How I got here: A career as a game designer led Karen Chang to medical training, Mister Mart

Karen chang found the game design at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). She started out as a child of fine art, making drawings of still life and art. But her love for video games led her to switch courses and join the interactive art department at Baltimore College of the Arts in her senior year.

“At that time, for my thesis, I joined forces with my classmate Cole pritchardChang said. Together they founded Studio217, an independent game studio.

“Our thesis was in fact Mr. Mart, our flagship game, ”she said, referring to the virtual reality game the studio has showcased at events such as GameScape and Baltimore Innovation Week. “We made a prototype for this game in 2015 with the Oculus DK1, which is one of the first VR headsets.

In 2018, the game was released commercially on the Steam store. It’s the dream job – the entrepreneurial business that fills Chang’s creative side. Chang also has a day job applying game design in the medical field, working as an XR generalist with Medstar Health.

At MedStar, Chang creates virtual reality training simulations of medical scenarios that healthcare providers can use to strengthen their knowledge for recertification. At Studio 217, the goal is as simple as making people laugh.

Whether it’s designing games for education or purely for entertainment, discovering what’s intuitive and enjoyable is always the name of the game.

“I’m like a jack of all trades but I don’t have a handle on any of it, but I want to make sure the product is finished,” Chang said of his work at MedStar.

For MedStar projects, she writes game design documents, game tests, and creates art. For his own studio, double all these responsibilities and reduce a team of five to a team of two. Then add the responsibilities of owning a business.

“It’s just the two of us,” Chang said of herself and Pritchard at Studio 217. “We don’t even have a CPA or a lawyer or anything like that. It’s just a move really. fundamental on our part.

Karen Chang and Cole Pritchard of Studio 2017. (Courtesy photo)

This has meant more than three years of breaking in: working on the game, doing demonstrations at shows like MAGFest and PAX East, and networking with local organizations like the Baltimore Chapter of the International Association of Game Developers.

She has been with MedStar for five years and has run her own independent studio for just as long.

Chang had no idea that game design could be applied in the medical field until her senior year at MICA, when she found a Facebook post from a game design group looking for an artist to l comfortable learning medical information. She got the job at MedStar Health using her artistic skills and passion for game design. Once she got the job, she learned from her peers and grew in her position, learning the ins and outs of educational game design.

It meant designing for an audience that might not be as familiar with games and virtual reality.

“When you give [medical professionals] a VR headset, ”she said, the question is,“ How do we make this the most intuitive, clearest, and easiest type of controls you can access? she said.

For Chang, the lessons of game development are universal, whether it’s making games for educational purposes or entertainment.

“Developing a game is not easy,” Chang said. “It’s a lot of iterations, and it can be overwhelming if you get negative feedback and it’s not what you expected. It’s the determination there, where you say to yourself, “Let me improve this product, show it to these people again and see what they say. “

Play Mr. Mart. (Photo courtesy of Studio 217)

For Mister Mart, Chang and Pritchard discovered that people like chaotic movements in virtual reality, and they were inspired by that. It turns out that hitting cartoon characters is cathartic and enjoyable for gamers. From there it was the determination and the sweat to get the brainchild in his head to a controller in someone’s hand. For those who want to do the same, all you need is the daring to get started.

“Just test that interaction and the mechanics you want,” Chang told new game designers they are looking to create in board games, live role-playing games, or an app. “See if it’s fun and enjoyable, and work from there. “

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member of Report for America, an initiative of the Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. -30-

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