Gamers, Grog, and GAMBIT: Singapore’s Video Game Industry Looks to MIT for Innovation
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break into the commercial market. But given the program’s brief nine-week time frame—really, eight weeks, since the 30-some participants spent their first week in lectures—the products turned out by the six teams, each of which was led by a producer or game designer from MIT, are pretty amazing.
One project, a Windows PC game called The Illogical Journey of Orez, employs animated carrots and TV-watching bunnies in puzzles designed to teach kids about adding and subtracting positive and negative numbers. (Orez is zero spelled backwards. Get it?)
Another, Backflow, is a multiplayer game for Java-enabled mobile phones; it challenges users to direct municipal waste through pipes to bins where they’ll either be recycled (allowing you to upgrade your system) or, if you choose the wrong bin, will end up polluting your city and driving away the population. The objective would sound familiar to city managers almost anywhere in the developing world: “Try and build the biggest city you can without getting buried in the garbage!”
Eitan Glinert, a graduate student at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, talked about his team’s effort to build a Windows PC game that would be equally enjoyable for both blind and sighted users. Their product, AudiOdyssey, is a music-driven game in which players swing a Nintendo Wii controller to emulate a nightclub DJ, synchronizing component tracks of a song. Glinert said that one of the many lessons his group learned during the crash development project was that meeting deadlines often means eliminating features that turn out to be unreasonably ambitious—and that while the decision can be painful, the game is usually better for it in the end. In the case of AudiOdyssey, the group had to give up on a complex multiplayer version of the game. Glinert compared that experience “cutting off my arm”—but added, “there’s always next summer.”
The most interesting part of the night was Weise’s rundown of the “myths of video game development” that each of the GAMBIT teams has to confront and unlearn as they push forward with their games. I’m paraphrasing here, but one of the myths was that “If a game isn’t any fun after the first iteration, the team has failed.” Nonsense, Weise said: the first version of a game is always broken, and it’s only by testing it, throwing out most of it, and starting over that it gets better.
Another myth—one that often afflicts us journalists as well—is that “if you can get x amount done by working eight hours a day, you can get 2x done by working 16 hours a day and 3x by not going home at all.” Game designers are afflicted by all the same frailties as other humans, Weise advised, though they often try to deny it during the inevitable crunch period at the end of a development cycle, usually with disastrous results. GAMBIT organizers hope that the students will take such lessons back to Singapore, where the expectation is that they’ll work their way up into that nation’s video game industry.
You can check out the GAMBIT games yourself. The Illogical Journey of Orez, Backflow, AudiOdyssey, and another “Wiimote”-driven game called Wiip can all be can be downloaded at the GAMBIT website. The games, to use Glinert’s words, are “guaranteed to probably not crash your computer.”