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Video Games: Could Be Worcester’s Next Big Industry

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


MassDiGI, the state's Digital Games Institute at Becker College, is fast gaining a reputation as a leading source for highly skilled video game designers, and  Lt. Governor Tim Murray and Congressman Jim McGovern were at the college to discuss Worcester's competitive edge in the growing industry.  MassDiGI, a statewide institute designed to foster the industry, is looking to expand the college's role in providing workers to this growing and popular field. 

Becker’s game design program has been ranked in the top ten nationwide for the past three years by the Princeton Review and has been called “a destination for game designers” by U.S.News & World Report, earning it a reputation for churning out highly-skilled technically minded people into the workforce, something Murray and MassDiGI are helping foster.

Worcester Goes High Tech

Massachusetts is quickly becoming a hotbed for the video game industry. Ever heard of Rock Band? This massively popular music video game was created by Harmonix's in Cambridge., and Turbine Inc., based in Westwood, is known for is multiplayer online games like The Lord of the Rings Online. This is only the tip of the iceberg in the Commonwealth, and Worcester has its share of the high tech industry.

“This is really the vision that Becker, WPI, and the Commonwealth has had with MassDiGI. It’s bringing together students from Mass and across the country with businesses and doing game development and learning about business development and learning to work in a business-like environment,” Murray said. “This is an incubator for ideas but also for employees in the video and digital gaming world.”

Murray and McGovern saw firsthand what the group is pioneering as Becker students and members of the 80HD group showed off their newest creation – Nano Swarm.

Nano Swarm

Andrew and Jonathan Niemi, who came to Becker for their video game program worked hard on the featured game, which is available on iTunes for free, but will have upgrades you can pay for in the next wave of the project. Andrew says it’s always been his dream to work in video game design.

“It was a childhood dream of mine,” he said. “Nano Swarm is an action puzzle where you control a swarm of nanobots through a lab. They’re trying to escape, and security has defenses to try to prevent you and puzzles.”

Jonathan did programming and audio for the game while his brother Andrew worked on texture and modeling.

Jonathan said that the program has given them a great opportunity. “With programs like MassDiGI, it will grow. It’s definitely helped with outreach and things like this,” he said.

Emil Ritter, producer of the game at their team, 80HD, said that they group has plans to monetize the game after building a fan base.

“The next stage is to have another version much more polished than this and you can pay to change your appearance, your color, those types of things,” he said.

Not All Nerdy

While the thought of video game design conjures up images of computer nerds and programming language, the team at 80HD says that it’s not all nerdy.

Andrew said that some of the classes at Becker include 3D modeling, level design, and computer illustration.

“We also do art classes to help with the design,” he said. “We have a lot of arts to learn how to draw, which you need to know how to do in order to learn how to model.”

Emil spoke about the various ideas that have to come together to make a video game. “You need to program, which is what makes the game run, but you also need someone to design the buttons here, and someone to design the walls, which is also done on the computer,” he said.

Becoming a Video Game Hub

Becker’s work with MassDiGI has given the area a competitive edge.

“For Worcester, having two – WPI and Becker which are consistently recognized as being in the top ten schools in the country for digital and video gaming – that’s a natural strength and opportunity to become that hub,” Murray said. “That’s really what the investment in the institute was all about for the state and leveraging private sector dollars and time which is happening in Becker’s resources, so this is about that exchange – that cross-fertilization – of private sector academic with new sector jobs and skill training.”

Murray said that this endeavor is good for the state’s economy and has taught those working on it some important lessons.

The Future of MassDiGI

Murray added that the future plans for MassDiGI will mean putting this program to work and expanding when they can.

“We’re going to continue as the economy and budgets allow. We work with the Mass Technology Collaborative, which is a quasi- governmental agency that focuses on emerging technology sectors,” Murray said. “We will continue to focus on this, and hopefully this will mean more jobs.”

Producer for the game, Ritter, said that the hands-on work is what makes it great.

“I’m pretty close to my dream job right now. It’s great. The MassDiGI thing has really helped a lot and so has Becker,” Ritter said. “I think they should do this in other schools as well. Learning things in class is great, but doing this thing, building a team, and having the opportunity to create your own game with your own team is much more important than just having the skills to program.” 


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