We have been in the swing of things here at MassDiGI SIP16 for a few weeks now. In this time our four teams have worked on many ideas trying to find the best ones to implement in our games. While my team had the core idea for our game within the first day or so we have been working hard to try new ways to make our game enjoyable. We want it to be as polished as possible. Of course, one of the best ways to do this and to try out ideas is playtesting. Even though we enjoy bouncing ideas off of each other and trying them for ourselves there is nothing that quite compares to the feedback you can get from people playing your game for the first time.
The team I have had the pleasure of working with is making a game about stacking cats on top of each other. The goal of this is to get the highest score you can and have a bit of quirky fun. The team is comprised of six other talented folks, the first being our star producer, Tyler Haddad, who attends Becker College. Another Becker College student on the team is Ben Page, our head programmer. Our head designer and one of our other programmers is Sienna Cornish from Hampshire College. Graham Held is our primary 3D artist from WPI along with helping the programmers. Fury Sheron from Tufts University does a bit of everything, while also being our primary UI designer. Joe Marchuk from Berklee College of Music does all our audio. My role consists of head artist, which has been an incredible experience so far.
Our first true round of playtesting (that did not just involve all the SIP teams playing each other’s games) came from the students at Worcester’s Elm Park Community School. They were a wonderful bunch of kids eager to play our games and give us feedback. Through watching them play, my team realized that there was a competitive aspect to our game that we had not even thought of. Many of the boys would compete against each other to try and get the highest score. One kid impressed us all by achieving the then highest score of stacking 126 cats. While the kids gave us a lot of positive feedback we also started to realize we had a few problems. Parts of our game seemed difficult to figure out. Even though the kids were smart enough to teach each other and ask questions, we did not have the intention of making our UI or gameplay mechanics confusing. We were able to ask the kids what they found difficult and resolved to come up with ways to fix the issues.
Our team: Back row – Joe, Graham & Ben – Front row – Sienna, me, Tyler & Fury
When it came to encouraging feedback the kids were not shy about letting us know what they liked about the game. While it seemed to be an even 50/50 split on people who loved cats versus people who disliked them, the theme did not seem to get in the way of people enjoying the game. Though, some of the kids did have the suggestion of making the cats into babies you could throw instead. They also told us about how they liked the shapes we had chosen to make the cats and that the gameplay was addictive. (Yes, a 12 year old used the proper form of “addictive”).
After our playtesting session with the Elm Park kids we got the opportunity to demo at Petricore Games. There, we received positive results. We were told that the core gameplay was fun but there seemed to be one little thing missing to really make the game great. We also realized another aspect we needed to make clearer. One important part of my team’s game is that there are sticky cats. These particular cats let you build your tower even higher. One could say they are a vital aspect to the game and yet, people didn’t realize they were sticky until after we told them. With this in mind we knew we would have to figure out some way to make sure people knew about the sticky cats so they could properly enjoy the game.
The next big play testing opportunity came from attending Touch Tomorrow at WPI. At this festival we took turns showing our game to kids and their (often, though not always,) reluctant parents.
We received a lot of similar positive feedback as our first playtest. Certain people found themselves unable to put the game down. Boys would play the game and then come back with their friends to make them compete. Through this we realized that while girls would play the game they did not seem as eager to continue to play it as the boys. This realization gave us something to consider with how we were going to try and get any kid to enjoy our game. Also through this test we were able to see if our improvements from all the previous feedback were working. We tried to make the sticky cats more apparent and had tweaked some of the UI to hopefully make it less confusing. Stars were also added around the cats as a collectible element to improve your score. In doing this we hoped that we had found a possible solution to that “one missing thing.”
While the stars received mixed reaction there were bits and pieces of feedback that we realized were really helpful. We even had a former SIP intern come and playtest our game while at Touch Tomorrow. He let us know what was working with the technical mechanics of our game and overall really liked it. However, even with the stars he agreed that the game was missing something. With all of this in mind we left Touch Tomorrow with a better understanding about what was working with our game and what we still needed to work on.
