Articles Tagged with: Game Design

Game Development Blog: What Inspired Roterra?

Welcome to the first of many Roterra-specific game development blogs coming up! Currently, we plan to release a series of blogs on the world, the characters, and the process of making the game itself. Tell us what you want to know about by sending us a message or finding us on social media.

Roterra did not spring from nowhere. When conceptualizing and refining ideas for our next game, our design team took inspiration from many sources. While Roterra has evolved into its own beast, we wanted to look back down the line to see where some of its now-core concepts sprung from.

Inspiration 1:  MC Escher & Beautiful Puzzles

Balcony MC EscherOur discussions around creating a game environment where the ground literally moved under a character’s feet brought immediate connections to M.C. Escher’s work. Among his many drawings, we especially looked to “House of Stairs.” Recent games have popularized this aesthetic in mobile gaming, applying his unique and mind-boggling landscapes to puzzle designs and more.

However, do “beautiful” puzzles, mean great user experiences? Some puzzles in games aren’t very difficult. In our game, we plan to allow the player to feel awe but also to be challenged. We want players to have to think about how to get their characters where they need to go. Soon you will know if we have found the right balance.

Inspiration 2: Orlando Furioso and Fractured Fairytales

Orlando Furioso by Gustave DoreRoterra’s story sprung from a confluence of art and literature. From the Odyssey to Shakespeare, folk tales from throughout history showcase the hero’s journey to control the chaos around him. 

For Roterra, the most influential of these classic stories was “Orlando Furioso,” the epic poem from Ludovico Ariosto. In the story, stereotypes are turned on their heads as wizards and magical creatures share the scene with knights and princesses. The journey matters, not the destination. Angelica, in particular, draws inspiration from the protagonist of Furioso who takes fate into her own hands.  

Roterra’s continual perspective shifts reflect Furioso as well. Themes are woven throughout Furioso that repeatedly force the reader to question what they believe to be true. A story told from one perspective turns out to be remarkably different when seen from another character’s point of view. The line between hero and villain is constantly in flux. Our designers internalized these forced shifts of perception as they created a world where orientation changes at the push of a switch, things are rarely as they seem, and the correct path is not the obvious one. 

Inspiration 3: Our History with Game Development

Get your students into archaeology with Excavate! Our experience with educational game development informed our work on Roterra

Prior to beginning work on Roterra, Dig-It! Games was primarily an educational game developer. We still dedicate most of our time to working on educational games and tools and enjoy it immensely. However, our experience with these educational games have given us understanding of how player learn through games. In games like Excavate!, we want players to learn facts and make connections. In Roterra, we want players to learn mechanics and apply them to puzzles. This is the same basic process, with one being applied to getting better at school and one being applied to getting better at the game.

Through working so much with education, we know how to challenge players without frustrating them. Communicating mechanics is hugely important, and we’ve taken that in consideration in our level designs for Roterra.

Don’t forget to follow Roterra on Twitter and sign up for updates on the game page to keep up with all the development.

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World History Explored Through Video Games

It makes sense that real world events have served as inspiration for many books, movies, and shows. After all, history is a story itself. Video games are no exception to using history as setting or plot, and they can be incredible ways to give detailed looks at ancient civilizations from Egypt to Mesoamerica. Check out this list of video games inspired by the history of the world!

Explore Ancient Egypt

Ancient world history is brought to life in Assassin's Creed Origins Discovery Tour Ubisoft

Assassin’s Creed Origins is the latest entry in the long-running Assassin’s Creed series from developer Ubisoft. However, it differs from previous installments thanks to the recent edition of the Discovery Tour. This mode allows the player to simply explore its Ancient Egyptian setting as either a character from the game or as a historical figure like Julius Caeser or Cleopatra.

The mode includes 75 guided tours that were crafted by Egyptologists and covers everything from the Great Pyramids to the daily lives of the citizens of Alexandria. Your character can even participate in the activities of the locals to truly understand how the people lived.

Discovery Tour launched on February 20, as a free update for owners of Assassin’s Creed Origins. You can purchase it as a standalone title for $20 as well.

