A Conversation with…

As part of our new series, we reach out to our alumni to check in. First up is Matt McTavish, a graduate of our 2nd class of Game Design.

• Tell me about what you are doing now in the Games Industry

I’m working at Next Level Games in Vancouver as a game designer. Our latest release was Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon for the 3DS, which has been our most successful game yet. Developing Luigi’s Mansion was pretty rad because we got to collaborate closely with Shigeru Miyamoto-san and a small group of talented developers at Nintendo. We were one of the first studios to develop for the 3DS, so creating a game for stereoscopic 3D was new for everyone. It was awesome, we learned a lot!

• How has this changed since you graduated?

At NLG, we’ve worked hard to build a strong relationship with Nintendo. We’ve revived some classic Nintendo IP’s like Luigi’s Mansion and Punch-Out!! and even had the opportunity to create a new franchise: Mario Strikers. We’ve released games for all Nintendo’s major consoles like the Game Cube, Wii and 3DS and worked with a lot of great people at Nintendo. All the cool IP’s, game genres and systems makes every project feel brand new. We really haven’t done the same thing twice. We’ve been lucky. What we’re doing is always changing which keeps everyone fresh and excited for what’s next.

• Can you describe a typical day in your office?

Our days are probably similar to other studios. We scrum it up in the mornings and get hard to work with meetings, reviews, or going over the latest Nintendo communication. One cool things about NLG is that we’ve got a Muay Thai/Yoga room, so a lot of us take advantage of it at lunch. It’s cool having a gym in our office. If something that can’t be decided on the floor, it results in people lacing on the gloves and duking it out in the gym until someone’s KO’d….

• What’s the most fun thing you get to do? What’s the most stressful/challenging?

Isn’t that a trick question? The most challenging stuff is usually stressful because it’s challenging but also the most rewarding when you’re done. Working closely with Nintendo requires a lot of communication which takes a good amount of time and effort, simply because we speak two different languages and come from two different cultures. Most communication is done via the internet or conference calls, but every so often Nintendo will join us at NLG for a Summit. These are always a blast because get a ton accomplished mainly because the communication is a lot quicker. You can spare the extra few minutes to really hammer down on a design or throw around random ideas. The Summit’s also great for team bonding because we always have some fun with the guys once the Summit wraps up.

• What games are you playing right now, and what elements have impressed you?

We’ve been playing a lot of Mario Kart 8 in the office for some fun light-hearted multiplayer. At home, I’ve been sessioning Titanfall and just cranked through the latest Tomb Raider. A few buddies and I got into Chinese Chess while we were motorcycling through Vietnam. It’s such a good game because it has some really cool board restrictions, like the river or palace. It’s not as open as classic chess but it’s a lot of fun and whenever we busted it out, we’d have everyone in the café or whatever surrounding our game, shouting, and taking over. It was pretty hilarious. Everyone seemed to know how to play and wanted to show you their move, to the point where they’re moving your pieces. You have to just give in and let them play for you. We had to end up carrying around a bottle of rice vodka and make anyone who was going to make a move for us take a shot. It kinda worked. Hahaha.

• What are some trends you see in upcoming games?

I was pretty blown away when I put on the Occulus Rift for the first time and now that they are coming out with more refined hardware and Sony getting onboard with Project Morpheus, I think VR is going to become pretty sick (or at least I hope). I love stereoscopic games but they never really took off on the consoles because not a lot of people have 3DTV’s, but a cornerstone of the VR experience is stereoscopic 3D. We learned a ton about developing for 3D on Luigi’s Mansion, and it takes a lot of effort, technology, and trial and error to create immersive 3D experiences that don’t kill the players eyes. There are a lot of things you can cheat in a 2D game (like the HUD, VFX, layering, etc.) that just simply should not be done the same way in a 3D game. There’s also a lot of tricks you can do to make the 3D really pop and look stunning. Stereoscopic gaming is a whole different animal but when it’s done right can be awesome!

• What do you feel was the most valuable skill that you learned in the Game Design program at VFS?

When you go to VFS you get to experience a lot of the different aspects of Game Design. The diversification you get is really important to rounding your skills as a designer. At Next Level, our designers need to be flexible and able to step into different types of roles based on the game we are developing or what phase of the project it’s in. You might find yourself working on core gameplay or developing boss fights, then transitioning to puzzle and level design or dialogue writing all in a single project. The final student project at VFS is very rewarding because you get to feel the cooker of developing a game with a team in a tight timeline and showcase what you’ve learned in front of industry professionals.

• If you could give a current student in Game Design some advice, what would it be?

Play every game you can, even if they suck. Work hard but don’t forget to go out to the Cambie for drinks with colleagues, or take time to chat with your instructors or students in other disciplines. Developing strong communication skills is key as a designer and isn’t necessarily about articulate presentations or concise feedback. It’s more about feeling natural and comfortable talking with anyone about stuff other than just video games.


Thanks Matt, look forward to seeing your next game!

Dave Warfield is the Head of Game Design at VFS