Becker College game designers share their creations at PAX East

Michael Folina played through a demo of “Beat the Machine,” a game owned and designed by Becker students, at PAX East at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center on February 28. Photo by Hannah Harn / BU News Service

By Hannah Harn
BU News Service

Joe Frangiosa is a 22-year-old senior in college. He is also the product owner and the lead audio composer for “Beat the Machine,” a top-down, twin-stick shooter. 

On the design and development team? Twelve other college students and a professor. 

“‘Beat the Machine’ was an idea I had freshman year,” Frangiosa said, pointing to one of the playtesting computers, where Michael Folina, another of his team members, played through the game. “I had heard about the Greenlit Studio through Professor [Terressa] Ulm and I sent in an application for this idea that I had had so long ago and updated it to be a bit more modernized.”

And so, “Beat the Machine” was born. 

“I wanted to make a really difficult arcade shooter that was not only fun for people who were used to the genre,” he said, “but for people who wanted to get into it and really feel that competitive, difficult nature that this game kind of has.”

Becker College, located in Worcester, has been ranked number three in the world for its game design program by the Princeton Review and is the only school in the northeast to break the list of Top 50 Undergraduate Schools for Game Design.

Nadim Randolph, a sophomore in Becker College’s game designing program, fits Brian Simonelli with a VR headset to playtest one of their games February 28 at PAX East, held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Becker’s game design program was ranked 3rd in the world by Princeton Review. Photo by Hannah Harn / BU News Service

It shows. Students filter around the booth, commenting on which games they had a hand in. One even facilitates a demo with a Valve Index virtual reality system.

“They marketed their program as very hands-on, and I wanted a program where I knew I was going to be making games and be a part of a team, creating these projects,” said Chloe Tibets, a senior in Becker’s game design program. “I didn’t want to just study like the theory or the concept, I want to get some of that, but also really get that like hands-on experience.”

When she wasn’t helping out at Becker’s PAX booth, she was working with the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDiGI) at their own set-up. She’s also a part-time environmental artist at Petrichor games. 

“Growing up I really, really enjoyed games,” she said. “I played with my family, like my dad, and we’d always play some fighting games together. And I just kind of realized I had a passion for it. And I really wanted to bring the joy that I felt growing up playing games to other people.”

Victoria Yong, another 21-year-old senior, took a moment away from helping a player with the game. She is a producer on “Beat that Machine.”

“I like really working together with people and you’re seeing them all motivated and energetic about working on like such a big project,” she said. “They all really want to succeed. So that’s been really nice to have, a good environment to work in because some people don’t care as much. So it feels very different. Also, I just like making games.”

They play the role of professional well. They chat with patrons, facilitate demo plays, discuss structure and art and code. 

“These programs really try to make students not only more involved but get them more hands-on,” Frangioso said, pausing part-way through to help someone with their computer. “It’s not a lot of theory based stuff. You’re actually hands-on with different projects. You’re doing all the tedious work and learning step-by-step.”

Frangiosoa has also appreciated that students have access to professional developers when they find themselves in a rut.

“When you get stuck,” he said, “there are the resources that you need to take it one step further to really become that, you know, triple-A or even indie game that you’re finding elsewhere.”

Brian Simonelli gestures as the virtual reality game calibrates.The game was designed by students in Becker College’s game design program and demoed at PAX East at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center February 28. Photo by Hannah Harn / BU News Service

Tibets and Yong are also both leaders in Becker’s Women in Games community. 

“In a lot of our classes, and it’s been getting steadily better by a large margin, but originally, especially since Victoria was a programmer, she was oftentimes the only woman in her class,” Tibets explained. “And she really wanted to help expand the amount of women in programming and in tech, and there’s a lot of great STEM programs for that. And like as an artist, I do see more women but like in games in itself, sometimes it’s a very underrepresented group.”

Even growing up, Yong played games in a majority-male environment. While it was the closeness and bonding of that environment that led her to game design, she found she wanted to help expand the community at Becker and beyond.  

“We currently are talking to Women in Games Boston, and we’re trying to maybe create a couple of events or collaborate with them on speakers,” Yong said. “We also plan on having other events at school because we want to help students. One of our next events will probably be a LinkedIn portfolio picture day … because freshmen and sophomores, they don’t know how to do that. They don’t know that they need that in order to start to succeed, to gain jobs and internships.”

“We really want to create somewhere where students could feel like they can network because maybe some students who are in a minority group don’t feel comfortable at normal events when they don’t see a lot of representation of themselves,” Tibets added. “So we want to allow students to see that representation and feel a bit more comfortable to start networking with people who are not only professionals in this industry but also people who are their peers.”

As graduation gets closer for both Tibets and Yong, they’ve been wondering how they’re going to carry these experiences forward in their careers. This culture of closeness and community is something they both want to find and cultivate in the industry. 

“Since freshman year … I’ve grown as a person and getting these skills at the college, I see myself being able to talk and mentor people,” Yong said. “I think maybe in the future, I want to be at a company that’s super fun, super close. And I want to be able to come back and speak to students about [the industry]. ‘Oh, this is what happened. Here’s how you can do that stuff.’” 

Tibets agreed.

“I would love to be at a local company, especially since I do really enjoy helping others get into the industry because we’ve managed to get so much help ourselves,” she said. “We want to be able to continue that cycle of helping each other and making sure that people have the resources.”

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