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

 

 

Hat Jam 9 – Audio Jam

 

 

Hat Jam 9  asked the students from VFS Game Design to make some noise! With the unfortunate reality that sound in games is often left until late in development, we thought ‘Why not start with sound?’

 

So with 16 random sounds to blindly choose from, each team drew paper from a hat with a link to an audio clip they would be using in their 48 hour games!

 

Our sponsors help us with funding the event, so students didn’t have to worry about food and could focus on making their games. Thank you East Side Games, A Thinking Ape, Iugo, EXP and Freshbowl!

 

Also big thanks to the Volunteers and VFS sound design students that stopped by!