Aspiring video game developers have the chance to boost their career prospects with Cal State Long Beach’s Video Game Development Association, as the group powers its newest projects bit by bit.
This is where students’ shared drive for experience coalesces to form one of the university’s most widely attended clubs.
The VGDA prides itself on providing members with a taste of what game development is like by dividing its more than 100 members into various teams such as narrative, design, gameplay and others to create one cohesive game.
Adam Moore, the group’s advisor and former writer for Insomniac Games, helped start the association back in 2014 by utilizing his previous experience in the video game industry.
Moore described the start of the club as ambitious, saying the original members wanted to publish one game a semester, but the university didn’t have a game development program at the time. To address the issue, the students created one themselves.
Over the last couple years, he has seen them come a long way through continual peer to peer learning, guest lectures and constant growth in size.
“I can’t believe how much they’ve grown, I’m really proud of them.” Moore said.
Peter Doria, the association’s president, described working in the association as a continual journey in growing team dynamics, saying that the first year presented many learning experiences and failures.
“One of our beliefs is that failure isn’t a necessary evil, it’s just a consequence of doing something new,” Doria said. “I try to take that as a life lesson for my own sanity, but also so I can keep moving forward.”
Moore and Doria said the size of the club and variety of majors within the association, not only in computer science but also art, separates the group from other universities’ game developer clubs.
“We’re a game studio. Anyone who wants [to join] can come in, submit their work and be part of the game,” Moore said. “That’s what we want.”
With these large numbers, particularly among returning members, knowledge is regularly passed down from one member to another as more join.
More importantly, the club provides a tangible experience for students looking to get into the game development industry. This becomes particularly valuable since CSULB doesn’t have a video game program.
“If you have a Long Beach student coming up with eight or nine games that they made over four years in school showing how they became the narrative lead or the assistant design lead, it shows leadership skills,” Moore said. “That’s a lot more attractive to an employer than a kid with a game design degree.”
Doria and Justin Gonzalez, the association’s outreach lead, described their current project “Banish” as an exercise in teaching players gameplay mechanics through trial and error. Its mechanics were proved viable through play testing at the beginning of this semester. They accomplished this through analyzing what death means in games, particularly if it’s frequent but fair, and coupled with a means to teach gameplay mechanics.
Doria explained how many games considered classics, such as “Super Mario” and “Super Meat Boy,” excel at using a feedback loop of try, then die and repeat, with as few barriers as possible to getting back into the action.
This allows for improvement through a low bar of consequence for failure early on, testing gamers on what they’ve learned as they play.
“We see how the game plays from their perspective, so that we can iterate,” Gonzalez said.
The members see this as another benefit of having people from many different backgrounds and majors who bring to the table various talents to provide a full, well-rounded development team.
Keely Walsh, narrative team member and undeclared freshman, was drawn to the association to achieve real world writing experience and to build on the foundation of writing she received in high school.
“I’m having a great time because I want to make great games with great stories in them,” Walsh said.
Walsh explained that her work in the association gives her a unique chance to write collaboratively.
“Everyone is just pitching a bunch of ideas into the pot, we’re stirring them around going over them,” Walsh said. “Eventually you reach into the pot and pull out the story for the game.”