Earlier this month, on May 6th, Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design hosted a panel of game developers and showcased the games developed by their own game development group, Brown-RISD Game Developers (BRGD). The club “advocates student-led game development efforts and promotes game-related teaching at Brown.” The event was a culmination of a year’s worth of hard work from students of all years and majors, and several of the group’s games from 2017 and past years were on display and available to playtest. The event was open to the public and drew a crowd of students eager to play new games and hear from the panel.
Before the playtest session began, the event started off with a panel of Brown & RISD alumni and game creators from Boston and Rhode Island companies Demiurge Studios, Ghost Story Games, and Hasbro. The featured speakers were Nathan Sitkoff, Engineering Director at Demiurge; Cheyenne Morrin, Dialogue Coordinator at Ghost Story Games; and Adam Hunter Peck, UI/UX Designer at Hasbro. BRGD had prepared questions for the guest speakers about their experiences in game development, and asked them about every aspect of their experiences, from where they started out to the biggest challenges they had faced.
Though much of their experiences had been positive, all three speakers were honest about the challenges of working in game development. “It’s a tough industry … a highly turbulent industry,” Sitkoff said, adding “When you think your project is done you’re often just getting started.” Morrin described the pressure she had faced in game studios during crunch times, explaining to the students in attendance that “keeping that ongoing passion about the stuff you’re doing is really hard.” Peck, who had worked at the Rhode Island chapter of 38 Studios when it went bankrupt, told a story of how frustrating it had been for himself and his coworkers to put that same time and passion into a project that never ended up seeing the light of day. Peck and the other panelists were also quick to mention game developers’ policy of non-compete clauses, which often prevent their employees from working on personal projects or games of their own. “They own your brain,” Peck remarked, though he added that some companies will finance your education in programs, so “you might not be able to build a product, but you can build yourself.” Morrin agreed, and spoke highly of the practice of self-education, and was proud of what she was able to teach herself and learn from others while working in game development. Still, Peck urged the students to continue the work they were doing now and get personal projects done before seriously entering the game industry so they could exercise their creative potential while they still had full freedom to do so.
Passion was central to the talk, and Morrin’s remark that it was hard to maintain in times of stress did not mean that the industry is void of it. All speakers spoke of the games they had and were working on with energy, and overall the panel encouraged the BRGD students to continue working hard at what they loved. Sitkoff said “people do their best work when they do their most passionate work.” When asked about whether or not developers followed the passion of designers or companies, Peck remarked that in the end, “you have to find success for yourself.”
At the playtest, it was clear that the BRGD team was already working hard to forge their own paths. The panelists stayed around for a time after the talk to play the games as well, which seemed to be especially exciting for the students involved. The games on display were the result of hard work and dedication, and every student developer I spoke with was proud (if not a bit nervous) to be showing their work off to the world. For every look of terror that a bug produced, there was a look of pride and satisfaction when someone sat down to play their game, and the room often burst out into cheers when players conquered the more challenging demos.
The games varied in genres from a two player game called Bullet Hell to relaxing puzzlers, but every one was lovingly crafted and fun to play in their own way. Guests especially had fun with a competitive co-op game called Jailbreak, which featured one player as a warden trying to identify and catch their opponent, a prisoner trying to escape, in a sea of identical orange jumpsuits.
Even the singleplayer games, such as Don’t Feed the Pigeon, fostered a sense of community as students gathered together to see what their friends and fellows had been working on throughout the year. In Don’t Feed the Pigeon, the player had to steal food dropped from pedestrians until they grew big and strong enough to break into a grocery store. This game had some especially lovely art, and was able to create a lively experience with its renderings of a muscle-man pigeon, hunters, and bat-swinging young boys dropping burgers.
Rhythm fighter game Uplink: Beatdown was one of the most challenging games; jokingly, one of the developers remarked to me that he was worried he was so used to playing it that he had made it too hard. But by the end of the night a few players had mastered the game’s sliding, blocking, and fighting moves and were able to take down any robot that faced them with their mighty tuning forks. The game was energetic, injected with the style of the 80s, and looked like something out of a Daft Punk music video.
Some of the games from previous years were still on display and available to play as well. YoYo Hero (2015) was a rooftop platformer in which you had to pull yourself along the city skyline using a yoyo like a grappling hook. Another especially charming title was called Lumen, from the previous year. Lumen’s relaxing puzzle gameplay took place inside a temple. The player was tasked with guiding a lemming-like character through labyrinthine levels by lighting lamps to reveal new platforms and routes. This game was deceptively difficult, and despite its simple mechanics and minimal appearance, proved to be one of the trickiest games that I played.
From finished products to working, unnamed prototypes, the BRGD put together an impressive display of games that showed the full reach of their talent. Every student developer, beneath the exhaustion that came with the school year’s end, seemed excited to share their work. Their own passion for gaming came through clearly every time they helped a player learn the controls or clapped for another club-member who beat a tough level. Overall the event was a great success, and it seems clear to Gamer’s Almanac that the students of BRGD, whether they are graduating this year or have more time left with the club, have the passion and dedication that it takes to be successful in the gaming industry in the future.
For more information about the Brown-RISD Game Developers team, visit their official website or follow them on twitter. As not all of the students were present for the whole event, Gamer’s Almanac was not able to get the names of all of the developers involved. If you were involved in any of the projects mentioned and would like to have your game attributed to you, please contact us.