The Big Assignment
The first day of class came, and six students were given their assignment: to create concept art and initial design documents for a fictional action game game set in Mayan mythology. Dela talked about how the premise came about and how it compared to actual work at the studio level: "One thing we wanted to do…was to give an assignment that went along with what the studio was known for…The intent was to give something that was based in mythology and really forced the students to think outside of the box and design things on the character and environment side that were like abstract or didn’t exist…We wanted to give them similar things that we do on a daily basis."
Luke added that he and Dela conducted initial research into creating a rich, new mythological theme for the students that differentiated from prior efforts of the studio: "Since the studio had explored Greek mythology so much…we didn’t want to give them that assignment to make another God of War game in that mythology because we wanted them, as students, to be challenged to have to come up with their fresh ideas so we asked them to design their own action adventure game set in Mayan mythology. And we didn’t even include Kratos as one of their characters so they had to start fresh with everything."
"I was fed up the having to re-train graduates from schools that were supposed to be the best at teaching Entertainment Design. I wanted to teach a class where students were taught how to be better prepared and be a more effective member of a Concept Design team at ANY game studio, working on ANY genre, from day one of their hire…”
- Jeal Choi, Brainstorm Instructor
The class was structured with Jeal teaching the majority of the class sessions. Luke and Dela came in periodically throughout the quarter to introduce the work and inspirations as well as to critique the students’ concepts. Luke explained, "The first day we went in, we showed them artwork from God of War Ascension and God of War III and talked about our studio’s process of how we look at references, read mythology, deal with other departments, and how we approach developing…the artwork for a game in an early stage. Then we left them and came in at their midterm…did a big critique…looked at all their artwork and heard about where they had come up with for the project."
Under the watchful eyes of the SMS ambassadors and Jeal, the small group of students worked together for ten weeks and came to understand how an actual studio functioned as well as owning certain levels as well as a characters, all under the Mayan mythological theme. Dela talked about the importance of teaching the students how their work compared to a real studio: "We showed them the foundation…Here’s how we iterate on something; here’s how we go through how many times it takes…10, 20, 30 passes until we actually nail it down. And the intent behind the design and bringing the storytelling into the design as well as working with other departments and its importance."
Admittedly, the students were surprised, at first, by this specific assignment but grew more and more excited by the challenge. Normal classes would simply touch upon a number of different concepts and themes without consistently working on a single goal as a team. Jeal commented, "(The students) simply were not used to thinking the way I was proposing…By the second class session, however, all the students were focused and were well on their way to learning how to leverage their individual strengths…"
Another reason the students were excited to create a strong project was that the concepts were to be critiqued by the entire Santa Monica Studio! Jeal stated, "The students worked so hard because they knew…they were going to present their work…at the studio, in front of Shannon Studstill A-N-D the team. Where can a student get that kind of direct exposure to a AAA studio as well as face-time with the team working on the God of War franchise?"
Meet the Students and Their Work
Here are the six adventurous and fascinating student team members that made the early concepts for a Mayan-themed action-adventure game and their impressions of the experience: