Getting from student to game dev
By Katherine Wang, RISD ’19
MassDiGI’s Summer Innovation Program introduces developers to challenges they’re less likely to bump into while working on a personal or individual project. Challenges like how to focus on a joint project without forgetting about individual development.
Sometimes you’ll find what’s right for your portfolio isn’t right for your game. Rather than build a game from the ground up as SIP does, the SIPX program focuses on specific aspects of a pre-existing project—like its UI/UX or a mini game mechanic. There are times where what needs to be done now just doesn’t fit with your past work or future goals. So rather than shoehorning in extraneous work in order create a collection of work with a cohesive voice, how do you strike a balance between finishing the present tasks and planning a future portfolio?
As an illustrator I’ve found that compiling your work into a narrative arc can showcase both what you’ve produced and your personal identity as a problem solver. While it differs from case to case, employers often want to see your thought process. What kind of peg are you and how can you fit in their team? If your work can hook them at a glance (sorry, programmers and audio devs), it’s not a bad idea to feed them a bit more info to delve into. It’s the same excitement as seeing unreleased concept art or rifling through a sketchbook: unadulterated thinking before all the what if’s and could be’s are cutout.
At the end of the day visuals in games are meant to convey an intangible idea. They can’t stand by themselves. By identifying the cornerstone of our work, that concept in our mind’s eye, we can show viewers what our constraints were, how successful our execution was, and whether this work will be a good fit for their project.
While everyone has a different method to their madness, it helps to start with the foundations. Showing sketches of inspirations or a quick quip about your research gives a familiar setting to help orient viewers. For a person who’s never seen your work, context is king. Maybe after that, proof of how your work moved the project along. Sure, you want to show your voice but did iterations of your art elucidate the concept your team was scratching their head over? Or did it waste time by making the conversation meander back and forth? What kind of deliverables can they expect out of you and why did you make this design choice or use that presentation? No employer wants to take a risk on inconsistent work.
But honestly in the end one of the best ways to get your name out in the game industry is to physically show up at events. I’ve been finding that after just a few days of studio tours (thanks, MassDiGI) and going to Boston game development talks I’m already seeing familiar faces thanks to the size of the industry. Of course, it was incredibly intimidating and still is! One way to prepare yourself is to start in a structured environment. Go to a talk related to your particular interest. Research who’s going to be there. Bring a friend along (please don’t forget about them). And when you’re comfortable ask the guest speakers questions that can eventually become discussions. Maybe after a while you’ll become a regular. Remember participation grades? It’s a bit like that. The more you contribute to the discussion, the more relevant information people are willing to give back. So, if putting yourself out there feels awkward or pointless at first, just remember the best part of the event hasn’t even begun yet.
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Our own games
By Yukon Wainczak, Becker College ’20
For many of us, game development wasn’t just a career choice. We make games not because of the job, but because of our passion for games and the process of developing them. Because of this, many of us have built our own games during free time, either by ourselves or with a group of friends. This post is a collection of this year’s SIP interns and their past experiences developing their own games.
- Andrew Jones, UMass Amherst
Dungeon in a Bottle was the first game my friend and I made that got much attention. We made it for the Ludum Dare 38 game jam, where it ranked 37th overall, and it was given a short review by Sebastian Standke of Game Jam Curator.
Getting a positive response from people was really encouraging. It’s hard to make things that are important to you while also not getting discouraged from dreaming too big. The fact that some people like our brightly colored, claustrophobic, hyper-difficult platformer really helped us to keep working.
It’s important to remember that if you yourself find the game you’re making fun, then someone else will, too. Dungeon in a Bottle isn’t super complicated, and it isn’t super ambitious, but it is fun. So if someone else thinks so, too, then I couldn’t possibly ask for more.
- Chloe Tibets, Becker College
A game where you build levels to challenge your friends, S W I T C H was developed at the IGDA: Becker 48-hour game jam my freshman year. It was later posted on itch.io and Newgrounds for people to play with their friends. It had a pretty solid reception, even getting front paged on Newgrounds. Yukon and I teamed up to create this game, with him as a programmer and designer and myself as art and design. This game feels like my true start in game development, being the first game I’ve ever had a hand in making. It really helped me to start understanding the core of game design and development, and in turn, my passion for it.
- Dain Woods, Brown University
Jailbreak is a 1v1 online prison escape game where one player tries to escape from jail without being caught by the other player. Jailbreak began as a project with one of the teams in Brown RISD Game Developers. Some members of that team kept working through the summer and beyond as members of Hi I’m Alec Games – founded by Dain Woods. Jailbreak is currently nearing 2 years in development and anticipating a release to Steam in the coming months.