Discover Mesoamerican Ruins

World history is fictionalized in Lost Ember from Mooneye Studios Mooneye Studios

While heavily fictionalized, Lost Ember is an upcoming game that will allow players to explore Mesoamerican ruins. The developer based the world on the history of the Inca and Maya civilizations. The player takes the form of a wolf who can inhabit other animals. This game emphasizes the diverse wildlife of Mesoamerica.

As players discover new ruins, they also learn more about this ancient civilization. While it will feature its own fictional civilization, the idea of archaeology giving insight into ancient life is very real. Comparing and contrasting the civilization of Machu Kila with the real Mayan and Incan civilizations could also be an interesting activity.

Lost Ember is yet to be released, but you can find out more about it on the Mooneye Studios website.

Understand Greek Myths

World history and myths are featured heavily in Age of Mythology Microsoft Studios

Greek mythology inspires many stories in books, movies, and games. Even Rome and Byzantium based their own myths on the Greek gods. Age of Mythology from Microsoft Studios is one such game which covers Greek myths as well as Egyptian and Norse myths.

Through its story, Age of Mythology lets players experience the fabled city of Atlantis, fight the Trojan War, and accompany Odysseus on his adventures. The gods and goddesses play an important role as well as different cities focus their worship on different gods, just as they did in ancient times. While the game is certainly not education-focused, it can get kids interested in the myths of Greece.

Age of Mythology is an older game, but it’s still available to buy through Steam. Find out more on its website.

Let Your Students Discover World History Through Educational Video Games

Excavate! Mesoamerica and the whole social studies series can help teach world history

These entertainment-focused video games aren’t the best for classroom learning. For that, look no further than our Excavate! series of games. Our six civilizations cover a wide variety of world history curriculum. Put your students in the shoes of archaeologists and let them enjoy C3-aligned gameplay.

In Excavate! Egyptstudents analyze artifacts from Giza, Alexandria, Karnak, and the Valley of Kings to understand the lives of ancient Egyptians. Excavate! Mesoamerica features sites from the Mayan, Incan, and Aztec civilizations and explores each unique culture. Meanwhile, Excavate! Greece compares and contrasts Athens and Sparta while also letting students learn religion at Delphi and sports at Olympia. Our other civilizations include Rome, Mesopotamia, and the Byzantine Empire.

Explore World History with Educational Video Games
Discover Excavate!

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Women’s History Month: Our Female Game Developers

Last year, during Women’s History Month, we featured many of our female game developers and other employees in short profiles over three separate blogs. In celebration of this year’s Women’s History Month, we re-share these profiles to show our appreciation of our talented employees and to showcase these successful women who have thrived in the gaming industry and other STEM-related fields.

Sara Platner

Sara, one of our female game developersGrowing up I was always pushed towards the math and sciences because I naturally good at them, but my heart always called to more creative pursuits. My mother gave me the wise advice that “If you do what you love for work, it’ll become your work and not what you love.” With that in mind, I applied to engineering programs across the east coast, before coming across a school that featured a Game Design and Development major. Although heavily computer science based, the major also taught design, animation, 3D modeling, audio, and narration. Instantly, I knew it was a perfect match: a field both technical and creative.

I loved college and consider it to be some of the best years of my life! Starting my freshman year, my major was 11% female: 22 girls to 220 boys. I would never have more than 4 girls in a core class, and my major’s labs were often entirely male. It might seem intimidating, but it really wasn’t. Guys are just guys, and I balanced them out by joining a sorority.

Since graduating from college, I’ve been working at Dig-It! Games creating science and history video games. Due to the small size of the company, I’ve been able to be involved in nearly every process: Development, Design, Research, Script Writing, QA, and Production. I would definitely encourage young women to pursue a career in the technology field. Obviously computer science is incredibly technical and difficult, but so is becoming a doctor or a lawyer; so is everything worth doing!

Melanie Stegman

Melanie, one of our female game developersI started learning to code in C# when I was 44 years old. While I learned some BASIC coding in high school, I found the whole process stupid and boring. While I knew that the Atari games I loved were created by programming, I couldn’t connect to it. My 17-year-old self wanted to solve important, complicated problems. Real, important problems that required creative thinking were problems like: What causes cancer? What makes us feel stressed out? How does stress affect our immune system? Could we optimize our immune system to fight cancer better?  So I threw myself into biochemistry. I loved it. I worked every single day for 3 years. Then, for the next 7 years, I decided to always take a whole ½ a day off every weekend.

