Crowd vs. community: Lessons learned from the people
By Ari Green, junior, MIT
When it comes to any competitive industry, we’ve all asked ourselves at one point or another:
“Are these people, who all do the same thing as me, here to help or hinder me?”
The answer to this question is the difference between a gradual clambering over an intimidating crowd to be heard, and a supportive community that achieves results by sharing its knowledge among all its members. To be fair, it’s always a bit of both, but usually you can feel if there is an imbalance one way or another. After spending much time with the Worcester and Boston gaming communities, meeting people, seeing studios, going to events, and generally getting involved in the Massachusetts game development scene this summer, I was overjoyed to find it an extremely genuine community.
The demo night at both Playcrafting Boston and Woo! GamePile really set the feeling of a community into stone for me. Before I walked into the first showcase I had the mistaken impression that everyone in the world was trying to create the exact same game/genre/idea/product…etc. and thus all the other people demoing would be showing cleverly dressed up versions of our game. However, needless to say I was grossly mistaken and everyone had their own wonderfully original ideas and were pursuing them in really interesting ways. It was then I realized the truth of variety and niche. Seeing all the developers at the local gaming showcase / demo events made me understand everyone was trying to do their own thing, and there was hardly competition in the fact that we all made games. Each of us trying to hit different markets, demographics, and platforms. Our audiences were completely different, our games were completely different. It really solidified for me that there really is a place for that new idea or unique concept out there in the grand scheme of the gaming world (assuming you can find a way to monetize or popularize).
Furthermore, people wanted to help us succeed and tried to give the most helpful feedback they could muster. Usually saying something along the lines of “I ran into a similar problem doing that, try this…” or “The game is fun here and here, but I lose the momentum when I attempt to do this.” All were eager to give advice, from game to engine, even when our markets intersected or genres overlapped. The people we met embodied the sense of collaboration we’ve heard about time and again when listening to lectures on the industry, but for the first time I was getting a clear look at face to face. Similarly with the four teams of the MassDiGI Summer Innovation Program, an arrangement seemingly perfect for breeding an aggressive competition between teams, miraculously motivates extreme collaboration! This is what the games industry is all about.
As someone who has aspired to make waves in the gaming industry from a young age, my outlook has gone through several formative stages. The most recent of these stages has been thanks to my experiences at MassDiGI’s Summer Innovation Program. In each of these stages I’ve tried to size up the games business and where I stand in relation to it. Today it feels less like a harsh industry and more like the group of kindred spirits I once imagined it to be.
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The art of MegaloMalady
by Veronica Ni, senior, RISD
MegaloMalady’s art direction is the result of Team Awesome asking the question, “How do we make our game stand out from other infection games?” We were inspired by games such as Pandemic and Plague, but we didn’t want to use the same visual language that they did. After multiple exchanges of ideas, we’ve decided to introduce the concept of “cute but morbid,” which became our game’s core theme.
What at first glance seemed simple became a challenging concept to execute. Establishing this direction and having the art consistently follow it requires countless hours dedicated to conceptualizing and refining. An example would be our mascot “Germy”, who is the result of a myriad of different design iterations by Annie E. (lead UI) and Elizabeth Darragh (lead animator), with different silhouettes, features, and personalities. Over and over they have been rejected, nevertheless the artists continued tirelessly until one day something clicked that made Germy the adorable monster he is today.
Everything has been designed to fit with our theme, from the bright and cheery houses that give off a sugary sweet atmosphere to the UI that has been redrafted multiple times to ensure the most user friendly and tappable experience. MegaloMalady has been given much praise for its art style, and it couldn’t have been possible without the dedication of our extremely talented team of artists.
Even after a clear art direction has been established, revisions have been continuously made, ensuring the highest level of quality for every individual art asset. With only two and a half weeks left and so much work left to be done, we’re pouring more focus than ever (even after hours!) into our beloved game, and I have faith in my team to march on with the same amount of excitement as we had since the beginning.
Images: A small selection of the different concepts for Germy that Liz (top) and Annie (bottom) came up with.
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Audio magic: The sounds of summer
By Alex Ripple, junior, Berklee College of Music
What is it like to be on 4 teams at once?
It’s chaos. Hilarious chaos.