- Heriberto Calderon, Becker College
Finite was created on Train Jam 2018, a 74 hour game jam on a train to GDC. I was a 3D artist, level designer and producer on the team. On the way to Chicago, one day before the event, I networked with people through the Train Jam Discord and made a team. I recruited the team at the Chicago station, we all clicked as soon as we met. We brainstormed ideas at the train station and started development as soon as we left. It was a beautiful, stinky, and challenging voyage to GDC. Unfortunately for me, I missed my flight to Chicago for Train Jam, so I had to take a train, to the train. Instead of Train Jam being 52 hours, it ended up being 74+ hours for me.
This is Happy Farm Time. It’s a story-based game where you disobey the directions of a farmer, and as a result the game keeps “crashing” (intentionally) and different parts of the game start glitching out. I made it by myself over the course of 3 weeks in Unity. It was easily the most organized I’d been in making an independent project (I made an asset list and everything) and I learned a lot while making it. Also, since I did it solo, I felt like afterwards I was better able to understand how the different parts of game development fit together. I’m very happy with it since it’s one of the most polished games I’ve ever made, and I was able to create a solid plan and stick to it.
HEARtREAD straddled an important fault line in my life. Before it, I was working a full-time job unrelated to games, and I knew nothing about Unity or programming. After, I was spending most of every week self-teaching in game development, plotting my eventual career change and plunge into engineering school. I’m forever grateful to the project, its incredible team, and everyone who played it. It was a lifegiving experience that encourages me to keep going even today.
- Yukon Wainczak, Becker College
I built iii in during Ludum Dare 38, a weekend long game jam with the theme “Small World”. iii placed 14th place in the jam, which was the first time I have ever done so well. After the jam, I spent a few weeks polishing up the game, eventually releasing a massive patch. Ever since then iii has been featured on several gaming websites and is still being downloaded today. iii was the first of my games that I deem a success, and it made me fall in love with game development all over again.
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Team work makes the dream work
By Aaron Kang, Swarthmore College ’19
We’re currently eight weeks into SIP, and it’s kind of scary to think how quickly time has passed. Though we had many challenges to overcome during our time in SIP, we were also able to accomplish so much as a team.
Working as a team is actually harder said than done, especially if it’s with five other people you had never met before. When Melody Cheng, Xijie Guo, Chloe Tibets, Tolga Sen, Leo Bunyea, Maxime Gautier and I first came together, all of us were pretty excited about making a game and wanted to make sure that everyone would have a good time during the summer. However, these first few weeks were essentially our honeymoon phase, when we saw each other through rose-colored glasses. Because our team consists people from six different institutions (RISD, Mt. Holyoke, Becker, UMass Boston, WPI, Berklee and Swarthmore, of course), we would inevitably bring different ideologies on how a game should be produced. At the same time, people from different disciplines (i.e. programming, art, music) had to learn to communicate with each other and understand the constraints they had to work under. With all these differences in perspectives and communication, it was inevitable that we would eventually delve into disagreements on how the game should be created. I would be lying if I were to say everything was sunshine and rainbows.
However, having disagreements over the game isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it just goes to show that we all want what’s best for the game, but approach it in different ways. Part of working as a team is understanding that conflicts are a fact of life and that they won’t go away any time soon. The best of dealing with these issues is to reach out and communicate, and find compromises so that everyone’s voices can be clearly heard. When everyone is on the same page, we are able to accomplish so much more than when we work on our own.
Being a part of SIP is a journey in itself, as it involves meeting new people and understand how different facets of game development feeds into the project. At the same time, SIP allows us to directly interact with the players and gives us insight on how media can be translated from creator to audience. Though making games is not the easiest task to do, having an opportunity to create a game for other people is a gift in itself.
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By Kate Olguin, WPI ’20
So, we’re halfway through SIP. 7 whole weeks. You’d think we’d be old hat at the whole SIP thing at this point. If this internship were a class we’d be at midterms already. But, like the one unexpected question on your U.S. history midterm, MassDiGI’s Summer Innovation Program is still full of surprises. Thankfully, these SIP surprises are a lot more pleasant and welcome than frantically trying to remember the five major causes of the Great Depression.
One of the bigger surprises for me has been playtesting. Before coming to SIP, I had always heard that playtesting was important, but I still rarely put my games in front of people. Now, I better understand the value of showing your hard-fought efforts to the general public and watching them pick apart your game with casual callousness. We’ve been testing our base game and its mechanics for a long time. During early testing sessions, we ended up getting a lot of the same feedback. As a result, we figured that playtesting would eventually be mostly unnecessary. After entering production, we went without playtesting for a while. When a Becker College STEAM camp rolled in, we prepared ourselves for the same back-and-forth we’d had with previous playtesters. The game had changed, but not by an especially large margin–part of production was throwing away our build we had been showing off, and recreating it mostly from scratch. Since the game was roughly the same, we expected the feedback to be the same. Surprisingly, this was not the case. We got some brand new data, brand new comments, and brand new suggestions. The feedback we got helped us steer our next decisions, and we might have made a lot of needless mistakes without it. That surprise potentially saved us a lot of work.
