Pitch and Play – The Road Ahead


Presentations

On April 6th, the GD44 and PG08 classes brought their final projects to members of Vancouver’s game industry. The program hosted over a hundred members to present their projects as well as give the opportunity to play the games as well. This allows both students and industry members to chat one-on-one. It was an electric night and some of the students were walking out that evening with interview and job opportunities.

 

Dan Sochan, an instructor at VFS opened the night with humour. Each game was given a witty and warm opening, and one-by-one teams came up to present. When asked the staff’s favourite part of the process, one replied with “How well the games came together. The students moved from being terrified to coming up after their presentations ecstatic celebrating their success.” Before the teams presented we also had the opportunity to chat with industry members who were excited to see what new things the students came up with and meet the students behind the games. “It is impressive seeing the quality of work that students achieve in such a short period of time,” said one excited industry member. There is much for industry members to keep coming back to, from variety to such a large feat in a compressed amount of time.

The students themselves explained they were filled with nerves, but when it came down to it they all stole the show on stage. All the hard work paid off and was worth it for the teams. “It was fun to watch them be pitched,” said instructor Mike Hayes, “The coolest part of the evening is seeing students appreciating their games, and recognizing their achievements.” Soon after the presentations were done, guests were invited up for food and drink and a chance to play. Below are the games that were pitched.

 

The Games of Pitch and Play

SpotAlex opened the night with his Augmented Reality app, Spot. He built it entirely by himself for others to use.  It gives people who use it the ability to find nearby events and navigate to them with ease. It has many side features like profile customization and access to email, LinkedIn, and more, to allow for easy networking with the people who host the events you attend. Perhaps the most intuitive feature is the map feature, which shows events near you on a Google Maps-style layout, right on your device, giving users the spatial awareness of how connected their city really is. Additionally, through the use of Bluetooth beacon devices, 3D models, signifying locations or event content can be viewed via augmented reality in real space using your device’s camera; it’s pretty slick! Despite Alex choosing to create a non-game based project, it was incredibly well received as he spent the night introducing people to his app, who were as impressed as they were interested.

 

Paragons of the Prism: This team created a fun couch co-op game with personality bursting from the seams. The goal of the game was to bounce projectiles into the enemy team’s goal post thus destroying their orb. The team presented well, and had a lot of fun on stage with their game. The team mentioned that some inspirations for the game included favorites like Pong and even Dodgeball; these inspirations shined through with their playful and chaotic gameplay.

 

Kuroma: The team created a race track with interesting hazards and jumps to create a unique racing experience. They handled everything from rubber banding players who had fallen behind to creating a networked experience for up to six players. The art style was realistic meeting retro, to make a visual target that was refreshing and original Their UI complimented the game’s overall visual style.

 

Scope: This game is a single-player sniper game set in a post-apocalyptic world. The game boasts a clean UI with unique enemies. Their presentation was led by their enthusiasm which also reflected the theme they created in the world of Scope. The environment was refreshing and the gameplay was as unique twist on sniper games where players control the bullets.

 

4 of Us: Two game genres came together to make 4 of Us. It was a unique cross between one RTS player fighting against four 3rd person shooter players. The team led with showing off the RTS in presentation as well as having a fellow student also demo the game at the same time. The team was on stage with high energy and enthusiasm for their final game.

 

The Lighting Guy: There is no game quite like the Lighting Guy. Your mission is to play as, you guessed it, the lighting guy at a local theatre. During pre-production in Term 4 teams are tasked to create four ideas, three promising, and one throwaway. This game was originally that, but it came together as something fun and unique in production. Voice actors who collaborated had fun saying garbled voice lines and laughing through it all. This game had a well-executed theme and passionate team that came together to make a great game.

 


Bijou & Big: This single-player puzzle game thrived in a living world in which you could use two robots to interact with anything. Lifting trees, punching enemies, the world was full of things to do and puzzles to solve. You went on the adventure with two robots with unique personalities. The team worked together to create a living world that players were eager to hop into to play as Bijou and Big.

