SIP Blog: All about switch week – 8/2/23

All about switch week

By Alex Mintz, WPI ‘25

Following the success of the Seaport event in late July, we started the next week with a new challenge, switch week. Unlike previous years where switch week entailed two teams exchanging games for a few days, we had an unprecedented stipulation; everyone had to swap with each other. Therefore, this year switch week lasted three days and every day was a different game. The objective of this is to learn from our peers by considering how different teams navigate challenges. Another goal is to prepare our projects for DigiStudio, where new teams consisting of student volunteers will take over our project and interact together online during the academic year. Switching projects for a few days forces us to prepare our projects to be looked at by an outside group and see where other people may get stuck if they were to pick up our game.

To best simulate DigiStudio’s online working environment in which all the students are not in the same room, we established a period of time after the initial swap in which teams were prohibited from asking the original team for clarification. During this time, we compiled a list of questions regarding our misconceptions  about their documentation so that the groups know what to improve in the future. Though we were worried we would not be able to accomplish much in such a short span of time, I felt we were able to decently contribute to the other team’s project. As most of the remaining features are “juice,” we were able to help with a vast amount  of quick fixes while still learning about their overarching workflow as a whole. It brought us immense joy to watch our small changes brighten up each other’s projects. A bonus for me as a programmer was learning a great deal more about Unity.

On team Caramel Apples’ first day, we got a flavor of Cotton Candy and collaborated on their game, Rock on Raccoon. Since Caramel Apples mainly works on designing obstacle sets for our endless runner game, it was quite interesting to see how they set up their levels. One of my most enjoyable tasks personally was working on changing the color of the spotlight to indicate which band was currently playing. Moving onto the next day, we got a taste of Corn Dog’s game, Milo’s Magical Adventure.  I’d say the highlight  for me was making the framework for their end of game slideshow. I found it very satisfying to play through the slide shows and also make use of the sprite resolver and sprite library, tools for easily changing the sprite or image of a gameobject in unity.  Finally, we took a bite of Fried Dough’s game, Aliens Want to Steal Our Mascot?!  This game was the most rewarding to work on in terms of the knowledge I gained. My task involved tweaking a more niche feature of the game by getting the tiles around an attack’s spawn area for an in-game character, the Chem Kid. This required me to delve deeper into the code and in return taught me numerous new tidbits such as animation override controllers that I ended up applying to our own game at the end of the week. Overall, switch week was a bit chaotic at first, but a worthwhile experience that allowed all of us to grow as developers.

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Summer Studio Blog: Celebrating success and looking forward – 8/1/23

Celebrating success and looking forward

By Ismail Alatise, Clark University ‘23

As the final lines of code are written, the last bug squashed, and the polishing phase ends, it’s time to draw the curtains on our exhilarating game development journey and wrap up this year’s MassDigi Summer Studio program. Working on a game project during the summer is an exciting and immersive journey, where collaboration fuels creativity, and ideas become reality. Congratulations to the entire team for putting in countless hours, creativity, and effort toward bringing Merge Monastery to life. Making a game is no small feat; it involves dedication, creativity, passion, persistence, and innumerable hours of hard work. While we approach the end of this fulfilling adventure, it is good to reflect on the incredible achievements, lessons learned, and memories made and also set the stage for future success.

Team Turkey Leg as we are fondly called, operated in hybrid capability, with half of the group online, the other half being in person, and some switching in between. Despite this composition, the group made the program share semblance with a professional real work environment with effective communication, teamwork, trust, cooperation, and risk-taking support. It has really been a nice experience working as a group with varying work commitments that didn’t prevent us from our usual daily leisure “game time” after the launch break. Although we faced some challenges, as things will never go 100% as planned, our producer Max Xavier, as well as the group leads did fantastic jobs of identifying, planning, strategizing, and developing creative and effective solutions for every situation encountered.