Before the summer started and I found out I was going to be the only audio engineer for 4 teams I was scared to death. I asked myself, “What if they don’t like my music,” “What if I’m not able to produce assets quickly?” and so on. They were “What if’s….” and would only hold me back so I had to rid myself of that thinking if I wanted to make the most out of this summer.
On top of this, I was thrown (willingly) into a 5th team for another game being developed for the local Worcester baseball team. Plot twist, right?
In actuality, being on five teams working as the audio engineer is an immense amount of fun and I wouldn’t trade it for any other summer experience. Each team is vastly different, having various ways of handling me, how they give criticism, and vary in the ways they function behind the scenes. Although I don’t see each team everyday, I’m able to get a glimpse of how they work together and that in itself is hilarious. I get to see the inner workings from a successful build, to a bug in the code, to gossip.
But how do I keep my sanity? Well, I’ve found a way… I think.
1. Stay Organized!
Organization is key. With 5 games, each requires its own set of music and sound effects. This means that I have a ton of folders and files on my computer that are easy to lose track of. Gotta stay organized!
2. Know how people work.
We’ve been told a hundred times this is a “people-person” industry, and if you aren’t good with people, good luck! Working with 23 other people means 23 distinct personalities with 23 different life experiences. Sometimes patience and understanding are super beneficial!
3. Stay positive, stay hyped.
It’s easy to get sidetracked and overwhelmed. It’s also easy to bash your own work – especially if the others think that it’s not perfect for their game or what they want. You just have to say, “It’s a bad track/sound effect. Let’s move on.” Doing so helps me in the long run as the next iteration or redo turns out better than the last one.
To see and hear our work in action, sign up to playtest our games here.
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Ophidia: Scope, scope, scope
By Rachel Burton, junior, WPI
From the beginning our project, Ophidia, has been ambitious but now, approaching the halfway point, I’m beginning to worry about scope. Despite being warned from day one about biting off more than can be chewed in 11 weeks, we shot for the stars, and now the stars are shooting back.
It’s surprisingly easy to forget about the limited time frame when the team has a vision of the perfect game with all sorts of fun and interesting features. Since we locked down on design decisions it has become easier to see which wishlist items won’t make it into the game, but even still we’ve had to let go of some levels we were excited to build. It’s hard to kill your darlings, but as we’ve all learned it’s an essential part of game development, especially with a small team and short time period.
Still, the team is exceptionally dedicated, and I think we’ll get all out non-wishlist items in and still have time for polish. Learning what not to have faith in and what to definitely have faith in has been a large part of this experience, and I have the utmost faith in myself and my teammates.
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MegaloMalady: Creating a team
By Maxwell Maynard, junior, University of Southern California
There is one main difference between a group of people working together and a team. Any group can seek the same goal, but ultimately, their destinations differ. A common destination is a treasure only a team can lay claim to.
In two weeks, the group of developers working on MegaloMalady became “Team Awesome.” We dropped the unnecessaries of courtesy and convention. We unified our separate visions with compromises, votes and new ideas that were just plain better. We strove for clear communication. Our effort to designate a unified vision was what gave us combined ownership over the idea we devised. It is that combined ownership that allows us to work as a whole and professional unit.
Communication is the bread and butter of our workflow. Every morning, we stand to update each other on our current progress: what we did yesterday, what we plan to do today, what’s stopping us from progressing. We work close to each other, meaning questions between fields of expertise are only a table away. Multi-disciplinary tasks are easily collaborated upon between programmers, animators and illustrators. Above anything, we are never afraid to critique or be critiqued. Feedback is essential to success so there’s no sense in being shy about it.
Where one person is lacking, the next person is strong. Sometimes we like to think we turned a misfit rabble of talents into a capable party of developers, fit for a proper adventure. We all see a published, enjoyable game at the end of our 10-week-long journey and we are proud to dedicate ourselves to that collective cause.
Team Awesome consists of seven members, one designer, two programmers, three artists, and one audio ninja. We are creating MegaloMalady, an incremental game where you play as Germy the monster who seeks friendship and brings disease.
To get all the latest, follow us on Twitter @MegaloMalady.