 


It’s About Time: This team came in with an enthusiastic intro to their game. It is in a world where the player had to manipulate time and the environment to succeed and survive. Playing as sibling robots stuck out of time led to a game filled with time puns and interesting encounters to have. There is much gameplay to be found and fun interactions to have in wonderfully crafted world.

 

On the Floor

As a Game Design student at VFS, Pitch and Play night becomes something mythological, a monumental event that gives us an opportunity to make a splash with people from the industry. We have been through a number of Pitch and Play nights at the school for classes ahead of ours, and the Production Floor during these nights was always deemed strictly “Off Limits!!” An opportunity to get a sneak peek on this formerly sacred ground was a fantastic opportunity to see what goes on during the most important evening of the year for us. We were able to get some great insight and reactions from both the proud teams presenting their games, and the industry professionals who attended.

 

If Pitch and Play night on the production floor can be summed up in one word, it’s “Electric!” Over a hundred people crammed in with the teams for drinks, game playing and networking. The excitement in the air was palpable! People were lining up to play the games, and lots of introductions were being made to individuals from every team; just being in the room was exciting! Not only that but such a sense of pride be found. These were students we knew who worked tirelessly day in and out, who were all learning how to make a game with one another. What they were left with at the end of the night were products that impressed members at the industry level.

 

In the Future

At the end of the day so much was to be taken away: we got priceless advice on being on the floor ourselves, not to mention how to treasure our time going into production.

 

Some of the best advice we got were from the instructors who run the program.

“It’s all about the team. Games are a collaboration.” We really want to focus on treasuring our time with the team. Whether that is the Project Manager making us pancakes or playing Rock Band together as Game Design students do, in the rare moments we have time. Writing and keeping up a journal with the journey so far has helped the team capture funny stories and remember the great times.  This goes straight into instructor Glenn Hamilton’s advice, “Take pictures, it is such a short amount of time and you want to look back on those times.” Team pictures have already went into the game as Easter Eggs and as a sign of happy we are to be working on the project.

 

Several GD44’s I’ve talked to since graduation have all echoed this sentiment, saying that the time will just fly by, and to make sure to enjoy every second. I’d extend this to the entire program in general – at the time of writing, we’ve been at VFS for almost 9 months, and it’s been a crazy blur of late nights, great friends, and lots of pizza. Terms 1-4 have flown by.

 

Although we have only been on the floor for a few short weeks, we already are starting to get a real sense of appreciation for all the hard work our predecessors put into their games. Before undertaking a project of this size, there are a lot of components of this kind of monumental task that one may take for granted, down to just knowing how to efficiently add custom art assets into a game for other people to use, or making sure that a bullet fired from a gun goes where the player is looking. Each day is full of opportunities to learn, and since we’re still early in our stint on the production floor, it’s inspiring to think about how many of these little tricks and techniques the GD44’s picked up on their journey making the awesome games we saw on Pitch and Play Night.

 

The game industry is so unique in that it allows you to have a level of teamwork seldom seen elsewhere; it is hard not to love what I do every single day. We are both excited to reach Pitch and Play and what it holds for the future of all game design students.

 

VFS Game Design – Student Rebekah O’Brien on pursuing her dream

I’m from a small town where people don’t follow their dreams.  It’s the kind of place that encourages you to get a job that everyone’s heard of, then spend the rest of your life trying not to wonder what would have happened if you’d done otherwise.  Many people experience something like this.  Input from others, uncertainty about the future, self-doubt, and no idea where to start if you want to get in to the industry all provide barriers that are easy to succumb to and for years, I did.  I spent time studying things I considered more practical and after college, I worked jobs that were safe, easy bets but not what I really wanted.  I wondered if this would be a fork in the road I looked back on, wishing I’d made the other choice.  I stopped wondering in April of 2016 when I started at VFS in the Game Design program.

I thought VFS would be a leap of faith, but it’s more of a trust fall.  You are doing something that you might find frightening, intimidating, or even impossible, but you have an immense amount of support while here.  Our teachers have extensive industry backgrounds, and some are still working in the industry.  One thing that really impressed me as a former teacher myself, is that our instructors not only know their subject matters very well but know how to teach to a room full of people with lots of exposure and total beginners alike.

