VFS life: Game Theory Practical (A.K.A. play-board-games-class)

Warning: this blog post contains very little educational content.

A little introduction: I am an Australian-Malaysian-Macanese singing-acting-dancing-book-loving-raging-feminist who is a moody optimist. I like cats. Cool. Done. Let’s move on. SCHOOL.

Here’s my summary of student life thus far:

  • Average of 6 hours of class a day, with a minimum of 3 and maximum of 9
  • We get around 2-5 assignments per week
  • Everybody in my class is a crazy kid with a huge variety of game ideas
  • You put in a butt-load of work, you get out a butt-load of work to fuel your launch into the industry

In this post, I’m going to chronicle one of my favourite classes thus far: Game Theory Practical. Schmancy name for ‘Play board games for 3 hours and discuss what you liked and didn’t like about them’.

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GD29 Pitch & Play

Dave Warfield introduces the 29th pitch and play, excited again to see what VFS students can do with 4-5 months of creative control.

VFS recently hosted the Pitch & Play event for GD 29 and we were fortunate enough to be invited in order to write this article. The games that were presented tonight were The Banishing, Draka, Sneakpunk, Infinite Spectrum, and Nuts for Gems. As members of student teams currently in pre-production on our final projects, it was really interesting and inspiring to see the final result of these five months of work.

Sean Smillie acts as master of ceremonies and gives a personal introduction for each team and their game and explains that student teams get an industry mentor.

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A Porpoise for Games

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

Think Design : The Paradox Of Choice

A New Series Begins

Welcome to the first in a new series here on the VFS Arcade! In Think Design, we’ll be taking a look at some cool theories in human psychology that can help us design better games. Some of the questions we’ll tackle in upcoming posts include:

  • Why are teams always so confident that their new game will be a hit?
  • Why is it good to play games you hate?
  • Why do some people spend thousands of dollars on free to play games?
  • Why, oh why, do we always have to cut features and still do overtime?
  • Plus many more!

Today, we’ll be looking at how to buy jam, why you seem to always have unused talent points in Skyrim, and why you probably didn’t love your last restaurant meal.

 

The Paradox Of Choice

Let’s start with the Paradox of Choice. If it sounds familiar, you may have seen this great TED Talk by Barry Schwartz.

The Paradox of Choice essentially says that humans like choice, but only up to a point. Past a certain number of choices (usually around 6), we become overwhelmed and can’t easily make decisions. Ever heard the expression ‘analysis paralysis’? It describes what happens when we are faced with too many choices: we become so overwhelmed with analyzing our decisions that it paralyzes us from actually making a choice. We get stuck in the analysis phase.

Good luck – at least 29 different cheesecakes available, plus other desserts!

 

So if too much variety is a bad thing, why do we want more choices? Because we equate choice with freedom. Choice gives us the possibility of getting exactly what we want. But with too much choice, we don’t get freedom – we become trapped in a prison of indecision. Read More

The Game Design Summer Intensive Experience 2013

During the week of July 8 to 12, 2013, the Game Design program at Vancouver Film School, located in Vancouver’s Chinatown district, welcomed 15 brave explorers to its Game Design Summer Intensive experience. These explorers may have come from different lands and backgrounds, but they had one thing in common – a passion for creating video games. It is thanks to this passion that they found themselves enrolled in a week-long intensive experience of All Things Video Game Design.

DAY I

The students’ initiation began with a welcome from the Head of the Game Design program Dave Warfield, after which they were off to their first class of Game Theory taught by Instructor Chris Mitchell and Senior Instructor Andrew Laing. During the course of the day students became immersed in the roles of the game designer and analyzed the basic rules and mechanics of gaming.

One of the hardest things to do is to come up with an idea… and by idea, I mean a ‘good’ idea.  There is a fine art to making a game challenging yet entertaining – the motto: if a segment of the game or level is not fun to play, then it needs to be cut, no matter how much you love it. Chris and Andrew shared useful advice, suggestions, techniques and approaches on how to keep the creative process fresh and flourishing, as well where to find inspiration.

Right off the bat, students were divided into teams and asked to brainstorm unique game ideas, keeping in mind 5 essential questions:
1. What is the game?
2. What is the core mechanic?
3. What is the core challenge?
4. Why make the game?
5. Why would you enjoy making the game?

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Mythology 101: Episode 5

Last week in Episode 4 we talked about the creatures of Chinese mythology, the focus was on the multitude of creatures that weren’t dragons. By looking at the wide variety of different beasts, we could use them to inspire better characters and enemies, or find one that fits inside of our games. This time I wanted to be very specific, let’s look at one type of creature, and see that by doing some research there is actually a ton of options of back story, abilities, and variations that you can bring to your games. The dragon… kind of limiting right?

The most common image that comes to mind when you think of Chinese Mythology is the dragon. It has influenced many cultures to a point where it is almost considered history instead of mythology. In movies such as Dragonheart, Eragon, and Reign of Fire, in TV shows such as H.R. Pufnstuf and Game of Thrones, dragons have become common place. Of course games have also had their share of dragons; from Spyro the Dragon, the Dragon Age series, Panzer Dragoon, Dragon Up and even Dragon’s Lair. Of course we can’t forget the Fantasy role playing games, starting with Dungeons & Dragons and more recently World of Warcraft which feature dragons.

