There are many career opportunities after graduating from VFS, but one seems to cross all students minds at one time or another: What do you need to know to start your own game studio? There is no one answer, but Jesse Joudrey formerly of A.C.R.O.N.Y.M Games had some valuable pearls of wisdom that can help any ambitious gaming entrepreneur get the right start.
Jesse visited the Game Design campus on October 11th to kindly share 8 important lessons he learned from the 8 years of running a successful video game studio. In 2004, Jesse and Daniel Swadling wanted to fulfill their dreams of making their own studio, so they combined forces and created A.C.R.O.N.Y.M Games from their apartment. The company went on to develop multiple games, such as The Secret of Monkey Island (Special edition), Wipeout, and The Family Guy Online. The studio had grown to 42 employees before Jesse departed to start Jespionage Entertainment.
In his presentation, Jesse divided his lessons into the different stages of studio development.
I moved to Vancouver back in April to prepare for a long year at VFS. Since I had 3 weeks before my classes would start, I used some of the time to visit the the Vancouver Aquarium. While there I’d frequently come across a particularly playful harbour porpoise in the underwater exhibit. He’d flap his flippers and stare expectantly at the opposite side of the glass trying to interact. Alas, each time he would eventually get bored of my silly faces and swim off.
Wait a second… If I was serious about being a game designer, then shouldn’t I be able to make a fun game for a porpoise?
Absolutely! Here is the process of this somewhat unusual game project that was conducted in April, and the unexpected outcome that made it all worthwhile.
STEP 1: IDENTIFY YOUR AUDIENCE
The target of my project is Jack, a harbour porpoise who was stranded in Horseshoe Bay on September 16th, 2011. He was only 4 weeks old when he was transported to the Marine Mammal Research Centre, weighing 12-kilogram. His skin and muscles were so severely damaged, that he required a sling made of pool noodles to help him swim, as well as 24 hour volunteer care around the clock. He was later deemed non-releasable by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, so was introduced to Daisy at the Aquarium where both are ambassadors for their species. Read More
Term 1 is over? … Really?
It’s hard to believe that two months have flown past, and that a new journey in term 2 is about to start. Right away it became clear that this wasn’t just an educational facility teaching game design. It was more like a Colosseum where game designer wannabes are pitted against tough challenges that must be conquered. The school gives you the tools to succeed, but they won’t fight your battles. You and your classmates must unite to overcome what is thrown at you. If you do, then we may have what it takes to be game designers.
I certainly had my fair share of ‘beasts’ to slay in term 1. It wasn’t just the homework that dictated the term’s difficulty. Class dynamic, organization, and changing old habits were all tough walls to climb. Now is a great time to stop and reflect on what challenges term 1 presented, and the practices that were used to overcome those challenges. First off, lets start with the class…
The GD33 Team
We quickly discovered that our team’s strength lies in our differences, and that created an interest in each other that brought us together. People truly tried to befriend one another, and that kind of international unity is what aided our progression through term 1. They are my mentors, coworkers, and friends. I’m very fortunate to have a team that I am excited to see everyday.
Our team is small, but the 13 of us represent 8 countries (Canada, America, Mexico, Brazil, Nicaragua, India, Russia, South Korea) and speak over 5 languages. I’m honoured to be their class representative, and I’m eager to see what kind of games we’ll make.
Top 3 Practices:
1. Create a calendar: In the first week I made a Google form to share with the rest of the team to keep track of our assignments and the dates they were due. It worked fine, then we discovered we could use the class’s whiteboard. So I created a calendar there, and as a team we all made sure to maintain it. It was incredibly helpful and it felt great when we could erase an assignment off the board.
2. Have playtest parties: Creating your board game in term 1 is the biggest time investment. Two team members, Nicholas Plouffe & Maria Lee, had an excellent idea of hosting playtest parties at their place. They opened their homes and everyone else brought food, drinks and their games. It was not only a great way to get feedback, but it was also a good milestone to make your game playable.
3. Get out of your shell: Okay, this one was tricky. I’m an introvert, so my natural response when I have finished my work is to go home and unwind. Then I noticed I was missing out on some great opportunities to know my team better. After all, I’ll be spending a year with them. I made sure to go out more, even if its just a walk or out to lunch. Every bit helps.
When you walk around Vancouver’s Chinatown, a few descriptive words may come to mind: Beautiful, historical, colourful, dirty, old, eroded… but would the word ‘Juicy’ come to mind? It certainly does for Rupert Morris, a Visual Design Principles instructor at the Vancouver Film School Game Design program. Rupert dedicates an entire class to define what is juicy, and how students should use it to create visually interesting environments in games. Game Design class 33 was fortunate to have this class, so here is a spotlight of what took place.
Fist off, what is the Juice? Rupert describes it as, “signs of age, wear and tear in an environment. Stickiness, slime, moss, graffiti tags, back splashed mud, pigeon excrement, automotive oil, milky puddles with wet garbage, etc. Juice is the difference between a brand new bus stop and an old, filthy gross one. Juice is almost everywhere to some degree, but the older the neighbourhood, the more decades of urban decay, and the more Juice. Chinatown has loads of it, as does Gastown, due to being over 100 years old and largely unchanged. The Juice collects in corners and under hangs, streaks down from window ledges and balconies, collects at curbs and where sidewalks meet buildings.”
It’s Week 5 of Term 1, and we thought it was about time for us to sit down and have a chat – “we” being Janel Jolly and Anna Prein, from VFS Game Design‘s Class 33. Being both recipients of the Women in Games Scholarship, we wanted to learn more about each other, and what we thought of the program. So, let’s start!
Janel Jolly : Hey Anna! I’ll go ahead and start with the first question. What attracted you to the Game Design program at the Vancouver Film School?
Anna Prein : I’ve been living in Vancouver for about 5 years now, and a former roommate actually applied for the same Women in Games Scholarship a few years back. Once I had finished having my existential crisis about doing an unrelated undergraduate degree and then committed to pursuing game design, VFS was the first school I thought of.
In the past year, I started actively going to events in the community here, like Full Indie, and I kept meeting VFS Game Design graduates who were all intensely positive about their experience and who urged me to apply. I think that was definitely the biggest push! What about you?
There was a sense of anxiety as our class walked into the dark TV studio for the GD33 Peer Presentations. Faculty members and students sat rigid in their seats, casting their critiquing gaze upon us as if asking, “Are you prepared to be here?” We sat down and looked at the presenter who validated our fears. He issued us a challenge: Create a presentation on a specific complex topic (that he provided) and stand on stage to deliver it to the entire crowd. We only had 30 minutes to complete it… Would GD33 sink, or swim?