If you’re worried about not knowing what you want to do in the industry, don’t.  In our first terms, we were artists, designers, programmers, project managers, and writers.  When we started our 2D game projects, we chose a field to specialize in. Halfway through the year, we each focused on two disciplines of art, programming, and level design.  If you’re worried about learning aspects of game design that don’t hold your interest or that you feel you’ll struggle with, don’t. Having the exposure to different disciplines helps you understand how they all work together to build a game.  You even get exposed to things you might never have considered at all.  Did you know that I love designing UI?  I sure didn’t, until we had a class on UI design.

I’m now approaching my final term at VFS.  I have had experience with different roles, and the teachers are clear about the best way to get into the roles I want to pursue.  I meet with mentors from the local game scene twice a week.  I have the chance to ask them about the companies they’ve worked for and the roles they perform, the current demand for new people in those roles, and the best way to go about getting hired into those roles.

If you put a lot into the program, you get a lot out of it.  You come away with portfolio pieces, and the knowledge about making a portfolio for your chosen specialty.  You make industry contacts not only through mentors, but through your teachers, classmates, and students outside of your own class who you meet through networking events put on by VFS.  A project in your third term ensures that you develop a creative process, and the entire year has the effect of quickly teaching you how to manage your time so that you can utilize that creative process both in VFS and after it.  I came to VFS with no experience in making games, digital art, or completing my writing projects.  Now I’ve worked on two games, can make visual effects, and have written a game with a partner.  My takeaway is that if you’re willing to take the first step, VFS gives you the means to start pursuing your dreams.

 

Khaya – VFS 2D project Post Mortem

Khaya – A Breathless Journey Post Mortem
- Red Hood Studios, GD45, VFS

At the end of term 1 at VFS, the six chosen project managers walked into a closed room and sat with the instructors to form six teams. We became team Red Hood, chosen to create a game together over the next four months. The game we created was Khaya, a platformer based on artist Maren’s term 1 cinematic and inspired by ‘Ori and the Blind Forest’.

Khaya is a spirit who freezes time to prevent losing her mentor and realizes she’s the only one who can get the world back to normal. She has an aura that increases in size the faster she goes and shrinks when she stops, killing her if it becomes too small. Khaya’s aura unfreezes frozen objects within its radius and she must balance her aura to escape hazards or activate objects to use them.

People have enjoyed playing our game and killing Khaya dozens of times in their attempt to complete the five levels. We are happy with what we’ve made but there were lessons just as there were triumphs along the way:

Things That Went Right:
1. Paper Planning – We wanted the levels to leave the player breathless and excited. We had four mechanics to work with – jump, wall jump, double jump and dash. Each level needed to have its own flavour and challenge yet maintain consistency. There were two level designers and both needed to be on the same page for this. They brainstormed the levels on paper together before executing them in engine which gave both starting points and guidelines for their work.

2. Ferr2D & Anima2D – Thanks to Ferr2D, level designers could shape the terrain however they wanted by clicking and dragging the ends of the terrain. This made the initial level design fun and easy and even helped speed up the iteration process.
The programmer used Anima2D to churn out all the animations we needed for the game. Initially we tried frame-by-frame animations but they proved to be tedious. Once it was set up, the bone animations were quicker to create and felt better. Play the game to see how much fun we had with Khaya’s ragdoll and all the different deaths she encounters!

3. Rapid Prototyping – Our programmer executed any idea as we had it in engine to prove whether it worked or not. We had multiple prototypes which helped us proceed from the initial movement mechanics to the functioning of the aura and then the unfreezing of objects.

4. Scoping – We decided not to include enemies and focus on Khaya’s movement. This allowed us to fine tune controls and concentrate on essentials for level design, resulting in heightened experience of movement and freedom for players.

