How to build real video games (and real-world skills) as a student intern

Renzo G. Heredia (courtesy photo)
Renzo G. Heredia (courtesy photo)

Internships are a key piece of the college experience. Practice makes perfect, right? The challenge for me was finding one that delivered practical lessons in a field like game development. So, this past spring I landed at MassDiGI’s Summer Innovation Program, which was created to give student developers the skills needed in the real world.

I was one of the 157 students from around the country who applied to the program, and I was accepted along with 21 other students from 10 different colleges and universities including WPI, UMass Lowell, Tufts, Smith, RISD, Northeastern, Mt. Holyoke, MIT, Hampshire, and Becker. The program provided free housing at Becker as well as a stipend. Just before Memorial Day, all 22 of us arrived at MassDiGI’s studio in Worcester, ready to work on some video games.

Down to business

Work, in this case, meant breaking up into skill-balanced teams of programmers and artists with the challenge of producing four publishable titles in just 11 weeks. This was a tall order considering that none of us had created a full and complete game before – let alone worked together. To top it all off, I was the only composer and sound designer in the entire program, so I was responsible for looking over the music, sound effects, and dialogue for all four games. Again, the goal was to finish them in 11 weeks. It sounded like one of those crazy workout programs promising to give you a chiseled six-pack by the end of the summer. To be honest, I was quite nervous about it.

But, I didn’t need to be.

Two weeks ago, at MassDiGI’s annual program-ending Open House, we reached our objective and revealed to the public our four fun games: Cat Tsunami, Limbs, Many Mini Things and Midnight Terrors– all of which will ship later this fall and be available to download and play on a device near you.

Reaching goals

Over the entire development process, we, the students, were responsible for hitting our development goals – a greater level of autonomy than most internships offer. We weren’t making lattes for directors or performing file organization tasks for a producer. We became the producers, artists, and programmers. We became the teams responsible for the work.

In fact, all of the ideas for the games were conceived and created by us.

We spent the first week on team-building and creating concepts for different game ideas based on genres given to us. We then voted on the ideas we wanted to work on the most, and our games were born.

Once the concepts were set, we used Kanban, a system that uses a board to lay out what tasks will be done, when and by whom, to lay our goals for our target dates to create builds for the games. Throughout the phases of development, we received useful guidance and support from a number of game industry mentors as well as professional staff, helping us develop our games from concept to playable prototype to pre-release.

‘One single orchestra’

As the sole student to work on all four teams, I had a unique perspective. They were four separate ensembles, but I saw them as one single orchestra. Each section needed its respective parts to function properly. Team members helped each other when needed and every team was focused on their respective game.

I did my best in providing music and sound to compliment the mechanics and art of these games. I wanted to bring these characters in the games to life and make every person and place a living entity that the player can hear as well as see. Working together, through scope issues, team dynamics, technical problems, and workflow challenges, we created four games that people can sit down with and make their day even better and happier. In the end, we managed together like a functioning musical group and hit all of the right notes.

This summer was the most fun and productive one of my life.  We were able to make our concepts come to life, and we were finally able to discover our true potential.

Renzo G. Heredia is a senior at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
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