Overall, I have really enjoyed playtesting our cat game with my team. We have received exceptionally helpful advice (and some not so helpful advice). Through this experience we have learned to think critically about what people are saying and how to pick out the most important parts of what will possible improve our game. Meeting people and watching them have fun with something I have helped create has been incredibly rewarding. Thankfully, I will get to do this for a while longer with my wonderful team because there is always more playtesting to do!
Our team was two weeks into development when we were met with confused faces of playtesters. It was then we realized we had revisit the drawing board, as reluctant as were. You see, the game we were making here during MassDiGI’s SIP16 was too complex and lacked direction. Distracting visual elements overwhelmed our players, and the goal wasn’t simple enough to explain without a tutorial. Even worse, we didn’t have decent comps (comparables) or a target audience. Everything needed to change.
Our original concept was a rapid decision-based game about gladiators, where you play as the emperor and decide who wins or dies to please the audience. When we tested our prototype, players didn’t like the timed decisions, as the mechanic lacked real consequence and the “right” choice was not clearly communicated. With this feedback, we concluded that the premise we were tasked with was ultimately what held us back.
Before I tell you where we’re going next, let me tell you about us! While our title is still up in the air, we just call ourselves the Gladiator Team (you can identify us by who uses Ryver the most). There are 7 of us: 3 programmers, 3 artists, and 1 audio designer. The programmers are PJ Keenan and Anthony Popp, both from Becker College, and myself. Coding our prototypes coincided with turning to each other and saying “Guys, I promise I can write better code than this.” Mariel Rodriguez from RISD, Sofia Syjuco from Carnegie Mellon, and Catherine Litvaitis from RPI make up our art team. Their ability to deliver numerous high-quality assets is unreal (the gifs are a sweet bonus). Sofia, also our producer, rocks the Kanban board and has a real voice in leadership. And finally, Joe Marchuk (who you’ll probably hear about a lot on this blog) is our sound designer from Berklee College of Music. The compositions he writes blow everyone away, and somehow he does it without musical references from the rest of the team (whoops).
The Gladiator Team
The first couple days were easy for us, but the rosy glow began to fade (as MassDiGI’s Monty Sharma warned us). We needed to work together and faced some problems trying to do so. Growing pains, let’s call them. But we learned. In fact, we’re still learning. So by no means are we perfect, but we’ve developed better understanding of each other’s work-styles and methods of communicating in a respectful and honest way.
Now… where are we going from here? Well, we conducted thorough playtests yesterday and had a long design meeting this morning. We decided to center our new mechanics around a roster system, now approaching the project with a fantasy football perspective. Players seemed to really respond positively to the day-old prototype that explored this idea, instantly picking favorites among the new gladiators, who were each accompanied by combat stats, a name, and flavor text. We really want to encourage these relationships moving forward.
The Gladiator Team is heading back into the alpha stage stronger than ever. Now with clear direction, let’s keep up the momentum. Get excited for the next build!
Orientation seems so distant now that we are starting the third week of the program. At the start of MassDiGI’s Summer Innovation Program, the interns were ushered into a lecture hall and met Monty Sharma, Tim Loew, and Walt Yarbrough. We talked about game business, production, and some marketing. Between these discussions, we were grouped together several times a day to learn how to create game ideas and pitch them to the rest of the participants. We quickly learned how to get into the mindset of creating games that sell rather than pitching vague what-ifs.
Team Campaigious hard at work.
The next week we were divided onto our teams. Monty announced producers and team members assigned themselves various roles. I was named producer and voted lead designer for a political game, which is affectionately (and temporarily) called Campaigious.
