interested people in a pub and then growing, as he described it, Katamari Damacy-style, into huge, vibrant communities. A community that collaborates provides anything a budding indie needs to make a name for him or herself, from industry connections to honest constructive criticism from programmers to artists and everyone in between.
He also stressed the importance of networking, talking about how simply knowing one person might mean the difference between success and failure in the industry, because it’s not always about what you know, but who you know as well. Ichiro ended his lecture by insisting that all students regularly attend the Boston game development community meet-ups to introduce ourselves to future peers and begin making the acquaintances which may one day be the catalysts for our success.
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Summer game camps for kids
By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
Each spring I receive questions from middle and high school parents about information on summer computer camps that offer game making. Given the interest, I thought a quick post on the subject might be helpful.
Locally, there are actually quite a few options for kids and I’ve listed several offerings below for parents to consider. If you know of any others, please let me know and I’ll add them. That said, poking around the internet, checking the summer programs scheduled at your local college or university and leafing through community papers might also turn you on to any number of others as well. Let the games begin!
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For all to play: Making a game, making a difference
By Elias Aoude, producer, For All To Play
The idea for our game, Grail to the Thief, came about when we were researching (the For All To Play team are all alumni or current students at WPI) game design for the blind. We conducted interviews at Perkins School for the Blind and performed extensive research which led us to discover that few games are available to the blind and visually impaired, and many of the games that are available are severely dated, lack the quality and polish of games for the sighted, and rely on synthesized computer voices such as screen readers in order to play. Grail to the Thief will address these problems, and the game will be just as accessible and exciting an experience for the blind and visually impaired as it will be for the sighted.
So, with that in mind and a build in-hand, we started up an indie studio in Worcester and are at the halfway point of a crowdfunding campaign for Grail to the Thief on Kickstarter.
You can play a browser-based prototype of the game. It requires Google Chrome or Opera and can be found here: foralltoplay.com/prototype. If you have some time, please check it out.
The game, when launched, will be an interactive audio adventure for Windows, Mac, and Linux (a standalone executable will not require a web browser) that can be played using only sound, without the need for visuals. Grail to the Thief has been designed with the needs of the blind and visually impaired in mind but can be enjoyed by everyone. The game will deliver an exciting, immersive experience in which the player will always be fully aware of what is happening through the use of voice-overs, sound effects, ambient sound and music.
Game players will make choices through a conversation tree from which they can select commands, eliminating the confusion and frustration that comes with traditional text adventure games which require players to type in commands to progress. It is a nostalgic throwback to childhood favorites such as Zork, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Day of the Tentacle, and Grim Fandango, and draws inspiration from old BBC radio dramas and the movie Time Bandits.
If our Kickstarter campaign is successfully funded, Grail to the Thief will be available as a DRM-free download for Windows, Mac, and Linux in August 2014.
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SIP14 students selected
By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
Each year applications to our annual Summer Innovation Program (SIP) have grown in terms of quality, quantity and diversity. This year we received applications from 157 undergraduate and graduate students representing 31 colleges and universities from across the country – making it our most competitive year ever.
Needless to say, selecting only 22 was a challenge. After much discussion, the committee chose a great group. This year’s SIP teams will be made up of students from 11 institutions including Becker College, Berklee College of Music, Hampshire College, MIT, Mt. Holyoke College, Northeastern University, Rhode Island School of Design, Smith College, Tufts University, UMass Lowell and WPI.
SIP begins on May 20 and concludes on August 8. Over those 11 weeks or so, with guidance from professional staff and industry mentors, SIP teams will be responsible for all the work required to successfully launch their games in the market. There is no internship program like it in the country.
As in past years, SIP students will receive housing courtesy of Becker College as well as a modest stipend. More importantly they will all receive the greatest game development experience of their lives. Sure, it may be a lot of work – but it’s also a ton of fun. We can’t wait to get started.
Revised on 5/3/14.
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The real video game high school
By Michael Morley and Duncan Elliott, students, Millbury Memorial Jr./Sr. High School
One word to describe the 2014 MassDiGI Game Challenge would be “phenomenal.” That “phenomenal” feeling was experienced by about 20 Millbury Memorial Jr./Sr. High School students during their participation in this year’s Game Challenge competition. With limited game programming or design experience, all the Millbury students, including us, jumped into the Game Challenge with both feet. In addition to fielding six different teams for the competition, the Wasteland Trials team from Millbury took home the first place trophy in the high school category.
