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

Plasticity

Kimmy Stewart

  “When all hope seems lost, it’s never too late to do the right thing.” Plasticity leaves players with this important message in this beautiful game about caring for the environment. We revisited one of USC Games’ beloved student projects close to Earth Day.  At the start of Plasticity, a brightly-colored swing set stands alone in a park full of waste. To return home, players must navigate a desolate town and complete puzzles in the 2.5D environment. As players solve puzzles, they learn more about the protagonist and experience the gruesome state of the world. Aluminum cans and plastic bags drift afloat in the water. Animals are trapped in plastic containers and nets. Through their actions, players have the power to change the fate of the world. This is seen in the game’s multiple endings.  We spoke with the game’s director, Aims Zhang, about the team’s motivation behind the creation of Plasticity. “My team and I came together to make Plasticity because we wanted to inspire others to care about their environmental impact and relationship with single use plastics. We looked at tons of articles, studies and documentaries on how single use plastics not only wreak havoc on the environment, but on so much wildlife and even communities of people.” The environments in Plasticity are truly magnificent. The low-poly art style blends seamlessly with the gentle music that plays. The piano and strings melody indicate impactful moments of the story. The game’s music and sound effects create an immersive experience. The sound of the ocean waves and the seagulls calling transport players to the world where the protagonist lives. Plasticity has received a lot of praise from fans. On Steam, it has over 300 very positive reviews! The game was exhibited at IndieCade and E3 in 2019, featured in the LA Times, and nominated as a finalist at the 2020 Games for Change Festival for Best Student Game. The game’s recognition is well-earned. Plasticity shows audiences what the problem looks like and encourages them to care about the issue. After acknowledging that the issue exists, audiences can begin to take action to save the planet. “I hope when players walk away from Plasticity, they leave feeling introspective about their personal relationship with plastic and empowered to make a positive impact on the world,” Aims told us. “Plasticity doesn’t make an argument for what the best solution to that is. Our design intent was always to create an emotionally resonant, inspirational game, where players learn that even if many people- themselves included- have made mistakes in the past, it’s not too late to change course.” In the positive ending of the game, the protagonist says, “Instead of running away and finding a new home, we need to nurture and care for the home we have.” She’s right. Let’s work together to save the earth. Play Plasticity for free on Steam, and check out the game’s website and Twitter account.

Frick Frack: a game about love, capitalism, and hydraulic fracturing

Jocelyn Yan

You need money to pay your rent, buy food, and cover your wife’s medical bills. Then comes the winter season, and you need to spend extra on heating. Just as you are about to lose all hope, you find a job. It’s not exactly what you dreamed of, but it pays the bills.  Frick Frack begins with you, the protagonist, reading a job posting in the newspaper for oil well operation workers; the job is paid per sq ft dug. With the financial burden on your shoulders, you have no choice but to begin working; however, your actions bring a series of consequences to the environment we all live in. Frick Frack is a puzzle simulation game about love, capitalism, and hydraulic fracturing. The protagonist you play as has a daily routine of fracking, in which you dig tunnels and extract oil; the more you dig, the more you are paid. During your digging, you may also encounter some wildlife such as moles and mysterious creatures that spit fire. These creatures can injure you and result in the day ending early with little or no money earned.  The bills increase as the week goes by, and you have to pay all of them with the money you’ve earned from fracking. You must dig more and more oil to afford the living of you and your wife, who has a physical disability and cannot help lessen the financial burden. The consequences of your actions, however, impact more than just the people around you. The newspapers report that the local fracking rigs have damaged water supply, and resulted in an increase of food costs due to scarcity. Killing wildlife also hurts the balance of nature. Though the work you do is against your values and beliefs, when reality hits, you can do nothing but sacrifice them for a piece of bread. There is, however, a good ending to the game. If you choose to dig less for the good of the environment, you’ll soon discover good news: the Green New Deal is passed and 2000 new jobs are created by an environmental agency. You may have been through a tough time with little food and heating in the game, but all the sacrifices would be paid off in the end.  We interviewed the developer of the game, Weston Bell-Geddes, on how he came up with the game’s concept. According to Weston, the game is about how capitalism forces people to choose between the people we love and the things we care about. The blue-collar fracking worker is an example he uses to present the problem of how people are forced to do things they don’t like so they can care for themselves and those they love. “And that’s not a problem with morality, that’s a problem with the system,” said Weston, “I wanted to make a game that reminds privileged people about the part of life they don’t see or have to worry about.” Frick Frack aims to give players something more … Read More