The Campaigious team is comprised of incredibly talented and dedicated artists and programmers. Liz Lanahan from RISD and Erica Lyons from Becker College, the artists, have pumped out more assets and backgrounds than I thought possible. The programmers, Ian Clinkenbeard from Becker, Fandi Charifa from NYU, and Conor Canavan from LYIT have gone above and beyond what is expected of them. Currently we are struggling to choose between a more strategic route or a fast-paced clicker. Regardless, we hope to release the game at the end of the program, and if we keep up the momentum, I’m sure we can.
By the end of week two, all teams had blazed through their concept and prototype phases and started production. We had some mentors visit and had a couple of demo sessions. We also had many, many meetings discussing ways to keep up our energy, make smart decisions, and prevent us from falling too far behind in production.
Looking forward, we have several demos coming up in June and I think everyone is excited to start showing off our games to the public. Until then, we’ll keep moving along!
Five years ago today, MassDiGI was officially established. Time really does fly. Just wanted to post this up today in recognition of the date – I’ll circle back later with a few thoughts on where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going.
Applications to our annual Summer Innovation Program (SIP) have grown year after year in terms of quality, quantity, geographic reach and diversity. This year we received applications from 216 undergraduate and graduate students representing 66 colleges and universities from around the world – making it our most competitive year yet.
Choosing only 24 was a daunting task. After much conversation, the committee selected a talented group. This summer’s SIP16 teams will be made up of interns from 15 institutions including Becker College, Berklee College of Music, Carnegie Mellon University, Emerson College, Hampshire College, Letterkenny Institute of Technology (Ireland), NYU, Northeastern University, RPI, RISD, Rochester Institute of Technology, Smith College, Tufts University, Wheaton College (MA) and WPI.
SIP16 begins on May 17 and concludes on August 5. Over those 11+ weeks, with guidance from professional staff and industry mentors, SIP16 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, SIP16 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 lot of fun. We can’t wait to get going.
Virtual reality game Intern Astronaut takes grand prize in fifth annual MassDiGI Game Challenge pitch contest
Above: L to R – Broken Door Studio’s Kedong Ma, Yingying Chen, Shane Stenson, Sean Halloran, Jake Hawes and MassDiGI’s Monty Sharma
Cambridge, MA – February 29, 2016 – Intern Astronaut by Broken Door Studio, a team of students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), won the grand prize in the fifth annual Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDiGI) Game Challenge pitch contest this weekend.
Intern Astronaut is a virtual reality game that takes on-the-job training to new heights. Made for Gear VR, Intern Astronaut is an immersive and funny game that enrolls the player as an intern tasked to fly a spaceship.
Taking on the role of an untrained intern in the game, players must watch their spaceship’s monitors for urgent instructions from mission control on what to do to keep their ship flying. Any instruction completed incorrectly or not quickly enough will damage their ship until their internship ends with them stranded in space! Every time players start the game their ship is equipped with different control panels and they are given new instructions on how to pilot it, ensuring that every playthrough is as challenging as the first day on the job.
Broken Door Studio, which also won the College Beta/Near Release category, is made up of Sean Halloran, Yingying Chen, Shane Stenson, Kedong Ma and Jake Hawes. The game will be released for Gear VR in late spring 2016.
“Our team is thrilled to have won the Game Challenge. It was a great event for all of us,” said Sean Halloran, the team’s programmer. “We got terrific feedback from so many amazing mentors and judges. We learned so much. Everyone making games should go to it.”
The MassDiGI Game Challenge helps indie, startup and student game developers and entrepreneurs shape their ideas and products for launch. This year 35 teams from across the northeast competed in front of a packed room at the Microsoft New England Research & Development Center in Kendall Square.
Above: L to R – Competitor Chaima Jemmali meets with mentor Wizdy’s Nikita Virani
The annual event is a showcase for the expanding game development cluster in the region. Over the event’s two days, dozens of game industry veterans served as speakers, mentors and judges.
As the Grand Prize and College Beta/Near Release Category winner Broken Door Studio won cash, legal services from Greenberg Traurig, computer hardware and game merchandise valued at over $7,500.
