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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Learning the ropes – 11/17/22

By Logan Cooper, NEIT ’22

Through RIDigi, I was given a chance to work with MassDigi in their studio program which has been a wonderful opportunity and an exceptional experience.

This studio, which is essentially an internship, is serving not only as a co-op for me at NEIT but also as a gateway from progressing from student life to work life in a more integrated way. From this I’ve come to learn both how personal workflow becomes when in an actual professional environment compared to school, the general structure of how a game project is organized, and new coding skills that I’ll be able to use for future projects.

Logan C.Though there were some bumpy spots early on for me, the program treats everyone with equal respect and fairness when working on various projects.  Once I got going, I joined a team – one of a few – to work on a mobile game called Cafe Cat in hope of adding new features and increasing player retention. Initially, this stunned me since I thought that everyone involved was going to be working on the same project. But, aftter joining the team we were given our specific roles for each of which we needed to both learn and perform over the course of the next twelve weeks.

I was assigned to the role of general programmer and more importantly to game dev analytics of which I only had a basic understanding at the time. Over the first week or so I spent most of my work hours learning there new programs to use and coding style, so I could perform at the same level as those who had originally worked on this project. The work environment being remote was also a change but a simple one at that since given we were able to create our own meeting times and additions for the project has personally allowed my group to flourish.

MassDigi and its producers understand that for people here they have personal, school, and other work lives outside of the internship and are accepting with open arms when something comes up. From my own group we have had a little bit of scheduling issues / personal issues which has resulting in people possibly missing meetings but being more self motivated than something like school work has allowed us for easy workarounds by rescheduling meetings or catching people up with the meeting notes we take each time after our Google meets.

The change from school to this work can be a little challenging early on requiring those participating to learn new programs or styles from existing methods they may already know but learning that these are the standard programs lets us learn once and use often for any project given to us by the industry thus preparing us for any work given. Our group and MassDigi as a whole has been using Dev-To-Dev for analytics for the game, Plastic for source control and group game development, and Ryver for communications with others in our work groups. Though something like Plastic is an extension to existing programs like Unity, learning these programs are both needed and beneficial.

Progress can be slow on development as people balance there lives but seeing the determination from my team members and MassDigi as a whole has lead to us already improving upon our Cafe Cat and pushing out changes to the public that has already seen a player increase of seventy people at the time of writing.

The skills I’ve learned, the people I’ve met, and the understanding of how an organization actually works in the game industry has really opened my eyes to the work I’ve produced. I would gladly recommend to all who have the ability to take the opportunity to apply for this studio program to both improve yourself as a game developer and as a team member.

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Making progress, moving forward – 11/9/22

By James Taubman, NEIT ’25

James TaubmanI consider myself fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work with MassDigi in their semester-based studio program. Through the help of RIDigi and the dedicated faculty at New England Institute of Technology I was given a path to further my journey to a career in the video game industry. The team from MassDigi is quite informed, offering a well-planned out remote program. This studio program, or internship really, has been challenging while also helping me progress and develop important career-related skills. Working remotely brings on its own obstacles, while introducing contemporary industry tools. This also helps create the ability to connect with other students of varying skills.

The program has a specific approach that feels as if I am working at a professional video game studio. Our team is tasked with helping build a mobile app/game for Android and Apple users. We look at one of MassDigi’s recently released games and using analytics, we work to improve on parts that need fine tuning. To start, we spent time introducing ourselves to and getting to know our team members. Following that is the onboarding process which makes sure everyone is ready to go before moving forward. Afterwards, the teams start breaking down goals and how they will be resolved. At this stage in the program, which is a couple weeks in, we are starting to be assigned tickets/tasks that will need to be resolved before new ones come in.

This program has been challenging so far, without being overly exhausting. They keep in mind students have outside schedules and school assignments, but make sure to have it use a good part of your free time. I am working mostly with the development team while also helping with sound effects, since I have background in audio.  For development, we are first looking at how to improve the code scripts for analytics to make sure it is reporting accurate information. The analytics will help us figure out where balancing and fine tuning needs to occur to facilitate a more engaging gameplay experience. After that we are fine tuning smaller pieces like collision issues, health damage, and new obstacles.

The tools we are using are industry standard and are set up in a way where students must figure out certain aspects of it on our own. We are using DevToDev for our analytics information but must set up a lot of how it functions ourselves. We are also using Ryver for communication, as this position is remote, and Ryver is just like any other form of remote business-oriented communication tool. We are also using Miro for tickets and task building, where the team will reference it for any important information. Since this is a more independent style of video game creation the main engine we are using is Unity, with the IDE and Modeling software being up to the individual student.

This program has also provided a great space for networking. As we are communicating with students of all different experiences, skill levels and schools. Most of the students on my team are from different colleges in the New England area. All the students are amazing at either art, coding, or music. They are all open to working together and creating easy communication with each other. This also opens the door for a lot of future opportunities, as the skills I am learning here apply to many jobs within the game industry, as well as the tech industry more broadly.