The next surprise comes from my teammates. At this point, we’ve settled into a rhythm. We all know what we’re supposed to do, and how to communicate with each other about what needs doing. However, even though we’ve been working together for quite a while now, all of my teammates have managed to exceed my expectations multiple times–whether it’s producing a great art asset, fixing a difficult bug, coming up with a great design idea, scripting a new enemy attack pattern, or adding that one extra bit of UI polish that takes hours, but makes the game feel so much better. It seems like every day someone does something that really amazes me, and considering that I’m a bit of a perfectionist, that’s impressive.
The final and most pleasant surprise from SIP is that none of this has become boring. You might think that after working for hours at a time on a single short animation or sifting through yet another article on mobile game monetization, you’d be getting a bit tired. But I’ve never come close to wishing I was somewhere else, doing anything else. Making games is a great time, and I don’t want to stop anytime soon. So, it’s a good thing that we’ve got the whole rest of the summer. Hopefully, I’ll keep being surprised.
Oh, and one of the causes of the Great Depression was the stock market crash of 1929.
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SIPX: What it’s all about
By Paul Calande, Hampshire College ‘19
Greetings! My name is Paul Calande, and I am an engineer who is part of MassDiGI’s Summer Innovation Program Extension, or SIPX for short. Here at the scenic Becker College campus, week 6 is winding down as numerous game developers are moving away from creating new features and towards polishing their work to make their games feel nice and juicy. (Translator’s note: “juicy” means visually pleasing, flashy, and attractive to the eyes!)
As the name suggests, SIPX is an extension program closely related to the MassDiGI Summer Innovation Program (SIP). We work alongside SIP in the same building and we get to attend the same lectures, meetings, and playtest sessions that SIP does. The primary difference lies in who exactly we’re working for. SIP teams work amongst themselves on their own projects and have their own producers, while SIPX teams are working for and directed by industry professionals. There are two SIPX teams which each work for a different company: Dejobaan Games and The Deep End Games. Of course, like the SIP teams, both SIPX teams are also mentored by and offered the assistance of the all-powerful dynamic duo, Monty Sharma and Walt Yarbrough. SIPX is a relatively new program (ed. note: it began last summer), but it has so far been successful in helping video game companies raise their games off of the ground. The wage and living arrangements are the same as the ones offered by SIP, so members of both programs can live their summer lives alongside each other.
Thanks to all of the common ground between SIP and SIPX, I can experience SIP vicariously through seeing SIP students do their work. Being in the same space is certainly nice and cultivates a tight-knit community of developers.
SIP and SIPX have both debated about who was allowed to make fun of who. Results were inconclusive. Regardless, we all get great experience, great industry connections, and great additions to our resumes!
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By Eva Khoury, Pratt Institute ’19
It’s week 5 already here at SIP, and we’ve recently begun building the framework of our final game.
Every day has been a learning process in many ways; taking on new tasks, solving new problems, learning about new disciplines, etc. No one knows everything, but they can learn!
What I’ve realized is that working together as a team has been more important- and more of a process- than I could have imagined. I’m extremely lucky to be in great company; everyone here is very skilled at what they do, and passionate about making a great game. However, we quickly realized that those are not the only ingredients necessary to work well, make something great, and get it in on time.
For one, it’s important for everyone on a team to be able to safely voice their opinions, ideas, and needs. When someone isn’t heard and respected, it can easily snowball into the sort of frustration that kills your mood and motivation. Of course, avoiding this is easier said than done.
At first, my team’s discussions were like a bit of a wild free-for-all. Some people overran conversations while others didn’t speak at all, and at times it was tense. It was then that my teammate Tori Rossini suggested a simple method; we won’t interrupt anyone while speaking, instead raising two fingers to indicate that we want to respond, or raising a hand to start a new topic. Everyone shares the responsibility of upholding and moderating this system, and it worked better than I could have expected. We were all given the chance to be heard without having to resort to decibel warfare.
It’s also become clear that we all have different perspectives, backgrounds, and communication styles. It can be easy to jump to the wrong conclusion. I’ve learned that asking simple questions often is the way to go.. For example: “What do you mean when you say ‘xyz’? Here is what I understood…” Very often, I’m surprised by the answer. It’s always better to spend an extra moment making sure we’re on the same page than realizing too late after an unnecessary disagreement or time spent working in the wrong direction.
These seem like simple fixes – and they can be! But we only arrived at them after a period of spinning our wheels. Establishing healthy group norms has allowed us to go on pretty happily and efficiently now. It will always be a work in progress, but we’ve already come a long way. I’m excited to see where we’ll go next!
