Ian Schreiber Talks Design: Rapid Prototyping and Game Balance

Ian-Schreiber

This week, Ian Schreiber, game programmer, designer, and co-author of Challenges for Game Designers, visited the Telecommunications, Information Studies, and Media department here at MSU to discuss the field of game design. With many years of industry experience, Schreiber has produced open online courses on game development, produced games for two Fortune 500 companies, and taught game design at several universities. He enjoys mentoring game design students and helping them prepare for and connect with industry. Schreiber’s experiences culminate in a wealth of advice for game designers.

Game design is about planning, not building. Designers can be in charge of creating core systems, game writing, content design, level design, game balance, and rapid prototyping, these last two being the central focus of Schreiber’s talk. In such a young field, game balance is something that just happens for most game designers, who are generally self-taught in the subject. These designers often feel insecure about what they know on the topic, perhaps picking up a few things here and there from forums. And since there are no books on game balance, it’s challenging for a game designer to learn and put to work. Schreiber believes collaboration with other members of the team expert in different subjects can help designers grow in this area and find novel solutions, through programming, for example, to implement and create game balance.
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A Serious Game for the CIA? MSU Alum Dr. Yu-Hao Lee Is Helping Connect the Dots

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Dr. Yu-Hao Lee

While cognitive bias can affect everyone, it is especially dicey among intelligence agents. Dr. Yu-Hao Lee, Michigan State University Media and Information Studies Ph.D. alum, is currently working with a team at the University of Oklahoma on a game to reduce cognitive bias among intelligence agents. For Yu-Hao, this is a match made in heaven, landing in his field of research—motivation and psychology of serious games. The two part game: MACBETH I and MACBETH II, is being developed for the International Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the research head of the intelligence community for the CIA.

Lee explains that the reason for the project evolved after 9/11, when intelligence analysts came together to try to figure out what happened, to see if anyone had caught any warning signs. They came to the conclusion that intelligence analysts may have trouble removing implicit cognitive biases from their work. Even though they need to make quick decisions, sometimes unconscious mental short cuts lead to errors. There are many well documented forms of cognitive bias. For example, “confirmation bias” is the tendency to pay more attention to evidence that supports or confirms your expectations. “Anchoring bias” is the tendency to place too much weight on initial clues. To address the problem, IARPA contracted experts in the field of psychology and games. And so, MACBETH—or Mitigating Analyst Cognitive Bias by Eliminating Task Heuristics—was born.

Catchy name, huh?
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TISM Department Welcomes New Director of MA Program

Constantinos

This spring saw the induction of Dr. Constantinos Coursaris as the new Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media. We sat down to discuss his future plans as Director, as well as to highlight some of the program’s main features and strengths.

Dr. Coursaris opened with excitement for a new challenge—increasing the visibility of the Master of Arts (MA) program, not just in the Michigan area, but on a national and international level as well. The quality of the program, he believes, is already there and ready to be recognized for its merit and high-caliber faculty, staff, and students that are engaged with the MA program. As one of the best-known universities of this state and around the world, TISM is now primed to raise awareness of its MA program on a similar scale.
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Serious Game Alumni Interview #5: Derek DeMaiolo

Derek-DeMaiolo

Much like his twin brother, Daniel, Derek DeMaiolo’s roots began somewhere other than gaming. DeMaiolo has been working with creative tools from an early age, eventually enrolling at Youngstown State University to study Media and Interface Design. “The transition from web design/graphic design,” he said, “really meshed with software development.” It was his solid background in several related fields that helped him prosper once he enrolled in Telecommunications, Information Studies, and Media MA program, as well as the serious game graduate certificate at MSU.

Derek feels that the people in charge of the serious game courses work well together to open the world of game development. While he had acquired multimedia skills before, the program fostered within him higher level thinking and concepts. Many of the courses, specifically Game Design and Development II and Foundations of Serious Games, taught him the core principles of game design and how to embed educational content within game mechanics, while also undergoing quick, sometimes sleepless development cycles, crucial “survival” skills for his job at Circle 1 Network.
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Serious Game Alumni Interview #4 with Daniel DeMaiolo

Daniel DeMaiolo

Daniel DeMaiolo, an MSU alumn, always knew he wanted to do something that involved gaming. He started at Youngstown State University where he studied advertising/public relations and marketing management. During that time, he focused much of his time on researching game economies, advergaming, and virtual world marketing, leading him to the epiphany that he wanted to learn how to make these same game worlds. It was then that he enrolled in the MA program at MSU, focusing on game design and development and the Serious Game Graduate certificate.

Today, DeMaiolo is living in San Francisco and working in the game industry.  After graduation he joined a small, Michigan-based startup, Fine Orange, to create fun, innovative mobile and desktop games. Fine Orange relocated to San Francisco and became part of Sourcebits, Inc., a global expert in mobile strategy, design, and development (including games), based in San Francisco.

As an aspiring game designer, DeMaiolo recalls two of the most important courses of his student career: Game Design and Development II and Foundations of Serious Games. In the first course, DeMaiolo found himself pushed forward by fellow students to develop digital games rapidly. Many of the projects, he recalls, were amazing, despite a short development cycle. In Foundations of Serious Games, a course within the Serious Game certificate, DeMaiolo discovered “the skills that most designers underestimate—paper prototyping and board game design.” To him, these skills are an invaluable asset when it comes to saving money, time, and unneeded headaches. “In fact,” he mentions, “I was able to apply this skill my very first week on the job [in the game industry] by using poker chips and sticky notes to paper prototype a portion of my current game.”

“One of the valuable lessons I learned from a guest speaker is that every game is someone’s favorite game.  Knowing that I can have that kind of an impact on someone is the reason why I got into game development in the first place.”

Now working as a game designer/ copywriter, DeMaiolo is responsible for developing UX/UI documents, creating wireframes, creating and balancing a game’s economy, designing systems for stats, writing copy and narrative, managing assets, and much more. He’s learned that in a start-up environment, designers often take on many different hats, but provide a strong connection among team members. That same camaraderie is DeMaiolo’s favorite aspect of his job as a game designer, taking tough design challenges and overcoming them as a team.

But DeMaiolo feels strongly that the Serious Game certificate had a strong impact in preparing him for his job as a game designer. Much of his ability to work and collaborate in teams stemmed from these courses, and he believed that the Serious Game certificate pushes students out of their comfort zones and “teaches students how to think like designers of any form of media by identifying problems and creating elegant solutions.” The program, he says, provided him with skills applicable to other forms of media as well.

“Before I graduated, I was terrified of failing.  I didn’t really want to go to GDC and didn’t really know how I’d even get into the industry.  It kind of seemed like a lost cause.  I remember reading a passage from one of Jesse Schell’s books that said something to the effect of taking a deep breath and repeating, ‘I am a Game Designer.’ It’s really that simple.Take a deep breath and have confidence.”

As far as advice goes, DeMaiolo offers three pieces of advice: don’t be afraid of failing, network, and be ready to make sacrifices. To those looking to become game designers, it’s important to learn how to communicate effectively and learn as much about the trade as possible, always remembering to talk and network with others.

Dr. Carrie Heeter recalls DeMaiolo from her courses, and reminisces about him and his twin brother, Derek who also went through the MA program: “It was amazing having awesome identical twin brothers in the graduate certificate courses.  Both were overachievers, going above and beyond on every project.  To help me tell them apart visually, one wore a silver bracelet and one a gold bracelet.  On days when they wore the same clothing, the bracelets worked fine when I was close enough to look carefully at their wrists. Two delightful and talented young men!”

Stay tuned for next week’s profile of Derek DeMaiolo, the twin brother who also works in the game industry.