Bear Collins: The Art of Game Design

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Our Creative Technologist, Bear Collins, codes in 9 programming languages – all because of video games. In his free time, he designs and develops video games. From flash all the way to VR, he has designed, developed, and published a variety of arcade games, fighting games, and branded minigames; and has competed in and won 3 game jam competitions.


What initially sparked your interest in Game Development?
As far back as I can remember I was a gamer. I have 3 older brothers and our Nintendo 64 was the only way our parents could get us to be still and quiet for any amount of time. We would play Mario Party and Super Smash Brothers for hours on end. Of course, the natural progression was then “I want to make video games when I grow up” so I learned to code pretty young.

I talked to some folks in the industry and it scared the crap out of me. I heard things like “coding games will make you hate video games”, “it’s a hectic 80hr/week job for little pay”, and “it’s hard to get a job, we get 80,000 applicants a year”, so I decided to just stick to building games for fun but my passion never wavered.

Through college I worked for a retro video game store cleaning and repairing old consoles and games and drove the Game Truck, which hauled a 2-ton trailer filled with screens and games that would pull up to kids’ birthday parties. I got really into the tournament scene around fighting games – and when dealing with tournaments, every advantage counts. Understanding how the game is built and programmed allows you to have a better understanding of exploits (a bug, glitch, level design, etc.) within your opponents’ strategies.

What is your Game Design process like?
I have a pretty extensive library of both retro and modern games which gives me a lot of perspective into what you can do in a game. I just play everything and start there. I have many notebooks that I jot ideas down when they come to mind and most of my notes consist of references to pieces of other games that I like. Then I test and iterate until it’s something I would enjoy playing myself. And if I ever get stuck, I just go play some games for inspiration.

Do you think your game development background helped guide your career path?

100%. My background in coding and tinkering and understanding how things work took the better of me though, and I ended up getting my master’s degree in Creative Technology to work in advertising. I had given up on developing games as a career and really just looked at it as a hobby. But then it kept coming back. Suddenly, we pitch an idea to reskin Oregon Trail to be a road trip game. And the client loves it, so I build a game. Then we pitch an arcade game about putting Frank’s Redhot on everything and we get to make that. And then a VR experience for a large hardware store chain and a voice game on Alexa. The list keeps going and my role has become that dream job I would have loved as a kid.

Outside of the literal “I still sometimes make games”, understanding game design is the same process as understanding a user’s journey. We have a player who we want to do certain actions, achieve a certain goal, and feel a certain way. What are they doing naturally? How do we get them to look around the corner to the left instead of just walking straight forward? How do we guide them to do all of the fun things we want to put in this game? This thinking is why video games tend to be 5 years ahead of everyone else when it comes to user experience trends and design. And I use that in my everyday work.


What are you working on right now?

I teach a class at Creative Circus on Game Development and for fun I have been working on a story-driven game called Caul with some friends. It’s a macabre strategy game about a never-ending conflict between man and the God of Death. We’re planning on doing a Kickstarter in 2021 and if all goes well, we’re releasing on the Nintendo Switch in 2022. I’ve released content on every platform but Nintendo so this is very exciting. Keep your eyes peeled!

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