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Abby Sherlock

Jocelyn Yan

Abby Sherlock is currently a 2nd year graduate student at USC Games’ Interactive Media & Games graduate program. She has been focusing on producing and collaborating with actors, narrative designers and audio designers. Abby, co-creator of the award winning game Heirloom, was recently awarded the 2021 Activision/Blizzard King Aspiring Womxn* in Games Scholarship. Here are some highlights from our talk with Abby, edited for brevity and clarity. Can you tell us about the game Heirloom? Heirloom would be nothing without my co-creator Kathryn Yu, who’s fantastically talented. Kathryn was the lead programmer, UX/UI designer, and co-writer. I was the producer, co-writer, and director. I also voice acted in the game. The game was really born of Kathryn and my strengths. Kathryn comes from a strong escape room and immersive theater background. I was a theater BA at UC San Diego with a focus in theater and acting – so a strong narrative and a puzzle escape room then became our basic constraints.  In terms of the game’s location and places, we both were very interested in “retro but not retro,” since the story takes place in the 90s, but also harkens back to events that happened in the 70s and the 80s. I’m originally born and raised in South Carolina, so that inspired the game’s setting in the rural American South. The story is about a southern woman and her family. It was born of my love for the South and how I missed the things I thought were special. What’s your favorite creative medium? Probably still games, especially theatre in games. I think both theatre and games are conduits of empathy. With theatres, you get to see these actors and become immersed in a performance. This type of interaction does not happen in movies or TVs. With games, it’s similar to theater: you physically have to do something, or else you’re going to start on the title screen and not do anything. I think the level of participation of the player, of the audience, is very similar.  Games also present the innovation of technology, and with the strong storytelling mixed into the concept, there couldn’t be a better medium in the world. Can you share your experience as a female game developer?  I was a child actor and I grew up in very female-friendly places. I saw lots of good role models at a young age. The theatres I was a part of had a lot of female directors and creators. When I got involved with my e-sports gaming club in my undergrad, we would be lucky to have three women in a room of 400 people. It’s very hard to find role models that look like you. I’ve always loved games but never knew games could be a career because there wasn’t a lot of visibility on female game professionals.  Seeing role models was really important for me. It was a challenge, as there are so many comments about women in games facing harassment, doxing, and stalkers. It … Read More

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Liv Morales

Kimmy Stewart

Olivia (Liv) Morales is a sophomore at USC Games in the Interactive Media & Game Design program. She is an avid writer, interested in the narrative aspects of game design. Liv is a student assistant for the Advanced Games Projects (AGP) course and also one of the founding members of the first ever USC Girls in Games Club.  Here are some highlights from our talk with Liv, edited for brevity and clarity. What is your favorite medium to create for? Writing is my passion. I know that no matter what I end up doing, writing will be involved. I’m fascinated with storytelling in games. I see a lot of potential in this area that I don’t think is utilized completely. I would love to eventually be a narrative designer or a creative director for story-driven video games.  What is USC Girls in Games? Girls in Games is a new club that we’re starting through the USC Games program. It started with a conversation my friends and I had. We realized there wasn’t a club for girls who are specifically interested in video games–professionally and/or socially. There’s several clubs at USC that are for girls in STEM or entertainment. But I think gaming and the games industry is such a specific culture. The experiences of those who identify as female in gaming are unique. We can’t label them the same as girls in technology or girls in cinema. So, I thought it would be a really fun idea.  We’re super excited about Girls in Games. Once things have a sense of normalcy again, we’re hoping to have a variety of club activities. For now, there’s a lot we could do with online communication and creating a community that we didn’t have before. You’re not just running the new club, you’re also a Student Assistant in USC Games’ prestigious Advanced Games Projects (AGP) class.  What do you do in that role? In AGP, there are different SAs for different disciplines like usability, production, or engineering. I work as a Lead SA alongside my best friend and fellow USC Games student Gail. We basically oversee work with lead faculty to manage how the class operates. We talk to everyone, which is probably my favorite part of the job. I’ve gotten to meet faculty who I’ve never interacted with before. I get to talk to students who are doing these amazing projects.  SA’s don’t work directly on the games, but learning about other projects’ trials and tribulations is insightful. If I ever do an Advanced Games Project, I will know so much already. I’m really grateful for the experience altogether. Before joining AGP, I wasn’t super involved with the faculty and the other students. Now I get to work with amazing people and learn so many amazing things.  Do you have a favorite USC memory so far? The people I’ve met have been the best thing for me. I’m in awe of the faculty at this school and the friends I’ve made along the … Read More

