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.

 

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!

PG07 Welcome Party

In honour of VFS’ most contemporary intake of budding programmers, PG07, the Programming and Game Design campus recently hosted a welcome party and tournaments for the students.

There was food for everyone involved, card games that encourage players to get to know each other, and video games to have fun or compete with; including two tournament brackets for Super Smash Brothers for Wii U as well as the freshly released Street Fighter V.

The events played out marvellously, with PG05 students Robert and Manuel taking first place in the Super Smash Brothers tournament and GD43 student Duncan taking the trophy for Street Fighter V.

Students also spent time bonding over a few games of Cards Against Humanity, while others competed for pole position in their next race in Beetle Adventure Racing.

This marks a great kick off for a satisfying year filled with dedication, hard work, and personal growth for the newest batch of up and coming software development professionals in PG07. This was also a fun and food fuelled break for the other student’s waist deep in their final projects and other course work. Here’s to them all!

By Dylan Jenken