VFS Students show strong presence at Unite 2013

Kiley Giguere GD18 Alumni made the trip from GameHouse in Victoria for Unite

This year, Unity’s big conference, Unite 2013 was held in Vancouver. The VFS Game Design students and alumni were all over this conference. Everywhere I turned I was delighted to see past and current students learning about all the cool stuff going on with Unity right now. I checked in with some of the attendees and here are some of their highlights. This post is mainly to reflect the student experiences of those in attendance from our program.

from left: Kay Chan, Omar Chapa , Richard Harrison, Michael Cooper and Maxwell Hannaman all from game design class GD22.

It was a great chance to mingle with vendors of world class software like Photon, a multiplayer plugin available for Unity, made by Exit Games. There were also plenty of actual Unity developers in attendance chatting about their experiences with Unity. One VFS student, Wes Bassett (GD31) was not disappointed: “The Post Mortems were the most informative for me, because they shed light on the actual Process.” Read More

Unite 2013

The annual conference by Unity Technologies was held August 28-30, this time in VFS Game Design’s home city. For three days, the Vancouver Convention Centre was swarmed by hundreds of Unity developers, from all over the world – four days, if you count the August 27 Training day, a bonus for those new to the technology.

Again, the Unite conference showed what a great piece of software Unity is, and will become.

The opening keynotes by CEO David Hegalson and CTO Joachim Ante described the evolving technical and philosophical direction of the company, with the expected amount of touchy feely about democratizing game development, and changing the world, both of which appear to be going according to plan.

David’s new announcements included Unity Cloud, a mobile ad service going into closed beta, and Unity Games, which sounds like an evolution of Union, Unity’s publishing platform. Joachim primarily talked about improvements to Unity’s GUI and 2D systems in version 4.3, both a long time coming, as well as some great improvements to the Mecanim animation system. No firm date on the next version, though. Understandable, given 4.2 shipped shortly before the conference.

Then, legendary game designer Richard Garriott, back from Earth orbit, gave a guest keynote that was a nostalgic stroll through his three decades of game development. The perspective made one appreciate how far game development has come, and the remarkable tool that Unity is.

Read More

Alumni Projects: U55 – End of the Line

Leaving VFS is hard. I dare say just about every alumnus or alumna can sing a song about the emptiness you start to feel once you relinquish your key card…
So what do we do to fill this hole? We move on to other amazing and exciting projects!!

In my case this was U55 – END OF THE LINE, a project that my friend Malte M. Boettcher had started back in Germany.
Unified by a strong vision, he assembled a team of about 20 people, all of whom were eager to get on board the project and contribute to the planning and development of U55.

U55 – END OF THE LINE is a survival horror action adventure set in the subway system underneath Berlin that leads players through a subterranean maze infested with unimaginable horrors.

Read More

Execution Labs visiting VFS

This Wednesday Jason Della Rocca from Execution Labs is coming to visit VFS, and spend some time talking about the process of going Indie.

VFS Game Design Students and Alumni are welcomed back to the Game Design Campus to hear Jason Speak.

Jason Della Rocca is the co-founder of Executions Labs, a first-of-its kind, hybrid game incubator and go-to-market accelerator that helps independent game developers produce games and bring them to market. Formerly, Jason was a game industry consultant focused on business and cluster development, working with game studios and organizations all over the world. Prior, he served as the executive director of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) for nearly nine years, and was honored for his industry building efforts with the inaugural Ambassador Award at the Game Developers Conference. In 2009, Jason was named to Game Developer Magazine’s “Power 50,” a list which profiles 50 of the most important contributors to the state of the game industry.

As a sought after expert on the game industry, Jason has lectured at conferences and universities worldwide. He also serves on various advisory boards and volunteer roles, such as co-chairing IGDA-Montreal, as an advisor to the ICT Practice of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, and serving on the research management committee of the GRAND Network Center of Excellence.

Small Studio, Big Decisions – OPM – Opium


I was driving down Hastings St. in Vancouver.  I had just passed Main St., headed east, and was looking at the people on the sidewalk.  If you know the area, you know it is not a nice part of town.  It is the skid row where all the drug-addicted members of society come together.

I could see all these people at various points in their decline and I wondered, “How does someone end up here? Do they know when they take their first ‘hit’ that this is where they are headed?”

Then I had a shocking realization.  This was me.  This was my company.  My company had become an addict and didn’t even know it.  We were not hooked on any amphetamine or opium products.  We were addicted to OPM.  OPM is an acronym for “Other People’s Money”.  Any time you spend money you don’t control, that’s OPM.  In the video game industry it usually refers to publisher money.

When making decisions for a young game development studio, the decision to take Other People’s Money is one of the most important decisions you make.  It is more important than most people realize at first.  It may set the direction of your enterprise forever, just like drugs can set the direction of a human life.

Read More

Question Block : Focusing on Kickstarter Eh?

As always people, submit questions to rdonaldson@vfs.com and we’ll answer them in upcoming editions of Question Block!

