About the Grant

Beginning in 2016, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Public Understanding of Science, Technology & Economics program has awarded a yearly grant to fund game development at the NYU Game Center. Students who are making games that portray science & technology with originality and insight are connected with scientists early in their development process. Over the course of the year, the students work with the scientists to integrate the subject matter and the games. After graduation, students can apply for a grant that gives one game resources to develop and launch the game to the public.

As described by the Foundation the, “The program’s primary aim is to build bridges between the two cultures of science and the humanities and to develop a common language so that they can better understand and speak to one another–and ultimately to grasp that they belong to a single common culture.” At the Game Center, we share the Foundation’s goals and believe that games are uniquely suited for building bridges between science and humanities. In his 2014 talk at the Game Developer’s Conference, Department Chair Frank Lantz outlined our agreement with Sloan, “There is a deep schism in the contemporary world between rationality and emotion, reason and intuition, logic and feeling. Games, more than any other form of culture, offer deep insight into this conflict. If we observe them closely, games can reveal the subtle and complex connections between science and art, between objective facts and profound truths, between the fearsome power of conscious, deliberate thought, and the mysterious values that guide and limit that power.”

Thanks to the support of the Foundation, our students have developed numerous games that explore science, technology, and economics during their time at school, and we have financially supported the ongoing development of three games after graduation: Mendel, AstronoME, and Hyper Ecofarm.

2016 Awardee – Mendel

Mendel is a science creativity sandbox. Pilot a probe on a far away planet, gathering samples from the weird native flowers and breeding them together to make new hybrids. Watch their genes merge and mutate, producing strange new creations to grow in your alien gardens.

Mendel is available on Steam and on Itch.io for PC and Mac!

A timelapse image of Mendel

About the Development

Developer Owen Bell: Mendel came from a desire to make a game about creativity, but grew to become a way of sharing a fascination with genetics. I first started looking into as one option among many for how to generate the plants. I was hooked from the start. The sheer range of possibilites encompassed in genetics, from the power of a single gene to the complexities arisen from many, was inspiring. Driven by these discoveries, Mendel adapted, becoming not just about creating beautiful flowers, but also a vehicle for sharing my enthusiasm for this science I was learning about. I wanted to give everyone a chance to discover the same awesome revelations that I had. Now, rather than just being a patch of virtual soil for growing digital plants, Mendel is also a lab. It is a space for players to conduct their own experiments, to make something beautiful and, while doing so, discover the wonders of genetics for themselves. Others have shared in that vision too. Recognizing what I was trying to do, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awarded Mendel the Public Understanding Award, it is the first game to recieve that honor, and with their help I have been able to finish the game as I wanted to make it.

Owen was interviewed by the Museum of the Moving Image about the development of the game when the grant was first awarded. The interview is available here.

a picture of owen bell

About the Developer

Owen Bell is a game developer and digital artist based in New York City. He graduated from the NYU Game Center MFA program in 2016. His current interests center on projects that encourage human-computer collaboration. You can learn more about Owen and follow his work here.

2017 Awardee – AstronoME

AstronoME is an educational science card game inspired by real astronomical techniques. Players will explore celestial bodies in the night sky using two distinct tools: an abstraction of a telescope and spectrograph. By decoding the information hidden on the cards, players will satisfy research goals and earn points in order to beat their opponent.

the component of AstronoME outside the box

About the Development

As of fall 2018, AstronoME’s launch plan is currently threefold. First and most major, AstronoME is under review at the American Museum of Natural History to be sold through their Museum gift shop. Second, AstronoME will expand to other store locations, beginning with other scientific institutions. The final phase of the launch plan is to translate the digital files to the web for a free downloadable print-and-play version for science educators.

About the Developers

AstronoME was developed by Danny Nanni and Zachary Barash. Both of them started designing games together at the NYU Game Center, where AstronoME was first conceived. Danny is now a full-time Design staff and faculty member at Purchase College and Zachary is a Senior Designer at the popular horror miniatures tabletop game Kingdom Death.

2018 Awardee – Hyper EcoFarm

Hyper Ecofarm is a real-time farming strategy and fast-pace resource management game that simulates ecofarming. The game is inspired by the Chinese integrated farming system. In Hyper Ecofarm, players are trying to building up an ecosystem, and balance the system dynamically to keep the farm running.

pre-production image of Hyper Ecofarm

About the Development

Hyper Ecofarm is in pre-production phase, and will be into production phase before October. 2018. The expected publish time for App Store is the end of the 2018.

Shiyun graduated from the MFA 2017 and has been developing Hyper Ecofarm since then. Like Owen, she was interviewed by The Museum of the Moving Image about the development of the game and her plans for the future.

About the Developer

Shiyun “Vanilla” Liu is an indie game designer and game developer from China. Dreaming of making games, she graduated from Communication University of China with a bachelor’s degree in game programming. Then, she moved to Brooklyn to study for a Master’s degree in game design at New York University’s Game Center. She likes simple rules that can enable players to strive for new strategies. She is also enthusiastic about simulating systems of the real world in games.

picture of Shiyun "Vanilla" Liu

2019 Awardee – Red Planet Farming

Red Planet Farming is a strategy game that puts players in the shoes of the first Agricultural Director on Mars. Equipped with futuristic technology, players must grow enough food to feed and sustain a Martian colony—a task that pits them against dust storms, radiation, and other harsh climate conditions on Mars.

work in progress image of red planet farming

About the Development

Red Planet Farming has been in development since December 2018 and is on track for release in early 2020. The Red Planet Farming team has worked closely with their advisors at NASA’s Ames Research Center, learning how to implement a realistic vision for human settlement of the red planet.

Red Planet Farming at NASA

Red Planet Lead Developer Nina with her advisors at the Ames Research Center

About the Developers

Nina Demirjian recently graduated from New York University with a degree in Computer Science, and now works part-time as a developer at the American Museum of Natural History. She has been working on Red Planet Farming since January 2019.

Sean Park is a recent graduate of the NYU Game Center who has always had an interest in utilizing games to explore strange bite sized scenarios. Recently, he has been having fun producing 2D art and animation.

Sean Porio is an undergraduate student at NYU Steinhardt studying music technology and composition. He enjoys making electronics, sound design, and writing music for video games and animation.

2020 Awardee – Loddlenaut

Loddlenaut is a creature-raising / survival game set on an ocean planet that is recovering from an ecological disaster. Players assume the role of an interstellar custodian sent to clean up a planet that has been polluted by a megacorporation. By cleaning up marine debris and reviving the local flora, players can reintroduce alien creatures called “loddles” back to their natural habitats and help them adapt to their new homes—with the ultimate goal of creating a sustainable aquatic ecosystem.

About the development

Loddlenaut initially started as an MFA thesis project at the NYU Game Center in August 2019. Development has continued throughout 2020, with a public demo release and a Kickstarter campaign planned for early 2021. You can follow their ongoing development on their mailing list here.

About the developers

Ricardo Escobar and Jin-Young Sohn are recent graduates from the NYU Game Center MFA class of 2020. With Ricardo as the programmer and Jin-Young as the artist, Loddlenaut is a blend of their interests in charming visuals and low-key gameplay. Since graduating, they have formed Moon Lagoon LLC to work on the game full-time. Follow Jin on Twitter here and Ricardo here