Faculty Spotlight: Tommy Mitchell (Game Development)

This month we wanted to showcase another of our amazing instructors on our blog, and our spotlight is on Tommy Mitchell. A Game Development instructor with many years of direct experience in the field, Mitchell’s knowledge of the game industry has become a huge advantage for Coleman University students. Having been a fan of gaming since he was six years old, it is more than safe to say that this subject is a passion for him; one that he shares with our students.
We sat down with Tommy to discuss how he got started in Game Development and what it takes to be successful in the industry.

1. How did you get into Game Design and Development?
Well that’s a bit of a long story. I have played video games since I was 6 years old so I’ve always been pretty active with that. I used to play about 2-3 days per week and it just became an obsession. However traditional art became my forte. When I graduated from high school, I had a partial scholarship to Southern Methodist University in Texas for their art program. As I was going through my courses I was approached by a professor who had recently established a game design program on campus called Guild Hall and she wanted me to join. I went through those courses for two years which put me in the pipeline for a game development degree. So I have a traditional art background, but I went from painting canvases to digital art and sculpting.

2. How did you apply your degree after you graduated?
Once I graduated I was called up to work for a small gaming company in Austin Texas called Midway. During that same time I was hoping to pursue more education in game design, so I applied to schools in San Diego that offered higher degrees. Once I had been accepted, my company offered to hire me back once I had finished my education. So I moved to San Diego in the hopes that I would have a job waiting for me back in Texas once I was done. I attended ITT Tech for their Digital Entertainment and Game Design program. I received my bachelors degree, while also doing freelance work. In 2009 I was lucky enough to get an interview with Sony and I was hired on as a game tester. I did game testing for about a year and a half.

3. Wow. So you lived every teenage gamer’s dream then?
A lot of people think that with game testing you’re just constantly testing games and having fun, but it is serious software testing. You have to look for bugs and issues, marking their coordinates in the game, and making sure that you are sending that information to the developers. Your job is to find as many ways as possible to break the game. After a year of testing I was promoted to being a character artist. The first game that I worked on for character design was God of War 3, just small portions  of the background design, which was really fun. Then I was put onto the teams for MLB The Show, and Star Hawk. After a couple more promotions I was given a project management role, around 2011 for a game called PS All Stars. At that same time I started working at Coleman University.

4. So how did you become an instructor at Coleman?
Once I had graduated with my bachelors I was interested in getting my master’s degree, so I came to Coleman to pursue my degree in Information Systems Management. I was going to school and working at the same time. I graduated in July of 2010, and continued working at Sony. After a big project that I was working on was finished, I stopped in to talk to Career Services and catch up with my instructors. I found out that Coleman had started a Game Design (as it was called at the time) program and they were looking for instructors. Career Services took my information and forwarded it to the dean of the program, who called me ten minutes later asking for me to come in and interview. Two weeks later I was a full-time instructor for Coleman.

5. What classes are you teaching now?
I instruct Level Design 1, Intro to Digital Sculpting, the Programming Capstone, and Fundamentals of Game Design. Mainly I teach students the basic structures of game design. It is a very fast and competitive career path to go into, so you need a strong knowledge of every aspect of design.

6. On that note, what are the misconceptions that incoming students have about getting into the Game Development field?
Whenever we have student orientations I am the first person to tell students that if you think that you’ll just walk into a studio and start testing video games, you should throw that idea right out the window. This program is not about that. You are learning a skill set that is very complicated. Even when you’re done with a class meeting, you still have to do more work on your own outside of class. The industry’s first question in an interview will be “what else have you done?” You can create a portfolio that includes your class assignments but companies do not focus on that, they want to see how you applied your skills to an outside project. You need to develop more than programming skills. Game Developers have increased hand-eye coordination, critical thinking, and problem solving skills due to the requirements of this industry. In this industry you will be asked to work long hours and even work overnight to meet deadlines and finish projects, so putting in more hours for professional development will only benefit you. In our program there are really two tracks. The first is more of a programmer role, and the other is the designer role. Each one takes a lot of time to master and you have to do it all of the time, which includes participating in game focused events. Luckily for our students Coleman hosts the Global Game Jam every year, and that has a huge impact. Organizations look for that specifically, as well as your online presence through LinkedIn and Twitch. Networking is a lot more involved in job placement than people realize. Passion is important in this field and students need to have that in order to succeed. I would also recommend that students be prepared to freelance while they are looking for work. Once a project is over you may not have a residual income coming in so be prepared by getting into other projects ahead of time. Be willing to learn as many skill sets as possible. Ask peers who may have a better grasp than you to help you learn more. As long as you communicate the desire to learn, people will be willing to teach you.

