Native American Heritage Month: Chatting with Miranda Due

Cherry Weng

November is Native American Heritage Month. USC Games had the pleasure of talking with USC alumna Miranda Due (Pawnee/Cherokee), Associate Producer at Treyarch, about her experience in game design, projects in interactive media, and tips for advocating for a community. She gave a special shout-out to the USC Native American Student Union, which she helped found during her time on campus. Q: So tell me a little bit about what you’re working on recently that you’ve really enjoyed. A: On the work side, the last game that I helped “ship” was Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. And so I’ve enjoyed playing that all this past year. It’s just become a comforting game. Outside of work, I’ve been working a lot in the diversity space and I have an event, with a museum. And so I’ve really been diving into some topics on representation in the media, and how games can serve for social change. Q: You’ve studied interactive media. How did you get into that and what you know, what appealed to you? A: I was introduced to games by my cousin. She’s a game designer. When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to work in that field, and so I started taking programming courses. I went to a summer program at Carnegie Mellon, where I learned about the game industry and all the different roles. I remember thinking to myself: I’m going to be a game producer someday. So I went to USC for the interactive media and games program. And now I’m a producer at a game studio, so I kind of always had my eye on the prize. I’ve taken some detours. I worked in interactive museum exhibits and augmented reality, virtual reality. The beautiful thing about interactive media was that at its core, it’s all about storytelling. And so that can be applied to different scenarios and different mediums. Q: You call it detours, but I think these are necessary steps that would take you forward. And overall, how was your experience at USC? A: I went into USC with no idea what to expect. And I remember on the first day of orientation, I was like, oh my God, what did I get myself into? I was never really exposed to the film industry or interactive industry at all back home. My roommate was in my program and there are only three girls in my program in my year. I think that was mind-blowing: we really are underrepresented. Over time, more women joined the program. But that roommate I had, we’re still good friends to this day, and I went to her wedding. I think that’s one of the special things about USC is it’s a very close-knit community. You get to be very close to people and they’ll help you find jobs and get new opportunities, and be your friends for life. I also had some tough times. I was an athlete at USC on the rowing team and I had a really bad injury. I had … Read More

Designing Inclusive Games: Certified APX Practitioner Course

Annabel Guo

USC Games recently granted five scholarships for students to attend the AbleGamers Charity’s upcoming course in game accessibility. USC Emeritus Professor Dennis Wixon and USC undergraduate David Barrett, who are in connection with AbleGamers, were able to sit down with us to provide further insight. Q. Tell us about AbleGamers and APX—what are their values, and what work have they done? David: APX is basically a nonprofit dedicated to making games accessible for anyone, regardless of their background or ability. We’ve been working with APX, and they’ve been laying out the groundwork for what a game should be satisfying in terms of its accessibility and usability, as well as helping us set our baseline for play heuristics. Dennis: Yeah, APX has created a whole series of design patterns that are guidance to designers to help make the game accessible—but at the same time as broadly inclusive as possible. This seminar that David and other students will be attending is oriented toward the same values that we have in Interactive Media and Games: we want as many people to enjoy games as possible. Q. How is the upcoming training program structured, and what does it entail? Dennis: It’s a two-day training program, and it involves teaching people about the design patterns that they can use to make games more accessible. They actually have a couple of different layers: one is sort of initial accessibility, and a second one is more advanced. This seminar is really very valuable because while any large company or studio may have their own particular approaches to increasing the diversity of players, they often don’t take the time to share that with other people. Q. Since the program has now shifted online, how will this year’s experience differ from years prior? David: There’s some ups and downs to both sides, but I’d say it’s definitely something that we’ve had to make work. Honestly, I think it’s gone pretty well transitioning over. Dennis: One of the things that we found is that while you do give up the intimacy and hands-on experience, you also gain accessibility for a number of people—because they can come in online. That’s one of the benefits of online training. Q. Who would be a good fit for this program, and what is the ultimate goal for attendees? David: The type of people that should be interested in this program should be the type of people who are empathetic and really passionate about sharing and understanding that games are created for people’s enjoyment. It’s basically being obsessed with hearing people out. If you’re looking at the kinds of people who would benefit from this course, it’s designers and engineers who are the bulk of both graduates and undergraduates. Dennis: When you train students in these kinds of design techniques, it’s kind of like throwing a pebble into a lake. It can have very broad implications. People in the industry are very much influenced by examples of other games and other companies. Some of our students who get trained will spread that … Read More

Conquest 2021: Esports Coaches Conversations

Eileen Liu

Authors: Eileen Liu, Annabel Guo, Peter No, and Cherry Weng UCLA VS USC, MAJOR COLLEGE RIVALRY IGNITED FOR ESPORTS SHOW MATCHES THIS SEPTEMBER.  Held on November 18th on the USC campus, the event will involve a series of matches in games including League of Legends, Valorant, Super Smash Bros., Overwatch, Rocket League, and Hearthstone. All matches will be played on campus and performed in front of a live audience while being streamed to Twitch.tv/USCGames and Twitch.tv/USCTrojanEsports.  The cross town rivalry between the two collegiate powerhouses will be just one of the many highlights of this year’s matches. Fortunately, this year we were able to conduct a pre-game interview with the coaches of the competing League of Legends teams: Joe Jacko from USC, and Ian McCormick and Danny Diaz from UCLA. They have shared many interesting stories about their personal experiences of esports coaching and expectations for this year’s Conquest. Let’s take a look!   Interview with UCLA Esports Coaches   Q: Please give us a little background about yourself and what you have done in terms of your experience with esports. Joe: I started my career at Virginia Tech and competed as a student player. The team I created and played on would go on to win over $20,000 in scholarship prizes through Collegiate League of Legends (CLoL).. Currently, I’m turning from playing to coaching, as I was hired as the head coach at the University of Southern California. Danny: I started my coaching career as a coach at CSUN in 2018. I progressed in a company called WeThink coaching players on soft skills. I was able to transfer soft skills into my coaching patterns and to keep enhancing what I went under a credential of nurturing gaming to understand the healthy philosophies of coaching esports. This is my first quarter of the semester joining UCLA as the head coach of JV and acting as one of the assistant coaches for varsity for communications. Ian: I’m Ian, also going by Ido. I’m currently the head coach of EG Prodigies, which is EG’s amateur team. I’ve been coaching for four years so far. I got my start also in collegiate so I’m very familiar and hoping to have a good tournament and give these guys a good baseline to where they can keep learning even past my time. It’s my goal.   Q: From working in tech to esports, what motivated you to make this transition? Joe: Growing up I was always into esports and was trying to find a way to boost my resume with something that relates to esports in general. However, in 2018, a few articles caught my attention which reported gender issues in the gaming industry. At that time I began to think about what I could to have an impact on the gaming atmosphere. As a result, I  took an academic dive in my studies and transferred from engineering to communication to hone my skills in coaching. Specifically, I wrote on gender and communication in esports … Read More

Interview with Richard Lemarchand: A Playful Production Process

Cherry Weng

Who else is feeling burned out? Nowadays, it is prevalent in daily life and work. A Playful Production Process: For Game Designers (and Everyone) is the latest book that inspires creativity and helps game designers (and everyone else) avoid crunch. USC Games sat down with the author, Professor Richard Lemarchand, to discuss how the book can make game development and our life easier.  Q: Before we officially get started, tell us about a recent game that has caught your eye, what it is and why you’re interested. A: So one of the games that I’ve been playing most recently is actually made by an alumni of the USC Games program. The name of the game is Beast Breakers. It’s a  terrific and innovative indie game developed by Vodeo Games, a studio founded by my friend Asher Vollmer, who’s a graduate of one of our programs. Beast Breakers is an action puzzle game about a group of tiny woodland creatures whose home is being invaded by these giant crystalline insectoid monsters. The core gameplay is a little bit like the game Peggle: we have to equip various weapons and armor, and then attack these monsters by bouncing around on them, shattering away their vulnerable outer shells to break the core of the monster, which finally defeats it. The game is really beautiful, with wonderful game design and a really amazing story. I’ve really been enjoying sinking deeply into it these past weeks.   Q: Was your background in gaming? How did you stumble upon it and get started in the industry? A: Back when I was in college, there were no video game programs. I had fallen in love with video games as a very young child and grown up playing personal computer games. My love for games was rekindled during college, partly through the video games that we played in the college bar and also on the new generation of home computers that had arrived on the scene, like the Commodore Amiga. Suddenly, the graphics looked incredible. I knew with greater certainty than ever before that video games would be a new art form. I had always been both creative and technical. My degree is in physics and philosophy. When my mother showed me a job advertisement from the local newspaper for a video game studio in the west of England, who were looking for game designers, I leapt at the chance to apply. And the rest is history. Video game design is a perfect match for me. I love the creativity of it. I love working on computers, fixing small details to make really excellent gameplay. This led me into a 20-year career, starting back in the UK. Then I spent much of my career working here in California.   Q: Thank you for sharing that. How has your experience at USC games been as a professor? A: My experience of USC Games far predates my time joining the program as a professor. I worked for 10 years in … Read More