In the programming group where I belong, our scripts are modular. We built our system in such a way that it would be easy to receive feedback and make changes. After the playtesting, when people made their suggestions on what to improve upon, we easily made some changes and noted the ones to adjust in the future. In the frenzy of development, it’s common for some bugs and technical issues to accumulate since we had limited work time compared to the SIP program. Both Porter Overtti, and the group lead, Chenxi Gao worked extensively to tackle these issues, prioritizing, and fixing critical bugs that affect the gameplay and stability.

Even though I was the least experienced programmer in this group of three, I contributed and gained immensely from this program, having learned the general art of game development, worked in Unity Virtual Control Stack Platform (Plastic SCM) and written code in C-Sharp for Unity. Within this period, I also completed Unity Essential and Junior Programmer Pathways training sessions, which provided me with the core foundation needed to create a wide range of digital experiences in Unity. Together as a team, we were able to write clean, well-documented, and optimized codes that will make future updates and feature additions more manageable.

On the Art and Design side, they worked tirelessly to polish and optimize the game objects for a memorable gaming experience. They helped with the gameplay balancing, adjusted progression levels, and optimized our game performance to ensure smooth gameplay on both iOS and Android devices. Just as we did in the programming group, they also gave huge attention to small details, such as refining animations, improving sound effects, decorating the scenes and adding visual effects to enhance immersion.

Overall, Merge Monastery is a testament to the dedication and passion invested by the entire team. Throughout the summer, we honed our programming skills and shared bonds as game developers. MassDigi enabled us to collaborate with creative minds, connect with mentors, network with industry leaders and fellow developers, and bring a vision to life. We appreciate Clark University, MassDigi and WPI for this opportunity as it serves as a stepping stone to even greater success in this ever-evolving world of game development.

Finally, a game’s journey doesn’t end with its release. In fact, it’s just the beginning. With one chapter ending, another awaits to begin. We hope to keep the passion for game development alive, make it an ongoing adventure, continue to learn, grow, and create something amazing. As this year’s summer studio comes to an end, we take pride in the experiences gained during this exciting and rewarding adventure. Now that a successful summer studio is behind us, we look forward to the new challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in our journey as game developers.

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SIP Blog: Dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s – 7/22/23

Dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s

By Jacob Czerepica, Clark University ’24

This week we took part in the Game Industry Boston demo event at WPI Seaport to show off our games as we begin the final stretch of the program. At the event, we met with industry professionals, local devs, previous SIP teams, and a ton of other people. The games we showcased received a great reception and we also got some advice on them. As we go into the next few weeks, fully aware of the quickly approaching deadline, we have begun to carefully select what targets we want to hit before the project’s conclusion. With that in mind, on the day that followed we began to prepare for switch week, a week where our projects are passed to different teams. All disciplines worked hard to ensure our documentation is clearly understandable so that another group can pick up our project and work on it without too much friction.

The seaport event was an excellent opportunity to meet with people and make some new connections. With a mix of people from previous SIP years, friends of friends, or game developers and game-adjacent workers that just attended their first MassDigi event, it was a great opportunity to show off what we have been working on and the processes we’ve done to get here. Some also offered some great advice for our games but with the limited time we have we have to be careful with anything we add. It was a great night spent talking, sharing our projects, and generally engaging with people.

With only so much time left, we are plotting the final objectives that we hope to hit before Open House and our games officially launch on August 3rd. These mostly relate to finalizing features, making our last adjustments, and occasionally adding a few finishing touches. The end goal is now in sight but we still have a ways to go. Things are starting to finish off and our games are nearing their completion.

In the days to follow, we are going to be engulfed in switch week. During switch week we exchange all of our games with other teams to ensure that our methods aren’t complete madness. This results in us documenting our processes and ensuring that we can clearly convey our methods and reasons. It is important that our project is readable to other people in the discipline during this week so that they can quickly adjust to the new environment. Programmers have been working hard to make appropriate comments with readme files, discussing coding conventions, and other important aspects of their discipline to make our code readable to one another. Artists craft and refine their art bibles and document how they achieved their results. Lastly, design is creating documents to show our processes for designing. We ensure that we show what we made, and why we made it; describing our design intentions, philosophies, and objectives with the various aspects of our game.

