Ruben Rangel is the president of the Electronic Games Developers Society at The University of Texas. Rangel, along with fellow EGaDS members, have their own development house called Alchemic Studio. EGaDS is hosting the Austin site for the Global Game Jam event which kicks off January 29th at 5pm. You may find more information via the EGaDS webpage.
CT: How long have you been the president of EGaDS?
RR: I have been president since last semester.
CT: And who was president before?
RR: That would be Joey Harding who is my events officer.
CT: How long till you guys graduate?
RR: I am a senior and Joey is a junior.
CT: Ok, and you’re computer science majors or engineering?
RR: Actually, I’m rhetoric and writing with a computer science minor because I want to be a designer. Joey, I think, is a mathematics major.
CT: How long has EGaDS been around?
RR: Last year was actually our 10th anniversary so this is our 11th year.
CT: Have any of the alumni gone on to get some positions in the gaming industry?
RR: Yeah some have, I can tell you right now that Michael Agustin started EGaDS, him and his friend Tommy Tran started their own company Gendai Games. I actually had an internship there.
CT: Tell me about it.
RR: We used Game Salad to create games, it was their first summer internship program and they were still a start up. So we had five interns: three designers, one artist, and one musician. Four of us were from EGaDS, it was me, Brian Bonnet, Eric Miller, and our musician Connor Brace. So, we were the interns.
CT: So the interns made a game or you worked alongside the Gendai guys?
RR: They were more for guidance. It was a really weird internship program, it was really self exploratory. The structure was the three designers would create a small prototype game every week for 5 weeks so at the end we would have 15 games total. And then, as a group – both the interns and the company – voted as the six we wanted to work on further. We further developed those games making a polished first level, from there we voted ago for three finalists we wanted to release to the App Store. So we had those polished, complete and ready to ship at the end of the summer.
CT: And ya’ll put those on the App Store?
RR: We only finished 2 actually.
CT: But you put those on the App Store? How did they do?
RR: There’s maybe two sales a day.
CT: But you’re still getting sales. How much were they?
RR: One was 99 cents and the other was $1.99.
CT: What were the games?
RR: One is called Spark of Life and the other is called Rock Paper Scissors The Movie: The Game. Pretty quirky I know [laughs].
CT: Alright, that’s really cool. What does EGaDS stand for?
RR: Electronic Games Developers Society so….
CT: Where’s the A?
RR: It’s lower case [laughs].
CT: Ah ok. Let’s talk about the general events you guys do. I know you have Global Game Jam, I also saw Game Craft, what have you done?
RR: This is our first year doing Game Jam, actually hosting a site so that’s kind of new. Game Craft is a game pitch competition and that happens every semester towards the end. And so, our members create their own game concepts then we have preliminary rounds where we give them feedback on how to make their presentation better. Then semifinals where we eliminate to get five teams at the end then the finals where we get three industry professionals on a panel to judge.
CT: How many teams did you have last semester?
RR: I think 13 but we limit the teams to 1-3 people. Unfortunately we can’t give everyone prizes so just the top two win. One was from AMD (showed a motherboard and other computer items) then some donations from Ubisoft who gave us Ghost Recon 2 and Assassin’s Creed 2 which the winner took.
CT: Pretty sizable prizes for college students.
RR: Yeah we try to do what we can to make it a great competition and get people involved.
CT: And you have to be a member of EGaDS to enter?
RR: No, it’s open to everybody. It just so happened that everyone was a student last semester.
CT: Ok so now you’re doing the Global Game Jam, how’d you get involved with that?
RR: Last year ACC held the site for GGJ so we have some guys working with us who keep us on track because they did it last year.
CT: And how many people are you expecting?
RR: Right now 35-60, I don’t know, it’s a Facebook event.
CT: Ok so you guys break off into small teams or all work on one big game?
RR: [Laughs] I guess if we wanted to we could do one big one, but it’s all just small teams. The way it is structured is everyone gets there Friday night and everything is unveiled. The way GGJ wants it to go is for people to get up in front and pitch their idea saying, “I want to make this kind of game” or a puzzle game, then have members in the crowd say, “Yeah I want to work on that.”
CT: Last year, it seems, like penguins was a theme for almost every game. There were tons of penguins games.
RR: Yeah that might have been a theme, I think space was too.
CT: Ok, now what other types of events do you do?
RR: We do tournaments that are open to the whole university that serve as fundraisers for EGaDS.
CT: And how much are those?
RR: It depends, I think the Halo 3 tournaments we charge $15 a team and usually we have two types of tournaments for each game. Halo 3 is weird because we do three rounds per each match so we have a team slayer match, then a capture the flag match, then a team slayer match if it’s needed to break a tie. Some teams are built like a CTF team and some are team slayer so we just see how it turns out. For Smash Brothers it’s $5 per entry for singles and $10 for doubles.
CT: Is it single elimination?
RR: Yes, so we actually rent out 4 rooms for Halo 3 with an Xbox in each room so they’re networked.