Whenever I interacted with non-scientists, people always said the same two things to me: 1) You don’t look like a scientist and 2) I have no idea what you are talking about. The second statement bothered me more, because what I was talking about were things that effect everyone every single day: cells, receptors, molecules in our bodies. So, I decided the big complicated problem I would focus on would be teaching the average person how cells, receptors and molecules work. If everyone had this basic vocabulary then we could talk about health, the environment, and funding for research much more clearly.

At the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) as the Director of the Learning Technologies Program, I conducted research on learning and confidence gains in players of the game Immune Attack. I published my research, designed and developed a follow up game called Immune Defense. When the FAS decided not to work on learning games any longer, I chose to become an indie (independent) game developer.

The Transition to Game Development

Starting a career as indie game developer, I learned repeatedly that game development is difficult and time-consuming. Also, I learned (again) how difficult and time consuming writing grants can be. In November 2016, I started working at Dig-It Games. Here at DIG we share similar goals: make games that teach important concepts that people really enjoy playing. My brain is challenged, my colleagues are a ton of fun, and I learn new things every minute.

ExoTrex, a STEM-focused space exploration game

In my own time, I still work on my own molecular biology games. I continue to be a very happy “woman in tech.” And yeah, everyone still says I don’t look like a game developer, just like they used to say I didn’t look like a biochemist. Scientists and engineers on TV and movies still are usually men… the people doing the cool, meaningful things in stories are usually men. (Except for that fantastic Hidden Figures book/movie!)

Let me just tell you, it is a lot easier to ignore those voices of doubt when you have colleagues around you who treat you with respect. Find a place where people respect you, and don’t try to tough it out in an unfriendly environment. There are many places looking for people who enjoy solving problems, who help their colleagues face new problems. Wherever you are now you are gaining experiences that you can use in the future for solving new problems. Keep learning and keep looking for new jobs.

Just a thought: maybe we female tech people should wear shirts saying “This is what a game developer, graphic artist, QA expert, educational technical researcher, CEO looks like!”

Suzi Wilczynski

Suzi, our female CEOEverything I know about entrepreneurship I learned from my mother.  Ok, that may be a slight exaggeration, but the fact is, most of what I needed to know to found an educational gaming company I really did learn from my mother, without either of us truly intending it.

My mom never developed a game, but she incorporated all the parts of good educational game design into her work teaching students with learning disabilities: building skills, measuring and rewarding progress, engaging all types of learners, and developing age-appropriate content and expectations.  Her example has helped me build games that are recognized by industry experts as seamlessly blending fun and learning and that fill a gap in the market for authentic, skills-based, interactive games that are tailored for how middle school students think and learn.

I learned many things from my mother, but perhaps the most important is one of the most basic qualities of entrepreneurship: perseverance.  My mom went from being a part time tutor to founding and running the Study Skills department at a prominent private school.  She believed profoundly in her mission and overcame many challenges and obstacles to accomplish her goals.  Her example was inspirational for me as I founded and grew my business.

I did not set out to be a business owner.  I started out as a teacher looking for a tool for my middle school classroom, but I couldn’t find one.  So I built it, thus starting my new career as the owner of a tech startup.

Dig-It! Games logo in female game developers profile post

Starting Dig-It! Games

I founded Dig-It! Games because I want to change how history and science are taught.  My vehicle is largely archaeology, but my purpose is to truly make a difference in how we think about education.  I chose archaeology as a tool because it’s something I’m passionate about, but also because archaeology is a combination of science and humanities.  It’s my belief that if we introduce kids to the scientific process in a non-threatening way, they will have more confidence in math and science classrooms.

By way of archaeology, we can teach kids how to think–how to analyze, think critically, process information, communicate findings–skills that are the building blocks of all learning. Through our archaeology and history games games kids learn scientific process and historical analysis skills, while improving reading comprehension and building historical knowledge, all in a way that sparks their imagination and engages their attention.  Learning should be fun–Dig-It! Games is on a mission to ensure that it is.