Overall, we have achieved some amazing work and we’re not done yet! Everyone is excited to see their hard work pay off and we are beginning to see the pieces fall into place as we approach our end date. It has been an amazing journey so far and as we near the conclusion, I believe every team is going to come out with a fantastic product to share with the world.

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Summer Studio Blog: Working remotely, large group, small group – 7/17/23

Working Remotely, Large Group, Small Group

By Jay Lam, Clark University , MFA ‘24

July comes in with blazing, sweltering heat, and a torrent of heavy thunderstorms. Only three weeks remain for Team Turkey Leg to complete our Untitled Zen Garden Merge Game. Working in a large group of thirteen from the same school is a bit different from a small group of seven from different schools.

Summer Studio 2023 is hybrid, with half of the group online, half of the group in person, and some going back and forth in-between. Composed of a producer doubling as a sound designer, three programmers, four 2D artists, four 3D artists, and one game designer, our team is on the more art heavy side — the very reason why we were recommended to do a merge game, an art heavy genre.

Prior to my current studies at Clark, I was once a part of the second iteration of MassDigi’s XP (Experience Program) during the summer of 2021, after I left my first college with a bachelor’s. XP 2 was a fully remote 11-week program, in response to the pandemic disrupting the careers of recent graduates. With three programmers, three artists, and one sound designer, all from different schools, Team Blondie worked on Crustacean Frustration, a seaside brick breaker game.

Despite being online, communication flowed well because we made sure we were all caught up with the information we needed. Each important meeting within the group of seven made sure to include everyone. Miscommunication was minimal. Everyone felt heard as an equal.

Communication becomes even more important in a larger group, such as Team Turkey Leg. Each person has their own interpretation of what each person on the team says. With more people, there are more interpretations. It is up to everyone to reach out to each other to ensure we are on the same page, and keep each task updated. We manage that by the producer making sure the leads get all the information needed, which are then provided to the rest of the team.

Working remotely has many benefits. Meeting on time is easier without the hassle of physically getting from one place to another. It is cost-effective as well without spending a dime on traveling. Online services such as Ryver, Zoom, and Discord are free to use. Sharing files and documents between a large number of people is instant when people can click on the same link on a message at the same time.

All of my colleagues in Summer Studio are from Clark University, a big change from MassDigi’s teams in full-time programs containing students from different schools. Typically, working with various schools — having different professors, different curriculums, and teachings — help see other viewpoints that one might have not considered.

With working with students from the same school, most people are already familiar with each other. We know what each person is skilled in, and assigning tasks go rather quickly. It is easier to communicate with familiar faces from the get-go, as opposed to taking time to know each other. This is a benefit for our shorter-run 10-week program.

We are now past mid-way through Summer Studio, and Team Turkey Leg aims to make the best, most relaxing, Zen garden merge game it can be!

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SIP Blog: Holding steady – 7/14/23

Holding steady

by Henry Cecchini, Vassar College ’25

We’ve come to the point in the summer where production is ramping up, now that the end is in sight. Our challenge is avoiding crunch while staying on track to finish our games. Scope is as important here as it’s ever been; the Corn Dogs had to reckon recently with the realization that we don’t have enough time to implement all our ideas about the setting. Because of this, we made the decision to cut an area of the game from our plans. Scaling down means that we’ll be able to focus our attention better on making the existing levels as polished as they can be.

This week, we’re facing some new and exciting challenges. For one, our builds are out on the Google Play Store, which means they need names, descriptions, and icons. And a trailer. We don’t have much time to work on this, and we also don’t have much time to keep working on our games. Fortunately, the Corn Dogs are done with the first “world” of our game, and well underway implementing the second, which will be the only other full area. Since we’re making a one-button platformer with a very limited number of mechanics, it’s vital for the gameplay to be engaging and well-considered. We’ve been working on level design and art direction lately, trying to ensure that the mechanics and setting reflect the narrative.

