80 Level Podcast

How to Teach Game Development in a Rapidly Changing World? - 80 Level Podcast

March 02, 2023 Kirill Tokarev / Matthew Board Season 3 Episode 3
80 Level Podcast
How to Teach Game Development in a Rapidly Changing World? - 80 Level Podcast
Show Notes Transcript

On the new podcast episode, 80LV talked to Matthew Board (developer, artist, Unreal authorized instructor partner for Epic Games). We discuss how evolving technologies, myriad tools, and students’ backgrounds turn gamedev courses creation & teaching into a real puzzle. Matthew also shared an insight, uncovering the most lucrative skills and specialties in the modern market that everybody should look into!

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Matthew can you uh maybe for somebody who doesn't know you tell us a little bit about yourself like


what do you do where do you come from maybe a little bit about your background as a developer and trainer and uh yeah


sure uh so I'm originally from Ohio I uh


spent a lot of time in Cincinnati in my 20s then moved away to Wyoming


where I taught the digital side of graphic design and 3D animation this was back in 2006.


2008 I moved to Massachusetts and taught 3D animation and game design and that's


where I started to cut my teeth in game development I was active in the


uh igda group there called the Boston postmortem and uh met some friends and


we started making games the first game that I was involved in uh was called


super Ramen Brothers we made an iOS game in 24 hours and posted it the next day


on the App Store and things kind of went from there uh after that moved to actually prior to


moving to Chicago I did some freelance kind of art assets and 3D modeling and


stuff for various companies in the Boston area um


did some contract work for Hasbro a little bit as a digital Sculptor then moved to Chicago and


um basically the reason why I was moving the whole time is because I was involved in academics and


um teaching higher education courses at colleges


while I was in Chicago I met a couple of clients and started making


educational science games at that point in time I was working with unity and c-sharp


around 2014 I transitioned to Unreal Engine with the release of Unreal


Engine 4. I'd messed around with the unreal development kit and stuff like that and had always been aware of Unreal


Engine always enjoyed the tool set um and so


when they created blueprint I was able to quickly kind of catch on to it


because of my c-sharp experience and uh went from there and used that for my Indie development and my contract


worked from then on so uh up until


most recently I was working at a university here in Ohio teaching game


design game development and leading their uh game program and then was


recently contacted by Ryan kingsleyan to come work at vertex school and I've been


here for approximately a month and a half we'll get back a little bit to vertex


and the the question of traditional and online education I think


it's interesting but before we kind of jump that way


um from your perspective as an instructor as well as a person who has been


developing games both in unity and in real um what's going on with Unreal Engine 5


today that makes it such an important engine for the industry like what are


the things that they are kind of bringing to the table in your from your


perspective did you feel like are if not groundbreaking but at least are you know


super useful for developers all over the world sure


um some of the things that I think are really fantastic about what epic games


is doing with Unreal Engine is one the accessibility of it


and anyone can download it right like if you meet the minimum software requirements you get access to the


entire tool set pretty much for free right like you don't have to pay a royalty and unless


you've made a million dollars or something like that right which the accessibility I think is a huge thing


and uh the accessibility to the huge tool set the entire tool set is


something that I would like to emphasize another thing is the way that


you know the the engine keeps progressing and I feel like the rate of its progression


keeps increasing um you have a very accessible scripting language with blueprint which I think is


also very helpful I think it's also very artist friendly um the tools I think are very accessible


which all the tools in the engine are very accessible there's a lot of complexity in there that you can quickly get to


when you're kind of prototyping or iterating to make you know really sophisticated product


