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Student Day in the Life: The Art Institute of Vancouver's Märt Lume

In this Gamasutra educational feature, graduate of The Art Institute of Vancouver Märt Lume describes his daily life as he works on three projects and anxiously awaits his work visa.

Introduction

My name is Märt Lume, and I am a recent graduate of the Art Institute of Vancouver and producer for the UT2K4 mod Chase the Chicken. While I wait for my work permit papers to come through, I am playing key roles in three projects simultaneously: team lead/producer for a just released "chicken-racer" Chase the Chicken, producer for an educational Flash multiplayer game Quizzards, and a designer for an innovative game codenamed eRacer, which promotes online learning and is developed in affiliation with Simon Fraser University. I am active in local communities of SigGraph and New Media BC and soon hope to start a career in game production in Vancouver. Armed with a degree in business and endless passion for creating interactive experiences, I want to be the kind of producer who can talk in detail about all aspects of game development.

5:30 AM

Good morning. I usually sleep longer, but there is too much going on today. I jump out of bed and take a shower, not minding getting up at dawn when there is something interesting waiting to be done. For the last few minutes, I turn the water cold – it is good for waking up.

There is no going to work at this early hour. I am a “freelancer,” meaning a promising Estonian in beautiful Vancouver, BC, waiting for my work permit. Waiting isn’t a good word really, because ever since graduating from the Art Institute I have been busier than ever with three concurrent projects, visiting GDC and E3, and improving myself professionally in a number of ways. Looking at the Outlook calendar of today, I see that today I get to work on all three of my projects:

  • 1 PM - meeting with potential programmers for Quizzards
  • 2 PM - meeting with the concept artist for Quizzards
  • 3 PM - brainstorming meeting with SFU people for eRacer
  • 6 PM - meeting with our timid Team Speed-Force Alpha with whom we are ironing out the last bugs from Chase the Chicken, a classy Unreal mod we have been working on for the last 8 months.


Märt Lume

I put the coffee on and go over my favorite daily news sites while munching over breakfast. Today is a good day because Double Fine has news.

6:00 AM

My reason for getting up early is to prepare a skeleton of a design document for the 3 o’clock eRacer meeting. I throw all the notes from the last two brainstorming sessions into a Word file, arranging them by sections according to a standard design document template. Due to eRacer being a game inspired by reality shows, game shows, online learning environments, as well as websites such as GoogleIdol, I have to change the standard template around quite a bit. Writing a concept for such an innovative project is fun and time passes quickly. I have 2 cups of coffee and a few apples. It feels good to get up early.

9:20 AM

Brain fried from hours of straight writing, I grab my plastic guitar and turn on the TV where PS2 and Guitar Hero are still running from a few days ago. "Cowboys from Hell" is a tough nut to crack on Expert; I’m starting to think of writing the notes out on paper and playing them in slow motion. After a few failed tries and a hurting arm, I get my rock-star fix by cruising through "Texas Flood" and sit back at the monitor. When my days are busy, this is the only kind of gaming I get. I write a few emails and get back to the design document.

11:30 AM

My girlfriend wakes up and swears in her cute way how she hates mornings. She is one of the most hard-working people I know, but ironically also likes long sleeps. She makes breakfast and we talk a few minutes while eating. She is still a student at the Art Institute, and today is one of the days we get to go to school together. I print out the extracts from QuizzWiki needed for the 1 o’clock meeting and we pack up and leave. Before getting on the 10-minute bus ride, there is a superb fruit shop on our way where I can stack up my fruit supplies for the day.

1:00 PM

I was expecting two programmers to show up to discuss the Flash game I’m initiating, but there are seven! Luckily, our Flash instructor is also present to save me from being crushed by all of the technical questions coming from the witty students. After discussing the skill-sets needed for this particular Flash project, it turns out most of the programmers are already too swamped to take on a new project this late in the semester, but there are a few people interested in starting at the break. This is a good development. Shortly afterwards I rush to the nearby building to meet the concept artist for Quizzards and the friend he brought along.



Fridtjof Olsen’s sketches for Quizzards

2:00 PM

The Norwegian student Fridtjof impresses me with the quick sketches for Quizzards he has managed to come up with during a busy week, conceiving how he sees characters and color schemes in the game. We plunge into a discussion about how we should create the art so that it will work with animations and the tile-based gameworld in Flash. After bringing in a student who has quite a bit of experience in Flash animation to join our conversation, we settle on modeling in Maya and exporting animations from every angle using Swift3D. Using Maya is good, because it allows us to involve even more Art Institute students in the future. We agree to model, texture, and animate a sample character in the next 2 weeks and bring the assets from Maya to Flash to identify any potential problem areas. My tasks of the week are to play more Dofus, a French Flash-based MMO with outstanding art style, and decide exactly how big we want our character heads to be.

I hang out in school and talk to a few friends who are still studying here. Accidentally, this way I find one more programmer and another potential designer for Quizzards. I send out an e-mail to Chase the Chicken team with tasks for tonight’s work session at 6 o’clock, and head to the eRacer meeting.

3:30 PM

5 people from Simon Fraser University and 4 from the Art Institute show up in the meeting room. One designer presents a PowerPoint summary of what we have discussed and agreed on in the three meetings so far. For the next 2 hours I take notes, while we brainstorm about the less fleshed out areas of the game. We make good progress and the meeting ends at 6 PM. For the next session in three weeks, we, three designers, get tasked to come up with the specifics of gameplay. Because other designers have a lot on their plates at the moment, we will get together weekly and most of the writing will be left to me, which is great. After the meeting, our former instructor Anthony kindly asks me to tell his current class about E3, and I happily take a chance to tell my former peers about the differences between E3 and GDC, how to best network at these events, and how to benefit from the experiences.



Team Speed-Force Alpha

6:20 PM

The quick-witted team figures out my lateness and starts working on Chase on their own. Of our original 20-person development team, there are just 6 people involved in the so-called post-development, making the game which was successfully presented at our graduation ready for release on the Internet. Today’s work involves re-doing textures and replacing triggers for tutorial messages, creating player input and test stats tracking for the high score table, tweaking the Level Objective Locator (LOL) on the HUD, inserting more dancing villagers in the opening cinematic, and altering egg-meter costs on sprinting, dodging, and egg-laying. Because we expect to wrap up the production in the coming weekend, this will not turn into a late night session. At 10 o’clock we compile the final build of the day and head out to Uncle Fatih’s on Commercial Drive, the best pizza joint in Vancouver.



Best Pizza Joint in Vancouver

11:55 PM

Coming home is always a joy, and midnight is the peak hour for my girlfriend to play piano and compose (thankfully, she uses headphones). I start writing the Day in the Life article but feel too tired and decide to go to bed. Looking at and updating the Outlook calendar of the next day, I see that tomorrow will be busy as well, except for the empty morning part reserved for sleeping. Good night.

_____________________________________________________

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