Women in Tech: To Aspiring Female Game Developers and More

Words from Suzi Wilczynski

To all the young women out there who want to pursue careers in STEM or who dream of being entrepreneurs: the best thing you can do is explore.  Try everything.  Try things that stretch your limits and push you out of your comfort zone.  Attempt things you think you’d never in a million years have an interest in—you might be quite surprised.  Explore multiple fields and experiment with new ones.  Think creatively about where you fit and how to best use your skills.  Not everyone is good at everything; it’s ok to decide something isn’t your thing, as long as you don’t give up on exploring other options.

Excavate! Rome, one of Dig-It's social studies archaeology gamesA key thing to remember is that failure is part of the learning process.  So often we are taught that failure is a stopping point when in fact it’s actually the best way to grow.  We learn so much more from failure than from success, but schools, and society, are not built around that concept.  So don’t be afraid to try new things.  You will fail at some of them, but then you’ll pick yourself up, evaluate what you learned and try again.  The great secret of success is that it’s a process, there’s no straight line and every path is different.  You may have to try a lot of things and fail often to find your path, but as long as you keep at it, consider yourself a success.

In Summary

It’s important to remember that, even though they are underrepresented, women are welcomed and can thrive in technological fields. As time goes on, demand increases for female game developers, female biochemists, female archaeologists, female programmers and more. Diversity helps create better products after all! Dig-It! Games encourages all girls out there to pursue their dreams, whatever they might be.

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“The Vikings Aren’t Coming:” A Recap from a Summer School Game Design Workshop

By Kenny Reddington , Guest Blogger and Teacher at Robert Frost Middle School 

Last summer, a mutual friend, Dr. Alana Murray, offered to introduce me to some guy named Chris Magnuson who worked with an educational video game company called “Dig-It! Games.”  I cannot lie; with a name like “Magnuson,” I pictured him being a Viking—and who could pass up the chance to meet a real-life Viking who designs educational video games?

 

Chris offered to come to Robert Frost Middle School’s extended year program (EYP) and let our students test pilot a few new games that Dig-It! Games was working on at the time, and this seemed like a great way to get my kids to stop playing Pokemon Go (remember that?) for a few minutes and possibly even learn something in the process.  We agreed to two meetings where the students would beta test the games and provide feedback on their experience.  Dig-It! Games would then consider the feedback they received and refine their games based on the students’ input.

 

I got to meet Chris (who is, of course, not a Viking) and his colleagues, and I got to see firsthand how much my students enjoyed piloting the games, providing feedback, and retesting the games after Dig-It! Games made updates from their input.  We had the beginnings of something here.

 

Flash forward.  This year, my school decided to re-structure our summer literacy class and partner with Dig-It! Games to provide a curriculum that was fun, interactive, and educational.  In addition to purchasing and playing their learning games, we wanted the three-week class to center around peer-to-peer discourse and critical thinking skills.  Our goal was for students to generate game ideas (original or existing), design paper prototypes, and create narratives to serve as their games’ storylines.  Once done, the students would present their finished products to an audience.

 

In addition to working with Chris, Dig-It! Games’ Jessica Mlyniec and Elisa Bartolomeo-Damon designed and implemented instructional sessions for our students, one to be delivered each week of the course.  The first session revolved around piloting and evaluating video games, the second focused on creating narrative driven, goals-based video games, and the third session focused on student presentations and eventually became “Frost Game Con 2017”-an event for summer students to showcase their work to our administration, students, and Dig-It! Games.

 

The kids really enjoyed the program, and the framework allowed them opportunities to be creative, solve complex problems, and design a product that they were proud to display.  The students’ games at Frost Game Con 2017 varied from adventure games to maze-themed games to strategy-based games focused on world domination.  Not only was it a great experience to see the kids’ faces as they showcased their games and served as experts, it was a blast seeing the faces of our convention goers as they learned the rules and played the games.  Everyone had a terrific time and the kids learned a lot in the process.  We even had one group of students who went beyond paper prototypes and created their game so it was computer ready.

