A Conversation with… Michael Shannon

This time A Conversation with… checked out another one of our local developers and caught up with Michael Shannon from our 24th graduating class.


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

Currently I am working as a Jr. Multiplayer Level Designer at The Coalition. Primarily I design multiplayer maps for Gears of War 4. I also helped with some design tasks for the Gears of War Ultimate Edition. Gears of War has always been my favourite game series by far, so working on the games is an incredible privilege!

·         How has this changed since you graduated?

I definitely struggled a bit right after graduating near the end of 2012. I was unable to find work within the first couple months of graduating, so I took a job working at Safeway while I continued to work on my portfolio.

I was fortunate to land a job in QA at EA on FIFA 14. It was actually super cool, because that was the year that the next-gen consoles were launching and I was able to see them quite early. It was also a great opportunity to get my feet wet and gain experience working in the industry. After working at EA for a year on both FIFA 14 and 15, I was able to transition to a QA role at Black Tusk Studios (now The Coalition).

After a few months, a position opened up for a Jr. MP Level Designer which I applied for without hesitation. This was my dream job, so I basically put my life on hold for a week while I worked on my application and design test. Thankfully they liked what they saw and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.


·         Can you describe a typical day in your office?

In the morning I’ll come in and begin iterating on whatever level I’ve been working on. I’ll usually be doing this for most of the day.

In the afternoon, I’ll go down to the playtest lab with the other designers (and others who are interested in playing) and we’ll playtest eachother’s levels. After we’ve finished a few rounds, I join the other designers in a brief feedback session where we share what we liked and disliked about the iteration we played. If one of my levels is being played, I’ll record the feedback in my notebook and use it to help inform what changes I’ll be making for the next iteration of the level.


·         Whats the most fun thing you get to do? Whats the most stressful/challenging?

The best part is watching people just laugh and have fun playing your level. We work really hard on our levels, and finally seeing it come together into something that people really enjoy is an awesome feeling! The playtests are really fun too because I just love playing Gears of War.

The most stressful thing for me is the pressure to deliver great levels that honor the franchise and that the fans will love. I am a huge Gears of War fan – I’ve put many many hours into the multiplayer of all of the games. It’s really weird to have your most anticipated game be the one that you’re working on every day, but it really pushes me to work hard and not take this opportunity for granted.


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

I am currently on the Rocket League bandwagon. It just goes to show that a simple idea executed to an extremely high level can be awesome!

I’m also playing a lot of Super Smash Bros Wii U. The meta game and depth in move sets is great, I’m still finding new ways to use my characters over half a year after the game released.


·         What are some trends you see in upcoming games?

I think the massive growth of eSports over the past few years is really going to start pushing future games to implement more eSports specific features, and consider much more fair and highly competitive design.

Last year’s DOTA 2 Championships attracted tens of millions of viewers, sold out a stadium used in a World Cup, and was featured on ESPN. The 2015 one just wrapped up – the top prize? Over 6 million dollars.

Engagement with eSports is now surpassing traditional sports, and it’s only going to keep getting bigger and bigger. Times are changing – and it’s exciting!


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

In addition to working together in a collaborative team environment, I would have to say receiving, processing, and actioning on feedback. Before VFS, I had only ever worked on projects by myself at home, so dealing with criticism wasn’t something I had really done before.

I learned how important it is to listen, and just understand what the player is experiencing. The player isn’t really interested in hearing you defend your idea, or justify your design choices. They just want you to hear them.

Sometimes someone will deliver an incredibly clear and insightful piece of feedback. Sometimes someone will feel something, but aren’t quite sure how to articulate it. One player might really like something about your level that another player dislikes. No matter what type of feedback it is, it will still give you a broader understanding of different player’s thoughts and feelings, which can only ever help you. So just listen and thank them for playing!


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

Work hard and be nice to everyone. Keep in touch with your classmates even after you graduate – they can be a great resource, and you’ll be surprised when you bump into them again in the industry!

You can get to where you want to go as long as you don’t give up and keep working towards it. I’ve seen a lot of people get disheartened and give up, but all it takes is being the right person in the right place at the right time – and you can’t be that person if you’re not trying!


 Thanks Michael, and best of luck with Gears of War 4!