A Conversation with… Shannon Lee

This week A Conversation with… reaches out to one of our first Women in Games Scholarship winners, and an alumni from our 16th graduating class, Shannon Lee.


  •  Tell me about what you are doing now in the Games Industry
    I’m currently working at BigPark Studios (Microsoft) as a Senior User Experience designer.

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A Conversation with… Mark Barazzuol

We’re back with another edition of A Conversation with… This time we had a chat with Mark Barazzuol from our 5th graduating class.


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

I’m teaching game design at Guru Digital Arts in Edmonton.  I’m also working on mobile games on the side, and I do game design consulting for others as well.

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Hat Jam 5: July 4th ‘Murica Edition

July 4th, 1776. America declares independence from Great Britain. July 4th, 2014. Thirty-six caffeinated jammers band together over 48-hours to create nine amazing games.

Sponsored by local eateries, Fresh Bowl and Scent of a Sandwich, Hat Jam 5 was an amazingly smooth game jam. On Friday, at 5.30pm, the participants gathered in the TV studio to draw their themes out of a hat (all movies related to July 4th). They then had 48-hours with which to create their games from start to finish.


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A Conversation with… Brock Robin

We’re back with another edition of A Conversation with… This time we had a chat with Brock Robin from our 7th graduating class.

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

I’m a senior systems designer at Relic, working on core gameplay systems for an unannounced project.

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Teaching the Player

Months ago when working on our final student project in term 5 and 6, one of the difficulties of our core mechanic was how to actually teach it to the player. If we told the player verbally how to play while they were experimenting, they were able to take what we told them and what they were experiencing to figure out exactly what was going on. When we got to the point where we were having blind playtests without talking to the players, it became a very different story.

Even if we typed out the exact words that we would verbally tell the player, “When your pack is the opposite colour of the surface, you will bounce. When it is the same color, you will slide.” It took players a long time to figure out exactly what that meant. We tried to simplify it down by introducing the inter-workings of these mechanics down, and trying fancy word graphics that were colored to match what color we wanted you to be, but it still wasn’t enough. Too many player’s still were not able to understand what we were trying to teach them by the end of our tutorial to set them up for the rest of the game.

Pre Alpha Tutorial

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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!

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Board Game Design

I’m currently on vacation, sitting on a small laptop in a cabin in Michigan. Laptops are a new and controversial addition to the cabin and when I think back to my summers here without electronics, they always included three major activities: swimming, reading, and playing board games. I could also include sunburns, but if I start down that tangent, the list would get somewhat ridiculous. It was here that I learned spades, hearts and poker, which eventually led to summers with my cousins Patrick and Sarah playing warhammer, magic, and any new board game we could bring to each other.

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GD34 Graduation & Awards Show

Summer is finally here, and once again the Game Design program has a reason to celebrate. It’s graduation night, a night to celebrate, to look back on the year, and recognize the amazing things they have done.

The Graduation and Awards show on June 27th has a mix of parts: one part formal, and one part fun. The formal part of the evening hosted by Tanya Jensenbegan with a congratulatory speech from the Head of Game Design Dave Warfield, then the student-elected class speaker Daniel Garma took us back through a timeline of  this past year in Game Design, and finally student selected Instructor speaker Calder Archinuk closed the speeches with an overview of the 34 iterations of his grad speech.



Each of the speakers had some deep insight into what they had just been through, and how to prepare for the coming months, but mostly it was a chance to look back on the year, and look ahead to the bright future this class has. The formalities continued with the handing out of diplomas and the embarrassingly long handshakes that make up that portion of the evening. Congratulations to Guerric, Nicha, Jeremy, Rafe, Jakobsen, Spencer, and Jaymee, all who graduated with honours.

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Post-Mortem: Misorderly [VFS Student Project]



It’s difficult to explain anything that went right with our project without first explaining everything that went wrong. So for this post-mortem, I’ll be examining the major obstacles we faced in creating the casual action runner that is Misorderly – and what it took to overcome them. I should mention that all points raised here relate to soft skills – design, project management – so if you’re looking for a technical post-mortem, this isn’t it.

Problem 1: Mixed Vision

Misorderly wasn’t our first idea. Originally, our favourite concept was a god game where tiny people wandered around a rubik’s cube planet and each square was a different land form that evolved depending on the other land forms it touched. But at the time, the teachers felt it was more of a toy, than an actual game, so we shelved that idea.

All the other ideas we came up with, only most, and not all of the team loved. And at VFS (Vancouver Film School), you’re encouraged to only go forth with an idea for your final project if everybody loves it. So if I were to go back even further, I’d offer the notion that something that was done incorrectly in our class was team forming. Each person on our team had such different player preferences. To the extent where one of our teaching assistants, Brant Stutheit, suggested that we do an activity where we write down our top 5 favourite games and see which ones we had in common. It took us until our top 20 games to eventually reach consensus – Bioware’s Dragon Age series. We then explored what it was about the series that we enjoyed, and we realized we all liked playing as mages. This was the beginning of Misorderly.

We decided to make a game centered on being a mage. So we brainstormed what we each enjoyed about playing as a mage – healing, buffs, spells, support – and we deduced our mage would need a party. But given the scope of 5 months and 5 relatively inexperienced students – how could we manage to capture the essence of the RPGs we loved?

Suggestions were made for things we thought would make our lives easier in production, such as a side-scrolling camera to reduce environment art assets needed. Or a cartoony art style over hyperrealism, to invest in creating more characters versus polishing a fewer number. Or restricted, grid-based movement, to simplify combat. But not everyone was ecstatic about these changes in direction.

Everything I’ve mentioned thus far formed the basis for the mixed vision we had for the majority of production. We were so concerned with placating everybody’s wants that we A) wasted a lot of time in pre-production changing our game concept and B) ended up with a “swamp water” game concept that had too broad of a target audience (not that we were able to accurate pin point what our genre or expected player experience was for the longest time).

Menu Screen

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Massive Multiplayer Map Design and the Level Designers Ever Changing Role

Level Up

Recently, several co-workers and I have been working on a pet project tentatively entitled Boot Camp.  Mechanically, it is a tactical team based military shooter which can handle up to 120 concurrent users per match.  With that amount of people running around shooting each other, how do we ensure that it doesn’t start to feel overcrowded?  Well, by building a 4 km2 map.  As the level designer on this project, this is a somewhat colossal task.  The map is currently a work in progress, but the following is how I got to where I am, and what my next planned steps are.

Height Maps – the broad strokes

What is a height map?  Well, when you look at a map on a piece of paper, elevation is communicated with lines at certain height intervals.  The closer together the lines are, the steeper the incline.  A height map is similar to this, but uses values of grey instead.

You start with a blank canvas, and simply paint where you want elevation to be.  It works in greyscale; white is low, black is high.  Using these, along with shades of grey, a broad stroke overview can be created.

An example of a rough height map

After the height map is created, it can be imported into the game engine of choice (in our case, Unity) where it is then converted into a terrain asset.  In the engine, the maximum height value (black) can be modified and tweaked.  Once that’s done, we get into touching up the terrain and smoothing out the odd pixels so the terrain looks natural and flowing.

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