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Chapter Spotlight - IGDA Austin

Posted By Administration , Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Founded more than twenty years ago, the Austin Chapter of the IGDA has deep roots in Central Texas.  As one of the top locations for game development in the world, Austin boasts a world-class community of developers across a wide range of game types and styles.  From major studios like Electronic Arts to more than 100 indie studios, Austin is an amazing place to live and create. 

The Austin Chapter's mission is to "help great game developers make great game companies."  The mission comes from our belief that the biggest challenge facing game developers is not designing or building a game, but successfully creating and operating the business, economic and legal infrastructure needed for a game company.  Why is this such a big deal?  We've all heard too many horror stories of skilled designers, artists and developers making a terrific game, but ultimately having to close up shop because they didn't know how to turn their passion into a living.  Faced with this, we've focused on monthly educational events that provide critical information that's often overlooked in game development and art education. 

For example, some of our major events (more than 50 with over 200 speakers and panelists since 2015; all free to attend) have included:

  • "Paying Your Mortgage With An Indie Game" - a panel of five successful indie devs, ranging from a solo who worked from coffees shops to a VR developer that had raised $4MM in venture capital, providing critical advice to a packed house.
  • "Strategic Planning Workshop" - taught by a local executive management consulting firm, over the workshop's two hours the facilitator challenged indie game attendees with difficult questions related to customer outreach, financial planning and staffing.  Incredibly eye-opening!
  • "Important Legal Docs for Game Devs" - attorneys from an AMLAW 200 law firm walked attendees through the five most important legal documents for game developers, and then gave digital copies of those documents away!  That was a $3,000 savings for everyone who came.

With all our events and activities, our goal is to "showcase new voices" regardless of where they can be found.  In the fast-changing game industry, expertise can be found everywhere regardless of age or background, and we're excited to bring these voices to the fore (nearly half of our speakers have been women!).

Amidst these monthly training programs, we are also pleased to leverage a strong relationship with SXSW Conference to have a presence in the three-day gaming expo.  At our booth, we'll host indie game devs, artists and other game industry creatives who want to showcase their work or get feedback from attendees, but aren't ready to spend thousands of dollars for a solo booth.  Over the past four years, we've showcased more than 100 game studios!   All for free.  We've also provided mentors, judges and the master of ceremonies for the SXSW Gaming Pitch Competition for the past two years.  This year's winner walked away with a $2,000 prize AND a publishing deal from one of the judges.  

Each year we also host an event to celebrate our unique gaming culture, the Austin Gaming Showcase.  The Showcase allows indie (and not so indie) game developers from Central Texas and beyond to participate in a gaming expo focused entirely on us!  With over 800 attendees last year and entirely funded by outside sponsors, the Showcase has become the "not to miss" Austin gaming event.

We also maintain a close relationship with the City of Austin, routinely representing the industry at events across the metropolitan area.  In 2017, we represented the game industry at an Austin / US Department of State event entitled the "American Competitiveness Exchange" where leaders from Latin America visit US tech hubs to learn more about the policies that cause creativity to thrive.  Separately, we've also worked with the State of Texas, putting on a game-centric panel at the 2018 "Texas-EU" Summit led by the University of Texas and the governor's office.

We're thrilled to continue to support the video game industry of Central Texas and are looking forward to many more years to come.

Find us here:  https://www.meetup.com/AustinGameDevs/

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Game Dev Showdown: Games Discovery Contest at Gamesforum Seattle 2018

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Gamesforum Game Dev Showdown is returning to Seattle in 2018 and developers from across the world are invited to apply to join the fun.

The showdown is taking place on the 24th of October at the Bell Harbor Conference Center. Ten developers will get a chance to showcase their game at Gamesforum Seattle and pitch their latest game and their business to a panel of expert judges.

They’ll be judged on the quality of their game, the quality of their pitch and how they present their company.

And the winner will walk away with some epic swag and tips from the judges, as Pine Street Codeworks did when they won the first ever showdown in Seattle in October 2017.


The contest is open to developers from all backgrounds and platforms, including console, PC, VR, AR, mobile and more.

Each studio that is accepted onto the showdown will receive 3 complimentary passes to attend the event, a space to demo their game in the Gamesforum Showcase, as well as receiving some advice from the team on how to make the most of your pitch. All unsuccessful entries will also receive two free passes to attend Gameforum Seattle.

To submit your game for consideration, we’d like to hear about your game, your company story and why you should win. Email submission to john@globalmgf.com

If you’d like to attend Gamesforum Seattle, click here to register. IGDA members receive a special 25% discount on delegate and micro-studio passes and 25% off all sponsorship packages. Visit the IGDA member benefits details page (requires log in) to access discount information. 

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IGDA Women in Games SIG profiles Ellie Crawley

Posted By tristin hightower, Wednesday, September 28, 2016

 

Humbled and honored: WIG SIG profiles QA manager Ellie Crawley

Eleanor Ross Crawley is a QA Manager for ZeniMax Online Studios. She started in the gaming industry in the late 1990s working for MicroProse Software. She has worked for Hasbro Interactive, Infogrames Interactive, Atari, Breakaway Games, EA Mythic, and ZeniMax Online Studios. She has her Masters’ degree in Business Administration Management with a focus on HR and Mediation and recently she earned her certification as a Project Manager Professional (PMP). Ellie is passionate about making fun, immersive high quality games.

Click here learn more about Ellie!

Tags:  ellie crawley  profile  qa  wig sig  women in games 

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IGDA Interview Series: Tanya X. Short

Posted By Jillian Mood, Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tanya X. Short is the Captain of Kitfox Games, the small studio behind Moon Hunters and Shattered Planet. Previously, she worked as a designer at Funcom Games on The Secret World and Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. In her free time she helps direct Pixelles, a women-in-games non-profit co-founded with Rebecca Cohen-Palacios, and writes short fiction.

 


 

Tanya X. Short
Captain, Kitfox Games

Jillian Mood, IGDA: How did you get started in the game industry? Was it a passion you always had?

