Virtually Limitless

WPI Student Group Finds Success with Video Game at MassDIGI

March 18, 2016
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• To be considered for the annual Massachusetts Digital Games Institute Game Challenge is a prestigious honor in itself. To take home the grand prize, as the WPI collective known as Broken Door Studios did earlier this month, is an accomplishment that could leave your stamp on the gaming world forever.

Sean Halloran

“Winning the MassDIGI Game Challenge is a huge honor,” says Sean Halloran ’16, programmer for the Broken Door Studio team, “but most of all, it has been an amazing opportunity to get new people playing Intern Astronaut, and to market the game as it moves towards becoming a consumer product for sale.”

Intern Astronaut (IA) is the game the collective developed for entry into the fifth annual MassDIGI Game Challenge. In it, the player takes the role of an inexperienced intern thrust into the position of piloting a spaceship with only commands from mission control as guidance. The commands appear on the player’s monitor, which is reconfigured every game, making each playing experience a new one and catapulting the user into the mindset of the untrained protagonist.

“We do not have experience as astronauts,” Halloran confirms, “however, we do have experience being interns, thrown in over our heads! We took this concept of chaos and being new to the job to make a wacky experience flying a spaceship in Virtual Reality.”

That VR technology is central to the gameplay, as well as a focal point of the games success at MassDIGI. For their part, the Broken Door crew came prepared and welcomed the challenge.

“We entered the project with a good deal of experience, with two of our team members having completed their MQPs, and myself, the programmer, having done my MQP in VR at the Japan Project Center. However, this was the first time any of us had done a 3-D game on mobile, or anything on the GearVR.”

He also stresses that VR as an immersive experience has come a long way since the days of “Lawnmower Man” and Nintendo’s Virtual Boy.

“From what we have found demoing all over Worcester and Boston, at least forIntern Astronaut, the days of virtual reality causing motion sickness are over,” he says.

Prof. Joshua Rosenstock

“Our project-based curriculum, which stresses cross-disciplinary collaboration in teams, is the part of WPI’s culture that informed the success of the project,” says Professor Joshua Rosenstock, interim director of Interactive Media & Game Development. “Through some of our courses and MQPs, we have students specializing in all the skills needed to produce a game. This small, nimble team structure mirrors the way indie development studios are typically set up.”

Next up for the team is a stop at PAX East, where Broken Door Studios will be showcasing its game at the WPI booth. Halloran expressed enthusiasm for the event’s prospects. “We are currently looking towards PAX East for a possible consumer launch for Intern Astronaut, so for us, it will be a celebration of that and a chance for us to show the game to more people than ever!”

That launch, the availability of IA on the Gear VR and Oculus platforms, is expected this spring. The team cites the WPI experience as being intrinsic to their current success.

“WPI is a great college without many barriers to us making something like this,” Halloran says, “and a lot of courses where different groups of students are thrown together to work on many different projects. Sometimes, the right group of students is thrown together with the right task, and amazing things come out of it.”

Adds Rosenstock, “I think Intern Astronaut is smartly leveraging both the novel gameplay mechanics afforded by VR and the current hype for this new technology and medium. I expect we’ll see other innovative VR projects coming out of IMGD in the next few years, as well. It’s a hot area.”

– BY RYAN MORIN