Recently, we’ve had plenty of visitors, and there have been lots of events to attend. These lecturers, playtesters, and miscellaneous guests provide excellent opportunities for networking and learning more about the video game industry. And the SIP pool party on Wednesday was a welcome break, as we got to cool off, enjoy some barbecue, and chat with SIP members past and present. (Your unfortunate correspondent also met a number of mosquitoes.)

This summer’s finish line is coming closer, but there’s plenty more to be done in the remaining weeks. With this in mind, we want to make sure that we have a healthy relationship with our work as the big push starts.

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SIP Blog: Ethics & GAI – 7/10/23

Ethics & GAI

By Josiah Boucher, WPI

Generative AI (GAI) is the latest great disruptor, affecting countless industries worldwide. The impact of this technology, however, is still far from fully understood (especially regarding specific contexts- like the games industry). That’s why I’m researching SIP: these teams of young professionals are some of the first to have the opportunity to work with GAI workflows prior to entering the workforce. As a Ph.D. student at WPI researching GAI Ethics, the 2023 SIP program stood out to me as a perfect opportunity to conduct a study of the impact this technology may have. While little is known about the potential benefits (and harms) of these technologies, one thing is certain: work in the games industry will be changed by GAI. Whether jobs are replaced, augmented, or entirely transformed, the nature of what people do throughout the development process of video games will be impacted in some way.

Monty Sharma, the managing director of this program, has encouraged the participants to find uses for GAI in their creative workflow. Bringing the professional development aspect of the program to the forefront, experience integrating GAI into creative workflows may prove to be a valuable career asset in the near future. However, this promising new technology doesn’t come without its drawbacks. Ethical and copyright concerns offer plenty of concerns on their own, but GAI has practical, short-term problems even when those things are set aside. While GAI has the potential to generate visuals, music, writing, and more, the outputs are often lacking. Rarely game-ready out of the box, these assets are found to be artistically inconsistent and need significant touch-ups. One of the more reliable uses is as a troubleshooting tool for programmers; though, even in this case, developers often find incorrect information and unusable code.

While the road ahead is uncertain, the SIP teams are facing important questions: should they use GAI for this project? How could it be applied? For what tasks is it going to be beneficial or detrimental? Why? Asking these questions is the first step in navigating this new space; not only for the teams, but for my research, as well. The biggest call to action in the research of GAI (and the ethical use thereof) is regarding its application to specific fields, and the SIP program is providing fruitful grounds for this investigation in the particular context of game development.

My research up to this point has focused on creative development processes, potential workflow applications of GAI, and the SIP participants use and initial perceptions of this technology. As the program continues into its latter half, my research is shifting to include the positioning of GAI in the professional development of those entering the games industry, the way their work may be changing through the introduction of GAI, and how they perceive the technology may impact their work. Witnessing the development of these games unfold is rewarding work, and I am grateful to the entire SIP team for their participation in this research.

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SIP Blog: Making it happen – 6/30/23

Making it Happen

By Jack McEvoy, WPI ‘24

We are now approximately halfway through our time in the Summer Innovation Program, and every team is working hard to flesh out their games. Playtesters either visiting the office or open-house events have provided us with plenty of helpful feedback, so we’re adjusting course, making edits, and planning new features. Overall, it seems like everyone is making incredible progress. While they might not be on the level of published games yet, each of the teams here has a solid idea and plenty of skill to pull it off, even if they’ve had some extreme setbacks.

