Interview: Emma Westecott, Co-founder of The Level Up Showcase

Wednesday night, the third Level Up Showcase kicked off at the Design Exchange in the heart of Toronto’s Financial district. Over 60 design, animation, and computer science students  from across Ontario presented their videogames which were all influenced by a central theme, art.

Founded by Emma Westecott of OCAD and Steve Engels of U of T, the Level Up showcase aims to inspire students to collaborate and produce games that represent their creators.

After getting our hands on a few games, we caught up with Emma in the lobby.

How did you create the Level Up Showcase?

I met Steve Engels when I first got to Toronto 3 years ago, and I think his student games were the first ones I saw.  I invited him to my students’ crit and we realized that his games might have had a bit too much programmer art and that my games might have been a bit too conceptual and not actually finished. So we decided it might be a good idea to get our students together and this is the third year the course has run now.

It’s really interesting putting creative people who speak slightly different languages together to collaborate on making a game. It’s something that never stops intriguing me, how people figure out how to communicate in the aim of making a great game. That’s one of the things we’re really proud and happy about.

You were saying earlier that you don’t like the idea of there being only one type of gamer, can you expand on that?

I’ve been interested in games for a really long time and what I really liked about them is that as a community, they’re very welcoming to all different sorts of people. I think it’s only fairly recently that we’ve started to engage in what’s called “toxic game culture.” A certain type of gamer, maybe someone who is into to FPS’s, for example, will say that that’s what a gamer is and what you can start to see is all these exclusions happening where as actually nowadays we’re all gamers.

It’s not a niche sector anymore. Everybody blends in a number of different ways. One is not more important than the other, it doesn’t matter what type of game you play. I play all sorts of causal games on my iPhone in the same way I play on my PS3, the same way I play on my iPad. I play lots of different things, and I’m a gamer in all of them.

What would you say if your favorite console or favorite game, right now?

It would appear that I have a slight preference to PS3. I wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell you why but  if I look at my office the Xbox has stayed in its box and the PS3 is out and being used all of the time. Which is ironic  because I’ve got so much interest Kinect and movement as an interface.

Slightly less recently, I love Sword & Sorcery I think it’s a great example of a Toronto-made game that reflects its cultural production.

Historically, in the gaming industry they talk about international triple-A games that would work in any market. That’s rubbish! Games reflect the hand of their maker so to think about what a specifically Canadian game is a really interesting creative question. I think it’s one the Sword and Sorcery team took on and ended up with a really interesting product. That’s one of the reasons I like it. I look at it and it reminds me of something quintessentially Canadian.

What are the objectives of this event in particular, and does the variety of the games we see here reflect the variety of the programs offered through the various schools involved?

This is the 3rd year of Level up, and in the first year it was really obvious it would benefit from opening up that it wouldn’t just be the results of one particular class. There’s all sorts of reasons for that. We can create one destination for employers to come out to where it’s much easier for them to find people to recruit.

We started to invite other organizations to demo their games here and I think this year we’ve got most of the major game programs represented in one way or another. What’s interesting about that is you can see how different teams are directed in different ways. For example, some groups are told to make a certain number of levels, other people are told to use a particular type of engine, our students were told to make art games. Each school frames their education in a different way partly due to logistics and partly to do with choice. What’s fascinating about seeing it all together is you get a chance to evaluate that.

So your question is a really good question because I don’t think anyone’s sat down and said that this type of style defines a U of T game, that style typifies a Seneca game, for example. But I think this is the opportunity to start asking those types of questions. What’s a George Brown game in comparison to a Sheridan game?

As this event continues to grows, I’d like to see us engage in those questions just so we can talk about different approaches. We all have different approaches to game design, one is not better than another.

At the moment within my school I’m the only person that teaches games so I have a relatively limited scope. Where as other institutions like Sheridan are just about to offer a BA in design so they’ve got a whole 3 years. There’s so many different approaches to the challenge of teaching game design. I think that’s healthy for us all to be generous when talking about it so that we can make a better experience for the students and they can learn all about it.

There’s nothing to be gained by putting up walls around your practice, where ever you sit.
That’s one of the things I find most exciting is what happens when you get everybody together.  The student sees somebody else’s work, meets a new person, and has an idea for a new collaboration.

We’re trying to reflect the indie community which is famous for its generosity and we hope to carry that into our student concepts.

If your interesting in leaning more about the Level Up showcase, check our their official website.

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