[In this interview, Matthew Weise, the lead game designer for the GAMBIT Game Lab at MIT, talks about their game design lab, including what it is and how it helps students prepare for the real world of game design. Weise sat down with Charles Pratt and Evan Amos from the Another Castle podcast to explain the course.]
As more and more schools are now accepting the idea of video game design as a viable education program, MIT's GAMBIT lab might stand out as one of the most realistic experiences out there for students. Built mainly around a summer intern course funded by the Singapore government, GAMBIT throws students into a group of peers who all take on different roles as a fully functioning, mock game studio. The structure has produced some amazing results, with many students going on to land jobs at places like Harmonix, EA and Irrational Games.
The results also come pretty quickly, as Matthew Weise, the lead designer of the GAMBIT lab, will point out. "We aren't a program," he says, "The GAMBIT lab isn't a four-year degree. We sometimes get confused with a full game designer and development program/curriculum, but we actually aren't. Our main lab, the summer lab, is over and done in eight weeks."
Another Castle: Can you explain what GAMBIT is, how it started and what it is you guys do?
Matthew Weise: We are a lab at MIT campus that is affiliated and largely funded by the Singapore government. Basically, what we do is we try to help the Singapore government bolster their games industry through a student exchange program with the entire network of institutions in Singapore, including universities and polytechnics.
They send their students from a variety of these universities under the organization of the Media Development Authority, which is one of the government groups in Singapore, for an eight-week summer program and they make a game from initial concept to final polish in eight weeks. After that they go back to Singapore, taking what they learned at MIT.
The idea is that they are going to learn at MIT what they wouldn't be able to learn in Singapore. It's not that they don't have any game design classes or facilities, they do, but one of the ideas was to get them out of the country and learning from people that they wouldn't have access to in Singapore -- that they take what they learn here and hopefully bolster their own industry. That's the main idea that the lab is built around, which is what we call the GAMBIT summer program.
AC: What does GAMBIT do for the rest of the year?
MW: The lab itself is open all year, during which we have small-scope projects. There are students that come from MIT, Berklee School of Music, and other near-by schools and do smaller projects during the year. The idea is that we are more less winding up or winding down from the big summer project.
AC: Back to the summer lab, can you describe what it is the students do?
MW: For the summer lab, the students are interns that work full-time on a project that is dictated by a research element. When the students come in, they are assigned to work in a group with roles like producer, programmer, sound designer, artist, etc. The Singapore exchange students and students from the undergraduate programs at MIT make up most of the technical jobs like coders, testers and producers.
For the jobs like artists and sound designers, we bring students from other schools in the areas like Berklee or RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), which allows us to get students that are very specialized, and we bring them all together in one place. But a whole team is usually about 10 people, with six teams for the summer program.
AC: Can you explain more about the research element and how it dictates a game?
MW: Our design is very researched focused; we don't want them just making first person shooters or games that any else would make. Not only are we trying to teach them game development, but we're trying to get them used to the idea of doing innovative work.
One of the examples that I like to give is Phorm. CSAIL, an AI lab at MIT, had come up with this algorithm that would automatically rig 3D skeletons with animation data. CSAIL asked us if we could make a game with it and we said we weren't sure but we'd try. So we gave it to one of the groups of students and the game that came out of that was Phorm, a game where you are an alien who can change shape to solve problems, which shows off the auto-rigging technology as part of gameplay.
The idea was to see how quickly the algorithm could rig and animate a skeleton, so how it was used as a game mechanic was that you'd be able to draw any shape you want, the algorithm would rig and animate a skeleton to the shape and bring it to life. The game itself is a platformer, and using the mechanic you have to draw and re-draw the shape-shifting alien in different ways in order to get through obstacles, like giving it longer legs to jump higher. It worked out rather well in the end, in that it illustrated the research clearly and was also a fun game.