It could be easier to create video games thanks to this professor

Video games shouldn’t exist. Each game is a feat of creativity and ingenuity full of technical and artistic obstacles, where even getting a door to work correctly can prove difficult. That’s why they involve a level of collaboration between so many different groups of people — programmers, designers, artists, writers — unlike any other medium.

This kind of interdisciplinary work is exactly why Chris Martensa new faculty member from the Northeast, wants to make it easier to create games.

“[I’m] interested in the analytical side, logical thinking and detail-oriented reasoning, but also really cares about human experience, artistic experience and emotional experience,” Martens says. “It’s always fascinated me that code can make you feel. That’s kind of why I love games.

Martens, who uses the pronouns they/them, is a new associate professor at Northeastern with a cross-appointment in both College of Arts, Media and Design and the Khoury Computer College. Their interdisciplinary role is a big part of what drew them to Northeastern in the first place.

“My transition to Northeastern really happened when I learned how dynamic there was a connection between the art and design department and the computer science department here,” says Martens.

The way Martens’ role straddles multiple disciplines is consistent with their work. Martens’ goal is to create new game development tools that will bring programmers and designers together to help expand the narrative possibilities of video games.

“A lot of what I work on are tools for people to have richer creative expression in this medium to push the boundaries of what defines it,” says Martens.

For Martens, who comes to Northeastern after five years as a computer science professor at North Carolina State University, that includes work on video game artificial intelligence and authoring tools that can help developers create characters. not more credible players. Their work also extends to social simulations, games that simulate conversational flow and social connections through interactions with digital characters.

“Honestly, I think some of these conversations about more believable social characters sometimes get clouded by this focus on, ‘Would a person say that in real life?’ when what really interests you is: ‘Can I systematically reason about what this character will say to me if I behave in a certain way with him?’ says Martens.

Their focus on digital social interaction made Martens particularly interested in how games can support neurodivergent gamers with ADHD and autism.

“As a member of this community myself, I think there’s a reason I’ve been so interested in studying social systems like things you can implement in games,” says Martens. . “It’s that kind of thing where if there are rules, if there’s one thing I can play and gain a mental model through interaction in a space where it’s safe for me to fail , then I can slowly develop that skill for the real world.”

However, the goal of Martens’ current research is to bridge the gap between people working on the technical side and people working on the art/design side of the game development process.

“I’ve seen a lot of attention to specifying how you construct the virtual world as a graphical space, but not so much on how you code the behavior of the [objects] who are in the world that I can interact with, characters that are in the world, and their behaviors,” says Martens. “How can we create [tools] where designers and programmers can speak the same language if they are separate people, or, if they are one person, allow them to do both easily [design and programming] at a time?”

Answering these questions involves creating a robust toolset that is equally accessible to experienced and novice developers. Martens says that Twine, a free web-browser-based interactive fiction creator, is a perfect example of a tool that has helped open the doors to a whole new group of game creators.

Martens is quick to point out that the gaming industry remains fights with diversity. Ultimately, Martens says, tools that make it easier to make games — and make games — will create more opportunities for new voices to advance in the industry.

“I just want [those perspectives] to be more visible and for others interested in telling their stories to have access to tools that can make them one of those storytellers,” says Martens.

For media inquiriesplease contact Marirose Sartoretto at [email protected] or 617-373-5718.

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