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Yi Yin

How did you decide to come to UC Santa Cruz?

Before I came to the United States, I had been running an indie game studio for seven years. We made two large games that received several awards, like Best New Games from Apple’s App Store as well as being featured recommendations for themes such as “Children’s Day” or “New Semester.” Following policy change in China, though, it became more and more difficult for indie studios to publish games due to the regulations. This made me realize that it was no longer a good idea to remain there, and so I began to search for the best game design programs in the United States—and UC Santa Cruz offers one of them. Before that, I came to Santa Cruz while travelling for a month and fell in love with the city. Since the Master of Science was in the Silicon Valley Extension of UC Santa Cruz, I lived in Santa Clara for the last year, but I’m now living in Scotts Valley and continuing my PhD program for Computational Media which is here at the main campus in Santa Cruz.

What has caught your interest in the field?

I’m interested in the influence of game design, including ideas such as how games can move us and what the future directions of AAA and indie games could be. I’m also interested in music, and so I have a few paths since it’s my first year to explore games with certain music or new tech and see how it goes. The Master’s program is quite practical; it trains us to be a well-equipped game designer. I was very familiar with the entire process of designing games before coming to UC Santa Cruz, but I didn’t think I’d end up with the opportunity to design board games. By the end of the program, though, I had designed three.

The core idea of the program, too, is important—that since you have no idea what future games will be like, all you can be certain of is that nothing is certain. What you have to use then is a rapid prototype method to try and conceptualize the final product. Oftentimes, this is done by designing one or two levels of the game and seeing if the concept is profound enough to support many more.

How are games different from other software?

For games, even when a level has incredible potential, if often requires intensive work to improve or polish the ideas. This is very unlike traditional software development, where you have a straight-forward concept of what users need and how to meet those needs. In the gaming industry, though, you never know; users in fact expect that you will surprise them with what you create. But if you’re using Windows, you don’t want to be surprised by something like a blue screen.

It’s also difficult to maintain the state of “flow” with games, where the user is challenged but not frustrated, but it can be maintained by multiple tools such as music. When Beethoven was writing his sonatas, it was in an era when composers were struggling to hold the audience’s attention and not walk away from the music. We are working to do the same, and together, music and games can be effective at meeting this expectation.

What’s the best part of Santa Cruz for you?

I like how the campus just happens to be in the forest—it’s a very beautiful campus. It’s almost as though the beauty has been designed to be that way. 

Computational Media
Degree Program: 
PhD, Computational Media
Place of Birth: 
Beijing, China
Undergraduate Institution: 
Tsinghua University
Graduate Institution: 
UC Santa Cruz