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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SIP Blog: Off to the races – 6/9/23

Off to the races

by Henry Cecchini, Vassar College ’25

PlaytestingSIP 2023 is just starting off, and a gaggle of 5th graders visited us this week to see the fruits of our labor. The various teams set up booths with themed activities for playtesting their games; on team Corn Dogs, we created stations for gameplay and art critique, and awaited the invaluable feedback of children. What we found out was encouraging. Even though we’re scrapping the initial theme of our game, the kids loved our platforming mechanics enough to try to beat each others’ high scores. The inclusion of a timer in the win screen allowed a little speedrunning community to form. On the art side of things, we set out a variety of concepts for our main character and asked the students to vote on which ones they liked best. It’s important to be aware of our audience’s preferences, rather than our own biases, when it comes to design.

The biggest difficulty my team faced so far was the realization that our game’s plot wasn’t engaging or relatable enough. After thinking we were done with brainstorming a central concept, we went back to the drawing board, ditching our sugarbug idea for a game about a baby dragon. Even though most of the gameplay mechanics should be transferable, it’s hard to make such a big switch on short notice. Now is the best time for reconsiderations like this, before we all begin working on our games in earnest.

galleryAt this point, we’re moving on to preproduction after finishing our dirty builds. Everyone’s hoping to avoid issues down the line by reasoning out what will need to be done in the course of the summer; the planning process involves a lot of Kanban boards and sticky notes. We’re having meetings to discuss our visions for the future of our games, dividing up initial art and programming tasks, and reasoning out different possibilities to see what fits best.

In the midst of game nights, donuts, and toxic smog clouds, this year of SIP is revving up. What I’ve seen of everyone’s work so far is imaginative, well-considered, and enjoyable. We’ve got an ambitious assortment of talented developers here, and I think we’re going to knock it out of the park.

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SIP Blog: Getting going, looking ahead – 6/1/23

After two intense virtual weeks of onboarding, SIP23 has finally commenced on WPI’s campus. This program brings together 25 developers from various schools in the United States – and Canada this year – offering them the opportunity to create games over the summer. We have four teams named Cotton Candy, Fried Dough, Corn Dogs, and Caramel Apple, each consisting of six game developers, along with an audio director collaborating with all four. These teams have brainstormed initial game ideas and created “dirty builds” which will be showcased and playtested next week by a group of 5th graders from Worcester’s Elm Park Community School. The results of this playtesting will give each team the opportunity to get feedback and determine which one of their ideas resonates most with the audience.

Alex SamMeet Alex (Soup) Supron, an IMGD Production student at Clark University, and Samuel Yusuf, a Masters Student of Science and Technology for Innovation in Global Development at WPI. We have joined forces to take charge of the marketing and outreach efforts for MassDigi’s Summer Innovation Program this year.

Each of the teams has come up with captivating and innovative ideas that truly showcase the talent of the developers involved. Working alongside such incredible individuals has provided us with a clear direction for our marketing strategy.

Our Marketing Goals for SIP23 are as follows:

1. Establish connections with industry professionals by organizing events and arranging guest speakers during studio hours. This will help foster valuable networking opportunities for the participants and allow them to learn from experienced individuals in the gaming industry.

2. Promote community engagement through social media platforms, with the primary objective of raising awareness among companies and professionals about the SIP program and the talented developers who participate in it. We aim to create a vibrant online community that supports and recognizes the achievements of these aspiring game developers.

By focusing on these goals, we hope to enhance the overall experience of SIP23 and create valuable opportunities for the participants, while also spreading awareness about this exciting program to a wider audience. Each week we will have a different developer write a blog post about a topic that they feel passionate about in order to give all of you reading some insight into the program and the individuals who participate in it.

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Clark BSDT partners with MassDigi on summer studio program – 4/24/23

The Becker School of Design & Technology at Clark University has partnered with the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute on a new summer studio program for undergraduate and graduate students that will give participants a chance to enhance their game design and development knowledge from the classroom and BSDT Studio into practice over the summer. The competitive program, MassDigi Summer Studio, will run for nine full-time weeks beginning on June 4.

“We’re very excited to offer this opportunity to the Clark student community,” said BSDT Dean Paul Cotnoir, PhD. “Through this unique partnership with MassDigi, an organization we have collaborated with for years, our students will get additional access to an important, commercially focused experience that challenges them to make and publish a game over the course of a summer. But, perhaps more importantly, the program’s business-minded, team-based approach, which reinforces the BSDT model, will give all involved an invaluable chance to continue to build on their academic foundation and Game Studio experience. Another huge plus is the chance to work with peers from other schools and disciplines, using industry-standard production methodologies and tools in a real-world setting.”

MassDigi, which is based at WPI, is the center for academic cooperation, entrepreneurship and economic development across the Commonwealth’s games community. MassDigi has an established track record of working with student teams to launch games having published over 40 titles to platforms like the Apple App Store, Google Play Store and Valve’s Steam.

“We love working with young people at the beginning of their careers,” said MassDigi Executive Director Tim Loew. “Nothing beats the energy, drive and curiosity that students bring with them and we are honored to be partnering with the Becker School of Design & Technology at Clark, one of the top game design academic programs in the world, to offer a summer studio.”

Over the summer, students in the studio will not only build games with guidance from MassDigi staff, they will also network with game industry mentors, organize local playtesting sessions, attend a Boston demo day and hold an open house in Worcester.

“At BSDT all our work reflects an intentional effort to foster an inclusive and welcoming environment for all with passion for making games,” said Ulm, Professor of Interactive Media and Director of BSDT’s undergraduate program. “This partnership with MassDigi reflects that and is consistent with Clark’s values and priorities. It really gets to the heart of what we are trying to do.”

Clark students interested in the program may apply here before April 28. In addition to being eligible for academic credit from Clark, students in the program will also receive a $1,000 award from MassDigi.

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SIP23 team selected – 4/10/23

Since 2012, our Summer Innovation Progam’s first year, applications to SIP have grown year over year in terms of quality, geography, major and diversity. This time around we received applications from 326 undergraduate and graduate students representing 94 colleges and universities from around the world making it, once again, one of our most competitive year ever.

Choosing only 25 as interns was very challenging. After many hours, we selected a really talented group. This summer’s SIP23 team will be made up of interns from 16 institutions including Acadia, Amherst, Berklee, BU, Brandeis, Brown, Clark, Cornell, MassArt, NYU, Northeastern, RISD, RIT, Smith, Vassar and, of course, WPI.

SIP23 begins on May 16 and concludes on August 4. Over those 11+ weeks, with guidance from staff and industry mentors, SIP23 teams will be responsible for all the work necessary to build and launch a game. Simply put, there is no internship program like it in the world. We can’t wait to get started!

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Game Challenge reboot – 3/16/23

Several folks have inquired about the state of the MassDigi Game Challenge, an event and competition we have organized since 2012. Over the years, the Game Challenge (as well as it’s more recent offspring – the Pre-Game Challenge) has given hundreds of developers of all kinds the opportunity to pitch their games in front of industry veterans. Some of those games have been published, some haven’t. And, that’s what the next iteration of the Game Challenge is going to focus on – getting more of the games published. So, this year we’re going to be spending our time constructing an entirely new framework that we’ll roll out in 2024. Stay tuned!

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