USC Games Expo is back this year on Thursday, May 12th, 2022 at 2PM PT. It is a special occasion because each year, both Trojans and non-Trojans participate. We are delighted to highlight our partners at Otis College of Art and Design and California State University, Fullerton. The efforts and enthusiasm of students from these two renowned visual art programs have synergistically made our games come to life in ways that wouldn’t have been possible without them. USC Games reached out to the students taking part in the program and their respective professors, who generously shared with us their thoughts on the collaborative journey. Their work on Advanced Games Projects (AGP), including Impasto, Skylost, Spookulele, Social Moth and That’s Not How It Happened, will be featured at the 2022 USC Games Expo on May 12th at 2PM PDT at uscgamesexpo.com. Students from Otis and CSUF were excited to participate in the game design projects for a number of reasons, but the leading one was how closely AGP mapped to industry: during their conversations with USC Games, they unanimously mentioned that the experience was similar to working at a real job within a games studio. Students appreciated the partnering opportunity, noting the differences that they picked up as part of the learning process. “At Cal State Fullerton, it’s more like you’re a generalist,” explained Aidan Ecker, a student in animation, “I had to learn how to fit into the pipeline and do one specific job.” He was also pleasantly surprised to have found friendship with the USC students. “Something that surprised me was that everyone at USC was really nice,” reflected Billy Deloe. He had been concerned about the pressure-cooker environment with expectations to meet a series of deadlines during game production. Teamwork is another highlight frequently brought up. “The biggest lesson I learned was what it takes to work with a team, the experience of working with a team and an idea of what it takes to complete a game. The experience is priceless,” says Jordan Rodriguez. Jordan is majoring in computer animation with a game art concentration in entertainment arts and animation at Cal State Fullerton. This year is his second time participating in the Expo. Gethsy Gonzalez at Otis found themselves connecting with the project they worked on, That’s Not How It Happened, through their personal preference of games played growing up: “I found more love of gaming with story-based games, such as my favorite, the Professor Layton [series]… I chose That’s Not How It Happened because it has very interesting storytelling.” Deanna Kloppel, a student from Otis who worked on concept art of Social Moth, said: “I was very surprised at how many people it took to make a game.” Having played many video games growing up, she was excited to take a look up close into “the making of the sausage.” It sounds simple, but game development requires a much greater number of functions than merely art and computer engineering, such as animation, narrative and audio. … Read More
How did an attorney turn into a wavemaker in the esports and gaming industry? USC alumnus Jimmy Baratta (’10) sits down with USC Games Editorial to share his journey and helpful tips for those who are looking to break into new spaces. To know more about how persistence plays an important part in networking, read below. Q: Thank you for joining us! So why don’t you do a little introduction first? A: My name is Jimmy Baratta. I am the chief gaming officer for Holodeck Media, which is kind of a fancy title. I’m really an operations guy. I have a media company with podcasts and other related content that we’re growing right now in gaming, esports, metaverse, crypto and more. So that’s my primary focus. I’m also an investor and a strategist for XSET. We started about two years ago as a tier-one competitive esports organization and lifestyle brand. We have some amazing names on our roster: from Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys to platinum-selling musicians, such as Swae Lee and Ozuna. I also teach esports at UC Irvine. These are the three bigger areas of where my time is being spent today. Q: Would you like to share a little bit more about what you’ve done recently? A: When I got into esports, I spent so much time doing talent management for people like the Travis Scott Fortnite event, Astronomical, live streams with YBN Nahmir, and some biz dev (business development) projects with 21 Savage. I was working with non-endemic brands and people who were in traditional forms of entertainment, and trying to explore how to leverage those in the gaming space and take advantage of opportunities. That is kind of the foundation of my work for the past three years. To your question, this year is different because everyone we meet now has been in gaming for a long time. Last week, I interviewed Jon Pan, Facebook Gaming’s head of strategy and operations, just to talk about the team’s approach towards the streaming wars. Jon Pan was also the former head of studio for Amazon games and worked at Riot in 2014. As you can imagine, speaking with someone like Jon from Facebook is a world of difference from three years ago when I was working with rappers, athletes and traditional entertainment properties. They didn’t know a lot about gaming but that it was an area they needed to be in. So now, a lot of my time is spent networking and doing biz dev with endemic companies, such as Gen. G and XSET. We’ve had Immortals on the show. We’re going to have a really awesome lineup honestly this year, for example, Team Liquid, as well as its parent company, Axiomatic, on our programming. Again, it’s a different conversation when they already know what esports and gaming are, and even what competing philosophies are. With that in mind, this year we are really getting into the nuts and bolts of things: analyzing various … Read More