I think another thing that's interesting about it is how it's beginning to serve multiple Industries


uh film and video right virtual production is fantastic uh not that they're the


only one but I think that they're doing a really great job with how they're handling it um the automotive industry as well


and the way that they support Developers and all of these different verticals I


think is fantastic with their own support even with the the


unreal authorized training program the support that they offer is is really fantastic so I think that their Outreach


to the larger Community is something that you know can't really be


overstated what about those elements uh and and


thank you for your answer I think all of those things that you mentioned especially in terms of service like they


are providing the services and engine right uh epic is doing a great job


they're also and maybe this is why they're successful in kind of the movie industry and the TV


and films maybe that's kind of like the the secret sauce but they're also investing a lot and uh you know like the


meta humans uh character builder the they bought Mega scans a couple of years


ago and they kind of implement a new tech into the engine


I guess trying to stay at the Forefront of when you know what you think about when you think about


you know high quality visual graphics and you think about maybe Nvidia you know companies like that and


epic is definitely somewhere there what do you feel about um those additions the ones I mentioned


like the mega scans and the um many human do you feel like nanite


and you know like if we can go on and on do you feel they are as kind of


groundbreaking for the industry or are they somewhere you know like in the in the middle


ground or maybe somewhere in the beginning of their journey and they're not really there yet to kind of change


the way we think and build games uh yeah I think that uh quicksole for


sure is there right I mean and another thing it's it's about accessibility


right so if you have if you have someone that has this


idea that they they passionately feel that they need to communicate having access to assets of that nature is


really fantastic I think and you know if you're working with Unreal Engine you get


access to the library for free which I think is very generous right


um in terms of metahuman I think that a lot of people can agree that


you know a a completely convincing digital human is no small task right


I think I think that metahuman is getting there I think that it's


I think that it it's probably one of the most intense challenges in CG right uh


to get a human that actually looks like a human and then give people a tool set


to kind of create their own it's a big idea and um you know I think


that it's it's an interesting problem to solve it's been interesting to watch uh watch it grow and change and watch you


know I follow some of the artists that are involved in that process and kind of making convincing humans I think that


it's uh it's a really interesting kind of


not to crack really yeah so we ask those questions and uh in


the answers there was this theme of accessibility basically you're saying


uh unreal and probably you it's fair to say that the other tools out are there


follow in a similar path I mean you can see unreal being very accessible Unity being


very accessible um substant tools are also very


accessible you can get the Houdini Indie license which is you know cost basically


nothing and there is a lot of like smaller tools and so on so when when you have this if we live in this age of


accessibility in terms of tools and development programs and you know all


all that software how does that influence education because


um again you can correct me uh if I'm wrong a lot of people have this perception


that education is a bit of like a like a little bit of a rigid structure so you


create some kind of course and then you run with it even if it's maybe becomes obsolete here


and there um how is that changing and with the current landscape and what are like the


factors that are influencing that change well from my academic experience uh


working in higher education the I guess you could say game education


is a very competitive landscape uh there are a lot of good schools out there


there are a lot of really great programs uh a lot of what the programs that I've


worked in um you know I've always had to hustle with


kind of staying up to date with what I'm teaching I would change my curriculum yearly uh to make sure that it's up to


date uh could almost change it twice a year now with the rate that everything changes


so you know I think that for people that are looking to go into this as a career


I think that that would be something to keep an eye on is the the rate at which


curriculum is iterated because I mean nowadays it's definitely an iterative


process and I think that you know about software accessibility it's a big deal


um one thing you have to keep in mind is the financial landscape of students


isn't equal right so there may be some who can afford a piece of software no


problem uh there may be some who cannot so when


I get brand new students in my classes and they're they're learning tools and


things they they'll all come in with completely different software Stacks under their belt right or no software


stack so that's something that you always have to keep in mind when you're running a course in this stuff is you


can you have to be adaptable and a really great way to kind of


make the adaptation to a street as being willing to give a little to get a little


right so if a student comes in with some knowledge of blender


you know if if I have knowledge of blender let's say then I am able to communicate blender