“This year’s contest was the closest competition ever,” said Monty Sharma, managing director of MassDiGI, “We were really impressed by the teams, their creativity and skills. Each year we see improvements in the games and in their market potential.”
Other top winners include Worcester-based Zephyr Workshop which won the People’s Choice Award as well as the Indie Demo/Alpha Category for Florafiora, a game they are making in collaboration with Mob Made Games of Cambridge.
“Winning not only our category but the People’s Choice Award is rewarding and humbling,” said Breeze Grigas, Zephyr Workshop’s Co-Founder and Designer. “We’ve been coming to the Game Challenge for five years, each time we get better and this year it really paid off for Florafiora.”
Florafiora is a single-player experience where you help planetoid-dwelling “Seedizens” explore and expand their tiny universe, meeting other cultures and keeping everyone happy and productive.
“With so many exciting games from indies and students in the competition, it was a challenge to make a decision,” said Caroline Murphy, CEO of the Boston Festival of Indie Games, one of the contest’s judges. “To me, just entering the MassDiGI Game Challenge shows a commitment to creating games that speaks to success.”
The other top Indie winner was Jig Time which won top honors in the Beta/Near Release Category. Jig Time is a fun, new photo-sharing app – like Snapchat but with more game elements – that allows users to exchange their images in the form of interactive jigsaw puzzles.
I++, another team of WPI students, won the Serious Game Category with Chinmoku, a mystery game which seeks to teach the player hiragana, one of the Japanese writing systems, through immersive gameplay.
Serious Game Category runner-up honors went to EduSaga, a team from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, with their eponymous Chinese language-learning detective game.
Heist Night, made by yet another team of WPI students, won the College Demo/Alpha Category.
Winning the High School Category was PolyThief made by Nostradingus, a team of students from Millbury (MA) Memorial Jr./Sr. High School.
“We met these students three years ago. Since then their teacher has given them encouragement and brought them to the Game Challenge each year. The students have learned from mentors and from each other how to build an award-winning game,” said Sharma. “It’s great to see.”
Runner-up in the High School Category from Westborough High School was Hoksy with Shelter Shock.
Other Category Runner-up honors went to:
Indie Demo/Alpha: Petricore Games with Traveling Merchant
Indie Beta/Near Release: Copper Frog Games with Tattoo! A Game of Ink
College Demo/Alpha: Omnitone Games from Becker College with HotWired
College Beta/Near Release: French Frogs from Becker with Make Bonds Now and Jeremy Slavitz from Tufts University with Metamorphic
Honorable Mentions were given to:
Indie Demo/Alpha: BareHand with Big Boi Little Boi
College Demo/Alpha: MOTU from Fitchburg State University, Revolver: Rebound from WPI, Convergence from Becker and The Experiment from the Five College Consortium
College Beta/Near Release: Lily Leap from Becker
Indie and College Category winners also received prizes including cash and legal services from Morse, Barnes-Brown & Pendleton valued at $1,000. The event is supported by MassDiGI’s annual sponsors and hosted by Microsoft New England Research & Development.
About the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDiGI)
MassDiGI is the statewide center for entrepreneurship, academic cooperation and economic development across the games ecosystem. MassDiGI’s many programs and activities support business growth and enhance the talent pipeline between higher education and the game industry.
For more information about MassDiGI, please visit massdigi.org or follow them on Twitter @mass_digi.
