Fans and supporters filled the packed auditorium, the anticipation buzzing in the air. Seated in the first row, a bespectacled teenager in a red shirt commanded the attention of the room. His hands gripped the game controller, his fingers tapped buttons and maneuvered the joystick.
Meet 16-year-old Mason, an aspiring video game designer and Make-A-Wish® recipient who, for the first time, was playing the game he had been dreaming of. Nearly six months before, Mason was in a classroom just steps away from this very auditorium. He carried stacks of drawings and concepts to show a group of 15 students who would be the driving force in bringing his game to life.
Mason has cystic fibrosis. Each day, he takes about 70 pills and a couple rounds of inhaled antibiotics, and uses a vest to help loosen mucus in his chest. He gets sick a lot, and can have trouble gaining weight. When Mason found out he would receive a wish, he instantly wanted to bring his video game idea to life.
Enter DigiPen Institute of Technology.
Just months before Mason found out he qualified for a wish, a team of DigiPen students reached out to Make-A-Wish. They wanted to use their skills to give back to the community.
For nearly six months, these students worked out every detail of Mason’s game to make sure it was exactly what he wanted.
From the first meeting, Mason knew the characters, the premise and most of the obstacles. He just needed the help of this skilled team to bring them all to life: developers, artists and sound designers, just to name a few.
All that work came together and Mason’s game, Lord of the Bats, officially launched.
In addition to treatment for cystic fibrosis, Mason has Asperger syndrome, a developmental disorder related to autism. His mom, Angie, explained that this has made it difficult for him to connect with other kids at school. But his wish experience has brought out a whole new side of him.
“Mason is extremely passionate about gaming, and it has been a real joy for us all to see him light up when he talks about the game he is creating,” said Angie. “He really found his niche when he stepped on the DigiPen campus.”
And the appreciation is mutual. The DigiPen students sing Mason’s praises as both a creative director and a gamer.
“You brought so much to the table that I hope we did it justice,” said art producer Joe Erskine to Mason, just before the reveal.
Senior lecturer Ellen Beeman agreed: “You are the most amazingly creative young man, and it’s been a pleasure,” she said to Mason.
Mason played the game in front of a packed room. He led main character Battede through the Cactussand Desert, climbed Mount Loopemus and made his way to the final level: Lord Zlo.
In the room, the students who brought his game to life watched with bated breath, as he put their hard work to the test.
Under Mason’s skilled hand, Battede jumped, dodged and flew past obstacles. His focus broke only by his own running commentary as he encountered various surprises. The team added a few improvements since he last tested it months before.
When technical director Devin Jensen suggested Mason pause for a moment, Mason waved him off and continued with the game: “As a game developer, that’s the ultimate compliment!” Jensen said.
Mason hopes to be a video game designer someday and his wish experience has reinforced his career aspiration. DigiPen students, faculty, staff and friends gave the game rave reviews so he's more confident than ever.
“Wishes are important because they give these kids, who are going through horrible things, something to look forward to and be happy about,” said Angie. “Just have some time where they don’t have to think about their illness.”
Mason took home a copy of his game that day, which is sure to keep him busy for days and weeks to come. If you’d like to take a spin behind the controller, you can download Lord of the Bats for free at games.digipen.edu/games/lord-of-the-bats.
Special thanks to DigiPen Institute of Technology, Wheels for Wishes and wish-granting volunteers Amanda Lui and Holly Gion.