7. What are your opinions on the rise in online celebrity gamers, or the professional gamers that compete in world competitions?
Well, social media and online exposure is actually a huge boost to developers looking to get hired by a company. These feeds and uploads are being watched 24/7 by companies looking for new hires. If a studio likes a candidate they will be brought in for testing or interviews. Having a vlog or Twitch channel is a big help for getting yourself noticed. I had two students who were invited to work with famous game vloggers and were flown to a vlogging convention in San Francisco because of their popularity online.

8. Considering your passion for art and your background in it, what are some of the recent games that have come out that you feel are visually/artistically incredible in their style?
I’m going to be a little biased with my answer. I would have to say two of the games that I actually worked on within the last five years. I was an Associate Producer for The Last of Us and I really loved the artwork that was developed for that. Even though I was brought in around the third phase, it was my first big title as Associate Producer and I was freaked out because I was working on that and teaching at the same time! My second choice didn’t do so well commercially, but I really liked Order 1886. I consider that one to be a steampunk version of Van Helsing. You were acting as a werewolf hunter and it was almost like its own cinematic movie. I helped design some of the Demon Dogs that were within the game. The other game that I can think of is Unfinished Swan, you are playing as a little boy who falls into an open world through a book which is all white. As you work your way through the game, colors and structures start to appear and you create your world that way. The first color that is initiated is black so you can create figures and outlines then add color as you go. We tell students when they are applying to a company and want to showcase their best work with a demo, that if you can turn down the volume and run through it and still understand the story no matter where you are, then you have done a great job. I look for that specifically when I am hiring for studios.

9. Can you tell me the most important traits that you look for in a potential Game Development student?
Definitely, I look for a student who is passionate for Game Development and who is an open book. They don’t come into the classroom thinking that they have everything handled, that they only have to learn to do a couple of things. You have to be very motivated and hungry to achieve your goals because this field is very competitive. You have to realize that you and 20-30,000 other people are applying for the same jobs at any given time. Challenge yourself every day to get better; you can’t stay in the same place. You have to reinvent yourself, and the best thing about being in the game industry is that it is not hard to find something new to learn every day. There is no ceiling on what you are capable of in a work position, because the technology in this field is constantly changing so you have to change with it. Confidence is also really important, being able to look someone in the eye and provide straightforward answers will help you stand out from the crowd in an interview and in class.

10. Last question: tell me about your favorite project that a student or group has produced at Coleman?
It was a capstone group in 2014. It was a very unique group with plenty of colorful personalities that also had a lot of motivation and passion for what they ultimately wanted to do. They created an amazing 2D game, with almost every aspect being hand drawn and conceptualized by this group. The project lead was a really shy and laid back student so I purposefully put him in a leadership position. Within hours of their first meeting they came together and completed their concept. This group came in every day that they could and worked on this project, which was incredible. Once they had a finished product, they published it online and received a lot of praise for their work from other developers and programmers. I use this group as an example to motivate students, because it is this type of project that they should be striving for. The capstone is a great way for students to really figure out what it is that they want to do.

If you love gaming and creative art, think about joining our Game Development program! Tommy is just one of the amazing instructors that we have in the program and there are opportunities here for you to grow and establish an exciting career. Call Coleman today at (858) 499-0202 for more information and to schedule a tour! 

Game Development Capstone Presentation is a Huge Success!

