The third-year Bachelor of Game Design students who fuel OddBird Studio entered the 2016 fall term at Sheridan in the same whirlwind manner that has characterized much of their past year as indie developers. They spent the first week of September in Seattle, showcasing their debut game Arrow Heads at PAX West – one of the two largest gaming events in North America. Instead of returning to full-time jobs as game designers like other exhibitors featured in the ‘PAX Rising’ section, the OddBird Studio team caught a red-eye flight to Toronto to make a 10 a.m. class.
It was during a Sheridan Game Mechanics course that an early prototype of Arrow Heads was constructed. Joshua Cappelli and Zack Wolfe challenged themselves to translate the arc of an arrow, shot from a bow, in digital game-play. With fellow designers Shae Humphries, Brendan Muir, Cody Romphf and Benjamin Scott, they spent tens of hours a week over the next few months developing that mechanic into what would become Arrow Heads. The full-fledged game is described by Romphf as “battle-royale archery” with single-hit elimination that makes it “fast-paced, zany and hectic.”
The team’s first, large-scale showcase of Arrow Heads was last April at Level Up in Toronto, a platform for Ontario college and university teams to share their work with the public. “There were 80 teams from 16 institutions so it’s a great opportunity to see what other students are working on,” says Romphf. “Then you see a Ubisoft or Big Viking Games judge in your booth and things suddenly become really nerve-wracking.” To the surprise of the team, they were awarded the top honour in two of the four categories including Overall Game Design and Artistic Achievement. One of the prizes was a sit-down meeting at Ubisoft’s offices with 10 lead designers for a critique of Arrow Heads.
“We can’t develop our game for years behind closed doors and then have a big, splashy release. No one would care” – Cody Romphf
The wins at Level Up led to an opportunity to participate in the Enthusiast Gaming Live Expo (EGLX) in April, billed as the largest expo of its kind in Canada. It also included participation in a business proposal contest. “We ended up winning it but realized there’s still so much for us to learn. We’ve barely embraced the title of ‘game designer’ and now we have to think about how we’re approaching things from a business standpoint,” says Scott. Romphf adds: “We’ve known from the outset we had to establish a community around Arrow Heads. We can’t develop our game for years behind closed doors and then have a big, splashy release. No one would care.”
A website built by a Sheridan Computer Systems Technology – Software student, Kostia Arlouski, and Romphf’s social media savvy has helped keep an ever-growing fan base informed about Arrow Heads’ progress. The team has made a free demo of the game available to encourage play-testing. A quick glance at the OddBird Studio Twitter page and you’ll see how they proactively incorporate feedback into new iterations of the game. To date, 1,600 people have downloaded the Arrow Heads demo and they maintain a 15 per cent active, monthly user base.
Perhaps the most memorable experience of the past year for the OddBird team was showcasing Arrow Heads at Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles. If taking home two awards at Level Up was a shock, finding out they won the Entertainment Software Association of Canada (ESAC)’s annual Student Video Game Competition and a booth at E3 – the world’s premier trade show for computer and video games – was overwhelming. “We initially thought ESAC was telling us we were the provincial winners, knowing how much talent comes out of Quebec and the west coast for game design,” explains Romphf. “Then we realized we were the overall winners and going to LA.”
Hosted at the Los Angeles Convention Centre in June, E3 included OddBird Studio’s booth on a red-carpeted area alongside U.S. school competition winners. Between showcasing Arrow Heads to hundreds of attendees and exploring the four floors of games, the team met with NVIDIA, Sony, 505 Games and Microsoft representatives – made possible through a Sheridan connection. “After every meeting we received very candid feedback. It was like a presentation in class, except with five Microsoft execs sitting across from you!” says Scott. “These meetings were amazingly helpful for figuring out how to start the process of getting our game to market.”
That’s the next big goal for OddBird Studio and they’re making strides toward achieving it, helped by the fact that Sheridan Professors like Andrew Carvalho are indie developers and can answer the team’s specific questions about bringing a game to market. “They live and breathe indie dev so having so many supportive Sheridan mentors has been invaluable,” says Romphf. Scott and Romphf also acknowledge how the learning outcomes in the game design program and in their extracurricular development work have been reciprocal, positively impacting their journey.
“We’ve essentially designed a game that we’d want to play in a way we’d want to play it” – Benjamin Scott
Although in uncharted territory for Sheridan students, the OddBird Studio team is humble when they reflect on what they’ve accomplished with Arrow Heads. “We took a familiar idea and made it fresh by using different controls,” says Romphf. Scott adds: “We’ve essentially designed a game that we’d want to play in a way we’d want to play it.”
Pictured at top of page: Sheridan Bachelor of Game Design student and OddBird Studio developer Benjamin Scott at PAX West in Seattle.
Written by: Keiko Kataoka, Digital Communications Officer at Sheridan