As for my team, Cotton Candy, we are doing exceptionally well on the content we’re aiming to include in the final game. Out of the planned 5 levels of our rhythm game, we have completed 3 levels-worth of art content, and 2 of those are fully playable. Our art team is incredibly skilled and adept at teamwork, and creates an immense amount of high quality art in a short amount of time. At our current pace, we might even have the resources to make another level or add one or two of our other stretch goals. Our ideas for potential future features include outfits, online leaderboards, and even the ability to play as prior opponents. Of course, over-scoping and inevitable bugs are on everyone’s minds, so our expectations are thoroughly tempered.

Speaking of bugs, a significant amount of our programmers’ effort over the past week has been spent adjusting, testing, and overhauling the core systems of our game. Supposedly a rhythm game has yet to be done during SIP due to their challenges when it comes to programming and making enough music. While we’re certainly encountering those challenges, we’ve also found solutions, and we believe our game has reached a stable state, programming-wise. Additionally, our Sound Designer has made plenty of high quality music while also working with the other 3 teams, which is seriously impressive. Overall, we’re well on our way to a full-featured, shippable game, and we’re getting closer every day.

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SIP Blog: Putting on the brakes – 6/26/23

Putting on the brakes

By Alex Mintz, WPI ‘25

Coming out of the long Juneteenth weekend, all the SIP23 teams have been working full steam ahead. On Team Caramel Apples, changes are brewing. After various discussions and analysis, we have decided to put our current game concept (real gnomes retaliating against fake garden gnomes by catapulting them through windows, in a mixed style of Dunk Shot and Angry Birds) on hold while we explore a Jetpack Joyride-esque game. In an effort to maximize the efficiency, the main character has turned their leaf blower into a jetpack and will be blowing through suburbs. It is undetermined if this character will be a gnome as well, but it is likely some of the old gnome art will make an appearance if we choose this one at the end of the day.

The decision to put the brakes on the gnome game was not an easy one. We’ve just about finished the first level, which included programming more math and physics than I ever thought I’d be doing this summer. After lots of trips through old physics notes, phoning friends, and dubiously helpful AI suggestions, we were able to play with a realistic catapult – but, the game just didn’t feel “fun.”

Sparked by a discussion with MassDigi’s Monty Sharma, we decided to try a new approach and temporarily split the team in half. One group was tasked with figuring out how to save the current game, while the other was tasked with “pulling the red lever” and coming up with a completely new game. Upon reconvening, we discovered that both teams had independently brought up Jetpack Joyride. So a new idea was pitched: a gnome – or maybe a dad – going on a ride through yards on a leaf blower. Currently, we are working on a quick dirty build of this concept; if we feel it surpasses the old game by the end of its day of production, we’ll pivot. Either way, expect to see some “charming” lawn decor come out of Caramel Apples in the future.

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Summer Studio Blog: Defying the odds – 6/22/23

Defying the odds

By Ed Greig, Clark U. ‘24

Nobody could’ve predicted how this summer was going to play out, but here we are. We are approaching our third week in the first installment of the MassDigi Summer Studio at Clark – a program very similar to MassDigi SIP but with a smaller group and a tighter deadline. With all of us hailing from the same school, formalities were quick and we got to work fast. Since we have a tighter schedule we only had a few days to concept ideas before turning to a build. Everyone on the team dug deep into their imagination until we found a few pitches that stuck with us such as a nightmare-eating frog and a peaceful Zen garden. We began work on our dirty build which gave way to a new challenge, a hybrid workspace.

One of the unique features of Summer Studio is its hybrid capability. With work commitments and life circumstances, this opportunity allows for some people to be part-time and others to be full-time. I myself would have not been able to join if I couldn’t work remotely and I am very thankful for it. With half our team in Worcester and the other half scattered along the East Coast, coordinating meetings and work schedules is key. Max Xavier, our producer, has done a fantastic job so far of keeping everyone excited to work on the project. Playing a team game after our lunch break is something I look forward to daily.

The game we are trying to create is a hybrid variant of the widely successful “Merge 3” style games such as Merge Dragons, but make a mere decorator where the items you mindlessly swipe together are unlocked for the player to freely decorate with! In our game you heal the world by cultivating bad seeds filled with negative emotions into beautiful creations. You can then make your own zen garden and arrange it to your liking with decorations.

