WHM @ USC Games: Interview with Lesley Mathieson

Cherry Weng

In celebration of Women’s History Month, USC Games interviewed Heart Machine senior producer and USC Games adjunct professor Lesley Mathieson (she/her). Mathieson was recently a panellist at the 2022 Game Developers Conference (GDC), where she presented “Women Building Careers in the Games Industry: What It’s Gonna Take” alongside Cynthia Zhang, Martzi Campos, and Erin Reynolds. Below, Mathieson shares her own experience as a woman in the games industry.   Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.     Q: Tell me about yourself! Who are you, what do you do, and what are you passionate about in games? A: I am currently a senior producer at Heart Machine, as well as an adjunct professor in the AGP class in the USC Games program. I’ve been in the video game industry for over twenty years at this point—actually, maybe coming up on twenty-five. I’ve done a wide variety of things. I’m most known for my work on the PlayStation series Ratchet & Clank; I was one of the original three Ratchet & Clank designers on the PlayStation 2, and I worked on several of those games with Insomniac, as well as Resistance: Fall of Man. I then co-founded my own studio to produce the PSP Ratchet & Clank games as well. Since then, I’ve run a couple of different studios, I’ve made a companion robot for children, and now I’m back working on a game again.    Q: Either personally or professionally, what does Women’s History Month mean to you? A: I think it’s important to go back and highlight things. I’m personally a fan of history, so I spend a lot of time reading anecdotes, and it is far, far too common to read stories where you find out that women were critically involved in things, created things, or invented things—and those things were swept under the carpet at the time. One of the things that always comes to mind recently was a documentary I watched on the woman who discovered pulsars—and how her contribution was basically ignored for the purposes of things like the Nobel Prize and so forth, which went to her professor at the time without any mention of her contribution. So, I think it’s really important to have time to highlight these things because then these stories start to come out. People start actually looking and paying attention, and that’s when you hear about what women have done. It’s an important thing to acknowledge because it so frequently has not been in the past.   Q: How does your identity as a woman intersect with your identity as a game developer? A: It’s interesting. I started in the game industry at a time when there were very few women in it. Now, it’s very different comparatively. There’re still not enough women in the game industry, but just compared to then, it’s already increased a lot. When I was with Insomniac, I used to do interviews with the press just because I was a … Read More

2022 CLoL Pac-U Gaming Conference: USC Heads to Finals Undefeated

Cherry Weng

By Annabel Guo   The University of Southern California League of Legends team coached by Joe Jacko has won 3-0 against the University of Oregon in the semifinals of the 2022 CLoL Pac-U Gaming Conference, heading to finals undefeated in the playoffs. USC had also ended the regular season undefeated with seven wins in the round-robin, winning 2-0 against nearly all opposing teams. USC lost only one game in a best-of-three against the University of Washington, who followed closely behind in the final standings of the regular season with six wins and one loss. The conference finals will be a best-of-five between USC and the University of Colorado Boulder, which placed third in the regular season with five wins and two losses. USC had previously won 2-0 against CU Boulder during the regular season. Finals will begin on Saturday, April 2 at 12:00 p.m. PST, and the matches will be streamed live on Twitch by Pac-U Gaming. Further information regarding the conference can be found on the 2022 Pac-U Gaming Conference Battlefy.  