CT: So they can’t see each other?
RR: Yep, then we pit teams against each other in different rooms. For Smash Brothers we have two rooms, singles tournament in one room and doubles in the other.
CT: Are you doing to do Modern Warface 2 this year?
RR: Hopefully, I’d compete if we had one, though that might look kind of sketchy.
CT: Is that once per semester you put on the competitions?
RR: No we do three per semester so last year we did Smash Brothers, Halo 3, Smash Brothers.
CT: So Michael Agustin is making quite a name for himself and he started EGaDS.
RR: Yeah he’s actually moving on up, MacWorld conference teamed up with Gendai Games to have a Game Salad game design competition. I think five finalists get expo passes and flown out there.
CT: When you did the internship you were using Game Salad right?
RR: Yeah, of course it’s still in beta.
CT: I haven’t messed with it yet, is it really that much easier than other…
RR: It’s pretty simple. You just drag and drop assets or audio behaviors and make your game. It’s meant for people to create games who don’t have programming experience and I think it fulfills that role.
CT: Ok, so you want to be a designer instead of a programmer right?
CT: And you want to write, have you done a lot of creative writing?
RR: I haven’t done a lot of creative writing, designers don’t have to write. They think of the game play systems, combat systems, what the character interacts with, quest lines. I mean, sure, there are specific designers like ‘combat designers’ or ‘quest line designer’, but designers are different from writers which aren’t necessarily full time anyways… unless you’re like Blizzard and have a ton of lore.
CT: Ok, so you worked as a game designer in the internship at Gendai games. What kind of work did you do?
RR: The first five games, it was weird, we tried to have a theme each week but I know for one we wrote down whatever came to our heads then plastered sticky notes on the wall then at the end grabbed tabs from each area. So one game we came up with was robot pandas with laser katanas and another was pirate monkeys. Then everyone was really interested in synth and beats and I tried to make a little game/toy synthesizer machine.
CT: How’d it come out?
RR: I think it was a little too hardcore for [Game Salad] at the time but I think I might be able to do it now with the tool. It’s weird developing for the iPhone because you take into account to user’s finger and how that’s moving which made it hard.
CT: Do you have any other events you want to do but aren’t able to or do you feel like you have it all pretty knotted up?
RR: One thing we really try to stress, in EGaDS, is for people to create their own projects because it really helps in a project to show what you have done and something that demonstrates you have passion, you really want to do this, and actually have a little bit of experience. So we really stress members to get involved with each other and create mod teams. This year’s officers were actually all in a mod team.
CT: What did ya’ll work on?
RR: The first project we worked on was a learning thing, because we really had no experience in modding, with Source SDK and Hammer, which is the level editor for Half Life. So we toyed around a little with that. I actually did some 3-d modeling and delved into that, which I didn’t like too much [laughs]. But after a year or so we moved into creating games using XNA and C Sharp and rather than mods we would create our own ideas. So, we did that for a little bit, then one summer got into the Art Spark competition. So we made a game for that competition using XNA and C Sharp, I was a level designer in that one. We made a little RPG and then we’ve done a 2-D shooter called Agannoid on our webpage which is alchemicstudio.org.
CT: I’ll have to check that out.
RR: So we were really at the forefront of EGaDS as far as game develop experience in students so naturally we became officers and as we’ve been learning how to get into the industry and that you basically have to have a portfolio of demonstrated work. But not everyone in EGaDS wants to work on games.
CT: Well not everyone wants to make them, lots of people just like playing games.
RR: Yeah, I mean everyone in EGaDS loves games but it really takes a special person to want to make games. So this semester I’m starting a game design 101 weekly workshop for our members.
CT: And is that a weekly meeting or doing it online?
RR: Yeah, I’m going to try and teach our younger crowd game design concepts and techniques. Hopefully get the gears turning in their heads.
CT: Yeah man, I mean there are so many people out there who want to do it. You look at GGJ and there are, literally, thousands of people out there just making little games. You look at the old yeti game where you hit a penguin and it’s very simple. It probably started with very humble, simple backgrounds and who knows what happens to those people later on, but you look at Peggle and the amount of money those guys have been able to make off a very simple game. So it’s not all just crazy 3-D modeling.
RR: Definitely, and that’s also the kind of project we want our members to work on. Don’t go for some triple-A title you probably aren’t going to finish in your lifetime. Our Alchemic Studio games are small scaled, that’s what we want our members to do. To finish it and to have it really polished, it has to be small.
CT: Ok so and when do you graduate?
RR: In May.
CT: And uhhh…
RR: Job lined up? Not yet [laughs].
CT: Are you just starting to figure this stuff out? What do you think?
RR: I’m just going to take the shot gun approach with my resume.
CT: Just go to as many places as you can?
RR: I’m lucky to have experience with my internship. It’s definitely hard to find an internship in the game industry and everyone wants one. So I was lucky enough to have one and hopefully that will pay off well.
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