Concepts to them and for instance Maya which is helpful because since I'm


somewhat bilingual I'm able to move between or rather help kind of demystify


the software that they're just now getting into you if that makes sense


so again you said that people have different access to different software


and they're not maybe because of their financial capacity right or maybe because of some other factors and you


mentioned blender this is a software that there seems to be like a Revival of


interest to to this because like even on 80 level we see like so many people react positively whenever we publish a


story on something done in blender and the question I want to ask connected


with that is um what do people when they go to your


course at Vertex or maybe before in your career what do people actually want to


learn when when they're kind of entering this career apart from like a very


general concept of let's build a game what are the the skills that they want


to acquire and how does that compare with the skills that the market wants


yeah uh we'll get folks that want to learn


um a variety of software right from my where I worked previously currently


we have students that want really want to learn Maya and the substance tools


and Unreal Engine right um and I think that landscape changes kind


of almost based on region almost uh or location uh which is kind of interesting


to see is like a colloquial sort of mix of what people are into


uh I think that you know


when people want to make games it's it's like they they kind of start to blaze


their own trail uh but lately a lot of the focus has been on Unreal Engine for sure


so in in terms of teaching let's say you're teaching Unreal Engine


um how is this process different when you're approaching it in school like in a traditional Academia


right and when you're approaching it in an online environment like vertex I know


you mentioned that you worked in vertex for not that long but Pro you probably do


have an understanding how these things are different and it would be interesting to hear from your perspective as an instructor and how do


you balance what are like the trade-offs and how do you balance between them


yeah it was you know I think that this is a you know going from online to


physical courses and the comparison between the two uh you know being in a classroom is nice


right um then the pandemic happened right and


that really changed the landscape so uh courses that I had previously taught


in a classroom I was teaching all online and the students were able to quickly adapt


because I mean we're mainly using technology right and they were able to use uh meeting tools like Google Hangout


Zoom Etc uh and Discord disk we use Discord heavily uh for collaboration and


it went pretty well at first you know there was there was a bit of a learning


curve and kind of getting everybody to communicate and stuff like that so that once things had eased in terms of the


pandemic and we went back to school you know there there are some folks that


really preferred uh working online and I think I did too because


there was less you know less time spent for me like moving files around and


things like that um you know there's something nice about being in a room full of people for sure


uh but I think that you know in terms of efficiency and


being able to get things done I don't think that there was and being able to teach people right I think that you know


doing that online was something that was completely doable


so whether online or offline uh there


are still some skills that people are getting right and do you feel like what they're getting in


terms of like their knowledge of unreal or substance is this really something that the market desires


currently or maybe there are some you know empty spots that not a lot of


students know about and there's like high demand for this kind of a specialty or this kind of skill set like I can


name um let's say VFX attack VFX guys or like a


technical animator or uh you know like a rendering engineer so maybe this is kind


of like a more high level math thing but uh I mean you can't find those people


very easily and it's really challenging because I'm currently working with some Houdini guys and uh


man those guys are busy like even like even if you're a student you can get


like a like a decent salary and start working and if you're like uh like a


senior or even like mid to senior that switch that's that's a very attractive


salary somewhere like in on the west coast and um like from from your experiences are


there some kind of bits in the pipeline where you know you feel like people


might you know benefit more from I do I think that uh you know a lot of


folks when they first get into their experience with gaming education they want to become an indie developer or


something of that nature which you know is noble and but there's something to consider is how


saturated the market is right uh something that I would suggest to


folks that are interested in a career in games would be looking into technical art and


what a technical artist is and this is something that typically varies from Studio to studio and


depending on where you are um but in Unreal Engine technical art


has a bit more of a concrete definition so you spend a lot of time you know


making complex materials or building editor tools sometimes you're working


with visual effects in that capacity or you know working on props and environment art so there are a lot of


there are a lot of different I should say tasks involved with uh working with you know becoming a


technical artist you're kind of like an artist programmer hybrid and that's something that I would encourage folks


to get into yeah Tech art is definitely like we have


a recruiting service on Ada level uh called 80 level talent and uh


whenever we see anyone kind of registering in uh Tech art they immediately get offers it's like people


are looking for those uh kind of Specialists all the time and it's like big big studios like Ubisoft and


