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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Free speech in a culture of outrage
By Christopher Ferguson, Ph.D., associate professor and department chair, Stetson University
Last month ex-Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling publicly identified two young men who allegedly posted sexually threatening comments about his daughter. These comments were replies to a twitter feed by Schilling congratulating his daughter for committing to the Salve Regina softball team. Just last month the New York Times Magazine carried a piece on Justine Sacco, whose career as a PR executive imploded after she tweeted insensitive and racially charged remarks about AIDS in Africa before getting on a flight to the continent. Taken together, these incidents bookend the struggle modern society continues to wrestle with regarding free speech in the internet age. How do we balance civility and courtesy with respect for free speech, even offensive speech, when anyone can say anything publicly? And what are the proper ramifications for offensive speech? Is free speech only about the First Amendment?
The hateful, misogynistic and threatening comments toward Schilling’s daughter represent one end of the spectrum. If these statements threatened assault on the young woman as news reports suggest, they would constitute harassment or incitement to violence and wouldn’t be constitutionally protected by the First Amendment. But what if they were not physically menacing but were vicious, demeaning and bullying? Here I’d argue that even non-assaultive hateful speech targeted at specific individuals can threaten free speech, to the extent that they serve to silence the voices of marginalized or underrepresented groups. Young women (and their fathers) should be able to celebrate their successes without being exposed to a cascade of misogyny. Schilling was quite right to call out his daughter’s harassers. Whether a legal matter or not, these individuals should not be shielded from the professional and personal ramifications of their actions, as their behavior specifically sought to silence the voice of young women.
But what about Justine Sacco? Before a trip to Africa in 2013 she tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” This racially charged tweet makes light of a humanitarian crisis in Africa as well as centuries of white privilege that has held many people of color in lives of bondage and economic deprivation for generations. Was this a message of hate meant to silence African voices, or a stupid, even satirical off-the-cuff comment?
To be clear, I don’t support Sacco’s tweet, which, at best, was ill-advised and insensitive. But I’m also concerned about the “culture of outrage” that has emerged over such events. The New York Times Magazine piece details a frenzy over Sacco’s tweet that seemed more spectator sport than true moral concern. The narrative involved her being a PR executive (who presumably should have known better) and having her fate decided unbeknownst to her while she was on an 11-hour flight. Sacco’s case appears to me to have as much to do with the bloodsport of watching someone’s life splinter in real time as it does any sincere moral concern.
Perhaps more absurd was the case of Breanna Mitchell, a teen girl internationally condemned for the crime of smiling while taking a selfie at Auschwitz (something I suspect most people would unconsciously do). Why does the internet community seethe with rage over slights such as these to the point we demand that these people’s professional lives and self-worth should be ended for all time?
When it comes to saying insensitive, stupid or boneheaded things, if we’re honest with ourselves, most people do this from time to time. If we expected everyone to be fired for ever having said something awful, frankly, the world would be unemployed. In most day-to-day discourse when we say something insensitive, we are given the chance to be confronted and reply, “You know, I was just trying to be funny, but I now realize my comments were offensive. I should have been more thoughtful and I hope you’ll accept my apology.” A careful and constructive challenge to insensitive speech can often set up a situation in which the offender can reflect on what they’ve said and be enlightened why such speech can be hurtful. Sure, some people are jerks and don’t care, but often these situations can be resolve easily with both people satisfied and no one losing their jobs. Unfortunately our culture of outrage deprives people like Sacco of this opportunity.
Of course people need to be careful about what they post publicly. But we also need to think more about whether our outrage fits the crime, and whether our calls for public humiliation do society more harm than good. At what point does this culture of outrage begin to chill not only offensive jokes and tweets, but legitimate dialogue on sensitive issues? How do we have frank and open discussions about race and gender if people are worried that saying the wrong thing might cost them their jobs or place in society?
I think it boils down to what I call sanctimony bias: our tendency to feel better about ourselves by pointing out the moral failings of others. We tell ourselves “I would NEVER make a joke about AIDS” even as we laugh at jokes about a myriad of other public tragedies. It’s hypocritical and it does damage free speech. Sure, the First Amendment doesn’t protect us from professional and personal consequences of the things we say, and free speech should not be a license for public idiocy and bigotry without challenge. But neither should this observation be an open license for cruel overreactions to minor buffoonery that can both damage people’s lives and truly limit freedom of expression.
Curt Schilling: http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Family/Modern-Parenthood/2015/0302/Curt-Schilling-defends-daughter-from-Twitter-bullies-with-help-of-followers
Justine Sacco: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/how-one-stupid-tweet-ruined-justine-saccos-life.html?_r=1
Breanna Mitchell: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/24/auschwitz-selfie-girl-breanna-mitchell_n_5618225.html
Christopher Ferguson, Ph.D., is an associate professor and chair of the department of psychology at Stetson University. His research interests include examining the effects of media on behavior, such as video game violence, thin-ideal media or advertising effects.
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SIP15 roster chosen
By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
Year after year applications to our annual Summer Innovation Program (SIP) have grown in terms of quality, quantity, geographic reach and diversity. This year we received applications from 214 undergraduate and graduate students representing 55 colleges and universities from across the world – making it by far our most competitive year ever.
Choosing only 24 was a challenge. After much discussion, the committee selected a talented group. This year’s SIP teams will be made up of interns from 15 institutions including Becker College, Berklee College of Music, Brandeis University, Champlain College, Hampshire College, IUPUI, MIT, Northeastern University, RPI, RISD, Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Southern California, University of Southern Maine, WPI – and our first international institution, Letterkenny Institute of Technology in Ireland.
