A Designer’s Open Note To VFS Students

3 Feb

The following is from a friend and *employed* designer, who wishes to remain anonymous.  Ooh, mysterious.


This past weekend an event took place not even two blocks away from the VFS Hastings campus. This event came with massive international and local exposure; a platform where game design and innovation took center stage. This event was Game Jam Vancouver, and you all should have been there.  Game Jam turned out to be a great learning experience for all that were involved, myself greatly included.

The team creation period, game design portion of the event, and the subsequent negotiation and buy-in portion of the first night would have been a great introduction to your final project pre-pro phase. What we experienced that first Friday night was a microcosm of what VFS students will eventually face, come term five. False promises, ego trips, exhaustion, “killing your babies”, paper prototypes, pride and commitment; they all made an appearance that night. If you were there, you could have practiced your inter-personal skills as you dealt with these issues one by one. If you were there, you would have been able to try your hand at convincing 30 other designers, artists and programmers that YOUR game idea was THE game idea.

The next day, production kicked into top gear. Most attendees worked hard, while some did not. Most lived up to their promises and commitments made the night before; and some “petered” out early, never to return. Design goals and scope realizations collided, and in those aftermaths, the crippled, limping fetus’ of indie games were born into this world. Sure, they couldn’t breathe without the help of an iron lung, and they were ugly as sin at first, but the “game” was “there”.  If you were there, you would have been able to see first hand the effects of self-flagration resulting from an over-scoped project. If you were there, you would have seen utter failures become miracles of innovation and ingenuity; you would have seen hard work overcome adversities such as “lack of experience” and “lack of foresight”. These miracles are possible, and you should know first hand that they are.

The last night of production introduced more social issues than technical ones. As team members started getting cranky and tired, it was a period of optimistic creations and pessimistic realizations. We all sped full speed at a target we couldn’t even see through the fog of war. Eventually, we entered into that magic space between exhaustion and refreshment where the only sustenance able to keep us propelled through the night were the crunching of keyboard strokes and slicing of Wacom pens on tablet surfaces. Things were being created, and we would not stop until those creations were complete. If you know this feeling that I speak of, you could have felt it again this weekend. If you have never experienced it; you don’t know what you’re missing.

When I got to SFU on Friday, I expected to see a lot more friendly faces. The room was instead filled with SFU and AI students, industry volunteers and older women, who like buzzards, circled around the bazaar circus of creativity. VFS makes the BEST student games in Vancouver, so I figured “we” (the collective designers of VFS) would be taking this “mother” (short term for a slang curse phrase “down” (as in, to the ground).

But you weren’t there. I don’t know where you were . . . hopefully saving babies from burning buildings; or curing Polio; but you should have been at Game Jam. For twenty five measly dollars, you would have experienced game production as intense as you will feel during your last nights on your final project. You would have experienced something fulfilling and hopefully, a mite inspiring. You would have been able to meet a near dozen industry professionals, and be exposed to hundreds more influential designers online. Unless you were one of the two GD13s who took part in the event, as the crazy old knight said in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade . . . you chose . . . poorly.


12 Responses to “A Designer’s Open Note To VFS Students”

  1. Carl February 3, 2009 at 11:01 pm #

    This pains me to read.


    I heard about the Game Jam too late. As did I assume a great many of VFS’s current students. Thanks to T-F for sending the e-mail, but did he have to wait till it was only a few days away?

    I’m working in Victoria now (Inlight Entertainment), and we have no IGDA chapter, though I’d like to be a part of that changing (Need to talk with Su). Victoria should have hosted its own Game Jam at UVic, but Victoria doesn’t even register on the radar of the industry. We co-op a lot of UVic comp-sci students for programming, so it’s not like there is no game connection at the school.

    I blame myself for not being as plugged-in as I should be. Seems no matter how much time I put into staying versed in the ins and outs, and upcoming events in our industry, many events like this pass below my personal industry radar.

    As soon as I saw Fedechko’s e-mail I tried to see if there was anyway I could attend the game Jam, but alas the warning was too late.

    To all the VFS current Game Design student body: “Why did VFS not win this hands down and blind folded?” Seriously this was a no-brainer. This is what we live for, and everyone who could have attended should have attended.


  2. Brian February 4, 2009 at 1:17 am #

    By the time the e-mail was sent out, most students had already planned ‘I’m-a stay up all night and get my shit done!’ I don’t blame them for not rushing down to the scene with only a few days notice. They did not know what it was, what it could be or why they should have gone. This is the responsibility of VFS to let them know about these events and what it COULD mean to them.

    VFS missed out on a HUGE opportunity to let its students shine and grow. A couple of days is not enough time for people planning on giving it their all in the program itself. For all they knew it was a silly little event made for people ‘kinda-sorta-interested’ in games and wanted to ‘try it out.’ If someone had told them proper, they would now have had a rich experience under their belts. Seriously, think how much ‘outside-world’ contact any one of us had during VFS. Very little to NONE. Why? Because we thought VFS and VFS ALONE could get us a job. We were focused. We were driven. We could NOT be bothered.

    That is… unless we were told about some interesting, albeit time consuming, activities that could further our career options and experience.

    Don’t guilt trip the students for the folly of the staff.


  3. Duncan February 4, 2009 at 12:40 pm #

    I was at game jam UK. Also frustrated at the lack of prior warning that was given before the event. I even spoke to some of the reps at game jam about the apparent lack of self advertising they where doing. I subscribe to a whole bunch of news feed dedicated to games design and not a single one of them reported the event. The only warning I got was Tom’s email less than a week before the event.

    I’ve been to quite a few events for networking. Some good, some not so good, some of them where a pointless waste of time and money. Global Game Jam was not only fun, but it was one of the few events I’ve been to where I was getting a lot of constructive networking done as well as seeing and making some kick ass game concepts come to life.

    Let this be a lesson that sometimes you just have to take risks on things 🙂

  4. Tips February 6, 2009 at 6:11 am #

    Miko for LYFE

  5. Miko Wilson February 8, 2009 at 6:35 am #

    This posting seems a tad dramatic, when it probably didn’t have to be, lol. While it probably should have been edited to take all of the “Zomg guilt trip” content out, I thought it made a pretty decent summary of the events.

    As to the almighty Brian’s response. I call bullpucky.

    Two students from the GD13 class made it out to the event perfectly fine, so I honestly don’t buy the whole “we didn’t know until it was too late” response. It was never too late. Not until the event started, and even after, could people get involved; if not involved, then at least observe the event. It certainly didn’t stop a few of the GD12s from showing up just to take a gander at the events.

    If it seemed like a risk to focus one weekend out of a two month semester to help create a game with industry professionals and fellow students . . well, I don’t even know how to respond to that. That seems like the most risk-LESS decision I can think of for a game design student.

    Students can’t expect their school to hold their hands through life. While I agree, the mass email could have been sent out sooner, I wish it wasn’t necessary to send one out at all. How can a Game Jam event happen right down the street from the campus with no one from the class knowing? What, does NO one read Gamasutra, has NO one signed up for the IGDA mailing lists? Is that how separated students are from the community that they are trying to break in to?
    If this event was around last year, I can only HOPE that I would have attended. Perhaps I wouldn’t have, and would have received an email forwarded to me from a future wiser Miko.
    Only a trip back in time could solve that mystery.

    But, I oddly remember receiving emails from the staff about industry events that occurred during my time at VFS and I made sure to attend . . . . every . . .single . . .one . . . of . . . them. VIGS, GDExpo, I applied for that wacky internship, at Radical, was it? I don’t even remember, lol. I went to every first Friday, and presentation, and odd get-together (even most Karaoke events, which I can only describe with my patented sad face) I could get my grubby little paws on.

    I certainly don’t consider letting people know what kind of opportunity they missed as “guilt tripping” them. I was personally disappointed about the outcome, and I am CERTAINLY allowed to express that disappointment. As Dave Warfield, the director of the VFS Game Design curriculum, was the one who forwarded the letter to his students, I can only draw from that action that he agrees.

  6. Miko Wilson February 8, 2009 at 6:53 am #

    . . .and while your opinion is valid. It certainly is not the ABSOLUTE truth. As you can see, there seems to be varied responses to the issue. There is no “period.”


  7. Miko Wilson February 8, 2009 at 7:42 am #

    And Nick, how is this mysterious!? The GDs received this email with my name on it. This is like saying a Where’s Waldo book that I have solved, and circled in red marker is a mystery.

  8. nickhalme February 8, 2009 at 7:52 am #

    I asked you, and you said you’d like to remain anonymous on the site! Silly!

  9. Miko Wilson February 8, 2009 at 11:18 am #

    I’m going to close the safe house door seconds before you try to get in.

  10. Brian February 9, 2009 at 7:19 pm #

    Thanks, tips!

  11. Brian February 9, 2009 at 7:20 pm #


  12. Tips February 15, 2009 at 3:05 am #


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