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Brittany Beidleman

Jocelyn Yan

Brittany Beidleman is an alumna of USC Games’ Interactive Media & Games graduate program. She has worked on several amazing projects including Call of Duty®: Black Ops 4 and Call of Duty®: Black Ops Cold War. Currently, Brittany is a level designer at Treyarch, where she continues her passion for gaming and creates innovative gaming experiences that will inspire people the same way they inspired her.  Here are some highlights from our talk with Brittany, edited for brevity and clarity. What does your day-to-day role as a level designer at Treyarch look like? Level design at Treyarch is kind of different from other studios; the designer not only will design the levels, but they also detail them. You have to be a designer and somewhat an artist to do this job. When I worked on Black Ops 4, I worked on the Dead of the Night Zombie’s map in which I designed a lot of the interiors of the mansion and on the cemetery space outside. Those areas went through multiple iterations of design and layout. The next step was to work with the concept art team, which would put beautiful paintovers on the level I have created. I would then turn these beautiful paintings into 3D.    My role for Black Ops: Cold War was quite different. I was able to work on the Fireteam maps, and I was basically like a level design project manager.  I made sure the level designers could achieve their goals on time. I would work with the production teams to make sure tasks were getting assigned and tracked. I had to work with the concept art team again to get red lines of the space or paintovers. I also worked with the environment art team to make sure we had textures for the grounds, for models, etc. There is so much involved with this project management role for Cold War. I would say that collaboration is key in this role for sure.  What drew you to the game industry and the FPS genre in particular? I’ve always loved first person shooters. I kind of grew up playing them. I think I have to attribute it to my dad. My dad worked in the Air Force so I grew up moving all over the U.S. He had to learn about historical battles and therefore became passionate about them. He then started playing games with a PlayStation 2, which was also my first system. He preferred playing games like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor. I kind of had just played with him, and that’s where my love for FPS (First Person Shooters) came from.  Did you always know you wanted to make games? In early middle school, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do because all the classes I was taking weren’t really interesting to me. I would just go home and play video games so I had … Read More

Global Game Jam 2021

Kimmy Stewart

-Written by Kimmy Stewart and Jocelyn Yan USC Games was the host of Los Angeles’ Global Game Jam activities. Many developers participated and presented outstanding projects at this year’s event in January. Even though it took place virtually, the quality of games continued to be impressive! The theme ‘Lost & Found’ sparked the creation of many great games. Two games that really stood out were Memories of Molly and Oops! I Dropped my Key Card.  Memories of Molly’s development team was led by USC Games faculties Gordon Bellamy and Margaret Moser, both experienced game designers and industry tastemakers. Memories of Molly is a 2D puzzle game based on real life events. It tells the story of an inspirational single mother, who uses musical memories to recall a life well-lived. Each round, a series of music notes are played, and the associated graphics are displayed. Players need to remember the order of the permutation to successfully continue onto the next level.  The game gets harder as the level goes up; More music notes are played, which means players need to remember more associated graphics. Once players successfully unlock all levels within a stage, a specific memory will be triggered.  Each memory shows a stage of the single mother’s rich life. Players witness the day she received her college degree and the moment she got married. The game also shows impactful moments such as the minute she first saw her child’s face and the long hours she worked to financially support the family. Memories of Molly encapsulates not just a game with a ‘lost & found’ theme, but also a flashback of a single mother’s laughs and tears. The game’s musical elements also challenge players to memorize both visual and auditory cues. Play Memories of Molly here!  Oops! I Dropped my Key Card stood out as the only VR game amongst the other fantastic work. In this first person 3D game, players must solve various puzzles to return power to their dysfunctional spaceship. Uncover the key cards needed to power the ship by pulling levers and toggling switches. The game’s creators, Stephen Lane and Sean Maguire, were excited to put their skills to the test at this year’s game jam. This was the duo’s sixth game they’ve worked on together; they are no strangers to game jams! The project was able to come to life because the duo finally had a PC strong enough to run the VR components. If there’s a positive to virtual game jams, it’s that powerful PCs are easily accessible. And, participants can actually sleep in their own beds! That said, Stephen and Sean shared that while it was much more convenient to work from home, they missed the traditional game jam vibe. “The atmosphere of having people around you is really enjoyable. It’s also cool to be able to present to people in-person and see what they’re working on.” Play Oops! I Dropped my Key Card here! The creators of both titles hope to refine and add … Read More