 

What do you think the announcement of Kickstarter being available in Canada means?

It’s great news! Kickstarter has emerged as a viable funding source for creative projects of all kinds, including games. We’ve seen a number of games (and hardware, like Ouya) being successfully funded through Kickstarter, with some projects reaching very impressive funding targets.

Canada has had access to crowdfunding for some time in the form of Indiegogo, but Kickstarter is a better-known platform for game-related projects. Having access to Kickstarter could help a lot of Canada’s studios get the funding they need to get their dream projects off the ground. With the growth of social, mobile, and free-to-play, we’ve seen a lot of new startups on the Canadian gaming scene.

Kickstarter comes to Canada later this summer.

Read More

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.

Read More

Indie House: Developing Games Professionally From Home

I’m sad to say that my duration as a full-time instructor here at VFS Game Design is coming to an end. It was a very difficult decision for me to make, especially since working here has been a wonderful and fulfilling experience for me, because of both the students I have had the pleasure to teach, and the other instructors and TAs I got to work alongside.

The reason I am leaving is because I am entering the game industry as a full-time indie developer once again. But this time things are a bit different, this time, I’ll be working out of Indie House. So this post will be about Indie House, what we are doing, and hopefully will serve as an inspiration to those of you who want to get into making games.

WHAT IS INDIE HOUSE?

Indie House is a large house located in Richmond, BC, Canada, and is currently occupied by four full-time indie game developers who are all working from home. We have all known each other for many years, have collaborated on many games and projects together, and all make a living doing what we love… making video games.

WHO IS INDIE HOUSE?

  • Chevy Ray Johnston – Yours truly, a programmer, artist, and game designer most famous for creating the widely-used FlashPunk game engine
  • Matt Thorson – Creator of dozens of indie games such as the Jumper and Give Up Robot series, and the upcoming multiplayer combat game, TowerFall!
  • Alec Holowka – Unity master, creator of the award-winning Aquaria, wonderful musicvideo tutorials, and the popular Infinite Ammo podcast
  • Noel Berry – Creator of many web games including Prism Panic, Broken Robot Love, and Chunkadelic, also a talented web designer and artist

Read More

Question Block : Xbox One and Going Indie

Welcome to this edition of Question Block. As always, send your questions to rdonaldson@vfs.com or post them in the Comments section below. Thanks for reading!

 

Why do you think so many people are upset with Microsoft’s announcement of Xbox One?

In general, I think there are two main reasons:

  1. Scattered and confusing messaging;
  2. Disappointing business and design decisions.

Leading up to the event, there were rumors swirling. Microsoft responded in various ways, generally just creating more confusion. The announcement event could have gone a long way to clearing up some of these concerns, but unfortunately just served to fan the flames among most gamers.

Always On. Sometimes On? Once a day On? Huh?

Perhaps the biggest backlash has been around the ‘always on’ requirement. Although this was one of the top issues on gamers’ minds before the reveal, Microsoft ignored the point entirely during the conference. When journalists asked executives point blank following the conference, Microsoft’s messaging was all over the map. Some said it was absolutely untrue, others said it required a connection once every 24 hours, and still others said that the requirement was up to third party developers. This served to make matters worse, leaving gamers feeling that at best the console required a connection once a day to play even single-player games. In any case, this kind of roughshod communication is disappointing from such a revered company as Microsoft.

All Used Up

The second biggest issue revolves around used games. On every previous console, gamers have been able to lend games to friends, sell them secondhand, or take them for trade-in to popular stores like EB Games, GameStop, and even Best Buy. For some players, this is the only way they can afford to buy a new game: get a $30 credit for the last game they bought, and apply it to the $60 price tag on the new game they want. Microsoft announced that games will need to be installed to the Xbox One hard drive. Once installed, the game will be locked to that particular account. If you were to lend that game to a friend, your friend would simply be given the option to purchase the game – the disc would be a coaster to anyone but you. There’s a system that lets you play the game if you, the owner, are at a friend’s house, but only if you’re signed in with your profile. If we look at the messaging around this issue, again the water was muddy, with comments to the effect that Microsoft is still investigating different approaches.

Watch It

We’ve all known that Microsoft wanted to make a big play for the center of the living room for some time now. But we didn’t expect them to push games to the backseat. Now that they’ve held their E3 press conference, we’ve seen a taste of the games they have in store, which should alleviate some of the pain. But gamers should still be concerned about the balance of Microsoft’s efforts on the games vs. TV front. Personally, I don’t think Microsoft has a shot at winning the living room. If you look at most peoples’ living rooms, Sony is actually in a better position, already supplying many of the TVs, stereos, and Blu-Ray/DVD players around. I think it’s more likely that the mainstream would buy a Sony product as a living room hub than an Xbox One. Does that mean I think Sony will win (or even really try to fight in) the war for the living room? My answer is no, but that topic is better left for another day…

Xbox ONE, with mandatory Kinect.

Read More