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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Level Up: Flat is boring!

Level Up with Victor Kam — Banner

As the title suggests, flat is booooring!  A game level with little to no elevation will bore the player as the constant threat is completely visible;  the player always knows what’s coming ahead of them.  So what we need to do is add slight undulations in our paths to create tension and reveals in our levels.

In this day in age we have superb game engines and level editors that let us develop 3d worlds at the touch of our finger tips.  It would be a shame to not take advantage of this.  I remember making maps for Doom and Duke Nukem 3D, it was nearly impossible to create overhangs and vertical gameplay due to the technical limitations.

Let’s take a look at our first example, oh the dreaded UDK hallway.  Being a player, traversing through this area requires you to press the “forward” button to get through.  This is fine, especially if it’s in a downbeat in our game level and we just want the player to absorb their surroundings after an intense battle.  But we can make this calm section much more interesting, not by changing what the player is doing on their controller, but by creating the illusion that the player is doing “something” in a flat travel section.

This is done here by adding a ramp up or down.  Keep in mind that all the player is doing is still pressing the “forward” button on the controller.

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Game Design Summer Intensives

All this week it’s the Summer Intensive sessions here at Game Design, a chance for aspiring Game Designers to get a sneak peek at the types of things we do here at the Game Design campus. Starting with some Game Theory, and wrapping up with creating games in Flash, our 1 week students have been very busy. Yesterday they spent the day understanding Level Design, and using the same tools that Level Designers in the games industry use. More details on the Summer Intensives next week.

Level Design instructor Calder Archinuk tries to figure out how to help one student,
while another student has just blown her mind with her creation in UDK (Unreal Development Kit)

Class Spotlight: What is Juicy?

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.”

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Level Up: Showcasing your UDK maps

Well it’s that time of the year, you’re done presenting on industry night and finished classes.  What a perfect time to dust off the ol’ UDK maps and start screen grabbing those hard worked on levels for your portfolio!

When it comes to in game shots, presentation and quality matters.  Surely we can go into fullscreen mode, hit PrintScreen and paste directly into Photoshop.  But let’s make the most of our game engine and get a beauty shot that captures your hard work without the loss of detail.

Here’s how we do it in UDK:

Step 1: Get into the level

Jump into your level like you normally would through the editor.

Step 2: Bring up the console

Bring up the console (press Tab).

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Competitive Gaming: A Twist

 

VFS Level Design Instructor Lanh Doan received bad news last year, due to health reasons he was going to have to take a break from teaching. Lanh was going to be spending a lot of time recovering and getting himself healthy again, and this meant a lot of quality time watching TV and Movies… more importantly it meant  he would be spending a lot of time on his computer. A lot of people (like me) would spend most of that time just playing games and connecting with friends, but Lanh wanted to continue to develop his skills, and there was no better way than competitive gaming.

This was not what most people would expect from competitive gaming, as  a Level Design expert Lanh had a different idea, enter competitions in Level Design. The Gnomon Workshop, an online training site for Artists, was running a monthly contest with a different theme, and awarding prizes to the best entries.

“I came across it when I was researching, development tools for UDK and noticed a familiar name in the industry, Alex Alvarez, an amazing 3D artist that I’d been following for a while.  He is now the founder of the site which is very popular and produces the best educational Dvd sets out there.”


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Meet Women in Games Scholarship Winners Anna Prein & Janel Jolly

Women in Games Scholarship Winners Anna Prein and Janel Jolly

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?

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Things You Wish You Knew About Unity v4 Before You Went To The Dev Floor

So there you are, you’re sitting downstairs on the Dev Floor sweating bullets over your final project and the line of code or prefab that you’re staring at just isn’t working and all you can think is “WTF is going on — I know I’m doing everything right… it must be Unity‘s fault.” So you take the next logical course of action; you wander over to Bren Lynne and Peter Walsh‘s office. No dice; they are off helping someone else or teaching… What now?

Sadly, for those of you who fit the above scenario, this article may have come a little bit too late. But for the rest of you, this article may give you a hand with some of the stickier points that you may encounter, as well as with some common problems that my class had a hard time with. As of my writing this I believe that VFS Game Design has upgraded to the newest Unity (4.1) but all or almost all of this is relevant, regardless.

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Level Up : You Are Only As Good As Your Reference!

Level Up with Victor Kam — Banner

Being at various studios over many years, I’ve worked on a wide range of games, each with it’s own specific level design. From creating racetracks to wacky baseball stadiums, to the streets of Hong Kong, building unique levels is no easy task. The title of this post — You are only as good as your reference! — is a phrase I learned while struggling through the design of wide variations of levels, bouncing from project to project. It has stuck with me ever since, and I’d have to thank fellow artist and co-worker Jeff Solway for ingraining this concept into my head.

I often get asked the question: How do I start planning my level layout for game X? This is where reference images come in to play.

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Lonely ghost is lonely

Kristina Soltvedt Women in Games Scholarship Winner

As if to emphasize how lonely our ghost protagonist is, the villagers are falling in love all over the village. Sadly, this only serves to strengthen our protagonist’s loneliness. Poor ghost lady. Sad smileys all over the place. Here are a couple of diary entries from the lady in question.

Day 1

I’m so lonely. Ever since I embarked on my quest to kill my three friends, I’ve become more discouraged and more lonely. All I see is happy villagers in love. I can’t get to my friends cause…my designers are too preoccupied making the village look nice. Who gives a shh- what the village looks like — I’M LONELY!

Lonely Ghost image

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