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Game Design Grad Founds Gaming Startup

We’re catching up with members of DigiPen’s 2013 graduating class to find out where they’re headed.

Jarrett Slavin graduated from the Bachelor of Arts in Game Design program. He interned at 17-BIT during the summer before his senior year and has started his own game company in Seattle called The Good Mood Creators.

How did you end up choosing DigiPen?

Slavin

I actually graduated from the University of Michigan in 2007 with a film degree, and I made a feature film while I was there. It got nominated for an MTV Movie Award in 2006, student filmmaker of the year. At the time I thought I was going to be a filmmaker.

I graduated and I moved back to L.A. where I’m from. I wrote a couple scripts but found what most people find in Hollywood — that it’s just a very saturated kind of dog-eat-dog environment.

So I’ve always been really into video games. Growing up, I was more into video games than movies. I was looking for master’s programs, but I really wanted to do game design. And this was 2009. DigiPen was just starting its BAGD program, and I’d read about DigiPen. I knew they had world-class programmers and artists, and I knew it would be a great way to network with those people. So I decided to move up here and go to DigiPen.

How was your experience with the BAGD program?

The first year was more about forming friendships with all the people who I’m now working with in my company. It was getting comfortable with my new surroundings. But then sophomore year I had GAT250 with James Portnow, and that was where this game design thing really started to feel serious. Junior year was where I really learned the dynamics of a game production team — the interplay of developers, designers, and artists. It’s also when I started to identify the kind of people I wanted to work with.

"Sophomore year I had GAT250 with James Portnow, and that was where this game design thing really started to feel serious."

I worked with Axel Komair and James Hoag, who’s now my producer at The Good Mood Creators. We made a cool game, but ultimately it was more of a learning experience than anything, just getting to know the production process and the pitfalls of making a game.

You really don’t understand those things until you go through the process — figuring out the art pipeline and getting to the level where you can communicate well with programmers. All of those things really helped me start to understand what it meant to be a creative director or a lead designer at a company, what duties that entails day-to-day beyond just having this grand vision.

Did you always intend to start a company after DigiPen?

When I first got to DigiPen, my plan was to work in the industry for a couple of years before starting a company. I wanted to have a sound, not-overly-ambitious plan — just because I felt like I shot the moon out of Michigan. I wanted to learn from that mistake.

But last summer I got an internship at 17-BIT. They’re a very small company, kind of similar to ours. They were more experienced, but they had a similar kind of setup. It was this big warehouse in SoDo, just one big room where everyone could talk to one another at the same time. It didn’t feel like this hierarchical kind of bureaucracy. So it was really just being there for a few months and demystifying what it’s like inside an indie game office. It made me feel a lot more comfortable about starting a company.

What can you tell us about The Good Mood Creators?

I think there are lots of really valuable applications for video games, but I think that the most obvious one is that a lot of games put you in a good mood. You kind of release yourself from the real-life pressures of the day, and that’s a very valuable use for games. I think that kind of diversion is necessary. We’re just trying to make games that are fun, games that don’t steal all of your time away.

"There are lots of really valuable applications for video games, but I think that the most obvious one is that a lot of games put you in a good mood."

If you’ve played games like Donkey Kong Country, every level is individually designed, moment-by-moment. There’s nothing randomly generated. Every moment is supposed to maximize that kinesthetic pleasure of just running and jumping around. And the game we’re working on right now is a side-scrolling platformer that’s all about the feel of the mechanics and the kinesthetic pleasure.

We’re kind of holding back until we’re ready to show something amazing, but I’m really excited to start building a brand and getting our stuff out there. This is not a stepping stone to something else for me. And luckily, I think I’ve built a team of people who feel the same way.