 

Working with Chris, Jes, and Elisa has been a great experience for the RFMS extended year program.  We created a high interest, interactive program that allows us to move towards our school improvement plan goals.  And the best part?  The kids had fun.  And the other best part?  We still have room to enhance the program even more!  (Based on our students’ feedback, of course.)  I am already looking forward to collaborating with Dig-It! Games again in the future to refine the summer EYP literacy program.

 

Now, if only I could get Chris to create a Viking game.

 


Getting to Know You: Tim Mrozek, Artist

Tim Mrozek is an artist at Dig-It! Games, bringing environments and characters alive through modeling and animation. Tim grew up in Catonsville, which is just outside of Baltimore, and of course, is a huge Orioles fan. He moved to Silver Spring, MD about right years ago to take a job as a 3D artist and animator at the National Institutes of Health. After that, he worked for four years at Pixeldust Studios as Lead 3D Modeler and 3D animator and worked on around 20-25 projects, including Fabric of the Cosmos, Alien Deep, NOVA: Cracking Your Genetic Code, The Smithsonian’s X3D project. Tim was fortunate enough to be nominated for an Emmy for his work as character artist on a Smithsonian Channel show called Mass Extinction: Life on the Brink. Tim studied Animation Major at UMBC. In the spring, He’ll be back at UMBC to teach ART 484 (advanced animation) in the evenings.

Tim sat down to answer some questions about his average day in the studio , what attracted him to educational games and his go-to karaoke songs.

Tim

 

What’s an average day at Dig-It! Games look like for you?

The flow of my day changes pretty frequently, but there are a few things that remain pretty constant. Every day starts with my bike ride from Silver Spring to Bethesda. This, of course, is immediately followed by obtaining coffee. Then I’ll settle down at my desk where I’ll do a quick visual review of any works in progress posted by the other artists. After that it really varies on a daily basis. Sometimes I get right into zbrush and start sculpting a 3D model for one of our games, or I’ll open Photoshop and get to work designing the UI for one of our games, or menus. Sometimes it’s a team meeting to critique each others work and discuss how we want to move forward on a particular design or game. Each day is exciting when you have a team of artists you really enjoy working with, and the dev team isn’t too bad either.

What got you interested in game design?

I’ve always been incredibly intrigued by video games since the first time I played an NES. As a 32 year old, video games as a whole are only a few years older than me, so I’ve always been incredibly excited to age along with games. The moment that I really knew I wanted to pursue making games was when I first played Riven: The Sequel to Myst. I had never seen CG look so incredible. The mindblowing still renders in that game, combined with the really challenging, naturally integrated puzzles and story took me completely off-guard. I knew that I wanted to learn how to do this, and if I got lucky, make a living making games for the rest of my life. I’ve even joined a team of volunteers, called The Starry Expanse, that are rebuilding this inspirational game for the new generation using the Unreal Engine.

What is your favorite video or digital game from childhood?

Since I already mentioned Riven, I’ll go with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This wasn’t the first 3D game I had played, but it was the first 3D game in my favorite series of games (Legend of Zelda). This game gave me a whole new perspective of what was possible in a video game. I have probably replayed this game about 10 times in my life. While small by today’s standards, the open world felt endless to me at the time. The first time I stepped onto Hyrule Field I felt like I was given complete freedom to explore anywhere I wanted, and I had never experienced this in a video game before.

What drew you to Dig-It! Games?
I’ve always been interested in using animation and CG for education. Before Dig-It! Games I was working at Pixeldust Studios where I was creating animation for Smithsonian Channel, National Geographic, and Discovery. I have always gravitated to games and TV that explore science, archaeology, and education as a whole. This, combined with my interest in making video games made Dig-It! a pretty natural choice. I love the idea of creating games that will inspire creativity and exploration in a new generation of kids.

What song would you sing at karaoke and why?
Funny you should ask, I was just at a karaoke party a week or two ago, and I sang three songs. Bad Romance, by Lady Gaga, Heaven on Their Minds from Jesus Christ, Superstar and In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins.


Getting to Know You: Steve Hunnicutt, Head Developer

Steve Hunnicutt is Dig-It! Games’ Head Developer responsible for bringing the coding to life. Steve’s father was in the Navy, so he grew up in lots of different places, including Honolulu, Hawaii for three years. After his father retired from the Navy, we moved to Jacksonville, Florida. He spent more of my childhood there than anywhere else, so he considers it his hometown. Steve moved to Baltimore in 1990 and has been living there ever since.

