Reality is a Game

Thoughts on the evolving game world around us.

ESAC Releases Essential Facts 2015

Every year the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC) releases a neat document with the essential facts about Canada’s video game industry. This year’s is similar to previous years in that breaks down the player demographics and provides some serious numbers on how well the games industry in Canada is doing.


You can see the full Essential Facts About the Canadian Video Game Industry here.

From their press release:

“Canada’s video game industry plays a positive and vital role in our economy,” said Jayson Hilchie, President and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC). “It’s a highly skilled, highly paid industry that employs young creative people; it’s demonstrating how Canada can create jobs and prosperity, export its creativity around the world and ultimately lead in the new economy of the future,” he added.

The growth experienced in 2014 is partially owed to innovation in the video game industry, including the introduction of a new generation of consoles into the market, but also other factors like huge Canadian blockbusters hitting the market, a continued explosion in popularity of mobile games (which accounted for 65% of all completed projects in 2014) and because of a positive business climate for video game developers in a majority of Canadian provinces.

Companies’ outlook for the future continues to be positive, with several companies expecting the growth rate to continue over the next two years. In fact, it’s estimated that 1377 jobs will need to be filled in technical and creative roles in the next 12-24 months.

Practicing Good Level Design

Level design is a key part of game design because it forms what the player has to do and the environment in which the player performs. The look and the feel of a level can change how a player plays and how immersed the player feels, because of this level design ought to be consciously thought through with intent.

If any of the material below gets you more interested in level design you can keep on researching. There are links below to good GDC Vault presentations. Another great resource for level designers is

Conceptual approaches to level design:

“Spaces like identities are constructed.” Is the summation of the this video and it’s worth watching!

Level Design Histories and Futures
Robert Yang examines how level design tools and techniques have evolved over the years. Towards the end he argues that we ought to use architecture terms to talk about levels (I agree!). The talk finishes at the end looking into possible futures of level designs.

Tips from level designers:

AAA Level Design in a Day Bootcamp

Gain deep insights into the level design process for our industry’s biggest games, including Gears of War, Bioshock, and Skyrim in this intense day-long tutorial, moderated by Coray Seifert. The most respected voices in level design weigh in on all aspects of their craft, engage with attendees via numerous Q&A sessions, and offer a once-in-a-career opportunity: a mock interview with a panel of the most veteran level designers in the business.

Don’t Juice It or Lose It

Gradients on limited palettes, dust clouds kicked up in places where there is no dust, bouncy tweens on hard rocks — through the idea that adding polish makes a game feel more alive, we’re actually losing a level of immersion. There has been such a tremendous focus on putting eye candy in our games that the context doesn’t get considered.

Galak-Z: Forever: Building Space-Dungeons Organically

While there exists a myriad of well-documented algorithms for generating procedural content, the combination and usage of these techniques is far more of an art than a science, and one that’s inherently unique to each game project. In this talk, lead engineer Zach Aikman will discuss a few different failed approaches before presenting a detailed breakdown of Galak-Z’s dungeon generator, including its usage of some unorthodox math, and his thoughts on the proper balance between hand-crafted and procedural content.

Jobye Carmaker works at Ubisoft and has made a ton of levels. On his blog he reflects on some key things that he takes into consideration when making levels. He tries to use assets in creative ways to ensure a playable experience while adding texture, narrative, and more to each level.

Imperfection – This is a tenant I’ve carried with me ever since our very first high-level Art Direction meeting with Scott Lee. One of the art pillars of Splinter Cell: Blacklist was Imperfection. That’s something that applies whether you’re making something for a war-torn map, an abandoned warehouse or a perfectly pristine government facility or private estate. Nothing in life is ever really perfect. There’s always some sort of imperfection whether it be in its placement, its shape, its material quality (this is where you get a lot of your imperfections for ‘clean’ environments), etc.

Multiplayer level design:

Community Level Design for Competitive CS:GO

This talk will focus on the subtle aspects of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive level design which have proven critical to creating a successful, popular, and well-designed experience for professional players and those aspiring to become professional players. Designing levels for Counter-Strike: GO is illustrative of broader challenges in multiplayer game design. For instance, Counter-Strike levels should always reward players and teams for skillful play, while at the same time providing ample opportunities for individual and team creativity.

Ben Burkart reveals eight secrets of multiplayer maps over at 80 Level. It’s good series of tips to keep in mind when making multiplayer experiences.

It is always important to have a goal and purpose for your level, deciding this early on should influence how you make decisions regarding layout/visuals/balancing through every step of your levels creation. When preparing to design your level you should have a clear indication as to what kind of visual theme you are going for as it should influence your layout as well as allow you to get the right assets together or to get a better idea of what kind of assets you are going to need.

Just for fun:

A fast level design exercise making a medieval inn:

Game Design And Development Continuing Education At Sheridan

Are you interested in learning more about to make or think about games? Then check this out!

I’m teaching Game Design and Development continuing education classes at Sheridan College and you should sign up if you’re interested in making games!

This is the first time that Sheridan is offering a continuing education class on Game Design and one Game Development. It’s going to be a great chance for you to try out if you’d like to further engage with the world of gaming. Perhaps you’re debating returning to school or you’re wondering if the games industry is for you. In either case, these Sheridan classes are for you!

