From the Classroom to the Showroom with OddBird Studio
Benjamin Scott discusses the creation of his team and the video game that landed them in front of Sony, Microsoft and game enthusiasts at E3 2016.
By Mari Landgrebe, Texas State University
When Benjamin Scott joined the Bachelor’s in Game Design program (now the Honours Bachelor in Game Design) at Sheridan College in Toronto, he had a goal to come out with a degree that would land him a gig in a video game studio or publisher, or set the stage for a Master’s degree.
Three years in, and he has instead co-founded indie OddBird Studio with fellow classmates and friends Joshua Cappelli, Shae Humphries, Brendan Muir, Zack Wolfe and Cody Romphf.
Level Up is a showcase event in Canada, hosted by The Design Exchange in Toronto, Ontario, that focuses on student-created projects in game design, animation and computer graphics. There are also awards for Technical Innovation, Artistic Achievement and Overall Game Design, as well as the People’s Choice award—two of which OddBird Studio won with “Arrow Heads,” a multiplayer battle royale of birds and bows and arrows, which you can download to play with friends now.
When the team won the Entertainment Software Association of Canada’s Student Video Game Competition, they took the opportunity presented and showcased their game at E3, the industry’s biggest gaming showcase, where they saw the premieres of long-awaited games like the new Legend of Zelda and rubbed elbows with other school competition winners.
Scott, one of the original members of the team who first spearheaded—or rather, arrow-headed—the push to compete for Level Up, has always loved play video games with friends. Now, he makes them with friends.
“My primary motivation in deciding to make video games was that I enjoyed playing games with my friends and family, so I wanted to create games that would allow myself and others to do that. I was also interested in the way that games could be used to provide their players with a different perspective or lens to view life with.”
“The first ‘game’ I ever made was a very poor imitation of “Space Invaders” that used physics (a terrible thing, never do). It was for my portfolio to get into the Bachelor of Game Design, and for it I had to teach myself coding with the help of Unity’s tutorials.”
“The chief criteria we had for the group was it had to be people who aren’t struggling to get their schoolwork done, let alone add a side project. We didn’t all know each other at the start, but Cody and I kind of put our heads together and thought about who would we love to work with that could handle it all.”
“For the main mechanic of “Arrow Heads,” Zach and Joshua had the initial drive to want to do something archery-focused. As the group sat down and did a bunch of brainstorming together, the archery idea came up and we all really liked and it fit really well for the criteria we had for the game we wanted to develop, for ourselves and for Level Up.”
“To showcase at Level Up, we weren’t the only group at Sheridan wanting to go, so we actually had an internal competition to send teams. Our year was very inspired by the year ahead us, the first ever year of the program, and they put together a team and went to Level Up.”
“We grew past the initial purpose for “Arrow Heads,” which was to participate in Level Up, and once we achieved that goal, we had to decide ‘what next.’ Was this a portfolio piece that won some awards, or did we want to try to release our game? We talked to previous winners of Level Up about options about what they all did. After talking to them and between ourselves, we decided to take the gaming pitch competition at EGLX (Enthusiast Gaming Live Expo) seriously.”
“Getting feedback from all directions really helped us develop, both the game and how we saw it going, and the team too. At E3, we got to talk to people from Sony, Microsoft and a few other publishers, and got some great feedback and advice about our direction and our options going forward.”
“Trying means a lot more than at the time we had thought it meant, and that’s something our professors really hit home around the time we were developing the idea of becoming our own studio. You put some money in, you fail, you lose your money; that’s the worst that happens. Trying is more important than having a good portfolio piece, because then we have the good portfolio piece and the experience of, you know, trying to make it into a business.”
“We don’t have outside funding, though we did try. We had one very generous offer from an individual who gave us a lot of feedback on our work, but in the end we kind of ran the numbers and we found it was a deal we wanted. There were a few situations like that, but we didn’t find a deal that suited both us and the people offering the funding. We didn’t want to get into an awkward or bad situation, so we were careful about funding.”
“Some studio names have good stories behind them, but ours doesn’t. At the beginning we were registering for a BitBucket source control account so all six of us could use it, and it asked for a company name. So we suddenly had to come up with a name, and we took a couple of hours and brainstormed, finding name generators and other things to find something interesting, and OddBird was just one that everyone was like ‘yeah, okay,’ sort of with the intention of changing it later. But we never did.”
“The best advice I got, that we got, was find a mentor or a group of mentors, if you want to start a game or a studio or even really any kind of business. It doesn’t have to be formal, either. Find the community in your area, lots of cities have their own local game dev communities and being part of those is big, because we made a lot of friends and found some great sounding boards. It’s extremely valuable.”
“We are planning on presenting “Arrow Heads” at other shows, like PAX East, and we’ve applied to the Indie MegaBooth at Game Developers Conference (GDC) and the Indie Game Festival Awards presented at GDC. We’ve also been invited to apply to SXSW in Austin, so we’ve got a lot planned.”
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