Annabel Guo To close out Black History Month and open our series on Women’s History Month, USC Games interviewed undergraduate student Amari McClendon (she/her). Below, McClendon shares her thoughts on Black storytelling in the games industry. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity. Q: Who are you, and what are you passionate about in games? A: I’m a freshman at IMGD, and I do really like the way that games are very uniquely able to capture every minute nuances of storytelling. To be more specific, I like the unique way that you can explore a story by being able to interact with the world that you’re in. I find that very fascinating. Q: And either personally or professionally, what does Black History Month mean to you? A: I think Black History Month provides a good opportunity to look back at certain corners of history and learn more about a lot of Black people who haven’t had their accomplishments celebrated as much—or to learn more about certain figures who do get celebrated. Q: How do you think your identity as someone who is Black intersects with your other identities, such as a game developer or a girl in games? A: As a Black person, I really want to see more people who look like me in the space and more games that focus on the Black experience outside of the stereotypical way—where they’re always struggling because they’re Black, they’re in the hood, or they’re underfunded. We’ve seen that story a whole lot and I think it’s time for us to start exploring something new and different. Q: What kind of representation do you want to see in the future of the games industry? A: I’d definitely like to see more Black-owned indie companies. To compare it to the comics space, there’s a comic company called Black Sands Entertainment that makes a whole lot of stories that take from African culture and heavily feature a lot of Black people. I’d love to see a lot of indie companies like that in the games space. Q: Finally, who is one Black hero—either from a game or real life—who inspires you? A: That is a good question. It might just be recency bias, but over winter break I played Miles Morales—and I really liked the way they handled his story in that it wasn’t just about him being Black. It was about him trying to find his own unique identity as Spider-Man, and his unique position as a Black person helps inform his identity as a hero and how he’s very similar to but subtly different from Peter Parker.
As part of the Black History Month series, USC Games sat down with Gini Benson (they, them) to get their take on how Black creators contribute to game design and their conscious efforts to make game design an inclusive space. Some of the questions have been edited for brevity and clarity. Q: So before we officially get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself: who you are, how you got into gaming and USC Games? A: Hey, I’m Gini. I currently work for USC Games, as the office manager and administrative budget assistant. Before starting with USC Games and in the meantime, I’m also a professional tabletop roleplay gamer, as well as a designer and tabletop roleplay supplement writer. I got my start in games when I was in college: I played my very first game of D&D, with some friends. I then took a long break from any tabletop role-playing games until about five years ago. And that was when I started playing Dungeons And Dragons again. And from there I kind of branched out into a bunch of different games and had the opportunity to come to Los Angeles, and be part of some professional streams. Ever since then I have been doing all of this basically professionally. It’s been a lot of fun. Q: That’s really cool! Today we’re here to talk about Black History Month, and for you personally, what does that mean? A: So I think Black History Month is an interesting thing, not just as a concept, but also as a placeholder in the history of America. I think that all like Black people have a complicated set of feelings around this month because yes there’s a month that celebrates us in our history, but we also live in a country where that history isn’t really being taught properly. And there are a lot of people who don’t really know the full extent of Black history in America. Black people built America from “nothing”, but there wasn’t “nothing” before we got here. Natives lived on this land that they had been cultivating. They had been caretakers and stewards of this land before colonists showed up and brought along African slaves. So the history and the general understanding of this month are really complicated. I think it’s great that we have a month that we are allowed to step up and shine, but I’m also the type of person who believes Black history is American history. And we should celebrate Black people, and especially Black creatives all year round because they’ve contributed so much to American society. Q: Absolutely. As a game designer and as a Black person, how do you think these two identities and roles intersect? A: Well, as a Black person and a Black game designer, I definitely feel a heightened sense of responsibility to make sure that I am making a space that is inclusive. It’s kind of an unfortunate aspect … Read More