The impetus for the participation of Millbury students in the Game Challenge was created by a school visit from MassDiGI’s Monty Sharma. After learning a bit about game designing and careers in the game design industry, the Millbury students enthusiastically took on the Game Challenge. Millbury teacher Mark Sutphen allocated classrooms and set-up meetings that allowed students to gather and formulate ideas and join teams. As an after-school activity, students were left to form groups on their own, usually dividing teams up into specific tasks. One student played the role of “Creative Director”, and another as the “Lead Sound Manager”. Other students filled vital roles such as, level design, character artists, code-programmers and business manager. These high school teams met weekly, every Wednesday, in Mr. Sutphen’s classroom. Additional time spent on the project had to be found outside of the school setting where meetings were run through social media, e-mail and social gatherings.
On the first day of the two-day competition, the Millbury students boarded a school bus headed down to the Microsoft New England Research and Development building, located near the campus of MIT in Cambridge. Though initially somewhat intimidated by the surroundings, the students quickly adapted and fully participated in a fantastic fun-filled day. From the vendors, food and eventually the competition, the students thoroughly seemed to enjoy what the Game Challenge had to offer.
On day one, each group attended lectures from Monty Sharma, Jason Della Rocca and industry professionals who talked about how to improve game quality, how to market games more effectively, and how to make contacts in the gaming industry. Feedback from professionals and peers was a key to the students’ learning experience. This feedback would then be used by the students to make final adjustments before the day two of the Game Challenge.
During downtime at the competition, students were able to test out some awesome games and game technology from several indie game companies who were displaying their latest design prototypes and ideas. A friendly atmosphere allowed the students to feel comfortable in hobnobbing with college students and professional designers. Students felt right at home exploring the playground known as floor one of the Microsoft N.E.R.D.
Win or lose, every student left the competition with a smile on their face and a full belly. It was obvious that MassDiGI spared no expense to provide a generous banquet of pizza, club sandwiches, salads and desserts. Soda and chips were laid out by the table, and a hot chocolate/coffee machine was left out for almost every Millbury student to indulge upon.
To top it all off, each and every student had the opportunity to learn something new. Not a barrage of dates from history but instead on a topic that draws the attention of teenagers with the same intensity as iron to a magnet: video game design. More importantly, the Game Challenge left students with a lesson on the marketplace – how to create a successful game in terms of generating revenue – making a profit! While it can be seen as beautiful for designers to view their game as a work of art, it is no doubt also important that their game possesses relatable, feasible business concepts that allow for the prospect that the game will actually make it in the market.
As students of Millbury Jr./Sr. High school and Game Challenge competitors ourselves, we can say that Millbury High is already looking forward to competing in the next year’s Game Challenge.
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Quick post. Winners!
3/10/14 update: Read the press release here.
College entertainment categories
– College concept
- Spaghetti Flavored Cake – String Theory – winner – (Becker College)
- Double Trouble – Duo – runner-up – (Becker College)
– College prototype
- 80HD Games – Bümbardia – winner – (Becker College)
- Mustachio Games – Red Survivor – runner-up – (Binghamton University and Northeastern University)
– Honorable mention
- Supergeneric – SunBots – (Champlain College)
- K^2 – Mythitarium – (Becker College)
- Subconscious Games – Synaptattack – (Becker College)
Indie entertainment categories
– Indie concept
– Indie prototype
College/indie serious categories
– Serious concept
– Serious prototype
- Little Worlds Interactive – The Counting Kingdom -winner
- PBn’ Games – Zeebi Zoo – runner-up
– Honorable mention
High school category
- Wasteland Trials – Millbury Memorial High School – winner
- Wonderful Nightmares – Newton South High School – runner-up
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Quick post noting Game Challenge finalists (and honorable mentions). Please forgive any spelling errors…
- spaghetti flavored cake – string theory
- double trouble – duo
- 80hd – bumbardia
- mustachio – red survivor
- super generic
- renfroe/stimpaq – virtuoso vengeance
- chris chung – catlateral damage
- golden hammer – big mountain snowboarding 2
- now and zen – big bat baseball
- spherical cow games – stickman
- giant otter – bread and roses
- little world interactive- counting kingdom
- pbn games – zeebi zoo
- gone – wpi
- sub altern – no pineapple left behind
- wasteland trials – mmhs
- wonderful nightmares – nshs
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SIP14 now accepting applications
By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
Looking for an internship? Well, you are in luck – again. MassDiGI is now accepting applications to our annual Summer Innovation Program. SIP is one of the largest game development internship programs in the region. Last year, of the 84 applicants from 24 different colleges and universities, 21 students from 9 were accepted. The students spent 11 weeks working on 5 great games.
