To Pollute or Not To Pollute – 6/15/12

Gentle Repose

Brian Little, seen here mentally preparing his design philosophies.

My name is Brian Little, and I am student at Becker College and the designer for the MassDiGI SIP team working on the game Energy Drive. Energy Drive was brought to MassDiGI by the efforts of Blind Horizons, a team from Rochester Institute of Technology consisting of Dustin Kochensparger, Blake Gross, Torey Scheer, and Amanda Imperial. Their game, then called USB, was the winner of the “Best Serious Game” award at the MassDiGI Game Challenge and brought into the SIP program as part of their prize.

One of the major goals of Energy Drive is to make the player understand the consequences of energy production on our environment. As a designer, my challenge has been figuring out how to represent that theme in the game while still making the experience fun for the player. In the prototype that we started with, pollution was represented as a cloud which was generated at the start of the game. This cloud contained pollution-producing buildings, such as a coal plant or an oil refinery. The pollution manifested on the map and prevented the player from building in the spaces it occupied. Pollution-producing buildings, as their name implies, would keep creating pollution until they were destroyed. While this created an interesting dynamic, we did not enjoy this puzzle-like element. We felt that preventing building placement wasn’t fun.

Another interesting part of the game was that you couldn’t build any of the buildings that caused the pollution; you could only build clean energy, such as solar panels or wind turbines.  I felt that only letting the player build clean energy did not feel like a very realistic scenario, and that it ultimately made the game less entertaining. To solve this problem, I proposed that Energy Drive should allow the player to both create power plants that create pollution and those that don’t. This allows the player to decide how much pollution they are willing to create, while reinforcing the theme of the game by creating consequences for players who pollute too much.

In order to implement our solution, we designed the pollution-causing buildings such that they cost less to build per unit of energy when compared to clean energy buildings. While this makes them more attractive to the player at the start of the game, passing a certain threshold of pollution will trigger penalties that make the game noticeably harder. If the player chooses to build clean energy sources instead, they will produce power at a slower rate, but will also be eligible for positive events. This also allows a player to strategically pollute to get a hefty sum of energy, then demolish the polluting buildings and build clean energy once pollution becomes a serious problem. I feel that this type of decision process is more in line with the kinds of choices that are actually made in the real world.

By no means is any of this final. One of the most important aspects of game design is its iterative nature. Thus, as we continue here at SIP, we’ll be developing and changing Energy Drive in order to continuously improve the game. Hopefully, this gives you a better understanding of the realities of design, as well as the methodology we use to get to where we’re at. – Brian Little

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The Phases of Game Production, Part One – 6/11/12

Walt Yarbrough presenting to the SIP teams.

Last week, MassDiGI SIP staff member Walt Yarbrough, who has spent a large portion of his game industry career working on Dark Age of Camelot, took some time to describe the standard game production process. Walt broke down the production process into pieces, and I’ll be sharing the first couple with you!

Concept/Green Light

As it applies to SIP, Walt believes there are three key features to getting out of the concept phase. You must have a short, catchy elevator pitch that defines your game, a short, two page design document that outlines the core fun in your gameplay, and finally, a business model that works. Those three things are incredibly important and will form the basis of all of your future work.  I’ll go into depth about what they mean in future installments.


The demo is the first real test of the game. This is where you’ll be feeling out your technical constraints as well as encountering the problems in your design. This will define what your project’s realistic expectations are. If, for example, you want to have hundreds of units on screen and your hardware simply can’t support it at the graphics level you want, you have your constraint.


It’s important that the base gameplay works in your prototype. You need to have fun in there too. If your prototype isn’t fun to play and that’s your base gameplay, well…what are the odds that your game is going to be fun if you just keep layering stuff on top of it?

That’s all for now, but stay tuned for more soon! – Oleg Brodskiy

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Welcome to SIP! – 6/1/12

Members of Recruits discuss pre-production with Walt Yarbrough. From left to right: Alex Jersey, Jim McCarthy, Steve Everitt and Yarbrough.

Welcome to MassDiGI’s 2012 Summer Innovation Program Blog! We’ll be working throughout the summer to bring you regular updates from our game development projects as well as glimpses into the work of the project teams as they progress. Our goal is to shine a light on the game development process and share our experiences. Periodically, we’ll also have insights written by the team members themselves and the game industry mentors who guide them. But first, a little background.

The Summer Innovation Program, or SIP, was created to give college students an opportunity to spend 11 weeks immersed in a mentored game development environment. Essentially, SIP is a full-time, paid summer internship at a game development studio. When complete each student will be better prepared than ever enter the workforce or become an entrepreneur. SIP is underwritten by Becker College and an array of corporate supporters. (more…)

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