As you may or may not know, Gamedev@IU is a brand new student-run organization at Indiana University Bloomington. With its inception occurring just this past spring and activities starting this coming fall, we've unsurprisingly come across a lot of confusion as to what the organization is meant to be. This inaugural post should hopefully clear up any confusion and give a good idea of what we're all about.
A Bit of History
If you've been around the game development community at IU, you probably heard about the club Hoosier Games, the now retired predecessor to Gamedev@IU. You've also likely heard of the Game Design program within the IU Media School, which offers a four-year Game Design degree program. What you may have not known is that Hoosier Games actually predates the Game Design program by a number of years.
Hoosier Games, which was structured around the idea of pitching ideas, forming teams, and making a full game in one semester, was a valuable space during its early years. With a formal game development program still in its infancy through the telecommunication department, there wasn't an organized group for students interested in making games to come together, collaborate, and learn. Hoosier Games offered a new and exciting way for students to practice their skills and interact with likeminded individuals.
The Present Days
Moving forward in time from the early days of Hoosier Games, we begin to see the start of a formalized Game Design program emerging, eventually becoming one of the Media School's fastest growing majors. With this change, students both in and outside the Game Design program have found new opportunities through class and capstone projects. As a result, many of those who would have been most valuable to Hoosier Games teams, both as members and mentors, were taken out of the fold as their time began to be consumed by other, more directly useful projects.
The realization of this fact motivated a number of changes to Hoosier Games' long-held structure during the 2017-18 school year. A new set of officers (myself included) set off, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, to revamp the club into something that would once again be new and exciting. Many experiments were done trying to incorporate more educational and casual events, all offering opportunities that weren't attached to the full semester-long commitment of the traditional Hoosier Games Project. With hand-made workshops, larger game jams, guest speakers, and plans for much, much more, there was sure to be something for everyone, even those who had fallen off the Hoosier Games train due to rising pressure from classes and capstone projects!
Alas, it was not meant to be, as we realized that no matter how much we tried to pivot and rework what we had handed down to us, Hoosier Games was Hoosier Games. Anyone who had heard of the club, at this point, knew that it was really _about_ the pitching, team formation, and single-project process. Older students who had been involved in the past had no real reason to believe anything was truly different, and those who had hung on and were involved now were generally content with the old format. Despite thorough advertising and promotion by officers and faculty alike, nearly all of the attempted _new and exciting_ events and spaces were lackluster, if not complete failures, in their attendance and adoption as mainstays of the club.
Enter Something Different
Once we realized that Hoosier Games was not only diminishing in accessibility and usefulness to many students, but also that large-scale changes would likely never reach past the officers who planned them and a small group of heavily-involved members, we set out to forge a new path. Taking into consideration feedback from members about what they wanted to get out of their extracurricular game development experience, what they most enjoyed about Hoosier Games, and the myriad of ideas us officers had come up with to retrofit the club, we eventually came to what you see in front of you now, an organization called Gamedev@IU.
Gone will be the days of full-semester projects with little to no guidance, and from the ashes of Hoosier Games will rise something that is more accessible, more engaging, more enjoyable, and all around more valuable.
The New Thing
With this new direction, we wanted to make Gamedev@IU a place where students could effectively start their game development career. We wanted to have more interaction with the medium of games, and more exploration of what makes them great in so many different ways.
Special Interest Groups were the first structure that came to mind with our vision of a diverse set of opportunities to explore different areas of game development and build specific skills that will be useful for years to come. With smaller, independently organized groups focused on areas such as visual arts, game technologies, sound and music, and game design, we hope to allow members to more deeply interact with the fields and ideas they're passionate about. With a backbone of generally informal events as well as small-scale projects focused on skill development and portfolio building, the SIGs will offer an experience that is both more accessible to newcomers and more valuable for experienced members.
The second core part of the organization is the Design/Prototype Lab. Based heavily on ideas presented by Bennett Foddy, Douglas Wilson, and others at the GDC 2018 Educators Summit, the Lab will consist entirely of short prompt-based projects. Along with short workshops, presentations, and discussions related to these prompts and how one might go about making a design and eventually a game prototype, these projects offer something that Hoosier Games could not.
The process of coming up with an idea, figuring out how to shape it into a playable product, and finally create an engaging prototype, all while managing the project's scope to something that you can complete with a mere two weeks, is immensely valuable, especially for those interested in the topic of Game Design. While previous projects might have tried to focus on the coordination of many individual game components over a long period of time, there aim to get members thinking about their ideas more critically, with a narrower focus and much shorter time frame allowing for more experimentation with more individual projects throughout a given semester.
Here's to a Great First Run
We are well aware that creating something from the ground up presents a whole host of new trials and tribulations, and it is very possible that we're still in the honeymoon phase with our ideas for Gamedev@IU. Regardless, we hope that the organization's message and goals will find a welcoming audience this coming fall. I'm sure it will be a tough start, but with the support of faculty, industry connections, and, most importantly, our fellow students, I truly believe we can create something great.
Gamedev@IU Vice President of Programs