The experience gives students a unique opportunity to build games with the support of professionals and mentors, live for free and earn a stipend. SIP also allows students a level of autonomy – and responsibility – that is hard to find anywhere else.
You can find more details about SIP here as well as the program application. Click here for information about SIP ’12 and SIP ’13. Students with additional questions are welcome to drop us a line. May the force be with you.
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Making our games better, making ourselves better
By Jake Farrago, senior, Becker College
With the next generation of video game consoles now ofﬁcially this generation, and with PC gaming continually pushing the bleeding edge of technological abilities, we are nearing the end of many disparities that have plagued video games’ pursuit of real world mimicry. The uncanny valley will soon be crossed, artiﬁcial intelligences will cease behaving as bumbling toddlers, and digital worlds will begin teeming with immersive life. However, as we tick these boxes and diligently scale the various stages of the hierarchy, our concerns should now be turning to a new aspect of video games. An aspect, whose inevitable arrival will ask us as game designers to think in a way that many of us have only given ﬂeeting moments of consideration to. In the act of creating digital realities, are we not simultaneously becoming gods of these realities in the process?
The assertion that those who create life become imbued with a sense of godliness should not be that which is scoffed at or ignored. Just because the historical legacy of human beings’ own struggle with the concept of a creator is one riddled with conﬂict, tension, and doubt, it would do a great disservice to allow such bias to prevent us from taking up the omnipotent reigns as we forge ahead on the path of breathing life into digital existences. In fact, it’s a moral imperative that we not deny our critical roles in the creation of life in video games. For, doing so, we’d leave unattended the responsibilities and tasks that are traditionally charged to those in positions of divinity. The most important of these responsibilities perhaps being that of providing purpose and meaning for each and every part of our creations.
Currently, video games only serve to satisfy the player, an individual from our reality who chooses to transport his consciousness into the digital realm in order to entertain themselves. Everything else in the video game, from the blade of grass to the reactive organism, is in the service of this singular endeavor. Which, shares some self indulgent parallels with the gods of old, such as those present in Greek mythology. As it goes, those deities pursued as much gratiﬁcation through meddling in the worlds of their creations, as we currently do through interacting with the various video games at our disposal. However, this approach will need to be transformed in tandem with the evolution of technological complexities present in video games. One day it will no longer be acceptable to dabble in these digital worlds with little concern for the repercussions of one’s actions. If you destroy an artiﬁcial intelligence, a truly intelligent one, what happens to it? While the game code may simply say it ceases to exist in its current state, what happens to its intelligence, its spirit? As game designers, are we prepared to create beautiful digital landscapes and profound virtual beings whose only express purpose is to serve at the beck and call of any whim our players may have? Personally, I ﬁnd the prospects of such a state of affairs just as displeasing as the archaic religions that preach a god who demands we serve his commandments blindly and without question. Though, then again, when faced with that analogy with the roles now reversed, perhaps we’ll ﬁnally be able to empathize with the pressures that face those in a position of omniscient power.
Essentially, this line of reasoning leads to many questions being raised. Far too many to be covered in any one sitting. But, what may be more important than considering the countless forms this issue will take, is how best to go about addressing them. And, since I have no doubt that there will be countless ideologies that will spring forth in effort to achieve this very goal, I suppose now’s as good a time as any to throw my humble hat into the ring for consideration: If we make an effort to study the very existence that we’re witness to in our own lives, through unblinkingly looking within and without, we may discover how to not only better our creations, but also how to better ourselves.
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