Black History Month @ USC Games: Interview with Kai Nyame Annabel Guo For the fourth feature in our series celebrating Black History Month, USC Games met with undergraduate student Kai Nyame (she/her). Below, Nyame discusses her thoughts on Black History Month and her experience as an intersectional game developer. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity. Q: Kai, please tell our viewers who you are, and what are you passionate about in games? A: I am from the San Francisco Bay Area; I was born and raised in Oakland, California and came down to Los Angeles for school. I just really love sharing the things that I make with the world. It’s not just about making games—it’s about getting to show them to everyone else. Nationality-wise, I am half-Black, half-Asian—which is sort of a weird thing to say, because you can’t really say that you’re half-anything. Growing up, I’ve had a very mixed set of facial features. So when I’m in the Asian community, it’s like, “You’re Asian but you’re also something else. What is that ‘something else’?” Then, when you’re in the Black community, it’s like, “You’re Black, and you’re also something else. What is that ‘something else’?” Q: Thank you so much for sharing. What does Black History Month mean to you? A: For me, Black History Month has really been about embracing the fact that I am Black but also an intersection of things—that I’m also queer and all these other things that make up one person. So, letting myself define myself as just me, whatever mix that is, has been on my mind this month. In terms of the games industry, it’s a reflection for me to look at the things that we want to highlight and the people that we want to celebrate, because the rest of the industry isn’t always going to celebrate for us. I think that the big thing is making sure that people know that we are here; we are in the industry. It’s not like you can’t find us. We’re there—you just have to look. Q: How would you say your identity as someone who is Black intersects with your identity as a game developer, and how does that shape your experience? A: I think there’s a lot of pressure within the Black game development community to make games about Black trauma and “Black struggle,” and all of the big articles around this time of year are always like, “Person Makes Game About Black Experiences.” I always thought that was kind of odd. I don’t want to be defined by just my Black experience; I want to be defined as a game developer who’s good at what she does. It’s frustrating because you get this feeling in your heart that’s like: are they really talking about me because of the things that I’ve done, or are they talking about me within the context of this Black qualifier? I think that … Read More
The 16th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards (GDCA), the peer-awarded highest honors in video game development, has named Director of USC Games and Chair of the Interactive Media & Games Division this year’s recipient of the GDC Ambassador award on February 16th in San Francisco. “The Interactive Media & Games Division where we explore the playful, the digital and focus on the experience and emotional arc of these playful digital media experiences that we are making,” said Fullerton. “It’s about what the technology brings in the experience to the players.” Fullerton is an associate professor and director of the University of Southern California (USC) Games program, Fullerton has been instrumental in the development in IMGD and the Game Innovation Lab, and has continued to push the role in the creation of influential independent games that include Cloud, fl0w, Darfur is Dying, the Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom and the Night Journey, with artist Bill Viola. At USC, Fullerton has drawn from her experience as a game designer at companies that include Microsoft, Sony, MTV and many others, to help guide aspiring developers. Her previous achievements include an Emmy nomination for interactive television, IndieCade’s “Sublime Experience,” “Impact,” and “Trailblazer” awards, Games for Change “Game Changer” award, and Time Magazine’s Best of the Web. As the author of the design textbook, “Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games,” Fullerton’s work in and out of the classroom has established her sterling reputation as an esteemed designer and teacher in the art and craft of game development. For more information on USC Games, please visit www.games.usc.edu. For more information on GDC, please visit http://www.gdconf.com/