If there is one thing that we can learn from this wide array of movies, games, and myths, it is that there is a lot of variation in the stories of dragons, and what those dragons are… if you are really interested in seeing how someone has used that variety effectively, just watch DreamWorks How to Train Your Dragon.

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Journey: A Critical Analysis

The Player Meets the Mountain

Intro

The buzz is still deafening. “Beautiful,” “evocative,” and “transcendental” are only a few of the accolades used to describe Journey, a game released by thatgamecompany mid-March of last year.[i] Since the game’s release, Journey won five BAFTA’s and six GDC awards, broke PlayStation sales records to be the “fastest-selling PSN game ever released,” and was also nominated for a Grammy.[ii]

This much attention merits a closer inspection—What exactly is Journey? Fan responses to the game, while filled with praise, typically leave the non-player in the dark: “I have just finished Journey. I can’t even describe how or why it moved me, but it’s changed my outlook of what a game can be.”[iii] The player makes no mention of graphics or party systems, topics which would seem important to discuss when speaking of a new multiplayer game. Instead, the player expresses the emotional impact he received from playing and a changed perspective of gaming.

Traditionally, emotional experiences have been reserved for the classical arts and perspective changes towards games have occurred due to technological advances. And yet, critics are still debating whether video games can be considered art and Journey brings forth no radical technological advances. So how can a game elicit an emotion response and alter gaming perceptions without new technology? This essay will delve further into this question and explore what made Journey a commercial success as well as what elements we can look forward to thatgamecompany improving upon in the future.

What is Journey?

Journey is the third installment of a three game contract between thatgamecompany and Sony Entertainment. The first two games, Fl0w and Flower also received critical acclaim and were created by Jenova Chen for the purpose of studying flow in games. Flow, as defined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is a “state of being, one in which a task’s difficulty is perfectly balanced against a performer’s skill—resulting in a feeling of intense, focused attention” [iv]. These first two games illustrate this principle aptly.

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Why Was “Spec Ops: The Line” A Great Game But A Financial Failure?

Spec Ops: The Line poster

Spec Ops: The Line, published by 2K Games and created by Yager Development, is a recent AAA (Triple A) game, released on June 26, 2012.  It was a great game by design with a poor financial outcome. The game had a very strong narrative, told through story and gameplay, which taught players to think more critically of video games as a whole, instead of just taking them at face value.
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My Top Ten List For GDC 2013 — Part 2

Games Development Conference 2013

Welcome to Part 2 of my GDC Top 10, featuring moments from the great, but exhausting, 2013 Game Developers Conference.  You can read Part 1 here.

But before I begin, here’s a photograph I’d like to dedicate to Bren Lynne, our programming instructor!

John Romero! …And some other guy!
John Romero! …And some other guy!

#5 Meeting Industry Heavies

You never know who you will bump into at GDC. I found myself riding the escalator next to John Romero, the designer of the original Doom. Doom was a very influential game for me personally, as well as a landmark in the history of games. It’s nice to meet someone you admire, and GDC has an atmosphere that makes it easy to approach anyone and start up a conversation.
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An Interview with Game Design Instructor Chris Mitchell

Instructor Christopher Mitchell trains his body and his mind

Winning the Best Instructor and Best Course award in his first year of teaching at Vancouver Film School’s Game Design program, Chris Mitchell became an idol amongst students very quickly. Currently, he teaches Game Theory, Pre-Production Techniques and Project Design. I interviewed him him recently for my Game Journalism class assignment. All in all, it was a very nice interview. I got to know him better, and also got some good advice, which I would now like to share with all of you.

Hi Chris! First of all, I really appreciate your time, so thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Hopefully, this will be an opportunity for everyone to get to know you better, and we can steal some of your super powers to become very good game designers in the future.

So, why don’t you start by introducing yourself to our readers, ignoring the fact that you are well known in our school?

Chris Mitchell: Okay. Alright. I am Chris Mitchell. I am the guy who did quite a lot of design work in the game industry, and then also quite a lot of writing and voice direction as well. I suppose my first big success was Simpsons Hit and Run, where I got to do quite a lot of writing and worked with just tons of really cool people. I worked on things like Crash Bandicoot games after that. I also was lucky to be part of the group who made the DeathSpank franchise — I worked on all three of those games.

There is a quote I really like, which is, “the only thing that doesn’t change, is change itself.” Going from that, I would like to ask you: As the industry evolves, does the background of the Game Design students at VFS change as well? And if so, in what way?

Chris: Oh, that’s an interesting question. One thing I have noticed is that the students are much more technically savvy. I remember when I entered the industry, it was quite unusual to find people who already knew all the skills and tools that were required. Quite a lot of “on the job” learning happened back then. I am sure that’s still true to an extent today, but I keep meeting 18/19 year old students here who already know Maya, who are already programming, and what not. That was essentially unheard of when I first joined the game industry.

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