How has the School of Cinematic Arts changed your view of interactive media? Before I came to IMGD, I had only ever worked on solo game development projects – which is bizarre, because at school I’ve really learned how much game development is about collaboration, about people. While it’s a nice dream to be “self-sufficient,” the truth is that there’s just so much more you can accomplish when you collaborate with your peers. I still do plenty of solo work, and there’s obviously a place for that, but I find that there’s just another level of complexity and nuance you reach when you get to work out ideas collectively and combine diverse perspectives and skillsets.
What advice do you have for prospective students looking at applying to your program? Prospective students should be really think about what unique parts of their life experience they can use to influence their work. It’s great to love games and game development, but that’s true of a lot of people – at IMGD, we really value having a heterogeneous student population, people with strong interests in a number of different places! Whether it’s a unique personal background, a specialized skillset, or a niche interest in or out of games, you should really focus on what makes you different and what you can bring to the table.
Other than that, being able to self-teach is a really important skill here, as the classes focus a lot more on production and overall process than they do on super technical topics. Students are responsible for picking up a lot of the nuts-and-bolts stuff on their own time, so make sure that that’s the kind of format you learn best with.
How has the School of Cinematic Arts prepared you so far for a career in interactive media? Through the school, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some really incredible people – my peers and coworkers! The Interactive Media and Computer Science (Games) student bodies are some of the most interesting, hardworking, and original creators I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have met them.
What have been the biggest challenges for you at USC? I hardly know where to start on this one! Here are some of the things I’ve been working through the past couple years. Developing a network of peers: Like other media industries, the games business is very networked-driven, and this is absolutely reflected in IMGD. Games are the products of teams rather than individuals, and it’s really important that you develop connections with peers who you know you enjoy working with. As a socially anxious person, this was really difficult for me to do – but by getting involved with community events and eventually running the MEGA community group here, I’ve been able to meet some of my best friends and closest coworkers. Project Scoping & Time Management: The IMGD program is really, really, really project-centric, and it’s totally up to the students to make sure they’re scoping their projects appropriately and devoting the necessary out-of-class time to their work. If you accidentally bite off more than you can reasonably get done, or don’t block out enough time for yourself, you can find yourself consistently pulling all-nighters and not feeling satisfied with the quality of your work. Taking care of Yourself: Being a game developer means spending large amounts of time being sedentary, and the constant time-crunch leads to sleep loss and not-so-good eating habits. If they’re not counteracted, these patterns can really take a toll on one’s health, and it’s not uncommon for the whole program to be feeling like death a couple weeks into the semester. Ultimately, this ends up affecting the quality of our work!
It’s hard to do, but as much as possible it’s important to make sure you take care of your physical and mental health. If this means taking on fewer projects, that’s fine – it’s better to do a really good job on one game than it is to do a mediocre job on four or five.
What in your past has given you inspiration or a unique point of view that you bring to USC? Most of high school for me was spent doing stage management and theater tech, which required really strong interpersonal bonds and a strong sense of duty to the group. A lot of what I learned in tech ported straight over into game development, where forming a community and learning to work well with your peers is super critical.
What personal projects have you worked on and/or are currently working on? I’ve been making games for a long time now – about a third of my life – and so I’ve touched a few dozen projects. Here are some of my more notable works, both solo and team efforts:
Grassdancer: this past summer, 5 of my closest friends and I were selected to fly to Scotland for Abertay University’s Dare to Be Digital competition, where we developed Grasssdancer – a game about a tiny grasshopper in a world that wants to eat it. The final product isn’t quite online yet, but will be out in the next couple of weeks.
Spit it Out: a typing game about my experiences having a speech impediment.
Planet Zoom: a tablet game for young children about looking at the world more closely.
ElemenTerra: a virtual reality game about sculpting a world out of the earth.
My portfolio is available at www.BrendanLoBuglio.com.