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VFS Game Design Expo 2011

A few weeks back I got to take part in the annual Vancouver Film School’s Game Design Expo. For the second year in a row, the VFS GDE was phenomenal. The event itself is very much based on drawing students to the game design program that is offered at VFS. The build of the weekend event is a Saturday filled with interviews and a Sunday chalked full of Campus and Course overview.

The overall feel of the VFS GDE is quaint and comfy. The event is in a small space with a very select group of developers and sponsor showcases. There is an obvious focus on local development (Relic, United Front, Propaganda) with a surprising pull from some heavyweight developers coming up from the states (Visceral, 343, Blizzard).


Jaakko Iisalo - Senior Game Designer & Matthew Wilson - Marketing Manager (Rovio Mobile)
The gentlemen from Rovio spent the majority of their presentation explaining what they did to become popular, which in all circumstances was a fluke mixed with the slight flavor of good product. Neither of the presenters seemed very confident nor were they really "selling" the path they took. Being that this event if strictly to introduce students to new ideas and new people, Rovio fell far short on delivering anything to the attendees. (Piginator aside)

Jeff O'Connell - Lead Producer & Mike Skupa - Lead Designer (United Front Games)
Very happy to hear the folks from United Front Games actually knows what they are talking about when it comes to the open world gameplay mechanic and purpose. The design team actually spent a lot of time in Hong Kong to learn not only what the city and mainframe comprises of, but how they live their lives and how that can effect their gameplay. The team has brought in pros from all types of areas in order to blend all the aspects together and make a AAA open-world game.

Paul Parsons - Senior Game Designer (343 Industries)
A giant talk about all of the power and purpose behind the creation and design of Halo Waypoint. Parsons was a part of the first graduating class here at VFS.  The presentation makes half a dozen really good ways to connect to users through a "screen".  When Parsons started showing the differences between the old Waypoint and the new Waypoint it is astounding how great of an improvement the integration of user experience brings to a product. "Creating a product for mobile, web, and console is like looking into the same room through different windows." says Parsons.

Alan Shen - Senior Design Program Manager (Microsoft)
This part of the program is focused on overcoming and managing the user experience around Kinect. Shen opens up his presentation with diverse examples taken from Hollywood that makes public expectations on interfaces higher and ultimately makes jobs like his harder. The elaboration of "play-space" and the public’s perception of "how you play games" like sitting or laying. We are then blessed with countless videos on what didn't work when developing the dashboard interface with Kinect and the Xbox 360. Shen says the biggest lesson they learned while developing the user interface for Kinect is to NOT attempt to integrate a new product with an old user experience. "Its not that its impossible, it is just a lot more time and effort effective to create a new experience as a separate entity." said Shen

Raphael van Lierop - Game Director (Relic Entertainment)
For a man who spends his entire presentation slot talking about breaking down the creative process in building games, he sure did have a boring presence. For his entire given moment Lierop focused purely on the explanation and destination to a fully functional creative team. Lierop separates the roles of "creative leaders" vs. "creators". Mixed with some half assed jokes and bland texts, I could see him losing the attention of the audience within minutes. Lierop makes a lot of good points however in regards to the communication within a team and proximity set-ups in the studio,

Jonathan Gallina - Lead Game Designer (formerly Propaganda)
In both a sad and ironic note Gallina steps onstage to explain the constraints and difficulties in creating a game based on a movie. To even see the Propaganda logo next to someone's name is the most difficult part of watching this presentation. Gallina talks about fighting for Disney’s attention vs. the Tron: Evolution film while making the game. It seems that behind all of the points stated inside his presentation, Gallina is soured with the closing of Propaganda and makes a lot of "why Disney set us up to fail" points.


The open house day at the VFS Game Design Expo gives the students and the media a behind then scenes look at how the programs offered at VFS tick. The award winning school takes us through the paces of its coveted downtown game design campus. Courses like Game Theory, Level Design, Storytelling and Flash games are covered in great detail with small groups in nice cozy little classes. In another room, you have the chance to play games that have been developed by VFS Game Design alumni such as Mass Effect 2, Tron: Evolution, Modnation Racers, Dead Rising 2 and Dart's Odyssey. There was also another great opportunity to hear from some alumni that have just recently cracked into the developing industry. Both days during the weekend has plenty of hands on oppertunity with PSMove, Kinect, Wii and student built games.

The event closed out with Mr. Dave Warfield giving a presentation and speech about the great success of the event. Warfield also outlined (in a sweet video) all of the accolades that VFS’ Game Design has won in the past year. Hopefully I will get a copy of that video soon and I will update this post as soon as that shows up.

I believe that events such as this are what makes or breaks community. Not only do these events bring us (the industry insiders), but they also bring students and people that are still “on the outside looking in”. I look forward to next year’s event and thank all of the people that not only make this event happen, but also the people that let me take part!

With the personal face-to-face touches included this annual event is a must attend for anyone interested in video game design.