Tanya Short: I've always loved games, but I didn't always know I wanted to be a designer. Initially, as a bachelor of English Literature and hobbyist writer of short fiction, I wanted to be a writer in games. I took production internships at local tiny studios at first, but I wasn't really sold on the idea until I volunteered as a community manager and content designer on a text-based MMO (called a 'MUD') that I loved. As an Elder Scrolls fan, I thought the idea of writing quests for role-playing games sounded like the best job in the world. In a somewhat unusual move for 2006, I decided to apply to a game design graduate school that promised a 90%+ hiring rate at AAA companies, called The Guildhall at SMU. I thought I would study level design as a stepping-stone to writing, but I fell in love with being the architect of the player experience. I still enjoy writing, especially for games, but it takes second place to design. A year and a half of hard work later, I had a few different job offers, unsurprisingly (for me, and for the time) on MMOs.

JM: You have been a creative director and co-founder of Kitfox Games for almost 3 years. What brought you to the decision to want to start a new company? What are some valuable lessons you can pass on to other start up hopefuls?

TS: I wanted full creative freedom, and I happened to be considering my options at the time that Execution Labs was recruiting for its first rounds of its incubator program. The Montreal community is incredibly supportive and diverse, with people from all kinds of backgrounds collaborating (AAA, indie, academic, student, ex-patriot), and it proved surprisingly easy to pull together a crack team that was ready to take the plunge. As for lessons, from my perspective, I think I see too many people that take "the plunge" a little too seriously, especially when there's so many different things that can go wrong that are beyond your control. My team approached Kitfox as a 6-month experiment at first, which helped lower the stakes and let us stay flexible with our decisions, until we found our footing. Three years later, I look back and wonder at how we may have imploded, if we'd had "following our dreams" as a pressure we felt we had to fulfill. There are already so many pressures on a young company -- financial, emotional, intellectual -- that you really don't need to add more, during that initial fragile phase, before you have something to build on. My advice would be to take a deep breath, and have fun in this moment. Enjoy exploring a new side of yourself, and learn as much as you can. Then, no matter what happens, it will have been a good use of time and energy.

JM: It's extremely exciting to see how successful Pixelles is! Can you walk us through how that initiative came to be and also plans for its future?

TS: Thank you! Pixelles started through the funding and programming of Feminists in Games, who funded our first incubator, and gave my co-founder Rebecca Cohen-Palacios and I materials on how they ran their successful Difference Engine Initiative in Toronto. Their vision was to take a handful of women, give them the tools to make games, and let them loose to make their impact on the world, as a viral effect. Rebecca is the star example of their program as a success, since she graduated the DEI and then went on to create Pixelles. The incubator is now in its 4th year, and every year we've watched as our alumna get up to more and more game-making activities, from hosting game jams to mentoring others to getting jobs in the industry! The response to the first incubator was so wildly positive in Montreal that we just had to keep doing it, and we grew along with our little community, adding mentorship programs, workshops, socials, and more. Our Facebook group is up to 800+ members, and our Kickstarter raised over $9,000 last year to help with future programs, including an incubator for young girls. This year, for the first time, with the help of the IGDA, we're even giving 25 GDC passes to women and genderfluid game devs who otherwise wouldn't be able to attend, and local sponsoring studios are providing some travel funds for those with low incomes. Our goal with Pixelles isn't just to change the existing games industry though -- we also want to change the perception of "games" as an art form, from something mysterious and masculine-coded into something approachable, that everyone can do. Everyone should try making a game, because everyone can, and then they'll know whether it's an art form they enjoy.

JM: In your experience, are you finding diversity has been improving in the industry?

TS: I don't know if diversity is increasing across the industry or not. I know that more and more game developers are recognizing a problem with the homogeneity of their teams (as every creative should), and the increased accessibility of tools means we are hearing more voices, which used to be lost. However, the industry is still run by mostly the same people it was 20 years ago, and until we have more diverse people making the decisions, I will continue to worry about the industry's culture as a whole. Like most industries across the world, we need more than just better hiring practices -- we need a work culture that supports different lifestyles, that celebrates different backgrounds, and encourages people to live full lives. I started the Crunch is Failure pledge because it has to start with us, the individuals who work in this industry, deciding how to shape our culture and perceive ourselves. I hope more people from more backgrounds can also start their own companies, and decide for themselves what culture they want to create with their teams... though I also recognize that starting a company is a huge risk, and usually only the very privileged can afford to do so. I hope more programs like Execution Labs can help new kinds of creators find their place.

JM: Any advice to companies who are hiring and want to be more diverse but not sure where to start?

TS: First, read this excellent article by Brie Code, and pay for someone like her to review your hiring practices. It takes work -- writing a posting that isn't alienating, promote your posting in new places, to new groups, and then be open-minded when new kinds of people apply. Brie was the one who showed me a surprising finding: that the most experienced, "best" candidate may not be what your team needs. A diverse team of non-experts can perform better than a team of experts. Hiring the top programmers, if they're all alike, is likely to give you a worse programming team overall than if you were to hire different kinds of people, with different modes of problem solving, different soft skills, and different personality types. If your idea of 'cultural fit' is fitting every candidate into a cookie-cutter mold of someone who played games since they were 5, loves Zelda, and has a high Steam level, you might be undercutting what you actually mean by 'diversity' into 'clones that look different on the outside'. Also, please also look at your company culture, to make sure your new, culture-challenging hires are genuinely comfortable and stick around long enough to help your company improve for the long-term

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IGDA Interview Series: Giselle Rosman

Posted By Jillian Mood, Wednesday, February 3, 2016

After the huge success of Global Game Jam 2016, it was a pleasure to talk with Giselle Rosman, Executive Producer of the event! Giselle is also the chapter leader of IGDA Melbourne and business administrator of Hispter Whale, the company that developed Crossy Road.

Read all about her journey and inside stories about this year's Global Game Jam!

 


 

Giselle Rosman
Executive Producer, Global Game Jam
Chair, IGDA Melbourne
Business Administrator, Hipster Whale

Jillian Mood, IGDA: Thank you for talking the time to speak with us Giselle! Tell us about how you got involved in global game jam?