Nintendo you know all of the like uh AAA stuff


um I have to ask so you mentioned that like a technical artist it's sort of like a


blend between an artist and a programmer uh but before that you you told one of


the benefits of kind of using unreal is uh the blueprints system which kind of


help visually build whatever the script that you're building and so on do you feel like unreal helps uh to become to


get into this specialty profession easier because I I know whenever people


go to some other software they're like oh my God this is so complex I will never be


able to do it and they spend way too much time kind of trying to get you know feeling the understanding of what it is


but I know that when you're wasn't real and if you want to do like a very simple VFX or anything you can go into their


like VFX editor and cook something pretty quickly and it's usually a sign


that people would be more interested in in doing things when they get resolved kind of quicker what's your take on that


isn't really a good environment to start exploring the technical art realm or


maybe there are some other software that you feel are also equally as beneficial


uh yeah I think that getting into technical art with Unreal Engine


is a bit easier I would say uh because


the interfaces between modules right are very similar so once you're once you're


in you you can kind of pick up the the language of unreal the visual language of unreal very quickly I think that's


something that's really nice about blueprints too is you know it's a it's a visual experience


so I mean it's it's like if you're if you're coming to this you know from more


of an artistic angle I think that that makes it easier to understand


um of course you can you can edit the interface with uh utility widgets and


things like that I think that it's also you know you can you can edit the


the tools in unity as well with C sharp right so I mean it's it's a similar philosophy I think


and another one too is you know blender and python right or Mayan python uh pymel


those are all great ways to kind of start uh I guess honing your Tech art toolkit


let's say yeah when we're talking to uh you know


students when we go to talk with schools and so on we have uh one of the slides base basically says


uh become more technical you know when you go to like a room full


of uh guys and girls in there like uh trying to get into the industry and they're trying to you know make a name


for themselves and so on uh it seems like just getting this like a bit of


that skill set and knowing how to set up a nice Shader and unreal or something is


giving you kind of a little bit of an advantage when you're doing this and when you know


stuff like you know procedural or generation Houdini that's kind of like getting you way up there and the


question is do you feel like uh where maybe in a state where kind of technical is more important than


artistic or maybe I'm kind of like maybe it's it's a wrong impression and that our art


is still as important yeah I think that when when you're doing this kind of work


there's typically an end goal right um


and the end goal which I mean uh be it a film an automobile interface or


a game um it's a it's a interactive creative


aesthetic experience so I mean from that angle I mean


I think that creativity is an Artistry is still very much involved I just think


that the tools that are being used to be creative


are changing right and it's it's important to keep up with that and I


mean you can have like when you're prototyping an idea for a game or a mechanic or something like


that it can it can be a lot like sketching in a way right uh you may find


surprises like it can it can be an emergent process and


in the emergence or Serendipity of that process I think creativity can live


there for sure you you mentioned a couple of things


there uh talking about kind of new technology constantly disrupting uh


constantly changing and the importance of like trying to keep up I'm not even


saying keeping up it's just like trying to keep up with whatever's happening because uh


I I like my favorite story and I repeated I think too many times on this podcast is when I talked with the guys


who were doing uh crisis like from crytek back in the day and I met them like I


feel like it was 2000 like 17 or something like that at


Gamescom and they were like they we were talking about back in the time there was like a


quick sell at DDO ndo tools and there was substance and they were like wow man


these things are revolutionary because before that I remember I was walking


down the hall in karatek and critic is a big studio and there were like dozens of


people just sitting in zbrush and they were sculpting rocks or the sculpting


bricks to make textures right and that was like a huge leap and uh today


we have you know we have procedural tools we have photogrammetry and we also


have kind of slow adoption which is going in through some friction obviously a lot of


AI tools and we have stuff like mid-journey and you know the chat


programs and we see a lot of papers where people are basically generating 3D out


of nothing like they're using like a 2D image and it can generate a 3D model and


uh definitely the those systems are learning very quickly and we're going to


see more and more of those tools it's just you know inevitable and Adobe is doing a lot of work in that direction as


well in Nvidia and you've seen what what their experiments look like and um my


question is like in this environment where it seems like these tools basically can do anything


um what do you feel people should concentrate on do you feel like they should uh


still kind of you know grit and uh you know to try to work with you know the


unreal tools or should they kind of jump the wagon and try to play around with


the you know mid-journey or maybe some other tools like where do you think this


whole technological progress is gonna take us and I'm asking you Matthew because probably during your career in