The first class is on Oct. 17th, and you can still register!

Check it out:

Game Design
Game Development
All of Sheridan’s digital media courses

To answer the inevitable questions about my other classes, yes I’m still teaching at Ryerson and George Brown.

On Diversity In Games And Technology


When you think about people who work in the tech industry or in video games you probably think of someone who is white and male (like me). The demographic research backs this up. This lack of diversity is a problem because when an industry or any community is made up of a homogenous identity everyone suffers. We need diversity in communities for a whole myriad of reasons.

The current state of diversity in both games and tech reflects poorly on creators. Indeed, quite a few articles over the past month have looked into this sad state.

TechCrunch ran a piece interviewing David Perry discussing how some video game make everybody white for “historical accuracy”. Here’s just the first question:

AC: A few months ago, Tauriq Moosa got some epic blowback for posting an op-ed in which he criticized a game he really loved, The Witcher 3, for its lack of ethnic diversity.

The #GamesSoWhite hashtag and the opposition to it are the clearest examples in my recent memory, but there’s been a lot of buzz about the “diversity push” in TV this past year and other examples of backlash to whitewashed casting in historical settings like Exodus: Gods and Kings. There was even some buzz about attempts to add ethnic diversity to the Hobbit trilogy with the denizens of Lake-town.

As a scholar of medieval history, where do you fall on this kind of debate?

DP: First of all, in terms of history I’d like to say the vast majority of the medieval world as we think of it was all kinds of people with various shades of brown skin moving back and forth across borders. Yes, there were people in remote little areas who might have never encountered anyone who looked any different than themselves, but overall there was a lot of movement and a lot of contact and a lot of exchange of ideas, crossing transcultural, trans-religious, trans-ethnic zones.

There are a lot of people with different ideas about races, throughout the history of the Middle Ages, that talk about things like skin color — not in the same terms we do now, but thinking about the different ways we look and what that might mean. And so there’s entirely different ways of constructing “race” as well.

If all you care about is historical accuracy, it is certainly possible in any historical period to find a remote spot where everyone there looks completely homogeneous. But that is not, I would say, what medieval history looked like, in which people directly encountered and were highly aware of different parts of the world and what was going on.

To be clear, history in Europe involved all shades of people. Obviously today there is a whole mixture of people too from all backgrounds and from different experiences. However, even today people working in the tech industry tend to ignore this.

The Atlantic ran a business article titled When Discrimination Is Baked Into Algorithms, and in it they identify problematic approaches to computer automation design.

It’s troubling enough when Flickr’s auto-tagging of online photos label pictures of black men as “animal” or “ape,” or when researchers determine that Google search results for black-sounding names are more likely to be accompanied by ads about criminal activity than search results for white-sounding names. But what about when big data is used to determine a person’s credit score, ability to get hired, or even the length of a prison sentence?

Racism may not be as obvious as it once was, but it’s there regardless. We need to be conscious of this – or we may turn entire groups of people off of engaging in new technology or games. This the fault of the designers not recognizing their biases and not empathizing with their audience.

Juliet Khan has theorized three main reasons girls unlearn how to love video games. I won’t go into all of the rationale here, but it is a worth a full read. Here’s the three reasons summed up:

The first force is disqualification: It takes into account the fact that girls almost certainly have played video games, but then carefully categorizes the games they’re most likely to play as illegitimate.
[T]he second force that teaches girls video games aren’t for them: the social hierarchy of the gaming community, and the narrow, deforming spaces it offers to the women who do persevere.
This is the third force: marketing. “There aren’t really any games that seem positive to me,” my sister explains. “They’re all about violence and nudity. I don’t like how the female body is made out. It makes me really uncomfortable. All of the commercials are for guys.”

Seemingly inspired by Kahn’s piece an anonymous author wrote video games have a diversity problem that runs deeper than race or gender for the Guardian. It connects the dots between all these problems (and more) raised here into why it’s a problem all gamers should care about.

Sure, the industry is a tough place for everyone – it’s constantly changing. But if you already fit in, you’re going to have more ways to chase your passion through the hazards. I’ve seen women throw in the towel after a couple of years in the industry because they just don’t see a path forward that appeals to them. Others stay but find their creative fulfilment elsewhere. Studios wonder why they don’t get a more diverse range of applicants but the lack of project variety cannot be overlooked as a barrier to entry. If you’re a creative person and don’t feel passionate about the sorts of experiences a medium is producing, it’s tough to find the strength and inspiration to carry on.

Reasons to support diversity shouldn’t hinge on getting more games and more money. The only reasons you should need is that you are human and everyone else is a human. Respect each other.

I’ll leave this post on a bit of a positive note. Over in Sweden they are looking into ways to bring the Bechdel test to video games. Dataspelsbranchen is looking into it and Kill Screen covered it well.

Those social justice warriors known as the Swedes are at it again! Last year, four Swedish cinemas started indicating whether the films they screened passed the exceedingly low bar set by Bechdel Test for female representation. Now Dataspelsbranchen, Sweden’s videogames industry organization, is considering putting a label on future games produced in the country denoting whether or not they promote gender equality. Good on Dataspelsbranchen.

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