 

What does it take to design and create a video game from scratch? Have you ever wondered what your ideal game would look like, or what you would want to see in a new game, or how long it would take to make your vision into a physical game? The students in our Game Development program took that dream and made it into a reality for their capstone presentation this month. Over the span of ten weeks, a student group came together to create their own game from beginning to end. This included story boarding, character design, background music development, character movement, and multiple game levels. We can only begin to appreciate the amount of work that went into this project! The capstone game is called “Savage Island”, and takes place on an isolated island overrun with dinosaurs that are hungry and looking for a human sized meal. Game players are put into a 2.5D map and have to fight their way through each level until they finally encounter The Boss, a massive T-Rex who will not go down easily! At their capstone presentation the designers discussed their original plan for the game and the challenges that they overcame to make this game a reality. Programs used to create this game include: Unity, Visual Studio, Source Tree, Trello, Photoshop, 3DS Max, zBrush, FreeSound, and Audacity (for the sound mixing and sampling). Each member of the development team took on a specific role in order to efficiently produce content for this game. From the concept art, background set up, and character movement, each aspect of the game was the responsibility of one of the four team members and when the game was presented to the audience it was clear that this was an incredible project. Overall the team discussed their work, and the various programs that they used to develop each piece that they were responsible for. The audience heard first-hand what skills and technologies the team members had to develop in order to complete the assignment, as well as what they plan to add to the game  After the initial presentation audience members were asked to play the game themselves and see close up how the mechanics of the game work and try to destroy as many dinosaurs as possible. Audience members were also encouraged to ask questions and some of our Coleman staff members who attended were thrilled to learn more about the game development process from the student’s point of view. What’s next for these game developers? We hope big and exciting things! Congratulations to these excellent students!!

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Coleman University’s Game Programming Development & Design Degree

Considering a career in video game programming development and design? At Coleman University, we offer a program that will prepare you for the in-and-outs of the video game industry. With coursework focused in animation, coding, modeling, and more, Coleman graduates enter the workforce with the skills and knowledge to design and develop their very own games! Below are five things that potential students may not know about a degree in Game Programming Development and Design from Coleman:

  1. Students design and programmatically create 2D and 3D games from conception to implementation. While the creation of 2D games (like Angry Birds) and 3D games (like Halo) share fundamental concepts, inherent differences in coding demand specialized training. As a result, Coleman graduates possess well-rounded skillsets and are qualified to pursue a career in game design or development.

In an effort to provide additional hands-on experience, Coleman encourages students to work on independent game projects, as well as participate in two “Game Jams” per year with our partner, the San Diego chapter of the International Game Developers Association. A game jam is a game development marathon that can last up to 48 hours and is meant to be collaborative. Generally, game jams bring people together in a single location and are given a theme on which to base their game. Students form teams to bounce ideas off of each other, ask questions, and receive feedback from group leaders and competing teams. Though they only have 48 hours to produce a prototype, many developers go on to complete their games afterwards. By designing and programming their own games, students receive the opportunity to experience the responsibilities and tasks that accompany a career in game design and development. It also allows the students to create a portfolio of their work, which can set an applicant apart when applying for jobs after graduation. As a matter of fact, some of the assets created are used in actual games!

  1. The skills, technology, and processes learned from the Game Programming Development and Design degree program are not limited to the gaming industry. They lend core concepts to careers in modeling, computer graphics, product demonstration, film, marketing, and crime scene reenactment. The program, though specialized, provides solid foundational knowledge upon which students can build. With the wide range of coding-based professions available today, a degree in Game Programming Development and Design from Coleman grants students the freedom to branch out and find the niche that fits them best.

Technology is continually evolving, so people in this particular profession need to be kept abreast of new developments and trends. Coleman utilizes the most up-to-date hardware and software packages in an effort to prepare students for an ever-changing industry. To meet the needs of employers, the program was built with industry input to give students a solid foundational understanding of the skills necessary for the game development process. With a thorough understanding of the underlying concepts of coding hardware and software, Coleman graduates are equipped to translate their education and training to the future.

  1. Coleman’s Game Programming Development and Design program has a low student-to-faculty ratio. Due to the highly specialized nature of game design and development, students benefit from increased one-on-one instruction from industry experts. With a team of highly qualified instructors imparting their years of experience and knowledge on their students, they serve not only as teachers, but also as mentors for fledgling game designers. The small class sizes allow the instructors to get to know each student individually, ensuring insight into each student’s progress, strengths and weaknesses, and goals.