Giselle Rosman: I've been leading IGDA Melbourne since late 2009. When I heard about GGJ, I set up our first site in Melbourne in January 2011, where we had 70 jammers. I was then asked to be Regional Organiser for Australia and New Zealand (2012-2013) which led to joining the Executive Committee for the 2014 event. By 2015, I had joined the Global Game Jam® Board, and when the position of Executive Producer came up, I applied for that and here we are!

JM: How do you and your team coordinate a global event like this?

GR: It's a challenge! Slack has been an amazing tool to streamline it all, but with around 750 people involved in making GGJ happen, including Site Organisers, Regional Organisers, Translators, and a range of committees, there's a lot of faith involved. I have come forward leaps and bounds in my ability to delegate throughout the process, and am so lucky to have such dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers from all over the world who make it come together. When I stop to think about it, I still don't think I can wrap my mind around the enormity of what we pulled together.

JM: What’s involved in coming up with theme each year?

GR: We put together a theme committee, which this year ran its gatherings via Slack and was led by Bryan Ma. The theme committee looks for something understandable across a large range of languages and cultures, which can be interpreted through a variety of cultural lenses. Ideas are thrown around, and the ones that keep re-surfacing get shortlisted for a committee vote.

We're really pleased with the jammer response to this year's theme, 'Ritual' which ticked all the boxes for being flexible and yet defined, and able to work across any language and cultural barriers.

JM: How many people participated this year? Which site this year had the most participants?

GR: 2016 was our biggest year yet with over 36,000 people jamming at 632 sites across 93 countries! Our biggest site was in Cario, Egypt and had more than 1200 jammers this year.

JM: It must be incredibly exciting to hear from sites all over the world jamming all weekend. What kind of feedback to you get? Any really cool stories coming out of this year?

GR: The feedback has been great so far. The theme was really well received and the Twitch streaming and Slack really helped with enabling people to feel like they were part of something bigger than just what was going on at their local jam site.

So many stories! These are just some as relayed by site organisers via Slack:

one guy in Buenos Aires made 280 tortas fritas in saturday (a kind of sweet bun, very typical in Argentina that is eaten with mate) and asked for a piece of story for each bun he give. With all the pieces he made this game: http://globalgamejam.org/2016/games/la-mateada

 

I didn't realize it until the jam was over but we had Justin Ma of FTL fame at our site and he formed a team with a designer/programmer from Kerbal Space Program, a guy from Spry Fox and a few other local indie devs to make Eldermon. A cross of Pokemon and Eldritch horror. http://globalgamejam.org/2016/games/eldermon We had devs of all skill levels at our site but this team certainly turned out the most complete game I saw.

 

It's funny how quickly the focus shifts away from regular things to just the game you're building. We had a blind person at our site who was a programmer in one of the teams. Friday night I saw him entering the restroom and trying to find the water fountain. I called after him: "just switch on the lights, makes it easier". His answer: "nah, Takes too long to locate the switch and doesn't help me anyway." I totally forgot that he was blind. But what I actually wanted to honor here is how well all of our attendants went along with him. He was helped without hesitation when he wanted to go somewhere or get something and vice versa he was asked when there were tricky programming questions. It was just awesome to be part of that community

 

One nice story form Medellin, Colombia. Is that we had some people come from a foundation for people with aspergers sindrome.

Included there was a kid that just came to be with his big brother, who was a programmer. One of the team saw the kid playing his guitar and assumed he was a musician, so they asked him to make the music for their game and he just did it!

He created this awesome music that worked really well with the game using borrowed computer equipment and software and by the second day of the jam he was all over his mom telling her that he wants to pursue a career in games and had decided to study that field at local university.

 

When I decided to take part as the mains organizer of our Jam site I said to my boyfriend that I would have to sacrifice our weekend I order to attend to the event. He, a formed medicine student, 20yrs old that dropped the grad to change to chemistry engineering, right away said that was going g to support and help in anyway he could. So he take part in the organisation too with task not related to game making since he had no experience in that (just in playing, what we do a lot heh). Well, the first day was very stressful and he got very tired since he worked in the reception and registering the people in the system as they arrived at the site. 40 people. As well as setting up the food and other things.

On the second day we had more time to take a look at the people producing the games.

Today in the third day he asked me what would I think if instead of chemistry engineering he went for development. Cause he got amazed with the jammers coding. So I presented him the code Academy website for him to take a taste of the stuff. He started with Javascript. And one of the tasks was to make a very simple prompt based game. He did. And he finished it. And he got amazed. He was so happy with that. I'm in tears right now writing this remembering of how much he excited he got.

Now he is really in doubt about chemistry or computer science.

And that's it. This Jam probably changed dramatically a people's life. And I thank you all so much for this opportunity. I'm so proud of him.

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IGDA Interview Series: David Lightbown

Posted By Jillian Mood, Thursday, January 21, 2016

David Lightbown has been working professionally in video games for 15 years. He has spent the majority of his career focusing on the efficiency of game development pipelines and tools.

David has presented at the Game Developers Conference, Siggraph, and the Montreal International Game Summit on multiple occasions. In 2010, he received the Autodesk Master award, which recognizes people who have made a significant contribution to the digital content creation community. David's new book, "Designing the User Experience of Game Development Tools", was released in 2015.

He currently holds the position of User Experience Director for the Technology Group at Ubisoft Montreal.

 


 

David Lightbown
User Experience Director - Technology Group, Ubisoft Montreal

Jillian Mood, IGDA: You've had a great career so far! Tell us about your current role as a user experience director at Ubisoft?

David Lightbown: Thank you! My role at Ubisoft is to apply concepts and techniques from the field of User Experience to our game development tools and pipelines.

I do that by coaching developers to be aware of User Experience, and by working directly with game production teams – primarily the Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry franchises – to improve the User Experience of their tools and pipelines.

JM: Ubisoft has a reputation of having amazing tools for their employees, it must be exciting contributing to that!

DL: That’s a very nice thing to say! We work as hard as we can to improve our tools and pipelines, and there’s always more that we can do. One of the many reasons why I accepted this position at Ubisoft is that we have the ambition and vision to hire people dedicated to the User Experience of tools and pipelines. I’m very fortunate to be amongst so many great developers who are participating in this challenge!