2021 College League of Legends Fall Warmup

Eileen Liu

Group Stage Result  Begin on October 9th, the 2021 College League of Legends Fall Warmup  started. By the end of last week, the fresh results of Group Stage have been  announced. Trojan Esports has done a wonderful performance in this phase.   For the Group Stage, all the team will be divided into two divisions, Shurima Division and Bilgewater Division, seeding by the roster’s solo queue ranking.  Trojan Esports from the University of Southern California was assigned to  Group G in Shurima Division. This phase is a best-of-one grouped round-robin  format in which each team plays each other in their group once and the top 2  teams in each Shurima Division group will advance to the playoff phase. After seven rounds, Trojan Esports nicely won six matches and qualified for  the playoffs as expected. Noticeably, they did an outstanding job in the Group  Stage and currently stand within the Top 16 out of 226 competing teams.  The playoffs will begin on October 23rd. At that time, the first match for  Trojan Esports will be fighting against UN T Esports at noon (PT). Let’s look  forward to their excellent performance this week!

IndieCade 2021: Interviewing Founder and CEO Stephanie Barish

Annabel Guo

Tune in this weekend for IndieCade 2021: Anywhere & Everywhere! This year’s festival will be featuring 48 of the newest and most innovative indie games from around the world, as well as exciting activities with our very own faculty from USC. To get an inside look at the event, we held a Q&A with IndieCade founder and CEO Stephanie Barish. Q. How would you describe IndieCade’s mission and core values, and how have they become what they are today? A. IndieCade is an international festival of independent games at its core. That’s what we were established to do, but we’ve branched out to be much more. Our mission is to really show that games are culturally important—that the work they do is meaningful and fun—and to put them on par with all the other media forms that are out there, as well as other art forms. Games are a little bit behind film, and getting that kind of recognition they deserve—all of these gamemakers really deserve that. This is our 17th year, so we were really some of the first people out there trying to show what games can be. We have seen such an impact from our work, which is so rewarding. From the beginning, we’ve had a really diverse group of games. We were some of the first people to not just look at digital games, but also tabletop games, live role-playing games, alternative control games, VR games, and games that don’t even have genres yet—so that’s been very rewarding and exciting. Q. With so many games being produced, it must have been difficult to choose the nominees. What made these games stand out? A. We have a very, very lengthy and rigorous nomination process. It is really competitive to get your game selected. We don’t just look at the games: we look at the documentation, we look at the artistic statements of the gamemakers, and we look for innovation. We’re not looking for the “best of,” because it’s so subjective. We’re really looking for people that are innovating in ways that are meaningful, and we’re really interested in celebrating not just the people who win, but all of the people who are innovating. Q. This is IndieCade’s second year online. How does it compare to meeting in a physical space? A. People begged us to be online beforehand—in part because indie developers are coming from around the world, and they don’t necessarily have the funds. This really offers an opportunity for this population that’s really always struggled with that particular issue of accessibility. It’s both wonderful and really hard—for instance, we’re dealing with a million different time zones trying to show the games. We will definitely come back in some form in person, especially because a lot of our games are ones that people play together in outdoor spaces. Q. IndieCade has grown so much since it began. Moving forward, what does the future of IndieCade look like? A. Over the pandemic, we started something called Horizons—which … Read More

