Award-Winning Game Designer Speaks to VFS Students

By VFS Web Team, on November 30, 2016

At Vancouver Film School, students are given the opportunity to attend guest lectures that feature industry professionals in their chosen field. Some of our past guests include: Maria and Andre Jaquemetton (Executive Producers &Writers/Mad Men), Craig Berkey (Sound Designer/True Grit), and Max Landis (Writer & Director/Dirk Gently). These talks offer students a behind-the-scenes perspective on what it’s like to be working in the industry, and what it takes to turn passion into a successful career.

Recently, Game Design students were treated to a talk by Dennis Detwiller – a game designer, illustrator, and writer. He’s a four-time winner of the Origin Award for game design, and a six-time winner of the ENie Award for RPG excellence. Detwiller works steadily, and has played an essential part in creating popular games such as Prototype and Necropolis

We asked current Game Design student Delaney Leatherdale to write about his experience attending the lecture. Here’s what he had to say!

Guest post by: Delaney Leatherdale

A lot of people wonder if going to see guest speakers, talks, or conventions are worth it. Sometimes the content is very broad, or so specific that it only applies to a certain crowd. I have had the pleasure of going to a few guest talks while attending VFS for Game Design. Most have been decent, but nothing that I would run out telling my friends and family about. That all changed when I went to listen to Dennis Detwiller. Dennis has been in the design and writing industry for 14 years, and he passed on a ton of useful information and insight, giving me exactly what I wanted to hear about the industry and what to expect and plan for after graduation.

Dennis has a resume that includes being part of the creation of “Magic: The Gathering” and Prototype, drawing for Marvel, and being a senior designer at Radical and Hothead games.

There is a lot of concern for individuals getting into the gaming industry in today’s day and age, and a lot of it is well founded. Dennis talked about how this is very true because the cost of making a game increases year after year. There are more people than ever trying to get into the industry, which makes the competition for jobs very stiff. Dennis went on to talk about how a person needs to be willing to change, to adapt and always have a back up plan. Never make a drastic change in your life and career if you do not have a back up plan in place.

One of the most important things is to maintain contacts – it’s all about who you know. Never burn a bridge as it may burn more than just one and cost you in the future. That one person or company may have ties to others, which can act as a spider web of cause and effect. The same can be said though in a positive manner, you may get more job opportunities just based off that one connection. Your name and work may be passed along this spider web and, a result, new contacts are made and opportunities gained.

One key point Denis placed importance on was that your company is not your home. You go to work every day and may love the job you are working on, but the industry is very volatile. Companies will fold and new ones will be created. Two prime examples are the recent closures of Roadhouse Interactive and United Front Games. Both closed relatively unexpectedly, but there were reasons and decisions that were made within both companies that didn’t pan out as they had originally planned. Even with planning, things can turn south and cause a company to close its doors and go bankrupt. You must always have a backup plan for these types of situations.

Dennis also really pushed to always ask for more at a job. Now when most of us hear this, we think of money or salary. This can be true, but you can also ask for a variety of things! Asking for more vacation (MAKE SURE YOU USE IT!), paying your phone bill, and covering transportation costs are a few examples. Don’t be afraid to ask, the worse they can say is no. He also went further into vacation saying that companies always have down times during a year, whether it is at Christmas or after a product is finished and they have a few lull weeks in between projects. Take your vacation time during these opportunities. If there is no lull or downtime, make sure you take some time off for yourself! Not doing so is the fastest way to burn yourself out and cause more issues than you are fixing on the job.

He talked a lot about Kickstarter, and has put a lot of time and effort into launching products through it. One key thing he told us is to always have something ready when presenting on Kickstarter. Offer something for free and gain some traction from the free product or service. Show them what the service can do or provide, use it as a hook, then proceed to build upon what you’ve offered. Ask for money to make it happen and get the resources to accomplish it. You must build a reputation for yourself and the company. Build and expand upon the free product or service you originally offered. A huge selling and draw point is having a demo for people to try out. Investors and customers love to be able to try things out first hand, getting the experience and feeling of a product for themselves.

I must say that listening to Dennis talk about his experiences, his life, and what he has learned throughout his time in the industry was truly rewarding. He really answered a lot of questions that I didn’t even know I had, and brought more insight to those I did have, or thought I already knew the answers to. A prime example is when he talked about asking for more from a job that doesn’t include money, such as transportation coverage. It is such a simple thing, but can really make a difference for yourself and stress.

It was a pleasure to have him at to the school and I would like to thank Christopher Mitchell who Dennis worked with, Dennis Detwiller himself, and VFS for making this talk happen.

Thanks, Delaney!