JM: What point in your career was it when you wanted to focus on UX and productivity? Tell us about your thought process that led to this direction in your career?

DL: Around 2012, I was at a turning point in my career: I had been working as a Technical Director for almost a decade, I felt like I had hit a wall with what I could do to help content creators be more productive.

I started researching other ways that I could help, and I stumbled upon the field of User Experience after a colleague recommended the book “The Inmates are Running the Asylum” by Alan Cooper. After that, I started reading any books about User Experience that I could find, and I realized that I had been doing some of the techniques without realizing that this was an established field, with a mountain of evidence-based research rooted in psychology, cognition, perception, and so on.

I created a presentation about how User Experience can help improve tools and pipelines, and I presented it to a number of game development studios. Ubisoft expressed an interest in hiring me full time as User Experience Director for the Technology Group. I’ve been doing just that ever since, and couldn’t be happier!

JM: Big question: what accomplishment in your career gave you the most satisfaction?

DL: Winning the Autodesk Master Award in 2010 was a huge accomplishment.

My GDC Europe 2013 presentation was voted #1 at the conference by the audience, and I’m extremely proud of that.

Coming to the conclusion that we need to improve the User Experience of our tools and pipelines, and then being hired by Ubisoft Montreal to do that full-time, is a dream come true, and I’m thankful to have this opportunity. I am truly inspired by my work every day!

It also might sound cliché but, it’s the truth: any time I see a game developer who is more productive because of a tool or pipeline that I worked on, I feel a sense of accomplishment.

JM: Since you have been in the industry for about 15 years correct including spending 8 years at Behaviour Interactive…how has the emphasis and perception of user experience changed? Are companies putting a much bigger emphasis on UX and productivity especially internally?

DL: I feel that it has changed dramatically in the last few years. Through the presentations that I have given at GDC, as well as my book, I’m hoping to make more people aware of how User Experience can improve game development tools and pipelines. Our industry is still very young, and so our development process is constantly evolving. I am seeing more and more companies hiring people for full-time positions in User Experience, whether it be for games or tools and pipelines. It’s a move in the right direction, but there is still a huge amount of untapped potential that game developers can benefit from by investing in User Experience.

JM: I watch some of your GDC talks (and promise to read your book!). Obviously you are very ambitious. What are your career goals?

DL: One of my goals is to reach as many people in the games industry as possible – through conference presentations, podcasts, articles, my book, and so on – in an effort to help them realize the potential benefits of investing in the User Experience of game development tools and pipelines.

My main goal is always to find better ways to apply User Experience techniques to the tools and pipelines at Ubisoft, so that our developers are able to continue making great games!

JM: We are thrilled you will be conducting the first webinar of 2016 on Wednesday, 27 January focusing on productivity with better tools! What else can you tell our audience about what to expect and walk away with?

DL: I’m very excited to share my thoughts on what User Experience can offer the games industry! I’d like the people who attend the workshop to walk away with a better understanding of what User Experience is, how it can help make tools and pipelines more productive, and what they can do to get started and reap the rewards. I’m looking forward to it!

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IGDA Interview Series: Lesley Phord-Toy

Posted By Jillian Mood, Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Lesley Phord-Toy is a producer and founding team member at Ubisoft Toronto. Most recently, Lesley led the Toronto collaboration on the best-selling Assassin’s Creed Unity shipped by Ubisoft Montreal in November 2014 and is now hard at work on an unannounced project.

An engineering graduate from the University of Waterloo, Lesley started her career as a programmer in Los Angeles developing software for visual effects at Sony Electronics. During that time, she was exposed to the film and broadcast industry, and decided to explore opportunities in production.

By 2002, the game industry in Montreal was blossoming, and Lesley moved back to Canada to pursue a new career path in games. Since then, she has helped to create a wide variety of titles ranging from family-friendly games, to hard-core military shooters.

In 2010, Lesley returned to Ontario to help start up the Ubisoft Toronto studio as a producer on Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist and the studio’s first production employee. Lesley is thrilled to be a part of the talented team at Ubisoft, and enjoys being an active member of the local game community through her involvement with the IGDA Toronto chapter.

 


 

Lesley Phord-Toy
Producer – Ubisoft Toronto
Chair – IGDA Toronto
Jillian Mood, IGDA: Working at Ubisoft Toronto must be a great experience! Can you tell us a little more detail about your role and what project you’re working on now?

Lesley Phord-Toy: I was fortunate to be one of the first team members to join the studio back in 2010, working to grow our team in Toronto I’ve been at Ubisoft now for almost six years working as a producer, leading teams and collaborations on AAA projects including game franchises such as Rainbow 6, Splinter Cell, and Assassin’s Creed. I would love to talk about my current team and project, but currently it’s unannounced so I can’t share any details...yet!

JM: Would you say technical background help you be a better producer in the video game industry?

LPT: One of the things I appreciate the most about working in the games industry is the diversity of skills and crafts required to make games. For positions of leadership, I truly believe that any hard skills, regardless of discipline, can be a great advantage as it helps to better appreciate and understand the day-to-day challenges of the team members you manage. I use my background in engineering and programming every day when I communicate with my teams to discuss, guide, and challenge them when working towards innovative and creative solutions.

JM: I noticed you have worked on teams as large as 120 people! Can you tell us the biggest differences from producing on small teams to huge ones?

LPT: While it’s true that I have worked with very large teams, I have also shipped games with less than 30 people. I’d say the biggest difference is the amount of conscious effort required to build strong relationships and ensure good communication. On smaller teams, regular face-to-face interaction reduces the possibility of interpersonal problems and communications breakdowns. On larger teams, where people may not even necessarily know each other, it can quickly turn into a downward spiral when people lose motivation because they don’t have clear, shared goals or vision for the project. Therefore, we spend a lot of time and energy to constantly assess and improve our communications on all our projects. We also invest in creating conditions that strengthen relationships across the team. These relationships, in turn, give larger teams an enormous momentum and spirit that feels electric as everyone works towards delivering on common goals and a shared vision together.