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By Nick Carbonara, NYU ’19
Hey there! I’m Nick Carbonara, an associate production and programming intern at the Summer Innovation Program (SIP). For anyone interested in joining the program in the future, here are a few things that strike me about my first few weeks in SIP:
1. SIP is focused on professional techniques and goals. Our task is to design tablet-based iOS games for release next year that get high download and retention rates. To produce these games, we’re taught project management techniques such as the Kanban method, and use tools like Reflection.io to do market research. These are just a few examples of the many “real-world” considerations that we’re taught to consider in SIP.
2. The development process in SIP is different than what one might have encountered in game design courses in school. Having spent the first few weeks researching to find game genres that would be profitable and feasible to make, my five teammates and I settled on creating a side-scrolling endless runner. At this stage we’re not building the game, but rather playtesting a handful of “whitebox demos” showcasing different possible game features to determine which ones will be the most fun. If all goes well, next week we’ll know which of these we’ll be expanding into a full game.
3. This may seem daunting, but you have support! Monty Sharma and Walt Yarbrough, the Managing Director of MassDiGI and the Producer of SIP respectively, are there to help you. When I deviated from the system Walt required us to use for project planning, he took the time to help me understand why we use his method instead. And last week Monty sat down with every member of SIP individually to discuss how they were handling SIP so far. On top of that, they encourage everyone to take time to rest after hard work. In short, they want to see you do well, and they believe that you can get the job done.
4. Every intern here is awesome. All 30ish of us live together in Becker College’s Merrill Hall, and we’ve had little trouble bonding. We find camaraderie talking about work, our overstuffed communal fridge, Forged in Fire (a show about people who make swords, win cash prizes, and quench their blades too early), and our interests and passions. Overall, I’m thankful to have colleagues who are as kind and friendly as they are excellent game developers.
In the limited time I’ve spent here so far SIP has presented me with challenges, but it has also given me the support to face them. With any luck, the rest of the summer will be successful for myself and all of my fellow SIP interns.
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Get a groove on with Raise the Bass
Raise the Bass, a free, fun music-themed arcade game where you defend your turntable from corrupted sound waves is available for download now at the Apple App Store and Google Play. The mobile game was created during the 2017 MassDiGI Summer Innovation Program (SIP) by students Amber Skarjune from Wellesley, Emily Ryan from Becker, Ty Enos from Tufts, Veneta Cholakova from Mt. Holyoke, Wenley Shen from RISD, Paul DeSimone from RIT and Lisa Jeong from Berklee College of Music.
Working over the summer, the team produced a beta/near-release version of the game – watch the trailer here. From there, we brought the game into our LiveStudio program at Becker during the fall ’17 and spring ’18 semesters. Through LiveStudio, more students across a range of disciplines, including business students, had roles in polishing the game and getting it ready to launch. For a roster of all the contributors to the game, check out the credit roll. You can download Raise the Bass today for iOS and Android.
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Fight robots, save the world in Hyper Thunder Run 198X
Hyper Thunder Run 198x, a free, fun, endless runner where only the most radical hero can win, is available for download now on the Apple App Store and Google Play. The mobile game was created during the 2017 MassDiGI Summer Innovation Program (SIP) by students Natasha Kononenko from WPI, Joey Pagano from Pratt Institute, Josh LaFrance from Becker, Ryan Higgins from Swarthmore, Yijia Chen from RPI and NYU, Amanda Stockman from Becker and Lisa Jeong from Berklee College of Music.
Working over the summer, the team produced a beta/near-release version of the and from there, we brought the game into our LiveStudio program at Becker during the fall ’17 and spring ’18 semesters. Through LiveStudio, more students across a range of disciplines, including business students, had roles in polishing the game and getting it ready to launch. Watch the trailer here and for a roster of all the contributors to the game, check out the credit roll. You can download Hyper Thunder Run 198x today for iOS and Android.
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Little Grimm, big fun
Little Grimm, a free, fun, cute and spooky take on the classic game Snake, is available for download now on the Apple App Store and Google Play. The mobile game was created during the 2017 MassDiGI Summer Innovation Program (SIP) by students Ellen Chen from RIT, Emmanuel Mallea from Becker, Emily Ramirez from MIT, Dean Faulkner from LYIT (Ireland), Tung Vu from Becker, Jenny Sun from RISD and Lisa Jeong from Berklee College of Music.
Working over the summer, the team produced a beta/near-release version of the game – watch the trailer here. From there, we brought the game into our LiveStudio program at Becker during the fall ’17 and spring ’18 semesters. Through LiveStudio, more students across a range of disciplines, including business students, had roles in polishing the game and getting it ready to launch. For a roster of all the contributors to the game, check out the credit roll. You can download Little Grimm today for iOS and Android.
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