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Cooking up a game: Hibachi Hero
By Team Hibachi
Looking back, the past four weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. Before we were Team Hibachi, we were just a collection of students from near and far. Two programmers from Becker College, Chris Bruno and Rejon Taylor-Foster. Another from Northeastern University, Mackenzie Denker. Three artists with mixed skills in 3D modeling and digital painting from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis; Uyen Uong, Melissa Chiu, and Sai Timmermann. One audio ninja from Berklee College of Music, Alex Ripple.
When we started, we were individuals. Most of us didn’t know each other’s names. By the end of orientation week, we could recite everyone’s names and schools, but we didn’t know much else about each other. We were placed in a team together to work on an idea we had nicknamed “Zen Leaves”, a game where you control the flow of raindrops on a car window in order to push around leaves and other items that stuck to the window.
The first days of development were difficult. We were excited to be working on a game, but we were struggling to find the “fun” within the abstract concept. By the end of the second day, we had made the bold decision to scrap “Zen Leaves” and start fresh. We each took five minutes to come up with a concept for a game that could be played with one finger then pitched the ideas to the rest of the team. We then voted on which ideas seemed the most fun, and decided that we would spend the rest of the day making small prototypes of our top three ideas.
Each of our programmers worked on a separate concept, choosing to work into the evening so that we could make our decision first thing in the morning. We ended up setting aside two of the concepts: a tower-defense game where you protect a turtle crossing a busy road and a game where you tap on flashing squares to set off chain reactions to claim every tile on the map. Our remaining concept was a game where you used a slingshot to defend baby turtles from incoming hungry seagulls. We liked the mechanics of the game, but it didn’t take long for us to decide that we weren’t in love with the story behind it, and so we took some time to brainstorm other ideas that incorporated the mechanics we had built. The suggestion to slingshot knives at food clicked with the team, and “Hibachi Hero” was born.
The idea to cook the cut food pieces on a grill at the bottom of the screen followed shortly after, and we ended up ditching the slingshot in favor of simply flinging knives at the food. By the end of the week we had a working prototype that we could bring to the Playcrafting Spring Expo at the Microsoft New England in Boston. We watched as various developers from the Boston area came by to try the game, and each of us noticed the same thing: people were fascinated with flinging knives. Even as they were giving us feedback on some of the weaker aspects of the prototype, they would continue to fling knives as if they were in a trance. We had found the fun.
Since then, the team has moved away from our prototype and begun work on our alpha stage of development. We’ve expanded some of our features and trimmed back others, and we’ve spent a considerable amount of time and effort to perfect the feeling of throwing the knife. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing – one of our biggest disagreements was deciding what types of food should be included in the game – but our struggles have built us into a stronger, closer team. We’re about halfway through this roller coaster of an experience, and we can’t wait to see where the rest of the summer takes us. Team Hibachi, signing out!
Follow Team Hibachi on Twitter @HibachiHeroGame
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Crafting Life: Finding our way
By Devi Acharya, sophomore, Brandeis University
Two weeks ago the folks who run SIP–Tim, Monty, and Walt–said that in two weeks we would be part of a team with working prototypes of our games. I didn’t think it could be done, and yet here we are, two weeks later, with a game, playtesters, and convention meetups. But it hasn’t all been fun and games–we’ve been learning some important lessons in getting to where we are today:
Be Ready For Change – For our team’s game, Crafting Life, we are working with researchers to use our game as an alternative to drug treatments. This means that we have to be on the lookout to see how we can change our game to suit the needs of the players, creating a game that is both fun and functional. We have to be careful not to become too attached to any one idea or style because a different path might end up being the better one to take.
Ask Around – We’ve been told that at all times we should be either working, teaching, or learning—and I’ve discovered that I have a lot to learn from my team. From just making sure that we are all on the same page to learning the ins and outs of certain programs, we have worked together learn all that we need to know about getting our game to work and all potential forms that our game could take.
Know Your Story – When Bill Gardner, a local developer at The Deep End Games, came to speak with us about our game, he said that while he liked it he couldn’t quite see a unified direction. It was then that we realized that we didn’t really have a direction—while we had a solid game, there wasn’t a story or experience we wanted to invoke. With his advice in hand we went to look at what we wanted to say and how our game could say it.