Things That Went Wrong:
1. Off the Engine – Not everyone in the team started working in engine immediately so they produced ideas and assets that did not always work as expected. The process would have been more efficient if the artist had been able to integrate and test their assets themselves. Everyone on the team should have gotten into the engine from the beginning. This would have allowed everyone the ability to test out their own ideas and most importantly make sure their content worked before submitting it.

2. Time Management- Balancing the coursework of a calm term 2 and a killer term 3 along with working on the 2D project was quite challenging. Also, there were extended periods of time when team members had nothing to do on the 2D project. Time could have been spent more productively by not waiting for everything to be in place. The moment the jump mechanic was in place, level designers could have started making challenges. Later, teammates experienced crunches between assignments and expected contributions. We would have liked to playtest the game more but found no time towards the last few weeks when we worked overtime polishing it and making sure everything worked.

3. Communication – Our project manager was new to the role and maybe some more processes could have been set up for better communication, which would have sped up the game design process. Often, there would be gaps in communication between the artist and level designers. Whenever something was needed from, or had to be communicated to another department, we should have done it right away or at least left a sticky note that team members could have attended to when they had a chance to see it and were free.

Learnings / Outcome:
We had a lot of fun making Khaya and experimenting with the mechanics we decided upon. We all stepped up to manage tasks out of our comfort zone when called to do them but maybe we could have taken a more active interest in what each department was doing from the start. Persevering and pushing ourselves when it was most required helped us create the game as it is today. Making Khaya was an amazing experience for all of us and something we’ll draw a lot from when creating games in the future.

 

Game Design student Yuri Mainka – “All I had to do was press start”

We got a chance to speak with Game Design student Yuri Mainka about his time at VFS so far, and what drove him to pursue his passion on becoming a game designer. Here’s what Yuri had to say.

Games have always been a big part of my life. Whether it was providing me with fun moments, helping me learn English or allowing me to have experiences that I couldn’t have anywhere else, they have always been a passion of mine. And a big part of the reason is because when games decide to tell a story, they do so in a very unique and engaging way.

As the years passed I played many games and, in turn, experienced many stories. I felt that I could always take something away from each one of these unique worlds and its inhabitants. Something that helped me become a better person and shape my values. Those were the games that struck me the most. So, it was a no-brainer for me to dedicate my life to work with games, so I could one day create experiences such as the ones that so heavily influenced me.

Before coming to VFS, I worked 3 years as an indie developer back in Brazil. First as a Game Designer in my own group called Crimson Studios and later as a Level Designer/Programmer in a small studio called Give Me Five Entertainment. During that time, I learned a lot and as a result of that, shipped three small mobile games. However, it got to a point in my life where I didn’t feel that Brazil’s games industry could give me the opportunities that I strived for. So, I started looking abroad for a place that could help me achieve my dreams of working in big game studios. That’s when I found out that a representative of Vancouver Film School was touring in my city advertising the Game Design Course.

VFS is absolutely everything I was hoping for and more. Even though it pained me to leave my family and friends back home, I never regretted my choice for a second, thanks to the incredible opportunities that I could see taking shape in front of me here. During my time in the Game Design Program, I was able to meet the most amazing people. Among those were extremely prepared instructors and a new family in the form of my classmates.

If I had to pick one single thing that stood out as the most important thing I’m taking away from my time at VFS, it would certainly be the networking opportunities. Sure, we have fantastic classes, such as Interactive Narrative and Level Design, but we also have instructors that are active industry members or have close ties with the industry and for me, the experience they can share with us is invaluable.

I’m still 2 months away of graduating, but I look to my future in the industry with confidence. Specially when I look back to what I accomplished in the crazy year that passed.

VFS helped me grow in two very important ways: As a person and as a game designer. The former, by allowing me to work with many different people and learning to respect each of them to work well as a team, and also because this if my first time living by myself (and what an experience this has been!). And the latter, by showing me what I really love about game design and where I want to focus my efforts on: Level Design and Narrative Design. I’m just in love with these two disciplines and how they, in many ways, correlate to provide the player with the most amazing experience. To be able to tell stories and guide the player through their personal journey in each game. That can’t be anything but special!

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For me, all I had to do was press Start.

 

Yuri Mainka

 

 

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