Welcome Back, Will Emigh

By Edo Steinberg

We Telecom graduate students should rest assured that there is a future out there for us. Will Emigh is living proof of that. In 2008 he graduated from our department with an MS in a track popularly known as the MIME (Masters in Immersive Mediated Environments) program, a precursor to the current game design and virtual environments emphasis in our program. He co-founded Studio Cypher, an independent game company focused on development of positive games. Now he is back with us as a faculty member.

Will Emigh

“I love the department,” Will says. “It’s interesting to be on the other side, though I’m only teaching undergraduates. In that sense, it’s not very different from being a grad student.”

Although most of his experience is with computer games, Will recently developed a “low-tech” game. Originally designed to be played with Sifteo Cubes, the game turned into a card game. “We wanted to create a hidden role game like Werewolf or Mafia that didn’t require you to have eight or ten people to play,” Will says. The cubes, which are equipped with small screens, would have different information for different players. The game was a detective game for three people, where the detective has to discover what role the other two players had.

“The players would get secret instructions on what they have to do,” Will explains. “For instance, they’d have to shake their Sifteo Cube or put it face down and not touch it for a while. If they did that, the detective would know who they were, so they’d have to do it in secret.”

During play-testing, players found it hard to watch the screen and also look at other players. As the Sifteo Cubes don’t ring or vibrate, it was necessary to constantly check them for new messages. Will and his fellow game developers decided to play-test some more, this time using paper prototyping because it is faster to change things. They created a version in card form, which morphed over time.

“We ended up with something that’s a little bit more like prisoner’s dilemma,” Will says. “There are three or more players. When there are three players, on your turn, you get to pick someone to plot with. The third person is now your opposition. They try to guess what you’re going to do. The two of you do the traditional prisoner’s dilemma, where if you both choose one way, you get a certain amount of points; if you choose opposite ways, then one of you gets a lot of points and the other none; and if you both choose the opposite way, you both get less points. Then there’s the twist of the third person watching you. You don’t want to do what they think you’ll do. If that happens, they cancel your plot and they get your points.”

While play-testing, people enjoyed the card version so much that Will and his colleagues decided that the Sifteo Cube was unnecessary. Will took the game to a game conference, where it was met with enthusiasm. At the conference, Will learned something about the difference between computer games and card games. “We got art for the game. We did not realize this was not a reasonable thing to do,” Will laughs. “In video games, if you’re showing publishers something, they want it mostly finished. You do all the work. In card and board games, that’s not the case. They just want the rules. You can go in with horrible-looking games, but if it plays well, the publishers will take care of the art.”

A few weeks after the conference, the publisher Game Solute called to say that they are interested in the game. “The way they work is that they do a structured Kickstarter campaign for their games to determine how high quality it’s going to get in terms of material.”

Other than being a game designer, Will and his wife used to foster dogs from the animal shelter. “We fostered a pit-bull with nine puppies. We returned the puppies and they all got adopted and we adopted the mother. We’re what they call a foster failure, because we can’t foster any other dogs anymore.”

Next Friday, October 4, in a follow-up to last week’s T600 presentation by Ron Osgood, Will is going to join Ron in discussing the development of their online documentary, “The Vietnam War/American War: Stories from All Sides”.

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