It began in a CPS 109 (Computer Science 1) class three years ago. While the professor lectured about programming language, Victor Nguyen – now in fourth year computer science – was taking his programming knowledge to the next level, planning to create video games with a few of his friends.
The Game Makers’ Union has since grown from a small group of computer science friends to a club with students from different fields of study, from engineering to fine art. Only three years young, the Game Makers’ Union are levelling up in game design competitions everywhere. From the Toronto-centric annual TOJam game design event to the nationwide Great Canadian Appathon, the largest app-building competition for Canadian students, team members from Ryerson’s own Game Makers’ Union are ranking in the top 25 across Canada.
How do your meetings usually play out?
We have discussions about what the ideal game is like. We have tutorials to show some games that we’ve made. We want to spark the interest of people who want to learn how to code and to model.
We have game jam nights, too. That’s where we design for three solid hours to make a game. Yeah, it’s nice because by the end, we have playable games. They’re pretty, too!
You create a game in three hours?
The great thing about the game jam is that it’s proof that anybody who has a passion for creating games, but doesn’t have the know-how, can make a game. We made something in three hours. It’s basic, but it shows that you can make something like that too. And if you had more time, imagine how much better it’ll be.
Do you teach new members how to design, code, and make a game?
We teach our members in our workshops. We use Unity 3D and we also use Blender as our 3D modelling program.
What makes your group unique?
It takes effort to learn, this club does not operate like many of the other clubs. Many clubs are just like, ‘come have fun’ and that’s it.
It separates us because you can actually take away something you’ve learned. You can learn more about how much work is involved with designing a game, all the components involved, we’re almost like an extra course.
Comparing it to an extra course sounds heavy! What’s the appeal then?
Jordan Sparks: Ryerson doesn’t have any game design program or classes. So we’re kind of like place to go if you want to learn game development.
In new media, we talk about games and all their narrative devices and all this stuff about gameplay, but we never actually get taught the theory behind it and how to make games. We talked about immersion with games such as Skyrim and we talked about controversies and concepts in gaming such as the ‘uncanny valley’.
But they don’t teach us how to make games. They do teach us how to construct an experience and how it works to give the player a certain feeling. And that’s the feeling we want to achieve in all our work.
Are you always working on creating games every meeting?
We have the jardware to have some LAN nights, we hosted one recently where we had four Xboxes, monitors and projectors, and like, ten laptops playing all at once. We want to do this repeatedly throughout the year and increase the scale to bigger rooms
Tell me about the Great Canadian Appathon competition.
We had three teams, two of us made it to the top 25. The theme this year was ‘retro’. So we had to create a game within 48 hours.
Tell me about what you created.
Oles Tourko: It’s called Space Defenders, it’s for smart phones, it’s similar to the tower defence game only you’re in control of a space station.
Zack Harris: If you look at it from a different perspective, it’s like a nucleus trying to fend off the valence electrons that are coming at it. You can look at it from a physics perspective because it’s all about the physics interactions.
What inspired you with the creation of that?
Oles Tourko: I was watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and it’s about a space station.
Jordan Sparks: Also when we were looking at the design of it, we looked at a bunch of old retro games like Space Invaders and Galaga, for the aesthetics because that’s what we wanted to go for. How do we capture that feel? That’s what inspired us.
Did you sleep at all?
Yes, we voted to sleep a bit. We slept on the first night because we were still figuring out what to do, on the second night, a lot of people pushed themselves to their limits. It’s nice to put 48 hours of work into two days. Most people put in 48 hours of work in a week.
Will you continue to make games after you’ve left Ryerson?
I would love to make video games for a living, it’d be a fun way to live. You’re creating something for the enjoyment of others.
What is it about game design that appeals to you?
Victor: I’m really interested in interactivity. It’s about trying to compact an experience so it can be enjoyed by multiple people. Almost anyone can play a game, but not everyone can read. Everything you play, it was designed by someone. It’s the general experience you’re trying to share.
It’s about teaching, why give a textbook when I can give them a story that will make it easier to remember? If they’re part of what they’re learning, it’s much easier to remember and learn.
Zack Harris: Video game development is interesting because it’s a summation of many different fields. I like music, I program computers, I like mathematics, and I like storytelling. When you build a foundation in each one of those fields, you can produce games that are intricate and dynamic.
They say game development is the most progressive form of art because it takes visual art, auditory art, and there’s the art of taking complex math equations and manifesting them into game mechanics. All these different ways of thinking are coming into one end product.
Who inspires you?
Ian Nastajus: Shigeru Miyamoto is the designer of Mario and all the Nintendo games. There’s one particular example I like, when he was designing Mario Galaxy, all I had in his head was a vague idea, ‘I want something with spheres, I don’t know what, but something with round shapes’ and eventually his team helped him with Mario Galaxy, where you can launch Mario into other worlds.
That’s kind of cool that you don’t have to bog yourself down with details every minutia by yourself to design a game from beginning to end. If you can rely on team to help work with you, I find that’s pretty cool.
GMU are expecting to hear from the Great Canadian Appathon for their official ranking later this week. For now, they plan on meeting with their counterpart group at University of Toronto, the University of Toronto Game Design & Development Club (UTGDDC). While U of T’s game design group has operated for nine years and Ryerson’s has been operating for three years, the GMU is quickly growing and catching up.
Visit the Game Makers’ Union at http://gmunion.ca/ or visit them IRL in SCC 310! They meet every week on Monday from 6 – 9 p.m.