JM: Do you use the same tools for both or do you have to tailor your approach based on the scope and size of the team?

LPT: I believe that every team and every project is unique and it’s important to maintain a mindset of constantly trying to do things better. Making games rarely has a one-size-fits-all solution, and in every case where I’ve seen this mentality applied, it’s always resulted in frustration, wasted work, or a lack of creativity or innovation. Of course you want to take advantage of existing tools, processes, and experiences, but mostly in the sense that it helps to provide a context and a baseline to work from. If you end up using the exact same tools, it’s because you’ve specifically determined that they are the right solutions for your current situation, and not simply because they worked before.

JM: You are also the Chair of IGDA Toronto and have been for 5 years! Thank you for that! Can you tell us why you decided to run a chapter?

LPT: It all really just coincided with me moving to Toronto from Montreal. I was a part of the advisory committee for IGDA Montreal, and it was really valuable in helping me to develop my career. When I moved to Toronto, it seemed like a no-brainer to get involved in the chapter there as well. As it turned out, they were also looking for new leadership, so I figured that it was a good way to get involved, get to meet people in the local community, and also give back to other game developers.

JM: What was one of the most memorable chapter events you ran and what advice would you give to other chapter leaders on making sure they run interesting/relevant events and sessions?

LPT: One of our best events was when we were able to convince Neil Druckmann to do a talk about making The Last of Us. Since Toronto is such a diverse community, we specifically wanted to invite someone that could appeal to our entire community which includes developers from indie to AAA. With The Last of Us being one of the most universally celebrated games of 2013, it was a great honour to host him in Toronto. As of today we have almost 70k hits on YouTube for this session!

Another great session to note, which constantly gets mentioned even years after the fact, is a talk that was presented by Adam Bromell (who is currently an Assistant Art Director at Ubisoft, as well as working on Astroneer as an alternate project). Adam and I worked together to customize his presentation so that it would be valuable to a variety of developers that were both early in their career, as well as industry veterans. The intent was to help reinforce one of the Toronto chapter’s goals: building bridges between all developers in Toronto’s diverse game dev community.

JM: It seems the industry in Toronto is growing with more studios and events popping up, have you noticed a lot of growth in the past 5 years?

LPT: It always seems like there are new developers, new projects, new games, and new companies in Toronto. I feel extremely fortunate for being part of such an engaged and thriving community, and ultimately, my hope is that we can all become better developers by helping each other grow and evolve by sharing our experiences.

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IGDA Interview Series: Judy Tyrer

Posted By Jillian Mood, Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Updated: Friday, December 18, 2015

Judy Tyrer would have decided to become a game developer had she known that was an option at the age of 9 when she tried to figure out how to build a robot that would play games with her. She did not succeed, but her passion for games never faltered. After graduating from SMU with a double major in English Literature and Secondary Education, Judy started in the Serious Games Business at Control Data Corporation where she had the unique privilege of working on PLATO, a computer based education system.

From there Judy moved into the computer industry working on distributed UNIX operating systems, specializing in File Systems. During this time she served on the File System Committee for the Open Software Consortium and published a USENET paper on "Adding Tightly Consistent Replication to OSF's DFS".

During the "www.yourjobhasgonetoindia.com" period which decimated the enterprise software industry in the US, Judy decided to go back to her game playing robot fantasies and joined the game industry working at Ubisoft on the Ghost Recon series as a networking engineer and multi-player engine specialist. From Ubisoft, Judy moved to Sony Online Entertainment as Lead Engineer for Magic the Gathering: Tactics. She was then tapped by Linden Labs as Senior Engineering Manager of the Engine Room, the team responsible for server related software and simulations for Second Life.

 


 

Jillian Mood, IGDA: You've had a great career, staring with Red Storm, an Ubisoft Studio now a CEO of your own company, 3Turn productions. Can you tell us about your journey and why you picked the video game industry?

Judy Tyrer: I have been an avid gamer my entire life with much of my childhood spent chasing down family members begging them to play games with me. So after a fantastic career as a computer scientist in the UNIX OS work began to dry up in my area so I decided it was for a career change. My 12 YO son was talking to me about potential careers and I told him, "If I were your age, I'd go into the video game industry."

A little voice in the back of my head said, "So why do you think you're too old to do the same" and I decided I wasn't. And the industry agreed.

JM: What are some of the biggest differences you've experienced from working at a large studio like Red Storm or Sony compared to a smaller start up?

JT: Large studios have highly specialized talent which can be good but limiting. It is much more difficult to be seen as anything other than what you were hired in as. I never saw a lateral transfer and even promotions seemed few and far between. The sizes of the team also become insulating. At one point one studio broke out of the "all programmers in one room, all artists in another" model and built teams combining disciplines which I thought was really great. I was on the game engine team. We were all engineers.

There is also a name recognition that I think plays a part when it sits on your resume. Whether looking for work or looking for investors, that name recognition opens doors. When I say I was Lead Engineer at SOE, I don't have to jump through quite as many hoops as I would if I had been Lead Engineer at Tiny Failed Game Studio.

On the other hand, if you're more of a square peg and don't like being stuck in round hole always doing the same tasks ad nauseum, start-ups offer no shortage of opportunities to try new things, learn new skills. There is always more work than there are people to do it so anyone willing to try something is usually able to do so.

Start-ups also don't have the insular team limitations of large studios. All teams are interdisciplinary because there is only one team. And you are all working with jerry rigged, duct-taped tools and equipment sharing hardships. (Small budgets have their disadvantages). There is less process and formality but that sometimes translates into more chaos rather than more creative freedom.

In large studios, the majority of the team crunching is doing so because "There are 100 other people out there that would just love your job if you don't want it." In small start-ups people are crunching because they are choosing to do so because they want to. Though in the interest of full disclosure, that could be because I will never ask people to work overtime. However, the two start-ups I worked at in the computer industry also never had mandatory overtime. We had deadlines, we were expected to meet them. For 3 Turn Productions, working overtime is a Founder only privilege. I want my team well rested so they don't make dumb mistakes from being tired. If you wouldn't let someone check in code drunk , you should not let them check it in tired.

