Category Archives: My Career

Teaching Game Design Virtually At The National Boy Scout Jamboree

If you follow my blog, you know that I was part of the team that created the Game Design Merit Badge for the Boy Scouts of America. It became the scouting organization’s 131st merit badge, each of which introduces scouts to such hobbies and occupations as archeology, chemistry, stamp collecting, and robotics, as well as such scouting skills as camping and orienteering. Several years ago, two scouters and game enthusiasts, Tom Miller and David Radue, proposed that the Boy Scouts introduce a merit badge for game design, and after a year of studies to gauge interest and two years of development from a team that included myself, the new merit badge was unveiled at the 2013 South by Southwest conference.

To earn the badge, a scout must analyze different types of games; describe play value, content, and theme; and understand the significance of intellectual property as it relates to the game industry. However, analyzing a game is only the first step. A scout must then propose three rule changes to an existing game and observe how the players’ action and emotional experiences are affected by the rule changes. After that,scouts then design, build, and blind test a game of their own design. The Game Design merit badge is not limited to video games; scouts can also choose to develop board, card, and pen-and-paper role-playing games too.

Since helping to create the requirements and instruction manual for this merit badge, I’ve stayed involved with it by serving as a merit badge counsellor to assist scouts with the requirements, and I also run game design workshops at local merit badge midways. However, right now I am counseling scouts at even bigger event that’s thousands of miles from my home. The National Boy Scout Jamboree is a gathering of over 40,000 Scouts held at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia to do activities like zip-lining, scuba diving, BMX biking, patch trading, whitewater rafting…. and game design.

Game Design Merit Badge Team leader Tom Miller is stationed at a tent for assisting scouts to earn the Game Design merit badge, and he asked me to assist him by allowing scouts to interview me about my work in game design to fulfill one of the merit badge requirements about careers in the game industry. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the trip to West Virginia this year, so I’ve been attending virtually via Google Hangouts.  While the acoustics in the tent weren’t the greatest due to all the scouts having fun making and playing games, we managed to communicate via a combination of gestures, texting, and shouting.

I did attend a Boy Scout National Jamboree in person many years ago. In 1985, my business partner, Pam Pollack, and I were there to demonstrate our company’s wilderness survival simulation, Wilderness: A Survival Adventure. We had been in discussions with the Boy Scouts of America’s National Office about allowing scouts to use our game to satisfy one of the requirements of the Wilderness Survival merit badge, and the BSA invited us up be in the Apple Computer booth. Although we were never successful to get the BSA’s endorsement of our game (they were rightly concerned that the technology would become obsolete too quickly), we had a great time at the Jamboree, meeting all the scouts.

Never would I have imagine that I’d return some three decades later, but do so through technology I would not have imagined possible back then. So this year, I’ve been talking to scouts in groups of three about careers in game development. I’ve often done virtual lectures to school classrooms located throughout the country, but I have to say, the scouts ask the best questions. Instead of “Did you work on Game X or Y?”, the scouts have asked me, “What hands-on education do you need to supplement your college courses to get into game development?”, “What is the process for balancing a game?”, and “How does your average workday change from prep-roduction to post-production?”

So far, the scouts haven’t stumped me. And as long as they don’t ask me to remember how to tie two half-hitches for a game involving knot tying, I should make it through the week just fine.

 

 

Virtual Reality Is In Play At The Los Angeles Film School Game Fair

Each month the Los Angeles Film School’s Game Production program holds a Game Fair to showcase the games our students are developing in their classes. Throughout the month of June I taught Game Design Project 1, which is an upper-division course where students work together in teams to design and create a prototype of a game that they will complete in Game Design Project 2. Both of the student teams in my class had decided to work on virtual reality projects, and I was so impressed with what they accomplished in just four weeks that I just had to also showcase them in my blog post for this week.

Confined

Confined is a survival-horror game for players who are interested in the development of VR. Resource management and good shooting skills are vital to your survival. Since you are going to experience the game from your own perspective it will really add to the immersion and threat of the game, and unlike Resident Evil 7 that had a VR function, Confined will be designed for VR rather than have it as a side feature. Now I ask you is being trapped underground really the worst thing to happen or is not knowing if you are alone down there worse?

For their Game Fair prototype, I gave the team a goal of implementing their flashlight mechanic for navigating through a dark, spooky lab and at least one puzzle to solve.  The puzzle they created took the form of a room littered with books, and the player had to find the one book that was out of the ordinary.  That book turned out to be the only book that remained on a bookshelf that could only be found by searching though the room with a flashlight before its batteries ran out.  When the player picked up the book with their virtual hand, a secret door would open, allowing the player to escape.

The players at Game Fair reported that this environment perfectly captured the right mood for a scary, horror game.  This mood was enhanced by the darkness and limited view through the virtual reality headset.  However, the avatar movement needed some work, because the player avatar would teleport short distances instead of walk and often would teleport right though the bookcase they were trying to reach.  But all in all, they were very excited about this game and saw its potential.

Development team:

  • Eric Castillo (Project Manager, Lead Designer, Programmer)
  • Will Mackey (Game Designer, Level Designer)
  • Vlad Altshuler (Co-Programmer, Lead Audio, Game Designer)
  • Jared Delatorre (Lead Level Designer, Marketer)
  • Jesus Soto (Lead Programmer, Level Designer, Mascot)
  • Anthony Reese (Lead Artist)

Eyes Wide Open

Eyes Now Open is a action packed level based first person VR shooter with a focus on tactical high intensity combat. Fight with anything you can get your hands on as you run and gun attempting to escape three levels of a secret super-soldier facility called Blackgrove. You play as Finley, the only patient to survive the Treatment, altering your genetic make up allowing you to posses super human abilities called Meta-Upgrades. Use these abilities to alter time, electricity, plasma and electromagnetic energy to destroy the ones who took not only your mind but the one you cared for the most, your wife.

I gave this team the goal of implementing one of the Meta-Upgrades and a situation where that special ability would be useful.  The team created a level in which the player started by choosing a gun from among an arsenal of weapons and then travel across the level to reach the exit.  As the player went into the main hallway, a horde of enemies would spawn into the far end and rush toward the player.  There were too many to kill with any of the weapons, unless the player activated the Alter Time Meta-Upgrade, which slowed down the enemies sufficiently to shoot them all.

Everyone who played this at Game Fair found the controls easy to use and the action to be exciting. However, not understanding this was only a prototype to test the mechanics, they did complain about the enemies being unfinished models.  They all enjoyed the immersion brought by the virtual reality headset, although several reported a slight feeling of motion sickness.  When I played the game, I too found it both to be a thrilling experience but felt a bit queasy when turning.  This is something the team will look into solving for the second month of the game’s development.

Development team:

  •  Jack Sabato (Project Manager / Lead Modeler / Assistant Texture Artist / Lead Writer)
  • Hassan Wansa (Assistant Project Manager / Lead Programmer / Lead GUI)
  • Brandon Deniz (Creative Director / Lead Level Designer / Assistant Modeler / Lead Texture Artist )
  • Desmon Jernigan  (Video Editor / Lead Story / Lead Dialog / Assistant Programmer / Lead Lighting Supervisor)
  • Jeremy Garrett (Business Manager / Lead Sound / Assistant Modeler / Assistant Artist)

 

 

At our next Game Fair, which is about five weeks away, I’ll take a second look at these games to see how they progressed.