VFS @ SXSW : The Best of Both Worlds

Setting up the VFS Game Design Booth at SXSW

Last week, Vancouver Film School visited Austin, Texas to attend South by Southwest (SXSW), Austin’s annual mega-festival, which celebrates film, music and interactive media on both a local and international scale. Consider this a case of testing the waters — since it was VFS’s first visit — but it demonstrates that VFS shows well on any stage, and we really enjoyed meeting, greeting and eating amongst the city’s finest and friendliest.

First of all, full disclosure that I’m an alumnus (yes, I Googled the grammar), and a very recent one at that, of the VFS Game Design program. SXSW was a real thrill for its size and bustle, and it’s officially the first event that I’ve got to visit as a full-blown industry professional. While there, I met developers from Unity, Nintendo, the new Xi3 Piston computer, and of games like Hawken, Tomb Raider (the new one!) and World of Tanks. I even sat in on a discussion featuring one of my favourite designers, Jenova Chen, the creator of Journey, Flower and Flow, and found myself building Lego creations at a random table, sitting beside the legendary Cliff Bleszinski, the creator of Gears of War. I helped him look for fence pieces.

A crowd of interest in the Game Design Booth

Talk about being a rookie, I was overwhelmed and excited by all the bright lights and even brighter people throughout the conference. A lot of the most popular booths at SXSW put interactivity first—they had a game to play or a free thing to take. Our VFS booth drew a crowd by showing off the best part of our identity—the work of our students and alumni: Major Hertz, Pulse, Opus Pocus, Remnant, and more. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people played as many games as we could provide, and many of them, multiple times. My favourite part of the job became seeing the reactions from parents, children and prospective students as I told them “this is a student game that [x] amount of students made as their graduating project.” Minds were blown.

SXSW attendees enjoying VFS Games

I think that is my most important takeaway from SXSW: VFS students are guided and expected to create professional-quality games at VFS, and they not only meet, they exceed those expectations. The people who played games at our VFS booth really drove that home for me. At VFS, students set their own boundaries, and that opportunity can yield amazing results, which can surprise and delight not only the VFS community, but the larger community of the industry, too.

My booth-mate was Bren Lynne, our on-staff Unity master. He was great for matching my enthusiasm—while I enjoyed seeing my game played, he enjoyed seeing me enjoying me getting my game played. It all got very meta. It’s a good realization to have though: past the projects and the grading, our teachers just want to see good students and good work do well. I don’t know where I am in that list, but we did not disappoint.

Austin was outstanding on two fronts: its people were amazing and its food was possibly even better. I have never eaten so much Tex Mex, and each restaurant was better than the last. Our default dinner plan was “wander,” and it always gave a positive result. I look forward to visiting again as soon as possible, if only to chat and eat. As for the people, everyone seemed to default to “wanting to hang out,” and I had amazing conversations with new strangers all the time—even after eight hours of conference.

Kids got a kick out the games too!

It was amazing to visit SXSW alongside VFS. I got the chance to look forward as an industry professional, but also got the chance to look back at my school career. With the amount of interest that the school got from our visitors, I feel good about the future of  the VFS Game Design program. Even more importantly, though, I am reminded that the most exciting times are yet to come. More men and women than ever came up and knew they wanted to enter game design, and the general enthusiasm from our young spectators just reinforced for me how bright the future is for the game industry. It also reminded me how excited I am to see the new students from VFS continue to inspire and instigate new things in the industry. It’s a time of growth, as long as we let new ideas grow.

That’s enough. Thanks for reading. I hope everyone visits Austin, SXSW, and the VFS Arcade. You’ll likely get a lot more from each than you expected.