education and you mentioned like remember I asked you in the beginning where you sometimes need to change your


course even twice uh twice a year so what do you feel is gonna happen do you


feel like there's going to be more changes coming how are those tools going to influence


do you feel like AI is going to take maybe part of like a boring work but so far it seems like it's taken only


like a fun fun work leaving the UVS and all the other stuff


to you so how would you feel about it yeah I would you know I think that's a


really good point I think that you know the machine learning folks need to work on uh maybe some better


quicker UV generation with AI how about that that would that would help a lot of people out


but I think that you know there's a there's a lot of opinions about you know


AI art and what AI is going to do to Art and things like this


and you know it's it's a compelling debate there's a lot of you know kind of


one you know when when you offer up an opinion it seems like you know people


want to look into you know the individual offering the


opinion and these kinds of things uh I've seen it on my social media feeds


and you know I think that a lot of the opinion and debate for me


is rooted a lot in confusion and


also probably some fear there's also I think a lot of debate around the


authenticity of AI art um which I'm I don't I don't know if I'm


necessarily sold on that concept so you know I've just kind of been hanging


back and watching it all unfold for myself what what comes to mind for me with this


debate is you know the you know if you if you look back at the Canon of art


history and you look at the invention of a camera and people were taking photographs and


then you know the photo realistic painter really took a hit in his yearly


Revenue right because now we could just take pictures so I mean


is it a technological Revolution similar to that I mean it's possible


um another thing to think about too is you know I I I believe that when you're


offering up text prompts to something like mid-journey I think that you're


teaching the algorithm right so that out I mean it's learning so I mean it's almost like we're


contributing to this creative hive mind in a way when you're working with AI art


is it possible that it's gonna it's gonna make like the the job of the


concept artist they're relevant I'm not necessarily sold on that notion uh because


sometimes you have to have like a carefully crafted idea from a brief or something like that


so like dropping something into mid-journey might not cut it I mean


maybe in 20 years it might I don't know I mean it depends on how much the algorithm can learn


um another thing too is you know I think that with AI art you know you enter a


prompt and it becomes this it almost becomes like a haiku or poetry right so


I've heard people call it more of like a literary tool than a visual tool uh something else to consider is like


when you you drop in those prompts and you get that result I mean I think that people get a


dopamine hit out of that so I think it's really similar to let somebody liking your stuff on Facebook


which is a consideration as well I think so it's a it's a really complex topic I


mean I've messed around with mid-journey I enjoyed messing around with mid-journey I think that it's you know I


would take the images and then bring them into Photoshop and tweak them or paint over them or mess with it


you know and I mean you do you would do the same thing with reference photos so it's like if someone's taking photographs from a magazine and building


a collage right I mean they're recontextualizing the


meaning of that image so you know who who's who has the ownership


you know okay fine I mean authorship can be a topic for sure but I mean


I think that maybe what we need to figure out with AI art is what is the


most important topic first before because right now everybody's just kind of like shooting from the hip with


their their opinion on it which I don't I don't know if that's necessarily


like the right direction I don't think the shotgun approaches is the correct way to look at it right now


that was really long-winded no no no you touched on a lot of interesting points


there like um I I like the first of all yeah we can all agree that there are some ethical


questions and like copyright questions that are not clear and definitely when


you have like a blender plug-in and they're uh like first and last name of the artist and they replicate the same


style you begin to wonder like like are how does that work like are


they getting compensated or like where are you using their names it's just it just seems uh weird


um but the the other thing you mentioned is like when um


you know you go to studio and uh usually it works this way like they give you a


bunch of references and they say I want I want this thing to look like that thing and and a bit of that thing and


it's just like a mix-up and a lot of very early concepts are basically kid


bashing like you you do you do a collage you you do a bunch of pictures from here pictures from there and then if you're


skillful with Photoshop you basically blend it all in and it looks nice and you can start working with that and show