JM: Tell us about 3turns first production, Ever, Jane: The Virtual World of Jane Austen? Sounds like an incredibly interesting project!

JT: Ever, Jane just entered Closed Beta. During this period we are refactoring two of the major systems and starting to optimize as well as bringing all the art up another level, adding new art, etc. All the core game play is in the game, but the players don't really know how to use it yet so the tutorial is being constantly expanded.

You start the game at one of two small academies similar to those in the Regency period, mostly just homes run by those in distressed financial circumstances yet still of the gentry. We use a magazine to provide the instructions for what to do through the tutorial and Stories to help give players guidance in their role play. The first four stories are designed to teach the player most of the game play systems.

The stories allow players to choose what role they want to play. Each player in a story has a different role with different goals and in some cases, only one of them will succeed. (One story not yet implemented involves two sets of parents racing to Gretna Green before their children manage to elope).

In our current Sabotage story, the object of one person's affection appears infatuated by someone else. The protagonist's role in that story is to spread a rumor destroying the other person's reputation in order to win her love interest back. The second chapter will be entirely based on whether the love interest hears the devastating story before the player can find out the lies being told about them.

We are hoping these stories will facilitate the role-play in the game and help people socialize more.

As the players move through the game they must choose personality traits they wish to improve and those become their motivations for certain activities. Some stories will require strong or weak traits which can be modified through interactions with the characters. If you invite someone of a higher status to visit and they accept out of happiness, your status will improve. If they accept out of a sense of duty, however, it will not increase nearly as much. And if they don't accept, it might actually go down.

We also acknowledge that one doesn't get something for nothing. So you must also choose a trait to sacrifice. In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne sacrifices duty for happiness. In our game that might result in not being invited to tea with a great aunt who could introduce you to society. Or if there is a Happiness ball, no doubt Marianne could attend but Mr. Darcy might well be left out.

The ball is the only mini-game we had time to put into the game. It is still a little hot pink for the Closed Beta, but it allows players to play with AI and learn the basic dance steps. We should have that polished up with a dance instructor for launch, but the first actual ball will not take place until a few months after launch. We want to give our players something exciting to look forward to.

JM: I understand you're also developing a new software to help the industry with game development? This sounds awesome! Can you explain how it will work, what it will help studios with and when it will be available?

JT: Yes, we are building Ever,Jane with a process called Fuzzy Development. The name comes from Fuzzy Logic and the process is based on the premise that "All Work Days Are Not Created Equal". By leveraging the emotional state of developers during the phases of the project and working with their natural energy flow, we can waste less time and the less time we waste, the smaller our budget. Ever, Jane will launch with a development budget of < $500K which is pretty astounding for an MMO.

At its core, Fuzzy Development is really about not wasting time. We don't do work we may throw away. We accept technical debt as a part of our process. We start the next task before we've finished the last one (that is probably the hardest part). Instead of deadlines, we have start lines and in the first two phases of the project, they never move. So where in a normal process you'd be expected to finish and if QA found a bunch of bugs you'd slip the date, in Fuzzy Development, you wrap up all the work that didn't get finished, document it, accept the debt and move on.

This purpose and the results is working the entire game as a whole unit. It is similar to oil painting where you start with a wash. At the end of the wash all you have is colors and some basic rough shapes. At the end of our "wash" we end up with all the features of the game in the game, but at proof of concept quality with giant swaths of technical debt.

And this is where Fuzzy Development saves time. We are looking just at the big picture, just at the colors and shapes and we can say "too much yellow, we need to pull some yellow" and we pull a feature or two that aren't going to work. The POC worked. If you were just looking at the POC and not the entire big picture, you might finish it because it worked. But it doesn't work in the big picture, it doesn't fit a united whole. And therefore it must go.

Voila, I just didn't spend 3 mos. working on a feature I'm not going to end up wanting in the final product!

And that is the main gist of Fuzzy Development. We have a lot more details listing the various phases of the project, the work that should take place during those phases, a discussion of "just in time design" and other features that make this process actually work. We still need to live through the final phase to launch before we can prove that part works. We are doing that now.

JM: So, with your awesome experience what advice would you give to people in the industry that want to branch off from a studio to start their own company?

JT: Take care of your finances first. Get out of consumer debt. Move someplace really cheap to live. Learn to cook. Make sure you can live for as long as you'll need to without any income. My ability to not take income for 3 years is a huge part of why our budget is so low.

Learn business. Any business. All business. Don't just focus on the game industry, it is a business like any other and you'll find so many amazing resources.

Hire a lawyer and an accountant. Your lawyer is your sword and your accountant your shield in modern warfare!

Decide how you are going to fund your business. And regardless of if you are crowd funding or going for equity investors, make sure you have the chops to convince people you can follow through. Great ideas are a dime a dozen. Can you ship product? That's what investors are going to care about.

Watch Shark Tank. You can learn so much from how they decide to invest and not invest.

If you still have your job, hang out more in the CEO office. I spent too much time in the CTO office and not enough in the CEO office. Talk to them about the decisions they are making for the company. If you are IN a studio you have such a great opportunity to learn from people doing it. Take advantage of it.

JM: A little birdie told me IGDA helped you get your first role in the industry! That's amazing to hear, is it true?

JT: Yes, it's true. I was working on my demo and I wrote a question in the engineering forums explaining the pros and cons of a push v a pull model and asked what most games do. The response to my question was, "Send me your resume" from the networking engineer. I did, they hired me. He told me that my question showed that I knew the right kinds of questions to ask and the issues that we had to deal with.

JM: Final question! If you could go back and tell yourself one thing on your first day in the video game industry what would it have been?

JT: "We can't use traditional software development techniques because fun is not a well-defined requirement" is not a myth. It's totally true.

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IGDA Interview Series: Mike Kent

Posted By Jillian Mood, Thursday, November 5, 2015
Updated: Saturday, November 7, 2015

Mike Kent is a Professor at Algonquin College's Concept Art Foundations program, freelance concept artist, and chair of Pens & Pixels. Trained in game development and concept art, Mike began his career as a concept artist and modeler in several design firms. His passion for the arts has driven him to create Pens & Pixels, a professional arts and illustration collective, with the goal of bringing concept art and illustration to Ottawa and beyond. Mike's passion and drive come from his love of sharing and educating everyone in achieving their goal with their creative careers.

