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  • Interview: MIT's Matthew Weise on the GAMBIT Game Lab

    - Evan Amos

  • AC: What kind of successes or jobs in the game industry have you seen people who have participated in the GAMBIT lab go on to get?

    MW: A lot of them have gotten into major game companies, like Harmonix for example. Harmonix is actually within walking distance of MIT, so we sometimes take our students over there for them to see what it's like at a big game studio. Some have gone onto Irrational Games, Activision, EA. The students that come from Singapore go back and usually find work at game companies there, many of which are start ups. Some of our Singapore alums now work at Ratloop Asia, which did Rocketbirds Revolution! and Helsing's Fire, both of which made strong showings at Independent Games Festival recently. And one of our Singapore alums is a co-founder of Game Ventures, which has a pretty successful Cricket game on Facebook right now.

    I definitely see our primary success in producing students that people in the game industry say are good when they come into work. Obviously they still have a lot to learn when they leave GAMBIT, but I think that learning how to make a game at GAMBIT - as an 8 week 9-5 project - is different than a more typical experience at a 4-year college. Making a game isn't homework here. It's not something you do in your leisure time. It's a job.

    AC: What do you mean by leisure?

    MW: The whole idea of the GAMBIT summer program is to make a game from initial concept to final polish in just eight weeks. It's a bit of a pressure cooker. We'll give them the research concept as their base and say "Hey, use this algorithm that was developed by MIT scientists to make a game, and it has to be done in eight weeks, and you have to figure out how to work with each other in order to make that happen."

    Hopefully we get something in the end where the students have learned about producing a game on schedule, about working with other people, and they've also produced a game that, hopefully, is useful to MIT researchers.

    AC: So you've put the game researcher in the position of the client.

    MW: Yes, the way it works out is that each team is a microcosm of a bigger game company. We have one designer, one QA person, one sound designer, one producer, two to three artists and two to three programmers on each team. The programmers and artists have the opportunity to be in a lead position, or a following position, and everybody else is basically in a lead position because it's a small team.

    They get to interact with the "client" directly, and so it's like a miniature versions of a big game company, as opposed to more of a garage band situation, where they'd be making a game on the weekends or after hours between classes. We've had students who have gone on to other games schools with more traditional class/homework structures, who have come back and told us how different GAMBIT is, that it's much more like a job with a much bigger emphasis on scheduling and team communication.

    AC: So the way you guys take that approach, it's like a profit-orientated entity, but the goal is still to innovate through completing the research ideas.

    MW: What we really hope to do is create people who are innovation minded, but have the skills to actually produce and polish commercial work. We don't want to produce a kind of student who does amazing innovative work but takes five years to do it. We want innovation at GAMBIT, but we want it by Tuesday, if you get what I mean. I'm not saying it's always a bad idea to take more time if you can afford it, but because of the way GAMBIT is structured - because we can only have these students for the summer and then have to send them home - we have certain constraints we need to work in, and it's a good opportunity to teach what it means to work with constraints.

    Eight weeks might sound like a lot of time, but not when you are actively trying to teach your interns to avoid crunch. We feel crunch is a symptom of bad time management, but this also severely limits how weeks and days translate into practical development time. In the summer a typical work week is 40 hours. That's eight hours a day. During the school year, when our interns have full course loads in addition to working at GAMBIT, we can only have them work 10 hours a week at most. That means one semester translates into two and a half weeks worth of full-time, 40 hour a week work. That's not a lot of time. In terms of what's normal for polished game development, it's virtually nothing.

    Most of the stuff we do, the stuff that you see on the website, is made in eight weeks or less. Some of them are made in two and a half weeks. There are a few cases where we took an eight week summer project and added more levels in the Fall/Spring, but that's very few projects and it's still not very long. I feel those time constraints are important to understand that when you look at our games. I think in generally they're a lot more polished than one would expect from such constraints, which is one of the things I feel we've gotten better at as GAMBIT has evolved.


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