it to your art director and go from there and it seems like this is the same process it's just a little bit of a


different tool and uh I I feel like when people started doing


this with Photoshop we had the same fear people were also kind of scared


that this might you know destroy their careers and so on and probably some people did suffer and uh I feel like


we're in a very similar situation and me professionally as well because we're we're kind of running a publication and


we write text and there are tools out there right now that can write perfect text without any humans then doing okay


job and their bags you know you you kind of have to do the question


when you know do you are you really contributing something is this something that's you know valuable and uh if it's


not valuable then eventually you're going to be you know substituted by an AI or some kind of other tool and you


know they you mentioned like in 20 years I feel it's going to be faster because it's like they they learn so quickly uh


those algorithms right now anyway I mean it's it's kind of interesting I think everybody's


everybody's it's like a point in time where everybody's wondering if we're moving more toward a Gene Roddenberry


Society or a dystopia you know which I mean it's interesting times I


would I would say I think that it's it's really it's a fascinating topic and yeah I mean uh it could make some things


obsolete but I mean a good way to adapt what is that I mean


that's kind of what I think what we do as a species and especially in video


game industry it seems like this is the industry where people are constantly adapting to some new tech because visual


Fidelity is so important and people are just kind of trying to iterate that that new stuff all the time Tinker was new


tools so I guess we'll just have to wait and see and uh try to adapt let's see as you


said we have um like a little bit of


like a flash ball so it's like very short questions very short answers and you can just answer from the top of your


head you don't have to go you know like uh super detail so first question


um what's your favorite game of all time for me it would have to be


the Borderlands series Borderlands like in in the Borderlands which one


first second third three was really fantastic uh the way


that they handled the art Direction in three I thought was really gorgeous


um I felt with that the story was really great the interactivity was really fantastic


um the weapons felt really good in that game um so yeah I played it through probably


three times I think it was really great wow yeah I remember first time I got the


first Borderlands which was back in the Xbox 360 days it seems


I had a feeling that this was like Diablo there was that was the kind of game that I spent probably you know like


two days non-stop to like to like I am at the end because there's like this


mechanic with lewd and everything it's just it's so addictive you just get in there and it's just like and it also had


Co-op so I played with a buddy so it was exactly exactly they even had like the


ambient music had a similar tone to Diablo also


if I remember I I feel like they were inspired by that in terms of like mechanically definitely so that was kind


of like the big game of all time what about the like the most underrated game that you can recommend to the audience


that's something that not a lot of people know about oh wow


uh I would have to say this is this is a very probably under


the radar game but a former uh colleague of mine made a game called brukle


and it's based on the story of his grandmother uh and the house while World


War II was going on and uh the story is fantastic and uh


you know it it handles kind of things from a a more serious point of view


which is interesting and it captures a real moment in history


um but it does add kind of like uh some Fantastical elements to it as well


what about some Maybe series or project or something that you


felt that you couldn't get into like something that you really didn't get in terms of games


a project like how I mean like you mentioned Borderlands you really like


what is something that you don't really like like maybe Souls games you know it's good potentially


but you don't really you know you're not really into it that much uh


um some of the I guess some of the later Star Wars games


um yeah sometimes I have a hard time getting into those and that you know I'm sure they're great games I think it's


just a matter of my my age and my personal taste I guess


so yeah yeah I feel you on that I feel you right I think we have enough for


like a little bit of a flash ball so uh Magic it was a it was a great pleasure


talking to you today I really appreciate that you you know uh found some time to


talk to us um we'll add the links to vertex and school so people can check it out uh you


know apply and explore all the different courses you guys have there and uh maybe


if there's like one thing that you want our listeners to kind of leave from this


podcast maybe some kind of advice or some tip that you want to give to


younger artists or anything what would that be it would be to learn to code


and get involved with programming workshops ASAP awesome that seems like a


very solid advice we also give this a lot all right Matthew thank you so much and


have a wonderful rest of your day thank you thank you Krill it was fantastic to talk to you thanks for enjoying another


episode of the 80 level Roundtable podcast check out upcoming episodes on


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