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SIPBLOG: There and back – 8/15/22

Hello, it’s Brendan Horack again

SIP22SIP22 ended 10 days ago and I have had some time to process all  the fantastic and chaotic events of the past few months. I had the privilege of taking part in this program with a unique perspective. It was amazing to be able to watch the teams work, learn, and see the ideas they had grow and change. That being said, I also saw the teams make mistakes and work through frustration. Fortunately, we were mostly able to stave off Covid-related issues.

The cliché is that every year SIP games get better. It’s true. No disrespect to the teams of past years. Every game that comes out of this program is stellar, but even this year’s teams will have to learn to understand that next year will probably be even just a little better. During the ideation phase, I sat in with every team at different points, and for the most part, I could tell which ideas they were really passionate about very early. They would continue to come up with other concepts, but there was just something missing. One team, not going to point fingers here, briefly ran with an idea that ultimately was not what I thought they would, and they ended up changing concepts and it worked out really well for them. 

Farewell lunchSeeing so many of my coworkers break out of their shells and grow in a social manner was one of my favorite things to watch this summer. I have a lot of fun networking and talking to new people with new and different perspectives and ideas in this industry. I mean, I’m 22 years old and still in college. I can learn something from anyone I meet. We had so many great opportunities for everyone in our program to meet and learn from SIP alumni, industry professionals and veterans, and some folks that fall into both categories. Our event with Modulate at WPI Seaport was probably the best networking event MassDigi has done for SIP. 

Finally, critiques. Wrangling scope is something that even professionals deal with. Some teams ran into issues wrangling their scope, but I believe this is something that can only be taught through experience. Many professionals also deal with crunch. Crunch is not inevitable but is typically a symptom of scope creep among other issues. I can’t blame them. Everyone had big dreams for their games and 11 weeks to make them come true. These teams did amazing work and made some really important mistakes that they learned a lot from. 

Personally, I had the pleasure of speaking with and scheduling a lot of guests and events. There were so many great people and I wish I could thank them all here. However, there were also hiccups and struggles with communication along the way. But I learned a lot about communicating and planning events. In fact, I almost messed up the timing with our friends at Elm Park Community School. But with some extra effort, we made it work. All my mistakes helped me grow when it comes to managing under stress (which I needed). Throughout the summer I even began to work on documentation to make scheduling speakers a simpler process regarding those we feel are essential to bring in. I also had the privilege of connecting with some higher up marketing professionals that help me personally when it came to planning the campaigns for the fall. I have a LOT of plans. I have ideas for where, globally speaking, to market the games, and ideas to make our 2023 PAX East booth more engaging. You’ll just have to keep an eye on us to see what happens. 

B. HorackI can’t wait to see how well these games do with some advertising support behind them. To everyone I worked with this summer: Thank you so much for making this experience great. Programmers, artists, designers, composer. Everyone. You are all so talented. 

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SIPBLOG: The complicated art of networking – 7/29/22

Hello!! I’m Julia Sherbal, a rising senior at Northeastern studying computer science and game development. This summer, I’m working as a producer and programmer for Team Samosa on the game Cafe Cat.

Throughout SIP, I’ve done a lot of challenging work. Brainstorming game ideas, programming a game from scratch, and managing my team’s tasks are all difficult jobs I had to learn how to do properly. However, none of these things were as scary to me as the complicated art of networking.

Seaport teamLast week, we had multiple events for networking. As a programmer, I tend to be shy, and social situations can get quite awkward. For these events though, I had to tap into my producer side to be prepared for small talk and asking for LinkedIns… Horrifying. Being a producer has helped me step up and be more outspoken as I’m the one who has to represent our team.

On Monday, we had the opportunity to show off our games in Boston at WPI Seaport! I have made games in the past for school work and game jams, but people never actually play them. It was nerve-wracking to put our game out on display, but I knew my team had been working super hard, and I was excited for people to see it.

It was really rewarding to see people play and respond well to our game. We’ve been in production for about two months now, so a lot of hard work and care has gone into our cat game. All of that effort paid off when I saw how people lit up upon seeing our cat character designs, bad puns, and glitter effects. Watching people excitedly scramble to make enough tips in our game is one of my favorite moments this summer. Every little detail my team and I worked on over this summer had built up into a project I’m really proud of!

Cafe Cat screenshotAt WPI Seaport, I got to meet really cool people from companies like Modulate, Maxis, The Deep End, and Fire Hose Games. If you were at WPI Seaport and played our games, thank you so much! I want to work in the games field, so it was great meeting industry people in the Boston area, hearing what cool stuff they work on and how their journeys brought them to where they are now. There were also a bunch of past SIP alumni, and it was fun being able to see the network of talented, awesome people I now belong to! Turns out I had nothing to be scared of, everyone was really nice and easy to talk to.

We only have a week before our game launches, which is really exciting! It’s also quite scary, as there’s so much left I want to do. I know I’ll miss going into the Innovation Studio every day and working with my team.

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