Winner – Broken Door Studio – Sean Halloran, Shane Stenson, Yingying Chen, Jake Hawes and Kedong Ma with “Intern Astronaut” Runner-up1 – French Frogs – Samuel and Tristan Charron with “Make Bonds Now” Runner-up2 – Jeremy Slavitz with “Metamorphic“
Finalists – Broken Door Studios (WPI), Metamorphic (Tufts University) and French Frogs (Becker)
Honorable Mention – Lily Leap (Becker)
College & Indie Serious
Winner – i++ – Francesca Carletto-Leon, Dillon DeSimone, Sam Wallach and Robert McKenna with “Chinmoku” Runner-up – Jeffrey King, Katie McDonald and Melissa Cochran with “EduSaga“
Finalists – EduSaga (Harvard University Graduate School of Education) and i++ (WPI)
Winner – Nostradingus with “PolyThief” Runner-up Hoksy with “Shelter Shock”
Finalists – Hoksy (Westborough) and Nostradingus (Millbury)
For MassDiGI, 2016 is already shaping up to be one of our most action-packed years yet. In addition to our annual programs, events and activities around the Game Challenge, GDC, PAX East and SIP*, we have a stack of special projects in the pipeline along with a couple of games to launch. Phew!
That said, we’d like your help in spreading the word regarding a final push on our MA game industry survey. If you’d be so kind as to share it across your channels be it social media, email etc. and ask folks to fill it out, we’d be very grateful. The survey itself takes just a minute or two and the aggregated (and anonymized) data we get from it is very helpful to us when working with government etc. This link goes directly to it: www.massdigi.org/survey.
This year, the survey is a collaborative effort that we are doing with UMass Boston and the UMass Donahue Institute through Prof. Pacey Foster. Once the quantitative piece is complete Prof. Foster and UMass graduate student Brad Bleidt also plan on doing a few interviews with some community leaders and developers. We are already looking forward to sharing the results with everyone in late April or early May.
Lastly, we’re working with the folks at the SHiP iT! Game Jam in Montreal. If you or anyone you know might be interesting in jamming on a ship in the St. Lawrence in late May. Drop us a line. We have made arrangements with the organizers regarding tickets (including, potentially discounted spots for students). Should be an amazing time. Check out their video below.*
Hibachi Hero, a free, fun and fast-paced first person food shooter released today on the App Store, came from the imaginations of talented MassDiGI SIP interns Sai Timmermann from IUPUI, Melissa Chiu from RIT, Chris Bruno from Becker College, Mackenzie Denker from Northeastern, Uyen Uong from RPI, Rejon Taylor-Foster from Becker and Alex Ripple from Berklee who all teamed up to bring the game to life.
Working together this past summer, the team, using Unity, produced a great game (watch the trailer here) which caught the eye of our New York City-based game publisher partner, Thumbspire. From there, in coordination with Thumbspire, we brought Hibachi Hero into our LiveCode Studio program at Becker during the fall 2015 semester. Through LiveCode, more students from Becker as well as other schools had roles in the further development of the game and getting it ready to ship.
This fall, the LiveCode launch team, a group of students from across a range disciplines, put the final touches on Hibachi Hero and it is now available to download for iOS (coming soon for Android on Google Play – stay tuned).
It has been a busy semester for the launch team which pushed out Limbs (Google Play, App Store), a SIP14 and LiveCode 14/15 & 15/16 title, in October and, working with Thumbspire, launched Midnight Terrors (Google Play, App Store), also a SIP14 and LiveCode 14/15 & 15/16 title, which hit the stores earlier this month.
Note: Read other launch stories from the Worcester Telegram here, AdWeek’s SocialTimes here, The Patriot Ledger here and MassLive here.
It is hard to believe that 2016 will mark our fifth time hosting the Game Challenge. Time flies. Over the years we have seen some amazing game concepts and titles near-release from a range of indies and students of all sorts. Take a look back in our Game Challenge archives and check them all out. We are proud to have had folks participate from far away places and right next door. And, sponsors, mentors, speakers, volunteers and judges have helped make it all happen. Thanks again to everyone involved, we sure couldn’t do it without your support – especially, Microsoft New England for providing such great space each year.
That said, we expect this year to be better than ever. Though no substantial changes have been made, we have tweaked a few things which will be noticeable to veteran competitors at the event. With only 40 slots available, team registration will go fast so if you’re an indie, college or high school team, sign up sooner rather than later. See you on February 27 and 27!