From Audio Engineering To Game Design: Meet Quinn Brander

Feb 27, 2019 By Crissy Campbell

Written by Spencer Thompson.

Many students who enroll in the Master of Digital Media program have interesting backgrounds that ultimately shape their career paths after the program. Take Quinn Brander, for example, a CDM alumni that came to the program in 2016 with an undergraduate degree in audio engineering. Currently, he is working at as a game designer at Smoking Gun Interactive (a small video game studio based in Vancouver) and was recently a speaker at the IM4 Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality/360 workshop that was held at the CDM over three days.

The workshops were hosted by the CDM with Emily Carr University and focused on training Indigenous artists, media creators and community members in 360 video, Virtual and Augmented Reality.

Although Quinn works primarily with mobile games, he brought his knowledge in game design to the workshops and gave three one-hour talks, shedding light on what he learned at the CDM including agile, scrum and the structure of choice. The CDM is proud of our alumni network and the work they do to give back to the community.

Here is a recent interview that current MDM student Spencer Thompson had with Quinn to get a deeper glimpse into Quinn’s professional journey.

Quinn at Smoking Gun Interactive.

Can you tell us a little about yourself before the CDM?

Growing up music was my passion and so were board games in my spare time. As a kid, I loved games like Risk, chess with my dad and Monopoly. But that being said, I didn’t really get into them until University when I encountered the 'golden age' of board games which started with Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. These games set off this new genre and seriousness, where board games were no longer just for kids.

 I went to McGill for my undergraduate degree and started out studying music composition, but after two years—for a variety of reasons—I dropped out. When I was ready to come back, composition wasn’t exactly my interests anymore and I moved into sound engineering instead.

What made you switch to game design?

My heart wasn’t totally in sound engineering as I always loved creative fields and sound engineering inevitably wasn’t fulfilling those needs.

I went into game design because it is such a multi-multi-faceted field. The nice thing about board games is that you have to do all of that yourself, there is no barrier between you and developing a good product. You don’t have to learn a programming language, you don’t have to be a good artist to be a good board game designer, but you do have to think critically that may get overlooked by others. I ultimately became comfortable with game design because of my passion for board games.

I ultimately became comfortable with game design because of my passion for board games"

Why not become a board game designer?

It is incredibly difficult to make a living as a board game designer, there is not that many of them in the world. Once I learned more about the industry, I realized that becoming a board game designer isn’t really that feasible. But this is what transitioned into what I am doing now as I also love video games, and there are a lot of similarities between the two. Thus, I made the decision to come to the CDM with the intention of becoming a video game designer.

How did the CDM help you become a game designer?

The CDM was critical to getting my position at every level of the application process. For instance, during my time at the CDM, I helped develop game prototypes for two local studios, Blackbird Interactive and Next Level Games. That experience, along with my board game design experience, got me past the initial screening process and into the design test portion of the evaluation.

Since getting the job, I've been thriving in part due to the soft skills I honed during my studies—how to facilitate work between interdisciplinary teams, quickly and efficiently prototype ideas, obtain useful feedback from user tests and many others. Soft skills are a big differentiator at my workplace and add value to nearly every scenario.

Since getting the job, I've been thriving in part due to the soft skills I honed during my [MDM] studies—how to facilitate work between interdisciplinary teams, quickly and efficiently prototype ideas, obtain useful feedback from user tests and many others."

What skills did you learn from music that still help you today?

Probably the biggest skill that I gained was discipline and the ability to focus for long periods of time. It also taught me passion as I started playing the cello when I was nine, and I continued to practice because I loved it.

I gained the ability to focus on one thing for a while, which is not necessarily the easiest thing to do these days with all of the distractions (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), which are so digestible that you never learn to digest anything.

What advice would you give to new MDM alumni looking for jobs?

Don’t sell yourself as three things. Decide on one and say I am this one thing. I found that if I was talking to people/recruiters and told them that I was interested in game design, they would just brush it off. But if you say something very specific like "I am a game balance designer" then you catch their interest and they’ll say, "oh you must know things." If you say that you know three things or are interested in three things, for example, recruiters will think that you don’t know what you want.

I found that if I was talking to people/recruiters and told them that I was interested in game design, they would just brush it off. But if you say something very specific like "I am a game balance designer" then you catch their interest..."

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