USC Games BHM: Chevon Hicks’ Changed Relationship with BHM Over Time

Cherry Weng

An artist by training, Professor Chevon Hicks continues to expand his work and artistry while exploring the complex relationship with his identity, over time in an ever-changing society. Watch the video to find out the full conversation about his views and stories, which may or may not include a debate over peanut butter.     Q: Professor Hicks, why don’t you go ahead and do a little self-introduction?   A: Sure. I’ve been teaching in the School of Cinema for about 11 years now. The course I teach is called CTIN 401: Interface Design for Games. I learned more about the students and games than I teach because it’s just so fascinating to work with all of the young minds at USC. This year I just started working with the AGP group as well, the Advanced Games Project. We’re working on improving the UI on all of those games. It’s been a really great journey.   Q: Personally, what does this concept of Black History Month mean?   A: It means something different than when I was growing up. I’ll be 50 this year: to give you some context. For the last 48, 49 years, it’s just been a month to learn: one, that hey we were slaves once, and two, we may have invented peanut butter. So it was never something that I was looking forward to necessarily. When I had my first kid, my son, I remember he had Black History Month in elementary school. And my takeaway was that it reminded everyone of their place in the caste system. Obviously, the summer of George Floyd changed everything. But as I’ve been getting older, I’ve just become more and more Afrocentric. I think it’s because societies are pushing me in this direction. Growing up, I just considered myself Black American, really just American. But over the last maybe even 10 years or so, I’ve been feeling a lot more Afrocentric. It’s been great to learn about Black History Month, or just Black history in general rather, through Instagram. There are so many great accounts that give you tidbits of information that someone like me just didn’t have growing up. My aunt was very active in Chicago, so was my grandmother. My aunt was in Operation PUSH. She was always in my ear about Africa centricity, but as an American skateboarding kid, it wasn’t that important to me.  With society being so polarized now, it’s becoming an important thing for me: knowing that we’re more than just you know peanut butter. (Editor: peanut butter was first patented by a White Canadian man in 1884, according to the National Peanut Butter Board.)   Q:  As a professor as an artist, how do you think that your identities intersect?   A: I think the thing that other people who are not Black probably don’t understand is the amount of racism in your life. It’s not always being called the N-word, but it’s the constant microaggressions. So you would think as you … Read More

Black History Month @ USC Games: Interview with Taylor Dinwiddie

Cherry Weng

By Annabel Guo     In continuation of our series celebrating Black History Month, USC Games held an interview with MFA student Taylor Dinwiddie (he/him). Dinwiddie is passionate about Black representation, and he seeks to find ways in which marginalized voices may be better heard in the games industry. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.   Q: To get us started, tell me about yourself! What are you passionate about in games? A: I’m really, really interested in the idea of representation and how we can improve what marginalizes voices in games. One of the things that has always been a little bit alarming to me is that the industry is actually only two percent Black. That’s just insane to me, especially because here in my program we actually have a pretty solid number of Black people. Black people are really interested in games, but I don’t see it reflected in the same way in the industry—so I’m like, what can I do to really advance that and then also get even more people who look like me interested in this field?   Q: That’s incredibly important. Either professionally or personally, what does Black History Month mean to you? A: Good question. I don’t know how I can do it justice, to be perfectly honest, but I think it just speaks to resilience. That’s the first word that comes to my mind when I think of the strength of my culture, because we have really gone through a lot and suffered a ton. But still, we rise, as one of my friends in my program, Olivia Peace, likes to say. That’s really stuck with me, because I really do feel like that is true. Whenever I think of Black History Month, I think of our strength and resilience—our ability to keep going even in really difficult circumstances that we’re obviously still experiencing today in different forms.   Q: How do you feel your identity as a Black person intersects with your identity as a game developer, and how does that alter your experience? A: Really good question. I think the two definitely intersect in terms of the interest I’m pursuing in general. A lot of the experiences that I’ve been creating up until this point, even my thesis project right now, have been about either the Black experience or trying to find ways to infuse the Black experience into more traditional genres, games, and themes. That’s actually one of the pressure points of my thesis that I’ve been running into. I am making a 2D visual novel about a detective who’s forced to balance his wit and his heart to solve mysteries and misunderstandings. It’s detective, mystery, noir—those genres that are very familiar—but it’s trying to infuse Black voices. That actually has run into a couple of problems, because it’s like, how do you stay true to the idea of a mystery and noir film that people associate with whiteness but still keep it Black? There’s … Read More

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

Jason Martinez

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

Jason Martinez

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

Jason Martinez

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

Jason Martinez

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

Jason Martinez

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