Highlights of 2021 Game Developers of Color

Cherry Weng

The 2021 Game Developer of Color Expo streamed online last week, September 23rd through September 26th. The extravaganza featured work game developers from under-represented communities, where they showcased their latest projects, shared their professional experiences, and discussed important issues and trends in the gaming industry. Here are some highlights of the event that could also serve as guidance for students–particularly those of color-looking for tips from the insiders.    Diversity and Inclusion As the name suggests, the speakers at the GDOC Expo dived deep into the subject of diversity and inclusion. Some have started their own projects with other game developers of color to avoid the microaggressions that were commonplace from their prior work experiences. Others integrate their cultural heritage into their productions. As an example, in the story for Sephonie, the three main characters of the game are all biologists of Taiwanese descent that represent the Asian diaspora around the world. The individualization in style, background, and specialty emphasizes that racial minorities come in different shapes and sizes, and using one label on “nationality” or “ethnicity” tends to gloss over the nuances.  Dani Lalonders, Black developer who identifies as non-binary, recapped their first year in developing the indie game, ValiDate. They broke down their learning into Concept, Team, Funding and Execution. Leading a team of twenty people of diverse backgrounds, Dani was candid about all of the unexpected issues and struggles at leading the game development, such as fund shortage, mental fatigue, difficulty finding a publisher, despite the popular reception by the public. They reflected on their approach and hoped to change the narrative of the gaming industry with improved diversity. “Someone out there will want your game,” they encouraged all the future game developers who would like to follow in their footsteps.   Socially Conscious Games Racial justice is a formidable force at the convention, but the methodology to create a solution is much more important than just discussing the symptoms and causes. Sydney Adams, a game designer at Wizards of the Coast, walked the audience through the process of creating socially conscious games. Step by step, from planning, implementation to launch, Adams shared detailed strategies for game development that incorporates a meaningful social goal. These valuable lessons came from her personal challenges working as an indie developer and now at the AAA company. Whether it is to advocate for social justice, climate change, or inclusion, these games with an intent for the greater good of the society pose more difficulty for the developer. Recognizing this complexity, Adams responds, “Someone out there is waiting for what you have to say.” This is a beautiful message from someone who led the largest success in the history of Wizards of the Coast, Black Magic. Sometimes, the project is simply bigger than all of us.   Careers  The GDOC online platform is highly interactive. For each event, the attendee can reach out the panel or the guest speaker directly through a chat function on the right side of the event page. (See example … Read More

USC Games Editorial x Career Center: Tips for the Virtual Job Fair!

Christian Trinh-Tran

  For many, the idea of a Career Fair, let alone a virtual one, can seem foreign and intimidating. To demystify the process, USC Games Editorial sat down with Jennifer Kim, Director of Employer Engagement at the USC Career Center, to get some answers on how students can best prepare for success at the upcoming USC Virtual Career Fair (Sep. 22 – Sep. 23).    Q. What advice do you have for students who might be new to the Virtual Career Fair?  Register on Brazen, look through the employers and roles, and prioritize the ones you’re interested in. We have close to 140 employers attending and you can’t be with all 100 employers at once within five hours. Think about your major, your interests, and what your career goals are. Then, come up with a strategy and prioritize, say, the top 10 employers you’d like to meet each day.  Go meet the companies you’re interested in, regardless if you qualify for their open positions. Let’s say you’re a graduating senior and an employer you really want to meet is only coming on Day 2 (internships only). You should still register and stop by their booth just to see if they have any other opportunities or if they can connect you to another recruiter that’s looking for a full time role (and vice versa for first and second year students)!  Role > Company. You might think that a tech company like NetApp might only be recruiting for technological positions, but that might not be true. They might be recruiting for marketing, social media, or something nontechnical. So just because you are, say, an English major, don’t think that you shouldn’t look into them. It really depends on the types of opportunities that they have. Prepare specific, targeted questions you can’t find the answer to elsewhere.  When preparing to meet with a recruiter, prepare solid questions to ask them. Anything that you could find easily on Google, you shouldn’t ask. You should ask questions that only this recruiter can answer. So, for example, the work culture. How many Trojans did you have in your past summer program? The kinds of questions that you can’t find on the website.  Have a strong Internet connection. Because Brazen allows you to do audio, video, and text chats, having a strong Internet is key. Employers sometimes get frustrated because the video or audio drops because there’s connectivity issues. If your dorm room doesn’t have a good Internet connection, consider going somewhere where there is. Be sure you test your Internet strength ahead of time.  Dress for success. Make sure that you are fully in professional attire, whether that’s a suit, a nice shirt, a blouse, etc. You want to make a strong impression!    Q. Once you’ve secured your chat with the employer and you’ve asked your questions, how can you make sure that you keep that connection post-meeting? Ask for the recruiter’s email address, name, and LinkedIn. You are more than welcome to ask the … Read More

