SquadHero goes for the Gold…and the Red, and the Blue, and the Green….

January 17, 2014

One of the overarching lessons I’ve learned since coming to Northeastern is that video games can be the foundation for some real learning — both in the playing and the making of them. So I was mighty pleased when I learned that a couple of our students won the Boston Festival of Indie Games‘ Shield Student Innovation Award. Eric Peterson, one of said students, told me that the annual celebration of Boston’s indie game scene welcomed several thousand attendees who got to peruse the halls of MIT playing new video games of all shapes and sizes. There were talks, there was art, a game jam, and even a video game concert (although you’d have to ask Peterson what that was all about).

Peterson and fellow computer science major Adam Gressen developed the first version of SquadHero:Revolver for a class assignment with game design professor Magy Seif El-Nasr in December 2012. ”She pushed the projects in the class to be innovative in their design, and so we decided to try building a game that used a guitar controller in a way it had never been used before,” said Peterson. “Specifically, we wanted to build a game that used the guitar controller, but had nothing to do with music and was not constrained to the same gameplay as Guitar Hero.”

What they came up with is an endurance-style arcade game in which players control a fleet of up to five spaceships as they battle an endless onslaught of enemy missiles, earning powerful upgrades that keep them in the fight for as long as possible. If you’re familiar with Guitar Hero, you’ll understand this next part better than me: the colored buttons allow you to fire shots from each ship, while the strum bar lets you rotate (or revolve) your squad formation. The goal is to organize your squad so you can shoot your enemies with the appropriately colored missiles.

The original design was actually called BulletHero and only involved one ship, Peterson said. “But as the team — which eventually came to include design major Nikita Filatov – continued to work on it after the class ended, they broke that one ship into five and started “playing around with it.” Their first demo of SquadHero:Revolver took place at Northeastern’s first annual Game Demo showcase, from which they walked away with two awards: Most Innovative Game and Game of Show. “It was really exciting and motivated us to keep working on the game and eventually submit it to Boston Festival of Indie Games,” said Peterson. And I assume they’re glad they did…since it turned out to be so successful.

Next up in game design shenanigans is Global Game Jam, which takes place a in three weeks and was founded by Susan Gold, Professor of the Practice in the College of Arts, Media, and Design’s game design. The event takes place over 48 straight, sleepless hours, in 63 countries around the world. Stay tune for more deets on that one!