Teaching at Vancouver Film School

To move closer to family and take a break from the industry, I decided to give teaching a go at Vancouver Film School's Game Design program - the very program I graduated from 8 years prior. During my time at VFS as the level design instructor, I overhauled the entire level design curriculum, included Unreal Engine 4, and taught over 200 students.

Position

Level Design Instructor

Genre

N/A

Engine

Unreal and Unity

Release

N/A

Developer

N/A

Publisher

N/A

Platform

N/A

Key Responsibilities:

  • Updated level design curriculum with current and relevant industry experience.
  • Mentored students through the creative process of level design and project development.
  • Graded student’s work according to an objective and qualitative rubric to assess level design aptitude.
  • Taught students level design theory, practical processes, hands on tools and efficient workflows.
  • Created in-engine tutorials in Unreal 4 for all practical curriculum.
  • Awarded “Best Instructor” and “Best Course” from various graduating classes.
  • Taught a summer intensive class for prospective students.

Level Design 1: Theory

This was the very first course offered in the level design stream. I wanted to focus on giving students a grounded fundamental understanding of level design. I did this through extensive research, and combining all related level design knowledge into a framework I call the level design factors. It's 14 different factors that cover the majority of level design theory, highlighting important key factors such as utilizing elevation, understanding scale, considering line of sight and lots more.

The other major takeaway for the students was to be able to create paper designs. In doing so, not only could they demonstrate the knowledge and theory they've learned, but also effectively share their ideas. Everything from top down paper plans, to beat charts, to flow charts. I also included some Google Sketch Up to give them a taste in 3D software before jumping into Unreal in the next term.

Responsibilities:

  • Focused on level design theory, utilizing a self-created framework called the level design factors
  • Taught how to make effective documentation such as paper plans, flow charts, beat charts, and more
  • Created 5 assignments to grade and assess the students learning and ability on level design theory and documentation
  • Taught students how to use Google Sketch Up to scaleblock their designs

Level Design 2: Practical

Once students have grasped the fundamental theory of level design, we then jump into Unreal Engine and learn practical skills.

The first assignment is more of a technical assessment than a creative, as students are judged by how familiar they are with the engine features that were gone over in class. Teach them how to scaleblock with BSP brushes, how to effectively light their scenes, basic scripting via Blueprints such as lightswitches and elevators. Go over asset placement with meshes and FX.

Then once the students are familiar enough with the editor, we move onto creating a small deathmatch level for the crowdsourced Unreal Tournament. This is the first assignment were the students technical and creative prowess come together.

We also briefly touch on 2D level design as a suppliment for the level designers working on the 2D game projects for a separate class. This fundamental consideration for 2D level helps them understand how to build 2D and common level design considerations when building 2D games, it also includes an assignment in a Super Mario World clone.

Responsibilities:

  • Focused on practical teachings inside Unreal Engine 4
  • Taught what makes a good Unreal Tournament map
  • Created 3 assignments to grade and assess the students practical grasp on the engine, and how they use it to apply their design

Level Design 3: Application

This is the first course in the ellected stream, meaning that students who attend have chosen to be in level design.

During this entire course, students make one level for an action adventure RPG following the phased development that exists in the industry.

We go over spawning enemies, creating puzzles using ingredients, quest objectives and logic, cinematics, boss design.

Playtesting even. Use visual and audio to guide player.

Responsibilities:

  • Taught students how to build a dungeon for an action adventure RPG game
  • Taught students modular design and how to effectively use a modular kit
  • How to use phased developed through a planning, placeholder, gameplay, and assets/polish phase
  • Created 4 assignments that acted as the phases of game development, to help guide the student's along during creation
  • Created a mock game, Quest for Valor, to use as a teaching implement

Level Design 4: Specialization

This is the last level design class the students take. At this point they have a firm graps on fundamental theory and practical skills, and had a chance already to showcase both of these.

I thought it would be good to deep dive on certain sub specs of level design that were fairly common in modern gaming. The three subs I chose to focus on were cover combat layouts, puzzle design and track design. Each assignment in the course was smaller scoped, and allowed them to focus on each one at a time.

Playtesting for the puzzle game.

Responsibilities:

  • Taught students how to create good cover combat layouts, how to design interesting puzzles and how to make a fun racing track
  • Created 3 assignments to assess and test the student's understanding of combat layouts, puzzle design and track design
  • Created two games, The Lost Champions and Combat Sim, to use as a teaching implement
  • Taught students how to playtest effectively to improve their experiences

Mission Design

The Mission Design course is concurrent with Level Design 3 - I designed the curriculum to work in tandem with the other course. In Level Design 3, the students make a dungeon, and in this course, they create an overworld to place the dungeon within, and a quest arc that spans both the overworld and dungeon.

Responsibilities:

  • Utilized Unreal Engine 4 to teach various engine features such as terrain sculpting, materials and blueprints
  • Taught students about world building, story and character arcs
  • Created 2 assignments to grade and assess the students grasp on mission and world design
  • Created a mock game, Quest for Valor, to use as a teaching implement