Steve sat down for a Q&A to give us more insight into his role at Dig-It! Games, what sparked his love of programming and how aspiring programmers can get started.

steve

What’s an average day at Dig-It! Games look like for you?
I don’t really have an “average” day. One day, we’re working out the design for a new game and doing prototypes. The next day, we may start working on the code architecture. Sometimes, I do concept sketches to communicate ideas to the rest of the team. It’s always something different.

What got you interested in game design?
I love playing games. Board games are favorites, but I’m always playing some sort of video game. Also, I’ve been coding in one language or another for almost thirty years. So when I had the opportunity to work at a game studio, I grabbed it.

Any advice for kids who want to become programmers?
It’s easier than ever to dip your toe into programming. There are lots of different ways to get started. One of the easiest is to start building web pages; all you need is a text editor and a web browser. There are innumerable tutorials to get you started. Once you have a simple page, you can add interactivity with JavaScript. You can make a lot of simple games very easily, but the platform has the potential for very complex games. The only limit is your imagination and your skill.

What is your favorite video or digital game from childhood?
My family purchased an Apple //e computer about the time I was starting the eighth grade. I took to it immediately, playing games, connecting to bulletin board systems (BBS) and writing my own programs. My favorite game was one that I played with my mother. It was called Starlanes.

The goal of Starlanes was to build the most profitable interstellar company. Each player would place a star base each turn. Adjacent star bases connected into a single company. Companies that were adjacent to a star were more profitable. In addition, each turn the player could buy stock in any of the companies, even your opponent’s. If two companies touched, they merged and you could get a big stock payoff.

Once upon a time, I had the source code to Starlanes. I still hope that someday I’ll find it again and I could bring it back to life on modern computers.

If you were ruler of your own country what would be the first law you would introduce?
This is a tough question. I think I would institute a social welfare system that guaranteed basic income, healthcare, and nutrition to my citizens. Read Ernest Callenbach’s “Ecotopia” for a much more detailed vision of a society that I find compelling.


Getting to Know You: Natasha Martinez, Developer

Hailing from Portsmouth, NH, Natasha Martinez is the newest member of the development team at Dig-It! Games. After graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in game design and development, Martinez jumped into the studio to begin working on a brand-new vocabulary game (I Have A Word™ is coming soon!). She is very much credited with the game’s development from start to finish.

Get to know Natasha with a short Q&A below:

What’s your day look like in the studio?

An average day at Dig-It! Games is very relaxed. I come in each morning and check for any new bugs found the day before. After fixing those, I launch right in to a new feature or two and keep progressing on the game. Each day, the game comes closer to a releasable version until it’s ready to go!

How did you first become interested in games—and what’s your favorite game that you’ve ever played (video, board game, app, etc.) and why?

Growing up, I always had a game to play, whether it was for Windows ’98 or the Dreamcast. I really enjoyed playing the games with my little brother. When we finally got Game Boys we were ecstatic! Our first game for it was Pokémon. I spent countless hours playing my first Pokémon game. We always got the newest one as soon as it came out.

Natasha

Why did you want to work at Dig-It! Games?

I’m very interested in educational games. I grew up playing great titles. I’m not sure how much content I remember now, but I do remember enjoying the math and reading. I want to continue making even more fun educational games. Learning doesn’t have to be boring! I want to mix the fun of video games with education.

I’m sure you’ve had a chance to play all of Dig-It! Games’ products. Which one is your favorite and why?

I enjoy 3 Digits the most. In elementary school, we had a unit to learn Mayan culture and their counting system. I was happy to refresh my memory on how to do it!

What’s your favorite snack food?
I love Scooby Doo fruit snacks!

Tell me about a favorite memory you’ve had so far in working with the team.

The other day we had a great time welcoming our newest team member, Tim Nicklas. We played Pictionary and had a great bonding experience.

Can you give me a sneak peek on something you’re working on right now?

We’re currently working on a new title for middle schoolers. I can’t tell you much, but it’s looking great so far!