February 19, 2018 Student Spotlight: Nick Savarese
Nick Savarese

Tell us about your experience in the course.

If you opened my laptop between 2015 and early 2017, you would be sure to find a browser open, filled with any combination of these tabs: Lynda.com, wonky Google search terms for some error, Stack Exchange for C++ questions, three or four conflicting YouTube tutorials on game design, and some really, really confused forum posts about how to make games and interactive experiences as a storyteller and creative with minimal programming background.

Sound familiar?

It was frustrating, to say the least. I consider myself to be a fairly technically empowered person – I’ve never had a problem wrapping my head around software and most hardware before. I had so many ideas and plans laid, but I was lost in understanding the overall process of creating a game. I had fired up Unreal Engine pretty often, but I was missing the big picture. Here was this incredibly powerful and new tool, and yet there was something missing, despite all the video tutorials and internet posts out there – I couldn’t wrap my head around one simple question: “Where do I start?”

That all changed from when I signed up for the Playcrafting’s Learn Unreal in 8 Weeks course. My intentions were to learn about the process of making games, at least from a wide angle view. I figured I would either pick up enough from the course to begin to learn and specialize one skill for game design or learn enough about the process to continue onwards with my own projects.

Instead, starting the course opened doors of creativity for me. I was enrolled in course and within the first hour of our first session, I knew I had made a great decision. The initially maze-like UI of Unreal began to make more sense with each example and exercise our instructor walked us through. Every example gave an overview of a foundational skill for using Unreal. These examples and skills built on themselves in a very natural way – allowing me to begin to connect dots about process and workflow for making a game that seemed to be missing or at least incredibly difficult to communicate over the internet in the endless stream of video tutorials and forum posts out there.

As a foundational overview, the Unreal Engine course filled in so many of the gaps and missing pieces that online videos and self-study simply could not. There is something, almost Jedi-like about being in a room with others and being lead by someone who has a mastery of the tool you are learning. There is an acceleration of learning and problem solving that comes with group thought and collaborative work – and the Playcrafting classes and community certainly proved that to be true with game design and Unreal.

Like much creative work – the more you put into a Playcrafting course, both in and out of the class hours, is certainly the key to your end reward. I found myself obsessed with Unreal Engine in no time after starting the course – and a perhaps favorite moment for me in the class came from a question I asked Ben, our instructor, on the way out one night. As a fresh developer, I was still having a hard time wrapping my head around how visual scripting and the Blueprint system worked in Unreal:

“How can I get an understanding of all the features available through Blueprint coding? What can I read or watch to get a more rounded-out view?”

“Nothing really. Just keep making things you love” Ben answered. “It’ll get frustrating. You won’t be able to figure things out sometimes – but that’s what will teach you the most. Just keep going.”

There was confidence in Ben’s answer that made me understand his sentiment was correct, and not simplistic. There are no books, no perfect video tutorial series or sites out there that will provide the empowering creative energy to teach you the skills you need in your tool belt to make games. The best thing you can do, as Ben was saying and as I have begun to learn, is to just start. Make things you love, things that excite you and challenge you and keep you up all night until you tweak that one floating point variable to be juuust right, make things that inspire you to share your work with others and to collaborate with them, too.

With the guidance and community of Playcrafting and the courses they offer – I know you will find yourself, like I am today, absolutely impassioned about creating and making games – even if you thought it would never be possible. Much like Ben’s advice to me – I hope you will make things you love, things that keep you up at night and let you dig deeper and deeper into this awesome process as you go. I hope you will find that nagging but all too addictive energy of working out a bug, learning a new feature or skill, and creating something that brings joy to you and to others who play or collaborate.

Now, go create!

Tell us about your game.

After completing the Unreal Engine course, I found myself feeling extremely empowered creatively and finally having enough understanding of Unreal to dig into a deeper project. I began to grow an interest in AR and Apple’s ARKit, and wondered if I could test my newly learned Unreal skills to implement ARKit into an Unreal project.

After a few days’ (and sleepless nights’) work, I was able to develop a proof-of-concept, working demo of the app I had envisioned in my head: somewhat reminiscent of Google’s Tilt Brush VR, I wanted to create a collaborative, real-time 3D painting experience using iOS and ARKit.

TAGS.LIFE (TAGS dot LIFE) is a work-in-progress AR experience utilizing GPS, ARKit, and cloud-server functionality to enable users to tag the AR space with 3D paintings, custom text notes, and eventually gifs, memes, and captured photo/videos.

Tag anywhere you’d like! Paint using the iPhone as a brush.

My vision for TAGS.LIFE began as the idea of location-based virtual graffiti art that could be shared in real time, just like street art in the real world. As social media giants like Snapchat started to step into the AR scene, users have found themselves concerned with the eventual outcome of allowing large corporations to fill the real-world’s virtual space with content at their leisure. Users want a hand in shaping the virtual space in the real world around them.

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Make a scavenger hunt for other users! Paint and tag your paintings with text.

TAGS.LIFE was made to universalize the AR-space for true freedom of expression and virtual spacial ownership. It’s part art project, part social experiment, but mostly, an enjoyable, cooperative creative experience with a goal of creating collaborative 3D artwork in a real-world context.

TAGS.LIFE is still in development, but I plan to release a beta version soon!

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Stay tuned @tagsdotlife on Twitter, Instagram, and http://tags.life for more.

If you’re interested in following my work, journeys, or might want to collaborate (!!!) – please reach out! I’d love to be in touch.

@nicksavarese on Twitter
@nicksavvv on Instagram

Quick Questions

1. How did you get into games?

I studied music and theatre in college and worked in video editing – games seemed to combine all these things into one interactive medium, so making games was the next natural step!

2. You’re part of the first manned mission to Mars! You’ll be gone for 5 years and can only bring 3 games to play alone or with your 3 fellow astronauts. What are they?

Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, Goldeneye, and Yoshi’s Island

3. What would be your dream game to build?

Grand Theft Auto: Space…THINK ABOUT IT!

4. What do you love best about the game community in NYC?

It’s fresh and inviting, and I haven’t played a game I didn’t like!

5. Choose 5 words to describe your experience making games so far.

Empowering, Challenging, Caffeinated, Fun, Unreal.