 


 

Jillian Mood, IGDA: Hello Mike! Congratulations on your recent hugely successful art jam! Why did you decide to do a jam that was specifically art only?

Mike Kent: Game jams are a great medium to help grow the game development community, spawn new ideas, network and create. Unfortunately. there is a divide between the arts and game development. The divide can get rather intense and can even be seen in the workplace. As it stands, professional artists looking to connect can feel excluded from a lot of video game events due to a lack of content supporting arts interests. So I created the art jam, built around creating and visually exploring a game world.

JM: What were the main things you learned from the experience?

MK: The top things I learned from the Pens & Pixels Art Jam are the importance of community and sharing. Artists are typically very isolated. The Internet age has on the one hand connected us, but on the other isolated us to home studios. As well, it can be hard for some artists to speak out and share their ideas and artwork in a public forum. But at the Pens & Pixels art jam, the barriers fell away, and the excitement and energy of the creative people in the room empowered everyone to start share their ideas effortlessly. The arts are always stronger when you get inspired, and you sometimes get inspired by simply talking with your peers. The art jam showed all of us how open, friendly, and excited our community is. And it taught me how impressive and dedicated we can be when brought together under a single banner.

JM: Was it a one-time event or do you think you will continue hosting them?

MK: Originally, the art jam was a test run. I could not find any strong examples of similar events. Our original plan was to see how this one played out, but the attendees were so thrilled with the result that they begged me to lengthen the next one to a full 24 hours and to host it as soon as possible. So now we plan to hold the Pens & Pixels Art Jam every year and publish the work done in an art book for the public to see our results.

JM: What was the response and feedback from the artists? What was your goal and do you feel like you accomplished it?

MK: The response was overwhelmingly positive. Most of our feedback was requests to lengthen the event and add more tasks. We kept a very structured approach with the art jam, providing the jammers with a setting, a full universe and basic plot for each team to follow. They then chose the world they would visually explore (e.g., water world, dessert world, jungle world, etc.) and were tasked with creating a list of designs and concepts. They responded to this with enthusiasm and tackled the task perfectly.

JM: What advice would you give to other art communities who want to organize a similar event?

MK: Structure and result. Artists can get lost in their creativity, or even confrontational about how good one idea is over another. Providing a structure and list of expectations can help jammers stay on task. This also helps spark the creative process, and a basic setting can help spawn the intricate web of ideas that branch-off from a core setting.

JM: Do you have any plans for combining art and dev in one jam?

MK: I do! Pens & Pixels has been talking with the creators of OJam to bring our artists together with their developers to create a full team with a complete pipeline. It will be an exciting task to try and merge our two communities. But in industry both halves are essential to game creation — it is one of Pens & Pixels' goals to try and start bringing the creative and development halves together.

JM: I understand this isn't your first initiative for the art community! Can you explain what Pens & Pixels is and your goal with that group?

MK: Sure! Pens & Pixels is a professional concept art and illustration collective here in Ottawa. We host industry events, share online content and tools with the goal of growing the concept art and illustration community. We aim to draw out our industry talent and give them a space to network, learn and create, all with a focus on the professional side of the arts community. So far we have had huge successes hosting industry talks with guest like Steambot Studios (Batman, Thief) Geof Isherwood (Marvel comics/movies), art lessons and hosting the first Artist Alley at the 2015 OIGC. As well, we hope to encourage the arts community to better merge with our local game development community in order to make Ottawa a one stop spot for industry.

 

Join the interview series!

If you would like to send a proposal on a subject you would like to hear about, be interviewed yourself, or nominate someone, we’d love to hear from you! Send thoughts to Jillian -AT- IGDA -DOT- org.

Tags:  2015  geof isherwood  interview  jillian mood  mike kent  oigc  ojam  ottawa  pens & pixels  steambot studios 

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IGDA Interview Series: Scott Rogers

Posted By Jillian Mood, Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Updated: Friday, November 6, 2015

Scott Rogers is the game designer and creative director of more than fifty AAA games for Disney, Sony, Capcom, Namco and THQ. His games have sold over 50 million copies worldwide.

Over his career, Scott has partnered with major licensors including Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon, MGA and DC Entertainment He has collaborated with amazing creators including Blur Studios, Dan Harmon, Susumu Matsushita, Tomonobu Itagaki and Tommy Tallarico. He has directed unforgettable voice talent including Nolan North, Frank Welker, Tom Kenny and Kim Guest.

For the last four years, Scott was an Imagineer at Walt Disney Imagineering's R&D department where he helped create interactive experiences installed in Disney's parks including: Mickey’s Fun Wheel Challenge, Legends of Frontierland and several app-based interactive games.

Scott has authored two books on game design: "Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design" and "Swipe This! The Guide to Touchscreen Game Design". Both books are top sellers and "Level Up!" is a #1 best seller on Amazon.com. Scott's books are used as the foundation of video game design curriculums at universities all over the world.

Scott lectures and teaches video game level design at the University of Southern California's prestigious school of Interactive Media. His students have gone on to design award winning games: Threes, Where's My Water, Ori and the Blind Forest and Nevermind.

 


 

Jillian Mood, IGDA: Hi Scott! Thank you so much for doing this interview, looking back at your incredible career it's hard to know where to start!

Well, let's start at the beginning! Tell us about your first job and how it launched your career into the creative and gaming world?

Scott Rogers: Just like Lana Turner, I was discovered in a coffee shop.

I had just been laid off from my first job after college at an animation studio and was drawing in my sketchbook. A friend from school saw me and asked me if I could draw. (I can) and if I could draw using a computer (I can). However, the software he used was for the PC and I was a Mac guy at that time. (I have since converted).

