Geek Speak: Dave Warfield, head of game design at Vancouver Film School

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Dave Warfield is head of game design at Vancouver Film School and a former senior producer at local videogame giant Electronic Arts.

After developing an interest in games as a player and retailer, Warfield launched his career on the design side of the industry in the early 1990s, a time when the Nintendo and Sega consoles were starting to invade homes across North America.

Working for EA for around 15 years, Warfield helped to create dozens of titles, including numerous editions of the company’s popular NHL series. In 2004, Warfield joined Vancouver Film School to help establish the one-year game design program. In his role as an educator, the industry veteran now helps to train and inspire the next generation of game designers.

The Georgia Straight reached Warfield by phone.

How did you get started in the videogame industry?

I guess it all started with my Commodore VIC-20 that I got for Christmas. It was a little computer with 3.5k of RAM which I started doing some basic programming on and then started working in a store in Lougheed Mall called Compucentre where we were selling all the different computers at that time including the Intellivision, ColecoVision, and the Nintendo Entertainment System when that came out. So that was really my introduction to what the computer business, what the computer business was. And the guys that owned Distinctive Software used to come into that store all the time, so I got to know them fairly well and they knew that I knew my games and gave me a shot to get into the industry as a game designer.

What is a favourite game or project you worked on?

That’s a tough one. For me, my passion was definitely the NHL series that EA Sports did. I worked on that for quite a few years.

What makes for a great game?

Ultimately for me it’s about playability, replayability—engaging, you know? You kind of block out everything else and you’re fully engaged. It’s a mix of ease of play, a mix of interesting story or challenge, competitiveness. Kind of a lot of different things.

What has been one of the most notable developments in game design since you started out?

It’s interesting, when you look at probably the things that have impacted game design the most, it’s probably the introduction of CDs and DVDs and just so much more storage to be able to tell your game. I think when we think about how the technology has evolved, sometimes it’s not the most technical games that are good. It can be games that are just fun and engaging. Like Angry Birds doesn’t require a super high-end CPU but people just enjoy that pick-up-and-play experience.

What is your role at VFS?

I’m the head of the game design program…. So I oversee that. I teach. I mentor students on their final projects and work with all of our staff, instructors, and mentors to make sure that they’re providing the best instruction that they can.

What kind of games are your students producing?

They start by making a board game in their first term. Then they make some Flash games which is a two-term process of creating an interactive experience that’s going to be a mix of a lot of different things. They’re platform games or adventure games, a little bit of roleplaying or strategy elements. And then they do their final project which is their major piece and those are effectively a five-to-20-minute complete gameplay experience of varying types: shooting games, adventure games, exploration games, all with very unique storylines and objectives for the player.

What advice do you have for aspiring game designers?

For aspiring game designers, I think ultimately they need to be passionate about not just playing games but thinking about what makes a game better. They have to be creative problem-solvers and really looking at how, you know, if you’re playing a game, what could I do that could make this game better. What things would I change that don’t work as well, and really analyze games as opposed to just trying to play to try to get to the end.

What trends do you see emerging in game design?

The biggest trend over the last little while has really been the shift to the indie world and the ease that’s out there for people to create games and get them out to people that doesn’t require the massive triple-A studio, doesn’t require trucks getting you into EB or other game stores. It’s that you can create something in your basement and get it out to the world and get people to start talking about it. That and the mobile gaming has completely changed everything, right?

Every other Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? You can tell Stephen Thomson on Twitter.

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So why?
If anyone can build it out of their basement do we need to spend $30k to do the same?
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