Climate Jam 2021

Jocelyn Yan

This year’s Climate Jam, hosted by IndieCade, encouraged game creators from around the world to make games that explore solutions to address a rapidly changing planet. One of the great submissions we’d like to feature is called Energy Keeper, a platform game that lets players maneuver a scavenger robot named Ralph to collect resources and build windmills. Wind power is one of the fastest-growing renewable energy technologies. With the falling costs, mature technology, and an extensive global supply chain, many countries have installed wind-generation capacity onshore and offshore in the past two decades.  Ralph cares a lot about the earth, much more than many humans. In order to build windmills, he’ll have to gather resources while avoiding enemies and traps along the way. As the player, your objective is to build 5 windmills to bring power to a city. Building a windmill requires players to collect four types of elements in the game; each one of those elements has a different effect. For example, one improves solar energy and another improves energy gained from fireflies. Players will need at least one of each element to build a windmill. These elements can be placed anywhere in the game, from up in the sky to down under the ground.  Energy Keeper is developed in 2D graphics and its setting changes with players’ actions. The interface is also well-designed in detail. For example, when players go underground, or when the night arrives, Ralph’s left eye lights up, serving as a flashlight to help lighten his way. The game also uses adaptive music to interact with players. For example, a ding sound is incorporated into the collection of one element, while other elements also have their own sound effects when being collected. The music also changes as the night falls, in which players can hear raven caws and dog barks, adding more intensity to the gameplay.  Energy Keeper was designed and developed by Nielisson, Taylor Rumsey, and Itay Amram. It is made for the Windows platform only and can be downloaded here. Another beautifully implemented game that caught our attention was Off-Grid Solar Cabin Simulator. The game, as the title suggests, is a resource management simulation and interactive diorama where players have to live “off the grid” in a solar cabin. Players can power the cabin using solar panels that they purchase. While in the desert, players must balance their energy usage with their quality of life. This is achieved by powering on and off several appliances, such as a fridge and a PC. By powering on the PC, players can build their own off-grid solar simulation within the game — a cool concept!  While players are managing their supply of solar panels and batteries, unexpected events may take place! Storms can blow panels away unexpectedly, or cloudy days may decrease the amount of solar energy available. What is consistent, though, is a monthly allowance of Federal Energy Credits to spend towards buying renewable energy components. Players can gain more currency by selling batteries … Read More

United We Game: Stream-A-Thon with United Way of Greater Los Angeles

Emily Maahs

As we come to the end of the spring semester and academic year, USC Trojan Esports takes a moment to reflect on the trials and tribulations caused by the Covid-19 Pandemic.  In order to alleviate the financial impact it has had on the Los Angeles Community, USC Trojan Esports will be hosting a stream-a-thon to benefit low-income families, students, veterans, and people experiencing homelessness.  United We Game, a fundraising event presented by USC Trojan Esports will be underway on May 8, 2021. This 5-hour stream-athon will take place from 11:30 AM to 5 PM PST. Our goal is to raise $5,000 dollars in Twitch donations that will go directly to United Way of Greater Los Angele. The organization’s mission is to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities around the world to advance the common good through a focus on fighting for the health, education, and financial stability for every person in every community. The partnerships do not end there! Along with United Way of Greater Los Angeles, USC Trojan Esports will be collaborating on this event with Team Immortal’s Gaming Club, Electronic Arts, and Corsair.  We are so proud of the Trojan Family for overcoming a challenging year of remote education. This is our opportunity to celebrate the end of the year, while benefiting and serving the local Los Angeles community, through exciting prized activities.  Some activities that you can expect to see, and have the chance at participating in during the Games United stream-athon event include:  Jeopardy Gaming Trivia – Love love watching Jeopardy? Do you love playing Games? Watch our contestants go head to head in answering Video Game trivia through the format of “America’s Favorite Quiz Show”! Wheel of Fortune: Pokémon Edition (Spelling Bee) – Are you a professional of the Pokédex? Tune in to test your spelling and knowledge of Pokémon! This event will take on the form of the game show, Wheel of Fortune, with a treasured nostalgic twist. Minecraft Obstacle Course (OPEN TO EVERYONE) – Hunger Games meets Minecraft in an epic battle between students who choose to participate in a PvP styles arena. Below is a link to sign up for the Minecraft event: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfkW6rMsD2RROrxyDKrCYqFNOI1ETaC6Xzsz5_5OBds2OHeiA/viewform For all of our viewers who have pre-registered for the event, we will have items brought to you by our amazing sponsors that will be raffled off! The Pre-registration link for the event is posted below!  Here are just a few of the awesome prizes you can win! :  Signed esports jersey from an Immortals Gaming Club Signed Robert Woods Mini-Helmet (former USC Football and current LA Rams Wide-Receiver LA Rams Spirit Pack K60 RBG Pro Mechanical Gaming Keyboard – CHERRY VIOLA – Black M65 RGB ELITE Tunable FPS Gaming Mice MM800 RGB POLARIS Gaming Mouse Pad CORSAIR Sails Snapback CORSAIR T-shirt, Yellow Edge Design  MM350 Premium Anti-Fray Cloth Gaming Mouse Pad – Extended XL Stream Deck Mini VIRTUOSO RGB WIRELESS High-Fidelity Gaming Headset – Pearl Copies of Video Games Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, … Read More