A Conversation with… Brad Keys

This week A Conversation with… reaches out to our lucky 13th graduating class, and had a chat with Brad Keys, founder of Rebel Hippo Inc.

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

I’m the founder of a small game studio called Rebel Hippo Inc. located in Waterloo, Ontario. We are known for creating Lumos, a game services platform. We also create mobile games and help other studios across the country. Most of my time is spent developing with the Unity game engine.

  • How has this changed since you graduated?

I went into VFS with a programming background and was interested in switching to a game design role with hopes to join a AAA studio. Since graduating, the indie game development scene has grown immensely due to great development tools and an increase in marketplaces that offer self-publishing on mobile, console, web, and PC. Now I often use both my design and programming skills on smaller teams that benefit from having members with multiple disciplines.

While it’s not AAA development like I had hoped, experience has shown me that I can accomplish more on smaller teams thanks to the allowed flexibility and low administrative overhead.


  • Can you describe a typical day in your office?

A typical day involves crunching through development and administrative tasks assigned to me in our project management software. Lots of programming, testing on devices, and assisting others. All over the place really. Gameplay mechanics, UI, networking, server-side communications, and level design. Whatever is priority, I work on.


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

Prototyping game mechanics is my favourite thing to do. Quickly developing something fun from nothing in a short amount of time is satisfying and inspiring. AI programming is a close 2nd. It’s interesting and sometimes even creepy to see the simplest artificial intelligence come to life.

Marketing a game is incredibly stressful and challenging for me. Fortunately there are many tools and financial options available to help mitigate risk and increase exposure. Aside from luck however, it takes strong business and game design analysis to properly make an indie game sell. They often require a multistage release cycle where iterative improvements are made based on feedback and stats monitored by tools like analytics services. Nothing is more stressful than watching your baby fail in the market, so early post-production is critical and often cruel.


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

I’m playing Hearthstone right now. I’m a sucker for competitive games and played a lot of Magic the Gathering (Magic) in my time.

Like others, when I initially played Hearthstone I couldn’t help compare it to Magic and concluded with it being a dumbed down version of Magic with less cards. The more I played though, the more I realized the depth in its simplicity and was increasingly more impressed. For Blizzard to take a complex CCG system like Magic and find a way to keep it competitive, simple, and quick, must have been quite the undertaking. I can’t think of a better game design challenge.

It’s a groundbreaking game for mobile devices that I hope will usher in a new era of free to play games.


  • What are some trends you see in upcoming games?

A recent trend in the game industry is video. Live streaming is popular and seen a lot on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Video replays that are shared through social media are becoming more popular on mobile. Competitive games are starting to include spectator modes in-game. Even game engines like Unity now include video replay functionality. Video ads are getting pushed on developers too and are said to perform better than stills. So I suspect we’ll be seeing them ‘pop-up’ more often too.


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

VFS was the first time I developed games with a team larger than two. Experiencing this on a couple of projects was enlightening. The range of development experience, organization, opinions, and design decisions that had to be dealt with was challenging. Looking back at it now, it wasn’t so far off from experiences I’ve had working at game studios. Learning and experiencing the entire game development process was very valuable.


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

Get out while you still can!

All kidding aside though, keep yourself familiar with the latest top games, development tools, and gaming devices/accessories. It’s a lot to keep up with, but the industry moves fast and in many cases demands this. You might even find your first job (like I did) by being one of a few people who are experienced with newer technology. It’s always good to have that edge, so keep it sharp.


Thanks for the update Brad, best of luck on your next game!

Dave Warfield is the Head of Game Design at VFS