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Win the Game? No, Design the Game. Then Win the Prize.


"Moth" cell phone game

In award-winning cell phone game "Moth," users guide a moth to escape. TC students based the idea on aboriginal folklore.

On March 11th, having known each other for all of a day, a group that included three TC students won the Top Overall Game prize at the video-game design conference, "Mobile Game Mosh: a 24-hour Game Design Jam," held at Parsons School of Design.

The students-'"Jessica Hammer, Daniel Hoffman and Lance Vikaros, of TC's Communication, Computing and Technology in Education program-'"joined forces with Robert Scott, a painter from Fashion Institute of Technology and Isaac Everett, a musician from  Union Theological Seminary.

The game they designed is called "Moth" and the objective is to guide a moth to escape into the night from the chamber where it has been trapped. Its graphics were expressively hand-painted by Scott and the music was recorded on location by Everett. Vikaros programmed, and Hammer (who teaches a course in game design at TC) and Hoffman both wore many hats-'"testing, organizing and, at different points, leading the team.

The contest won by "Moth" was sponsored by Atari, GluMobil and Adobe among other industry heavyweights.

"The game was pretty good at everything: It had pretty good graphics, pretty good music, pretty good game design elements; there wasn't any part of it that I thought was weak," Scott says. Other games had good designs, he said, but lacked sound or were too derivative of existing games.

"Of all the games that were produced, this arguably had the best graphics, the best sound and the game itself was original," Vikaros says. "The game mechanics weren't overly complicated."

That last point is important, because "Moth" was created for the tiny screen and limited controls of a cell phone. Thus it eschews fast-paced actionin favor of problem-solving and patience.

"The idea is to be actively engaged in inaction, waiting until the precise time to make the move. It's the type of game that is impossible to lose; you can only win," explains Everett.

The design team came up with the idea for "Moth" by inventing a myth that echoes aboriginal Australian folk tales. They did so even as they navigated the contest's demanding rules. "Each team was given four words, all verbs, and you could either keep the words or swap the words with other teams," says Hoffman.

"Jessica did a good job of organizing us to brainstorm around the words. She had us single out one word at a time, talking about the game ideas. After a while, the Moth idea became most interesting to us, building on these eastern ideologies," explains Vikaros.

LearnPlay, the student group that Vikaros, Hoffman and Hammer are in, meets regularly in the Video Game Research Lab, part of TC's Communication, Computing and Technology in Education program.

It was arguably the mix of creative and diverse backgrounds that helped the team to design such an "outside-the-box" game. "When we first started I was really intimidated because there were all these computer science people and game design people and the intro to the contest was all Greek to me-'"all technical," says Scott.

But the team had a pretty good idea that they were on to something. According to Hoffman, game testers, who had to try out all the games in the contest, kept coming back to play "Moth" again and again. He believes Everett's ad-hoc recording studio provided an extra intimidation factor.

Contest sponsors now own the games, which they may later develop and publish. The team did bring home $1,500 and a choice of four software titles from Macromedia/Adobe, as well as an entirely new set of skills in designing games for cell phones.

"Hand-held games are incredible. They are some of my favorite educational software," Vikaros says. "The majority of the learning happens in being able to beam back and forth and have a social interaction above and around the game itself. The beauty of it is that you can have really rich context on a cell phone and not be trapped at a computer interacting with a screen, but rather with people."

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