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Living the Dream in Seattle, USA

15 September 2014

Visiting Valve HQ, attending classes at DigiPen, and staying in the USA for three months – these are things I never thought I would have the chance to do, but have done so through DIT's Overseas Internship Programme. Gamers and game developers out there will understand why this is such a big deal. As for the rest of you, let me explain why.
Valve HQ - Leading Game Development & Digital Distribution Company
Valve is one of the most well-known companies in the video game industry. Its presence is ubiquitous in gaming communities all over the world. It created Steam, a game platform that distributes thousands of games to more than 65 million players worldwide. Ask any gamer if they use or have at least heard of Steam and they will most likely say yes. If you have ever heard of the game 'Dota 2', that is also created by Valve.
DigiPen Institute of Technology, Redmond, USA - Leading Game Development University
As for DigiPen Institute of Technology, it is the very first university dedicated to computer and video game development. It offers game design, digital arts and animation, music and sound design, and many other computer-related courses. It is well-known for its rigorous computer science education. It was ranked the 2nd Best College for Game Design in 2010 by the Princeton Review. Needless to say, an education at DigiPen is prestigious, and highly sought after by those interested in pursuing a career in the industry. Its success led to the opening of branch campuses in Spain and Singapore.
Old Redmond Place - A beautiful and tranquil living environment nestled in nature
The three of us: Eugene Foo, Malody Hoe and myself (Evan Tay), stayed together in an apartment at Old Redmond Place. It was the first time any of us had lived independently, and the experience taught us a lot. We picked up housekeeping skills and learned to take full responsibility for ourselves. While doing so, I realised that my parents had to do a lot to maintain the comfortable home I had back in Singapore. There were many things I did not realise have to be done until I actually had to do it myself.
Team Macaron - Our fourth member helped take this photo
We went through an orientation programme a day after we arrived in Seattle, and were warmly welcomed into the DigiPen community with other Singaporean students. Our mentor, Professor Benjamin Ellinger briefed us on developing games using DigiPen's proprietary Zero Engine. We were pretty excited when he mentioned that there were no constraints and we could make any type of game we wanted to. Quickly, we started forming teams.

I teamed up with three other Singaporean students to work on a 2D game. Prior to this, I had never worked with artists before. It was an enriching experience as I got to meet and work with people from a different background and disciplines. We had two programmers (including myself) and two artists. During our stay in Seattle, we spent most of our time working on our game project, while attending DigiPen classes unofficially in our free time.

We sat in lectures, and followed practical exercises. The Artificial Intelligence and Mathematics classes I took were enriching experiences, as I got an insight into what I would be doing should I further my studies at DigiPen. I also attended 3D Game Design classes where I learned about level design elements such as towers and valleys; about how they invoke emotions and affect gameplay. I also attended Music and Sound Design classes where I learned how to record audio, mix soundtracks and compose songs using software like MuseScore. All in all, I really appreciate Professor Ellinger's help in enabling us to attend these classes as I could better develop my game for my Final Year Project module in my next semester in SP.
Camping by Lake Crescent - Clear blue water in front, and tall rustling coniferous trees behind
We also spent some time exploring Seattle and interacting with the locals. We watched Seattle's skyline at sunset, and even went camping by Lake Crescent at the Olympic park. The Seattleites, as the locals are known, were friendly and courteous. It was nice to talk to them, and we got to learn more about their culture and lifestyle doing so.
Valve HQ Lobby - Magazines featuring games made by Valve
One of the most interesting things we did over in Seattle was visiting Valve. Eugene sent an email to ask permission to visit its studio, and received a reply inviting us to join a tour the next day! I was surprised by how easy and fast it was to arrange a visit to Valve. When we first arrived at the lobby, I could not believe that I was really standing in Valve HQ. It felt surreal. The lobby was full of interesting displays such as the one showed above. After a short wait, we were led into the company's workplace. We visited the motion capture studio, pantry, and a few other places.
Valve HQ Lobby - Portraits of Team Fortress 2 Classes
Another interesting place we visited was the fan gifts area. They actually kept many of the gifts mailed to them by their fans; some of which are quite hilarious. I saw a couple of Gabe Newell (Valve's Managing Director) portraits there. There were also many hats mailed in by fans, as part of a running gag about a game called Team Fortress 2 and the decorative hats found in-game.
YGGY - A 2D Puzzle-Platformer game where you control a little green bean
Meanwhile, at DigiPen, we managed to create a prototype of our game, YGGY, after three months of hard work. It is a two-dimensional puzzle, platformer game where you control a little green bean called YGGY, on his journey to resurrect the forest in which he dwells in, and is the guardian of. The main game mechanic is the sunflower beam mechanic where the bean powers up sunflowers to produce light beams to heal corrupted trees, thorny vines, and destroy hostile Venus flytraps. Currently there are 12 levels, which serve to introduce players to the game. A single play-through lasts about half an hour. I plan to carry working on it to produce a complete, polished game, and hopefully will be able to upload it on DigiPen's student game showcase website.

In conclusion, our overseas internship at DigiPen in Redmond was truly an unforgettable, life-changing experience. It was not only a great opportunity to learn more about my field of study, but also a chance for me to learn to take responsibility for my life. I have returned not just a better programmer and game designer, but also a more independent and mature young adult. I also learned to appreciate the people and environment around me more. As the popular saying goes, you never truly appreciate something, or someone, until they are gone.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincerest gratitude to Mr Alvin Tang, my Lecturer in School of Digital Media & Infocomm Technology (DMIT), and Professor Benjamin Ellinger from DigiPen Redmond, and other teaching staff of SP and DigiPen for making our trip possible. I also would like to extend my thanks to the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore, for sponsoring my trip under the IDA Integrated Infocomm Scholarship (IIS).
About DIT's Overseas Internships
Students in the Diploma in Information Technlogy get opportunities to go on overseas internships, like the one described above by Evan Tay, a final year student in the Game Development Option. This is made possible by DMIT's strong partnerships with industry companies like Ubisoft, and leading institutes such as DigiPen Institute of Technology.

YGGY – One of the first tutorial levels teaching the player how to play

A more challenging level in YGGY, which requires thought & skill



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