Explore the forest, interact with spirits, and complete quests.
These are all objectives in the dice-rolling, role-playing video game, At Winter's End, described on its Steam page as, "a cozy narrative game about 12-year-old Noel growing up in the forest of spirits." Created by Eren Slifker '20, their collaborators, and a slew of hired student interns, the game is the final product of a $27,500 grant that was awarded to the group of University of Chicago students last summer. After the recent release event at the school and a keynote presentation about creating the game, Slifker is excited to share their project with the world.
The opportunity came after a chance encounter with Meredith Daw, the Executive Director of Career Advancement at the University of Chicago. Daw was serving as a panelist and judge for the final projects in one of Slifker's classes. As the year wore on, Slifker and their collaborators, Isaac Berman and Bruno Pasquinelli, pitched a game studio internship to the school.
"There just wasn't an opportunity to just make a game and publish it," Slifker said. "We saw a gap in the curriculum and the school was very eager to go with our pitch. After some conversations and a proposal, we were approved for $27,500 of grant funding to hire myself and one of my collaborators, and then seven part-time interns to make a game in 10 weeks."
Slifker said that their group was very much on the pioneering end of things as part of University of
Chicago's Metcalf Internship Program. The idea of current students leading an internship was something new, but Slifker said that they felt well-positioned to lead as current presidents of the UChicago Game Design student organization.
The team began by deciding what they could get finished in the 10-week period and had a collaborative brainstorming process to come up with ideas and themes that they wanted to explore. After consolidating the ideas, they ended up going with one that became At Winter's End.
"The English program at GA honed my writing skills and taught me to critically think about narratives," Slifker said. “I worked closely with our narrative designer to write the story of the game while thinking about what the hero's journey and the coming-of-age story was. I believe the design thinking processes that GA teaches primed me for game design."
Pre-production and actual production followed, where the group began prototyping elements of the game, writing the game, and sending it out for beta testing.
"I did some physical prototypes because our game has a dice mechanic, so I used physical dice to test it." Slifker said. "By the end of the third week we had a vertical slice, which is a vertical, fully polished snippet of game play, and we re-evaluated what we should keep and what we just couldn't get to. We spent six weeks making assets, writing the game, refining it, and before we knew it, we were at the end of the 10 weeks. My collaborator and I continued working on it after that, and over the last few months, we've polished and refined it."
Since then, Slifker said the group has received overwhelmingly positive feedback. They are pleased that they succeeded in creating "a cozy game that's really fun to play."
At Winter's End is available to download for free on Steam.