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Road to the Student IGF: Albert Shih on Museum of Simulation Technology Exclusive

March 12, 2014 | By John Polson

March 12, 2014 | By John Polson
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More: Console/PC, Indie, Design, Exclusive, Video, IGF

Exploring perspective as a weapon is the central idea of IGF Student Showcase entry Museum of Simulation Technology.

Described differently, players will use the ambiguity of perspective to resize and move objects while exploring the museum, creating several impressive moments that, when watched, seem akin to optical illusions.

The tech demo's original creator from Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center, Albert Shih, has since created a team of five called Pillow Castle Games to expand development. Continuing the Road to the IGF series, Shih discusses the evolution of his two-week programming assignment that many are dubbing 'The next Portal.'

How did you come up with the concept?

About a year ago, I was supposed to turn in a two week game programming assignment. I didn’t want to over scope, so I tried to think of a gameplay mechanic that didn’t require a lot of models or textures or complex systems. I ended up asked myself, “What kind of interesting first person game can I build by just moving cubes around?” And then I slept on it for a few days.

What development tools did you use?

I mainly used Unity but I also used some miscellaneous software to edit textures, models, and sounds. The list includes Photoshop/Gimp, Maya, and Adobe Audition/Audacity.

How long did you work on your game, and why did you choose your target platforms?

It’s been more than a year since I created the first version of the of the game, but I only spent about 6 or 7 weeks of work on it before I submitted to Sense of Wonder Night and the IGF student competition. For the majority of the time in the past year, I was occupied with other schoolwork.

I don’t really have a target platform right now, but anything that Unity supports is quite convenient.

How many people were on your team, and what lessons did you learn in working as a team?

This semester, I gathered a group of 4 other people (Xiao Li, Allen Tingley, Yuxi Zhang, Zhengyi Wang) to work on the game as an actual school project. We only began working a few weeks ago, but I’ve learned a lot already.

Pre-production is hard. Trying to fit puzzles, art, story, and theme together is like trying to get Congress to agree on something (ok, there’s probably a better analogy for this). As a wise man once said, production is hard work – but it is hard work that is easy.

Was the game always made in first person?

Yup, the game started out in first person because it was that was the only way to not have any characters in the game. Later, I realized that the mechanic could be done in third person, but the concept of forced perspective is still more intuitive in first person.

What were the significant changes from the "old buggy prototype" you made a year ago?

To be honest, it still feels like an “old buggy prototype” right now. The original version was a homework assignment I made in two weeks. It had only one puzzle I was really satisfied with and a lot of miscellaneous filler. I tried to distill the experience down to build it back up again and really tried to focus on the “Wow, that’s neat” moments.

What indie games have you played in the past 12 months that impressed you and why?

Stanley Parable, Gone Home, and Kentucky Route Zero are all games that did really interesting things with narrative.

And Risk of Rain was made by two students. I still can’t wrap my head around that. And of course, Antichamber is Antichamber.

What games influenced you in deciding to go to school to make games?

Wow, this is a tough question. I grew up playing games but I didn’t realize it was possible for normal people to make video games for a living until recently.

About 4 or 5 years ago, I watched Antichamber’s Sense of Wonder Night presentation online. Back then, it was still called Hazard: A Journey of Life. It really opened my eyes in terms of how novel and unexpected it was. There’s a lot of space outside the realm of “traditional video games” that are fun and interesting to explore.

Another game I played about the same time was Terry Cavangh’s Don’t Look Back. It made me realize that even a short, simple game could be powerful and that games could exist for more than just the sole purpose of being fun. It made me look at video games in a new light.

How do you feel your school prepares students for independent game development?

I feel that my school prepares students better for independent game development than for AAA work. The Entertainment Technology Center at CMU, where I go to school, focuses a lot on teamwork and other soft skills. It makes sure that every student is fully aware of things like scope and interest curves, and these are vitally important to anyone working in independent game development.

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