This February, MIT: The Game was unleashed on the public. Now boasting an user base of over five thousand players, the Facebook application is an addicting and entertaining experience — in other words, don’t start playing until you’re done with your psets. Victor Hung ’14, the programmer behind the game who dedicated about two hundred hours to its creation, and Chris Peterson, the admissions officer who recruited Victor, sat down to talk with The Tech about the inspiration behind the game, ghost roller coasters, and those players masterful enough to hack its code.
The Tech: How did you originally come up with the idea for MIT: The Game? What was the inspiration behind it?
Chris Peterson: Probably in the fall of 2009, our office came up with the idea of trying to create some sort of fun Facebook game, so during IAP 2010, we threw a Facebook Game Jam where we invited a bunch of different students to our campus and we told them we were thinking about creating a Facebook game, and we wanted the game to be what MIT is like with respect to the student. They came up with some different levels over the 48 hours that the Game Jam went on — fueled by pizza and Mountain Dew, primarily. That summer, Victor flew out here from Vancouver and we oriented him on what our interests were. He has been working since then on actually building it out.
TT: How did you [Victor] become involved? How did you specifically get on board with the project?
Victor Hung: I think it’s because the admissions team found my site that I submitted in my application which had a few of my flash games.
CP: Victor’s flash game website probably delayed the admissions committee by two solid days last year. So we knew that we had someone who we had already accepted and who had an incredible skill for making really fun, addictive flash games on the Internet. Once he accepted the offer to enroll, it was a matter of just actually getting in touch with him and getting him up here.
TT: How did you decide to break up the game into Anna’s, and going down the Infinite? How did you come up with the idea? Was it the 48 hour Game Jam?
VH: Two of the games were part of that 48 hour [Game Jam]. Like the burrito one and the catch diploma one.
CP: We talked about a variety of ways the game could be organized. You can have it be a single game where you just stick with a single activity or you could, on the other end of things, have some sort of crazy MMORPG. But we decided the best way to organize the game would be where you have this series of modular tasks that were associated with what it would be like to be an undergraduate at MIT. And then since you had it modular, you could at some point in the future add another level. In terms of the actual games that are there, those more or less came from Victor’s demented imagination.
VH: Those were mainly made from when I came here for the summer. Paul [M.] Kominers [’12] took me around and told me about what things are like during the school year, and one of the things that he mentioned was the tours down the Infinite. So that’s where that game came from, and the other ones were just sort of things that he mentioned along the way.
TT: Do you have any funny stories from when you were making the game? Was any part particularly difficult to do?
VH: Was any part difficult to do? Well, not really. But, I mean …
CP: We currently have this one thing, which is a “ghost coaster” where there’s a roller coaster. We’re trying to eliminate it.
VH: So, for the East Campus roller coaster level, the cart would duplicate itself on the screen sometimes for no reason at all, and it’s just there.
CP: That’s why we call it the “ghost coaster,” because there’s no reason for it, and it goes away as soon as you refresh.
VH: And just for fun, I did put a lot of little, secret things in the game. I don’t want to say any of them, but one of them is that I actually encrypted my email [address] in the game somewhere, and someone actually sent me an email. It’s really difficult to find it. You have to go through a horrible process. Anyways, you’d have to hack the game to send me that email reporting the secret message. And that was kind of cool because I didn’t really expect anyone to find it so fast.
TT: Do you have any other secret things in your game? Is it just up for grabs, go-find-it type things? Like a challenge?
VH: They’re just kind of little Easter Egg hidden messages that I hadn’t told anyone about. I don’t think …
CP: No, you didn’t even tell me. I guess your readers will have to play to find out.
TT: How long have you been programming?
VH: I started programming flash games freshman year [of high school]. At first I did it just for fun, and then my friend told me I could actually get paid for doing this because there are ways of posting your games to places and getting companies to put their logos on the game and say it’s theirs. And so that’s how I got more and more into it, and eventually, I got a nice collection on my site.
TT: Who has the highest score so far? And is that a legit high score or a hacked high score?
VH: Pretty sure that’s hacked.
CP: So, I don’t know the current person in first place. I know the person who’s currently in second is Tom Hu [’11] — he’s a tour guide here. That’s not hacked. He’s just been playing it a lot. I think that there’s a healthy smattering of prefrosh and current MIT students among the global leaders listed. I recognize some of the names.
VH: On the diploma grab level, the timer starts counting down from three hundred, so three hundred is the highest score you can get, supposedly, but I’ve had scores of one thousand. When that happened, there were people on my floor who came to me [and said], “Victor, someone hacked it! It’s not fair, cause they’re first, and I’m so close!” And I was kind of like, “Oh, okay. I’ll get to that in a bit.”
TT: I saw you had a long list of people who had tested your code.
VH: Ah, yeah. Two of them were my roommates. It was at the beginning when I was still programming it all during orientation and everything, and my roommate would be there constantly testing the game as I would update it, so that was kind of cool.
TT: Did your testers contribute at all to changes in the game? Did you make any radical changes due to suggestions?
VH: They sort of changed my position about how hard to make the levels. There’s the one where you have to go through the tunnels without touching the walls. Because I had tried that so many times, I didn’t know how difficult it was until my friend was testing it, and he [said], “No, make it wider,” and I would make it two pixels wider, and he’d test it again, and then he would say, “No, no, wider,” and then I’d make it another two pixels wider. He’d say, “Too wide. Too easy now.” And then that went back and forth for a day, and then he would get too good at the game, and then I’d have to ask someone else to try it. That was a painful process.
TT: Did you have any initial ideas for the game that you decided to throw out later?
VH: So, originally, we had planned the levels — they were supposed to be games of different genres. One of the ones that I wanted is you would start out in your dorm, and it was like a point-and-click adventure. You lost your keys, and you’d have to look around your room, and there were clues, and they led you to find more items, and the items would help you find the key. That was the first one in the puzzle. And after you solve that one, you get to see the rest of the game. But that was too complicated, and it probably would’ve been too hard and just thrown a lot of people off. That’s why the first one was the burrito one because that seemed like a better appeal.
TT: Is there going to be an MIT: The Game 2? Or is this just it?
CP: I don’t know. It depends on how much sleep Victor needs.
VH: Oh. I wouldn’t say that there would be an MIT: The Game 2, but maybe additional levels, probably, because the game was designed so that levels could be added.