SIP begins on May 19 and concludes on August 7. Over those 11 weeks or so, with guidance from professional staff and industry mentors, SIP teams will be responsible for all the work necessary to successfully launch their games. There is no internship program like it in the country.
As in previous years, SIP students will receive housing courtesy of Becker College as well as a modest stipend. Most importantly they will all receive the greatest game development experience of their lives. Yes, it may be a lot of work – but it’s also a ton of fun. We can’t wait to get going.
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Ready, set, go! MassDiGI and HackerRank announce CodeSprint
By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
Are you the best game coder in the world? Prove it by competing in our MassDiGI CodeSprint challenge. The challenge, conducted in partnership with HackerRank, gives competing students the chance to test their programming mettle with the winners taking home some great prizes like $250, a Nvidia Shield Portable or a 3-day 2015 PAX East badge. Click here to enter. The online competition starts today and closes on March 3 – with the final bot competition presented at the Pre-PAX East Made in MA Party on March 5.
HackerRank is a site for hackers from all over to solve programming problems in different computer science domains like algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and to excel in different programming paradigms like functional programming. It is the planet’s fastest growing developer platform and it is on a mission to make the world fast by making hackers the best at what they do.
Companies like Riot and Pocket Gems use HackerRank as part of their recruiting process – so competing students just might find they get a call after this CodeSprint is over! Good luck to all.
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Update – Read full results announcement here on Gamasutra. Read the story here on VR World and here at the Daily Herd.
Update – Winners announced:
- Grand Prize – Wooplex “Wooplex”
- People’s Choice – Team Future “Black Hat Oculus”
- Indie Demo/Alpha – Mob Made “Descendants” [Runner up Zephyr]
- Indie Beta/Near Release – Wooplex “Wooplex” [Runner up Team Future]
- College Demo/Alpha – Play Nimbus “Private Eyes” [Runner up Deli Bar; 2nd Runner up Two Brothers]
- College Beta/Near Release – Maximum Crash “Starlot Derby” [Mustachio]
- Serious Demo/Alpha – Studio REKS “Paper Pests”
- Serious Beta/Near Release – Skylight “Lyrical” [Runner up DynamicX]
- High school – The Kilskast “Math for Honor” [Runner up Nostradingus]
Update – Finalists announced:
- Indie Demo/Alpha – Mob Made “Descendants” and Zephyr “Florafiora”
- Indie Beta/ Near Release – Team Future “Black Hat Oculus” and Wooplex “Wooplex” (honorable mention to UE Games)
- College Demo/Alpha – Deli Bar “Carpe Diem” (Becker, UMass Lowell), Play Nimbus “Private Eyes” (Becker) and Two Brothers “Hyper Syntax” (Champlain) (honorable mention to The Hurly Birds “Get Up, Chuck”(Northeastern))
- College Beta/Near Release – Maximum Crash “Starlot Derby” (Becker) and Mustachio Games “Red Survivor” (Binghamton, Northeastern, Hampshire & RISD)
- Serious Demo/Alpha – Studio REKS “Paper Pests” (WPI)*
- Serious Beta/Near Release – Skylight “Lyrical” and DynamicX “The Shield: By Sword and Knowledge”
- High school – Nostradingus “Insula Noe” (Millbury, MA) and The Kilskast “Math for Honor”(New York, NY)
Stay tuned for more detailed posts soon.
* Category winner
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Think summer: 2015 SIP application period opens
By Timothy Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
SIP ’14 – Team picture
There may be 33.5″ of snow on the ground as I write but it is never to early to think about our annual Summer Innovation Program. Since the program began in 2012, of 296 total applications, 61 students from 16 different colleges and universities have earned a spot to spend their summer making games with us.
This past year, the 22 accepted students came from Becker College, Berklee College of Music, Hampshire College, MIT, Mt. Holyoke College, Northeastern University, RISD, Smith College, Tufts University, UMass Lowell and WPI. Working on teams – in just a little over 11 weeks – they produced four great games, all of which will be available to play soon, with two being published by Thumbspire. To get a sense of their games and the process, scroll back through some of last summer’s blog entries.
There is no other internship program like SIP in the world. Accepted students will have a game development experience they will never forget. Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? Details on the program, as well as the application, can be found here. The deadline for applications is March 20, so apply today!
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The gates are open: 2015 Game Challenge registration begins
By Tim Loew, executive director, MassDiGI
One of the events I look forward to most each year is our big MassDiGI Game Challenge pitch competition. There really is nothing like it. Come experience it for yourself – team registration and general admission for the 2015 edition is now open.
Game Challenge ’14 – Grand Prize winner Jenna Hoffstein, Little Worlds Interactive, The Counting Kingdom
Since the Game Challenge began in 2012, over 120 teams have entered some pretty amazing games including titles like The Counting Kingdom, Catlateral Damage, PWN, Wobbles, Depression Quest and Pathogen – just to name a few of the winners from past years. In addition, over 700 competitors – be they indies, students or hobbyists – had the chance to meet with industry mentors, hear from experts, share knowledge, split $50,000 in prize value, have fun, play and celebrate games.
This year, we made a couple of changes worth pointing out – 1.) moving the event from early March to early February and 2.) redefining Concept and Prototype to Demo/Alpha and Beta/Near Release.
In addition to those changes, we are also pleased to note that this year’s event t-shirt design will come from the winner of, you guessed it, the Game Challenge t-shirt design contest. Give it shot.
Other than that, thanks to the sponsors, mentors, judges and volunteers, it should be as exciting as always.
Of course, we couldn’t pull any of this off without such great teams and their games – the competition is the show. I look forward to seeing you there.
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