Reflector teams up with ISART Digital Montreal to coach & mentor project Blossom

As part of their graduation project, students at ISART Digital Montreal were able to benefit from a mentorship outside of their program.

In addition to the ISART Digital teaching staff, students had the help of seasoned industry professionals; André Vu, Marketing Director and Christopher Cimbaro, Technical Artist at Reflector. André & Christopher volunteered their time and shared their experiences with the goal to help the students’ project come to fruition.

It is thanks to this inspiring collaboration that Blossom was born, a game in which the player embodies a spirit of nature whose mission is to revive the plants of a dying island.

We took the opportunity to learn more about the project:

Unknown-1

As the structure of the end-of-studies project is set by ISART Digital, can you explain what motivated the creation of Blossom?

Team Blossom: We wanted to create a happy and colourful game in which the player had a sense of freedom. We decided to create a game set in the outdoors with a lot of vegetation and with a gentle character who loves dancing. In terms of design, we wanted the game experience to be centered around a main mechanic.

What was your respective involvement on the Blossom project?

Christopher: As a mentor for the Blossom team, I participated in the creation of this project by giving them feedback related to gameplay, art, technical constraints, ensuring a graphical coherence as well as solving readability issues. Afterwards, I also had the opportunity to provide feedback on their presentation skills (body language, presentation structure, etc.).

André: I shared my management and branding knowledge with the team. I also explained to them the ideal steps to create a strong brand identity and how to communicate it throughout the game, game title, presentation, communication messages, visual identity, etc.

Team Blossom: We are a team of 6 students who study at ISART Digital Montreal. Our team is made up of 3 artists and 3 game designers:

– Gioia Cerlini: Head of Art Direction, Environment and Level Artist

– Romane Chagnon, Animator and Character Artist

– Margaux Calame, Technical Artist, Environment and Level Artist, FX and Lighting

– Élie Arnon, UI/UX Designer, Level Designer and Game Designer

– Hippolyte Babinet, Technical Game Designer and Level Designer

– François Galet, Game Designer and Lead Programmer

How did the project unfold? Did you encounter any challenges? What were some highlights?

Christopher: The Blossom team showed a really refreshing and natural enthusiasm. Developing a game demo always has its constraints, moral highs and lows; but the team managed to face all of these challenges with a great sense of maturity. It was very pleasant to observe the next generation of future professionals in this industry.

André: I met with the Blossom team through different stages of production for the game. Their enthusiasm, passion, sympathy and their desire to create something magical led me on this adventure. It was this exact energy that initially motivated me to start working in the video game industry. As soon as they presented their project to me, I asked them if they wanted feedback based on the fact that they are still students, or a more in-depth feedback from an industry professional point of view. They were courageous enough to accept the latter and received the feedback admirably.

Team Blossom: This journey was filled with many emotions! The beginning of the collaboration was a bit rocky because we needed to resolve some initial communication and organization problems between the team members, but after that there were many moments of pride and joy. Our determination to prove ourselves and overcome challenges sometimes caused tensions in the group, however, as the year progressed, we were able to learn from our mistakes. It allowed us to focus and work towards the final production in a more pleasant and calm atmosphere.

Throughout these 10 months of production, we had great highs and overcame some challenging moments together. An example was when we chose to change game engine in the middle of the year. The choice came about after a very tiring pre-production. Christopher suggested ​​changing the current engine we were working on to Unreal, despite our poor knowledge of it. We finally decided to do it and this change was a boost forward, allowing us to express ourselves and find a better suited place in the team.

Another example was the moment when our mentors, André and Christophe, guided us to review the artistic direction and rework some content of the game. The first weeks were a bit difficult but, in the end, we were really grateful.

Our experienced, focused and caring mentors arrived mid-project which gave us a jolt of energy allowing us to perform better as a team. The moment that really got us excited was watching the players playtest our game. They gave us constructive feedback and seemed very enthusiastic about the project!

How was the collaboration between the mentors and the team?

Christopher: This collaboration was very natural to me. Being a teacher, the academic approach was completely organic. The Blossom team had great instincts, notes, questions and feedback requests, which can be rare with juniors, but it was highly appreciated. The team always went straight to brainstorming new idea after we would give feedback, which showed their good work ethic and professionalism. Our meetings always started by looking at the build and then we went through all the points to cover during the meeting, and finally we defined what had to be addressed during the next work session.

André: We met with the Blossom team many times to discuss various topics, like art direction or how to improve their visual communication. They were able to take advantage of my 10+ years of experience in just a few hours. I did notice sometimes that they seemed a bit overwhelmed, but I’m glad they were soaking up all the information that could make a great difference in the future.

Team Blossom: At the beginning of the collaboration, it was a bit intimidating to have the support from members that works at a company like Reflector, especially knowing their professional backgrounds! They shared their advice and knowledge from their many years of industry experience. As juniors, we have absorbed this avalanche of knowledge with open ears! It is thanks to the educational model of ISART Digital that such programs can exist, and also, thanks to the generosity of our mentors.

Unknown

How did your mentors help evolve your project?

Team Blossom: Christopher helped us a lot by answering our technical and artistic questions and André guided us on visual communication and artistic direction. Above all, they provided external and experienced insights that motivated us to go further. They shared some ideas to make the project even more interesting and beautiful, while giving us the freedom to make our own decisions. They especially advised us on the communication for the project, they helped us avoid mistakes and pushed us to go further than we thought was possible.

As mentors, what are the key lessons you’ve taught the Blossom team?

Christopher: Definitely to preserve your passion and to convey your energy, this curiosity is what makes us happy to wake up every morning. I often tell my students, “Don’t forget that you are learning one of the coolest jobs in the world.” We do not save lives, but we create beautiful moments and entertainment for a society in need.

One confuses too often developing games versus playing games. Create games, ask for rigour and feedback, don’t limit yourself to only one idea, rather, focus on what is best for production. We need to ensure good communication within our team, spread healthy collaboration habits, while remaining transparent. All of these points are, in my eyes, the pillars for a good production of a game.

André: Seeing all this talent and passion gives me a lot of hope for the future of the video game industry. I tried to inspire them with my experience and instill rigour, excellence, and to never compromise on quality. Never give up, despite the difficulties, stay hungry, be curious and remain passionate. They must understand that there are those who choose their projects and others who are imposed. This is how they will find their happiness in the video game industry.

Has the ISART Digital work-study program allowed you to develop key business skills that have contributed to the realization of your game?

Team Blossom: The work-study program has developed a certain rigour in organization, nomenclature and timeliness in our work ethic. The fact that we were able to have internships in different companies during school allowed us to bring different ways of working to the table. We also gathered knowledge of various software that we weren’t exposed to during class, which helped us with the transition to Unreal. The engine was familiar to some of us, thanks to our internship opportunities.