Coleman benefits from employing instructors that have left real-life marks in the game development and design industry. Here are three faculty members that have succeeded in the field and now shape aspiring designers at Coleman:

  • Tommy Mitchellis our Level Design, Digital Sculpting and Game Programming Capstone Instructor. He is an 8-year veteran of the game industry with over 10 titles shipped under his belt. He continues to work for Sony Interactive Entertainment via San Diego and Santa Monica Studios. Various shipped titles include: MLB 08: The Show, MLB 09: The Inside, MOD Nation Racers, Starhawk, Pixel Junk Shooter, Sound Shapes, and the God of War franchise.
  • William Martin is our Photoshop and Shader Materials Instructor. His extensive experience in the game industry includes High Moon Studios and Sony Online Entertainment (Daybreak Games).
  • Travis Vasquez started his own business in 2008 as a freelance designer. Vasquez has worked with Allied Waste, Zebra Technologies, DVS Shoes, Western Outdoors, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), Borrego Solar, Valve, and Virtuos to name a few. With ten years of corporate management experience and eighteen years of design, he has a thorough knowledge of the game development pipeline.

Another benefit of a low student-to-faculty ratio is the ability to collaborate with your classmates. At Coleman, this results in a student-centric learning environment where students are able to increase their engagement with the material and discuss what they have learned. Instead of an instructor merely reciting information for the students to memorize, they are forced to contextualize the material and put what they have learned into action.

  1. The student will gain valuable experience developing for console and PC platforms. With the utilization of 3D technology in video gaming since its inception 24 years ago, designers have made great strides in the development of both PC and console gaming. The ability to move characters on multiple planes (left, right, up, down, nearer, and farther) opened the door to developing new types of games. As this software became more and more advanced, the hardware had to keep up with the high demands that the developer was placing upon it. As a result, a split between console gaming and PC gaming emerged. Until recently, developing for PCs and developing for consoles was quite different. Coleman’s program teaches students how to navigate the intricacies of both categories: navigating hardware restrictions, developing physics engines, and mastering coding languages. Students will also learn arguably the two most popular game engines available today: Unity and Unreal. Though used to accomplish similar tasks, these game engines possess different attributes, strengths, and limitations.

For example, Unity can be used to develop 3D platform games, but it really shines when used for mobile gaming and on 2D platforms. If you plan on developing games for mobile devices, then Unity would be the right game engine for you. On the other hand, Unreal’s advanced physics engine and powerful 3D renderings make Unreal the choice for developers that want to create the next great open-world adventure game. With the ability to program in both game engines, Coleman graduates possess well-rounded skill sets that really set themselves apart in the job interview process.

  1. Coleman’s Game Programming Development and Design program believes that game development is a form of human expression. You may not be able to draw, write music, or sing, but Coleman’s program gives you the tools to express yourself through your career. More than anything, Coleman offers students the opportunity to pursue their passions and bring their visions to life. Video games are an immersive medium, in that the designer is able to lie out his ideas, but the player has the ability to explore the world without strict constraints. Though there are general guidelines that a player must follow, players are not corralled into a beginning, middle, and end quite like movies or books. This allows designers to plant hidden meanings and Easter eggs into their work, to make it a bit more personal. More and more, designers are linking real-world connections like emotions to gameplay, much like a storyteller does with his words. Designers have a story to tell, and they are using this medium as a creative outlet. With a degree in game programming development and design from Coleman, you, too, will be able to tell your story.

Video games, once considered a second-class medium, have sprouted to mainstream relevance. With major studios investing billions of dollars into new titles every year, the industry is reaching new highs that were once thought unrealistic. Video games have become an art form, much like film and literature. Gone are the days of minimal storylines and straightforward instructions. Now, video games can possess hundreds of hours of game play with blockbuster plots and sprawling landscapes. As such, gamers, now and into the future, will plunge themselves into these games, not just as a means of rudimentary entertainment, but immersing themselves in worlds as grandiose as the most magnificent fairy tale. Though limited by hardware constraints, game designers are pushing the limits of what many would have considered impossible even a few years ago. Just like the impact of 3D technology’s introduction over twenty years ago, the next great technological advancement may change the world of gaming forever. At Coleman, we strive to give our students the tools that they need to thrive in this ever-evolving industry.