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Alumni News

Game Design

Real-world education helps alumna build virtual communities

April 11, 2017

Claudia Paonessa (Game Level Design ’15) loves thinking about why doors need to be in certain places, where to place a bathroom in a house and how far away farms should be from the closest town. But she’s not planning a city, or laying out the interior of a home; at least, not in the real world. Paonessa is a level designer at Ubisoft, a game design company. She began working at the studio’s offices in Quebec City in early 2017, and credits Sheridan’s year-long Game Level Design program with giving her the knowledge and skills to crack into the industry.

“All the projects at Sheridan were portfolio worthy. Especially the bigger projects where you produce a game. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be here,” she says.

As a level designer, Paonessa creates the environment players see on screen, everything from mountains and beaches to houses and fields, and makes them look realistic. This spring, she’ll be joined in the industry by Sheridan’s newest alumni - the first graduates from the Bachelor of Game Design. Launched in 2013, the program is the only degree of its kind in Canada. Students study general topics in cinematography and sound design along with more advanced courses in story, character development, game mechanics and artificial intelligence. They develop skills in scripting, interface design and 2D/3D modeling and are experienced with software including Adobe, Visio and Cinema Suite.

Angela Stukator, Associate Dean of Animation and Game Design says the program builds on Sheridan’s excellence in animation and digital media. “Our new graduates are well positioned to bring a wealth of knowledge to the industry. We look forward to seeing what they will create in the future.”

Game design students are already receiving accolades. This April, five teams – made up of a total of 25 students – won 10 of 12 awards available in the Best Overall Game, Technical Innovation, Artistic Achievement and People’s Choice Award categories at the Level Up Student Showcase, an Ontario-wide competition. They’ll get to build on the success of last year’s entry from Sheridan. In 2016, a team of students that formed Odd Bird Studio won Best Overall Game and Best Artistic Achievement at the competition for Arrow Heads, a fast-paced local multiplayer archery game.

Paonessa feels grateful to have found herself in this growing industry. After high school, she tried university programs in media studies and interior design. In her last year of her interior design degree at Ryerson University, she became interested in creating virtual worlds where she could show clients how their space would look once the project was finished. That’s when she realized she was creating spaces that looked a lot like the video games she played in her spare time. Suddenly, she knew exactly what to do with her career. When she began the program at Sheridan, she quickly came to appreciate the way the professors replicated the industry. That included having quick ‘scrum meetings’ in class where everyone on the team can share their work and seek help. She also had to design a level or a mini game as part of her final capstone project, another skill that came in handy during her career since she had to create something similar as part of the interview process for Ubisoft. As she embarks on her career, she says she’s excited to have finally found her niche. “I love the big studio aspect, everybody working towards the same goal,” she says.