He graciously lent me the use of his computer for two weeks to learn those programs. I created a portfolio of work and interviewed at the company. The team was working on this very cool fantasy-themed RTS and I got along well with them, but at the end of the interview, I was informed the position I had applied for had been given away the day before. That small company was called Silicon and Synapse and that game was called Warcraft. Yes, I had missed my opportunity to be on the ground floor of Blizzard by one day. However, with the artwork in hand, I soon found work at another company and started my career as a video game artist. I eventually became a designer, but you can find that story in "Level Up!"

JM: You have worked for some incredible companies, Disney, Sony, Capcom…the list goes on! Was the creative process different at each company or do you follow the same steps? Did each company have a completely different creative culture?

SR: It depends on the company and position I have. Working with Disney Imagineering, for example, was very different experience than the more traditional game developers I had worked for in the past. I had to dust off some skills I thought I'd never use again as well as learn some new one – I even built a tree!

I find that I prefer to collaborate than lock myself away in a "design tower" and generate work. I work better with others and I really like the energy and ideas that can come from collaboration.

I always start with brainstorming and brainstorming always works better with others. Then I do a lot of drawing and writing, taking the ideas, fleshing them out and refining them. Finally, there is a lot of back and forth with the artists and programmers and other designers and lots of iterating and honing of ideas and gameplay. I always say that "all design is liquid"; you should allow for changes along the course of the entire project.

JM: How important was game design back in the 16-bit days compared to now?

SR: It was just as important as it is now.

While 16-bit systems were more restrictive in format, it made it easier to design games – for example, we just had to "follow the grid" when designing levels. It was almost more "mechanical" since every movement or action could be fitted to a grid. Using paper maps and storyboarding gameplay is still one of the best way to plan out a game before you execute. You can spot and solve many problems at the paper stage of a design.

JM: Obviously the image of designing games for Disneyland sounds like the best job ever for a creative! Was it exciting as it sounds?

SR: It was one of the most amazing and inspiring experiences of my life. I don't know if I will ever get another opportunity to work there again, but I am proud to have it on my resume. While I was there, I scaled the heights of the Matterhorn and crawled through the basement of the Haunted Mansion. I would love to tell you more, but then the Disney ninjas would come after me. (On retrospect, I think they've replaced the ninjas with First Order Stormtroopers.)

JM: And you also worked for Japanese companies as well. Was that a culture work shock to you? How did the environment and process differ from what you were use too?

SR: I worked for the American divisions of Japanese companies, so there wasn't too much culture shock during my day-to-day job, but my work did take me to Japan several times. Despite all of its strange and wonderful differences, Japan is pretty easy for a Westerner to get around in. I found that working with Japanese developers was pretty similar to Americans. Making games is making games, no matter what country you are in. I did pick up many cultural habits from my time in Japan. If you ever meet me, ask me for a business card and you'll see.

JM: Can you tell us about your favourite (or one of your favourite) projects you worked on and why it meant so much to you?

SR: While I have enjoyed (most) of the games I have worked on, there are two that stand out.

The first was Maximo vs. Army of Zin. I had a big say in the design of that game and was really interested in expanding the world of Maximo. I am proud to say we were creating steampunk-themed characters back in the early 2000's!

But I like Maximo 2 the most, because I wanted to address the problem of challenge vs. difficulty. People complained that the first Maximo game was too hard and they stopped playing. (which is too bad, because the final boss is really good) so I went into the design of Maximo 2 with a list of 50 things I felt needed to change from the first game. I am proud to say I achieved 49 of them. In my humble opinion, Maximo 2 is a better game than the first. It is much more playable and challenging to the player. It is less cruel.

The second project I enjoyed was the first project I worked on for Disney Imagineering. Sadly, it never progressed past the playable prototype stage, but it was very innovative and would have had a huge impact on the park. The project allowed me to be involved in some amazing things. There is even something permanent in Disneyland that I can point to and say "This is like this because of our game". How many can say that?

JM: After so many projects as a game designer you started publishing books (makes sense!). Did that come naturally to you because of your career? What was a challenge you found trying to put your expertise to paper?

SR: I was asked to write "Level Up!" by Wiley and Sons. They had seen my GDC lecture entitled "Everything I learned about level design I learned from Disneyland" and felt that there was a book in there. I thought they wanted me to write a "For Dummies" book but they said they wanted the "Scott Rogers' book of game design" – I am extremely grateful for that opportunity and realize what an honor it was to be asked.

As for writing the book, it was hard work, but it still came pretty easily. I had already been thinking about writing a book before Wiley came calling and I had created a document called the "Platform Primer" that ended up being the foundation for "Level Up!" (You can find the Platform Primer at my blog at www.mrbossdesign.com.)

JM: How would you explain what game design means if you were talking to a group of 5-year-olds?

SR: I have taught game design to a group of 8-year-olds and they were super-engaged and so creative! Kids are often just as sharp as adults and they usually pay better attention to their teacher! Since most of them love games, they catch on pretty quickly to how and why things work. Give them the basics and a few tools to play with and they will zoom off!

JM: And also, if you had advice for creatives entering the game industry today, what advice would you give them to have a full and fulfilling career?

SR: I am teaching a class at the New York Film Academy that preps the graduate students for employment. I tell them this:

1) Just do it. Many of these kids coming out of colleges have already done the two hardest things in gaming: They've made a game(s) and they've found a team to be a part of. It is so easy right now (in 2015) to make games and find an audience for your game and sell your game than it has ever been in the history of gaming. You don't need someone else to "invite you to the party" to make games. Make them yourself. I am proud to say that many of my students have gone on to form their own companies and made very successful and profitable games. You can too.

2) If you have to work for a company, find a project you want to be involved with. Having great games on your resume can take you pretty far.

3) Don't forget to live your life. It's really easy for people making video games to want to spend all of their time working. What's not to love about making games? However, it's not curing cancer. It doesn't have to be finished this minute. Find a company (or create a company) that makes room for your own interests, projects and people in your life.

 

Join the interview series!

If you would like to send a proposal on a subject you would like to hear about, be interviewed yourself, or nominate someone, we’d love to hear from you! Send thoughts to Jillian -AT- IGDA -DOT- org.

Tags:  2015  capcom  disney  jillian mood  level up! the guide to great video game design  namco  scott rogers  sony  swipe this! the guide to touchscreen game design  thq 

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