We pushed out a dirty build in just 4 days with the two main systems, the merging and decorating, to show a proof of concept to peers and staff at MassDigi. We received very positive feedback in particular about the theme and message of the game. Team Turkey Leg, as we’re called, wants to make sure everyone knows how important taking care of your mental health is, and we want to convey that message in this game we make over the summer.

As the art lead, my peers have been pushing out work every day and iterating on top of it to get the best finished product in-engine. One of the most important things we have been stressing is to take the time to make the art consistent, we need to make sure we can take inspiration from others and then replicate that in our work.

Tyler Gaughan has been holding it down for game design and has already presented us with a spreadsheet full of the math required to make a mere game function under the hood. He’s also made sure to cross our T’s when it comes to the accurate setting and art of a traditional Zen garden.

Programming has been tearing it up and implementing all of the lofty systems we threw into their hands with Chenxi Gao at the helm. Currently, I believe the merge system is being rebuilt from the ground up as well as the currency system.

I feel like our whole team is ahead of the curve and hungry to succeed, hopefully we can keep it up!

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SIP Blog: Charting the path – 6/20/23

Charting the path

By Jacob Czerepica, Clark University ‘24

Leaping off the back of our dirty builds, it’s time to get serious and begin working towards our final products. Over the past week, the SIP23 teams have begun to map out where we’re going for our games, finalize certain features, anticipate obstacles, and generally pave the road to production. We are wrapping up our pre-production phases and are beginning full production on our games. We learned the last bits of information we can from our dirty builds before tossing them aside to create a new and better product. Everyone on every team has begun the hard work to build our systems, frameworks, and workflow.

In this early stage, we are making sure we create good frameworks and systems to help ensure development proceeds smoothly going forward. After our dirty builds crawled, we are using the lessons we learned from them so that our final game can run. Laying our development plans on the table, we’ve established the big systems we will need to tackle for each of our games and how to best approach them. Knowing these systems ahead of time allows us to plan our workflow so that we can identify potential stalls in our development early, giving us an opportunity to mitigate their impact or avoid them entirely. My team has mapped out our big systems and practiced our workflow over this past week.

For my art teammates, we have written out our development pipeline. Using this pipeline, our art assets are passed from one artist to another to best capture each of our artist’s strengths and maintain consistency. This pipeline has some issues which we have identified quickly in our testing. Despite these issues, we’ve adapted and created a system that does well to emphasize the strengths of each artist and help with the game’s development. It also offers us time to work with other artistic elements of the game that wouldn’t necessarily go through our established art pipeline.

On the design side of things, a large portion of the work here has been finalizing our game’s features and creating mockups of what the game will roughly look like. Most of the work here has been to help the team visualize the same game and make sure we are all cooperating toward the same product. We, the design team, have also created spreadsheets for later use. These spreadsheets will help us track values as they are added to help with game balancing, which my team identified as potentially a large issue for our game.

Finally, we look to my team’s programmers for the tasks they’ve been working on this week. They have been communicating with teammates to ensure they are developing the game according to the team’s shared vision, and creating appropriate frameworks to make development much easier down the road. They’ve been creating the foundations for our game and ensuring that development goes smoothly. On top of building the core gameplay features, they also have worked on other important aspects of the game, such as UI scaling for multiple aspect ratios of devices.

Overall, we are beginning to create the vision of our games and laying down the necessary roadwork for the work that lies ahead. We have mapped out the routes of our development and built the necessary tools to ensure things go as smoothly as possible. The work we did last week should hopefully keep us all well prepared for when obstacles inevitably show up. SIP this year is off to a fantastic start and after much preparation, we have finally embarked on proper development. We will likely learn a lot this summer if we haven’t already, but I believe that every team will come out with a fantastic game to share with the world once we’re done.

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