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MassDigi Summer Institute Students at Boston TechJam, including undergraduate student Ryan Maloney, second from left

Established in 2011, the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDigi) seeks to foster the connection between the professional video game industry and higher education institutions. As part of this effort, every year, MassDigi holds its Summer Innovation Program, a 12-week paid internship program that brings together college students from around the world for an immersive course in game making. It is an extremely competitive, challenging, and enriching program for those in the field, and an unmatched growth opportunity for aspiring game professionals.

This year, Northeastern had not one, but two students from CAMD’s Game Design programs selected to participate in this prestigious program. Ryan Maloney, an undergraduate candidate for a BFA in Games and Filiz Durgun, a graduate candidate for an MS in Game Science and Design studying game user research and game design and development, were both chosen as two of the 28 participants in this year’s Institute. After they were guided to the program by members of CAMD’s game design faculty, Ryan and Filiz underwent a rigorous application process, and were selected from a pool of over 240 applicants.

“It is important for our students to gain experience with game design outside of the classroom, and, therefore, the game design faculty are constantly encouraging students to submit to game festivals, competitions, and programs such as the MassDigi Summer Innovation Program,” said Casper Harteveld, Assistant Professor in Game Design. “This is exactly the kind of program that will benefit our students: a pressure cooker environment with high expectations yet lots of creative freedom and many networking and mentoring opportunities.” 

Group shot of this year’s Summer Institute participants

As members of 2017’s Institute, Ryan and Filiz are both working on teams whose purpose is to design and build their own original digital game. Ryan’s team has been tasked with creating a puzzle-platforming game designed specifically for tablets. While 12 weeks is certainly not a long time to produce a game, Ryan is used to working effectively under pressure. In addition to being a member of Northeastern’s Game Development Club, Ryan has also participated in Global Game Jam, where participants are tasked with designing and producing an original game within 48 hours.

Along with cultivating tangible, applicable game development experience this summer, Ryan has also found that the Institute has provided him with ample opportunities to meet and network with people in the local gaming industry. Though only partway through the program, Ryan is already looking forward to taking this knowledge and experience back to campus.

“Once I’m done here, I’m hoping to take some of the design and production philosophies we’ve focused on here back to the Game Development Club to try and help produce more games made by Northeastern students,” he said. “I’m also hoping that the relationships we’re establishing here with groups like the Indie Game Collective in Boston will help Northeastern students find more professionals to look to for advice.”

Ryan at work with his team

Along with these networking opportunities, Ryan is excited about the opportunity to have a fully functional, published game completed. He says he and his team feel confident that they will have what he calls a “satisfying and fun game” available on the iOS App Store and Google Play store by the end of this summer.

Unlike Ryan’s team, Filiz and her team’s project is focused on creating a PC game. Filiz and two fellow interns are currently working on “Progress,” a city builder game they are creating in collaboration with Boston-based game developing company Dejobaan Games. While Filiz’s team has a goal of creating a completed game playable in a period of 15 minutes, Dejobaan will continue to develop their work following the completion of the Institute.

Like Ryan, Filiz has found that the Institute has been a valuable opportunity to network and work directly with some of the biggest names in Massachusetts’ development industry. Her greatest goal, however, is to further develop her game design skills specifically.

Filiz (Standing, left) at Boston TechJam

Filiz, a graduate student, earned her bachelor’s degree in graphic design. While completing her undergraduate degree, her primary work in game development was in creating art for digital games. Now, she wants to take her art background and combine it with an understanding of both overall game design as well as how to develop a game from the perspective of addressing a player’s needs.

“Being a Game Science and Design student at Northeastern has helped me to combine my art skills with knowledge of game user research and game development itself,” she said. “I want to be both a Game Artist and a Game Designer who is well-equipped with knowledge of art, design, coding and the psychology of players.”

The whole team of interns at Boston TechJam

As they both look towards applying their experience at the Summer Institute to their future work at Northeastern, Ryan and Filiz are also beginning to process how their work this summer will help advance their careers. While Ryan aspires to ultimately work in either a design or production-focused role, he hopes to further develop his coding skills to break into the industry as a game programmer or artist. Filiz, upon the completion of her master’s degree, plans to return to her home country of Turkey where she and a group of friends hope to begin the process of establishing their own game studio. No matter what their bright futures bring, both students agree that the Summer Institute has been an invaluable experiential learning opportunity, and undoubtedly something that will serve to help jumpstart their future careers.