In short, my team and I have learned a lot over the last two weeks, and we’re certainly hoping to learn more both from each other and from experts in the field. What matters is that we’re continually pushing ahead, working together, and finding our way in order to make something great.
- Other Crafting Life team members are: Ari Green, MIT; Shannon Mitchell, Champlain; Joseph Gillen, LYIT; Isaiah Mann, Hampshire, Matteo Lanteri, Becker; and Alex Ripple, Berklee.
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The deep end: SIP15 development week 1
By Liam O’Donnell-Carey, senior, Letterkenny Institute of Technology
After a reasonably lighthearted orientation week in which we all got a chance to meet the other interns and familiarise ourselves with each other’s experience levels, Tuesday the 26th saw things start to get serious. We were divided into four teams of six, with each team having three programmers, three artists, and a game concept to work with.
That morning started much the same way for all of the teams, scrapping the parts of their idea they didn’t like and building on the parts they did. However, the teams did take different approaches. For example, our team was reasonably happy with the core mechanics of our game, but we decided to re-theme it, which would involve more concepting work on the part of the artists. Another team started almost from scratch, pitching an entirely new batch on ideas amongst each other before settling on one to run with.
For me personally, it was refreshing to then dive right into development for the rest of the week and start working on code. Having just finished work on a year-long project for college that involved an entire semester of research and planning, getting the chance to implement systems and find issues later was a welcome change of pace. Additionally, coming from a program that teaches solely programming, I was really impressed with the work-rate of the artists! It’s great motivation to finish implementing a system due to the necessary sprites already being finished and ready to go.
Working as part of a tight-knit team and getting immediate feedback for every bit of work I do has been a great experience so far, and having industry veterans like Michael Carriere from Zapdot give us advice on the likes of playtesting is invaluable. In addition, the support and interaction between teams is great, with programmer lunches and coding jams outside of work hours helping everyone solve any problems that they may have. All in all, it’s a really fantastic workplace to develop a game in, and I can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner!
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Getting going: SIP15 orientation week
By Shengmin E., sophomore, Becker College with Devi Acharya, sophomore, Brandeis University and Sai Timmerman, senior, IUPUI
With final exams ending for college students across the US, we are looking forward to a whole summer of fun and games. The students of this year’s Summer Innovation Program (SIP) are no exception, but for aspiring entrepreneurs like us, “fun and games” takes on a whole new meaning.
There is no opportunity quite like SIP. From 214 applications to the program, 24 interns were chosen representing 15 institutions from California to Ireland, working to create games over the next 11 weeks. Every one of us has something that made the selection team say “wow,” and we now put our skills to the test.
Orientation got going at 9:30am sharp on the morning of May 20. MassDiGI managing director Monty Sharma took the podium and, assisted by executive director Timothy Loew and producer Walt Yarbrough, introduced us all to the ropes of the program. Concepting exercises began the very next day.
Students mixed and matched into random teams, combatting challenges with creativity, building problem-solving skills, and striving to harness the essence of “fun.” To cultivate fast decision-making skills, every prompt was a race against time. There was little time before the groups shuffled again and a new challenge became the focus.
Jake the Lion
Visiting SIP was guest speaker from the Worcester Bravehearts baseball team accompanied by team mascot Jake the Lion. The team presented a challenge to the us: make a game featuring Jake.
In addition, we also were challenged by Boston Children’s Hospital to come up with a game with engaging mechanics to help combat attention deficit disorder.
All in all we came up with a dozen great ideas for games. Which projects will we build? We narrowed it down to just a handful and by the end of week one, we’ll be solidly on our way and several of these great ideas will become the foundation for published games by the end of the summer.
You can follow our SIP15 journey all summer on Twitter @mass_digi or by liking MassDiGI’s Facebook page.
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Growing the team
by Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
We are excited to announce David Lennon has joined MassDiGI as our Technical Director. David brings a wealth of engineering experience to our team – something we need in order to grow our operational and technical capabilities. His addition will allow us to better deliver our programs and services – be it the Summer Innovation Program, Live Code, Mentoring on Demand etc. – and expand our own game development activities. David, who is also currently consulting to Metaversal Studios, was most recently executive director of engineering at Turbine. Welcome aboard, David!
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