The Lodgge Podcast Episode 16

Meet Ryan Miller, Manager of Durham College MRC Studio

Published On: 28 March 2023Categories: The Lodgge PodcastTags: ,

Meet Ryan Miller! Manager of Durham College MRC Studio, Director of Ontario Game Testers, and Committee Chair of Interactive Ontario’s Indie Superboost! We discuss his storied career, teaching in the games world, Ontario Game Testers, Indie Superboost and much more!

Scott  0:00  

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the lodge podcast. I’m your host Scott Millie, and I’m so excited to be back today with episode 16. Today I’m joined by my uniquely talented guest, Ryan Miller. Ryan, how you doing today?

Ryan  0:12  

Hey, I’m doing great today. How are you?

Scott  0:14  

Fantastic. Happy to have you on the show. Ryan has been working on the Ontario gaming industry for well over a decade now, with stops at pithead secret location among many others along the way. He’s also the co founder of Reptoid games and has been teaching youth throughout his journey. Today we’re going to be talking about his work with MRC studios, his latest initiative as director of the Ontario game testers, interactive Ontario’s indie, Superboost, and so much more. So without further ado, let’s get into the conversation.

Scott  0:55  

So Ryan, with season two, we’ve been using the same prompt question. And I think it’s actually led to a lot of interesting discussions. So I posed this question to you. What got you into the gaming industry in the first place? Was it a game you played when you were a kid? Was there a particular brand that you really enjoyed was an industry event that you went to you that you said, you know, what, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life? What was it that kind of brought you on to the side.

Ryanr  1:17  

So I think probably the very first thing to kind of point to there is when I was, you know, five or six years old, like probably every single person listening to this episode, I played a lot of video games. So I remember playing through MegaMan, two, and then Megaman three on Nintendo Entertainment System. And thinking, I’ve got the best friggin ideas for what they can do, and Megaman for drawing a bunch of pictures, finding a way to mail it to Capcom. Along with some pocket change, I had such a five year old that had like a pile of chain, so I mailed a package to Japan. With pocket change, and a bunch of dumb drawings of Megaman characters, what I thought the bosses should be little did I know was like Megaman six that just came out. And I’m pitching ideas for Megaman for later tried to follow up by phoning them, to see if they got the package. So I somehow this is before the internet, I somehow found a phone number for like, Capcom Japan, and called them from my phone, my home phone, which my parents were very upset about, because that was an expensive call long answer. So I think that was kind of the thing that was like, There’s something wrong with me that wants to get into gaming. And then, you know, way later in life, I had plenty of sleep experiences on like comfy earlier internet with one big one, there was a probably no one’s heard of it now. thing called Graal, online gra L, which was like a Zelda three rip off rebuilt in Java as an MMO, where you could like host your own server, and I had a level editor and stuff. So I made a player server for that called to Masca. And like, I think at our peak, there’s like 30, or 40 people playing at one time. So I just made all these levels and their level editor and done some scripting, and they’re really weird scripting language to make some like, enemy behaviors and stuff. So that that was kind of the thing that like, made me realize that people can just go and make games and other people can play them. That was the kind of the the one on one. And that was that was in like 2000 or so.

Scott  3:28  

So this has been just a lifelong journey from the get go from the jump through. Yeah, this is what I want to do. And I’m going to find a way to get into this industry and make games

Ryan  3:35  

pretty much. And then from there, you know, going through high school, I had, you know, a little bit of exposure to a lot of the different parts of games, I kind of settled on the graphics side of things. When it was time to like apply to colleges, I applied to animation, computer programming, and human resources of all things interesting, which like looking back, that makes a lot of sense. And that’s kind of how my like career career started. So I worked in animation studio doing a bunch of things like background compositing, background, or did compositing and a background painting, a little bit of animation and like kind of worked in like TV animation for a while. Then from there, I kind of pivoted into games, and a little more away from being an artist and into being a programmer, and then all the other stuff after that point.

Scott  4:26  

So one thing I did want to bring up was your position at bedheads. Right? Being a 3d artist is like one of your first gigs in the industry. First of all, were you living in Ottawa at the time? I was there are so few people that I get to talk to on this podcast. I’m from Ottawa, and I’m currently in Ottawa. So there are a few people that I get to talk to you. That’s awesome.

Ryan  4:44  

Yep, yeah. It was a really good experience at the the illustrious Westgate Mall. That was That was really close to the soul. So for those who don’t know bit heads, operates in a former movie theater in the Westgate Mall. Um, so they had like, gutted the space, there’s a lot of really cool verticality to the space, their logos, like an Easter Island head. So they have a big Easter Island head that’s like, you know, two storeys tall right in the center of the main area. Just really neat. And they they kept one of the movie theaters in there as well. And you know, we had lots of fun times, I also kept the beer on tap. So we had lots of different fun evenings at that studio, drinking beer and playing rock band in the theater together.

Scott  5:29  

That’s a good start in the industry. It’s a good vibe. Was it something that you did you come to Ottawa for that specific reason as you find that position? And then you were like, You know what, I’m gonna make the move, or was it somewhere you already were.

Ryan  5:39  

So I had made the move. My last year of college, I had applied to work at Mercury Filmworks. So my wife was working there at the time, she had just started previously, and I was like, That’s my in thought that she was high ranking or anything, but they hired me on and I kind of like strong armed my, my college into like, letting me have a co op, or internship or whatever you call it. Even though that wasn’t something my program offered. I was like, Hey, I got a job. Can I go and work that instead of doing my final semester? So like, when I went off to Ottawa, basically get started in the industry in animation?

Scott  6:13  

The major way back? That makes sense. Yep.

Ryan  6:16  

Yeah, I always wanted to get back like Otto was really cool. But I think I think Toronto was kind of more my style.

Scott  6:24  

Yes, I like I again, born and raised in Ottawa, I also prefer Toronto. So one thing that I didn’t want to bring up to as well is you’re just going through like your, your storied resume, you know, secret location, being obviously a huge one. A lot of the places that you went to you came back to was there was that always something that was intentional in your career? Are you just, you know, like, you were at that point in your life, you’re just talking to somebody there. And you were like, You know what, I’ll go back for a little bit. Because I think it happens, what, three or four times? They will Yeah, we’re gonna couple projects leave for a bit and like, you know what, I’m gonna go back. So that I think that speaks a lot to the HR thing you were mentioning, is your relationship building with studios and people?

Ryan  7:01  

Yeah, I mean, I mean, that’s the word right there. You just said it relationships, right. So I joke with my partner a lot, because my partner is she’s, she’s very loyal to the place that she works at, and social work into place. And like, she’s into that place. And she doesn’t, she’s not constantly thinking about working somewhere else, and what other places are like, she’s, she’s good there. And they’re extremely good at what she does. But it’s very different style to me, where I like working on lots of things at once. So I get a lot of juice out of hopping from company to company, because I’m just like, so curious how everything works, you know, everything’s run and how, you know, different organizations deal with the same issues that we’re all really going through. So yeah, maintaining relationships is number one. And I really like coming back a couple years later, and seeing what’s different at an organization that I worked at before and what can be applied there. So yeah, I love coming back.

Scott  7:53  

I think that also gives you like, a bunch of different unique skills, because if you work at one place for you know, 10 years, you kind of get stuck in the ways that they do things. But the fact that you’ve been able to kind of jump around and see how all of these studios function, it kind of gives you, I’m sure give you some of the tools to be able to co founder your own studio. So I’d love to talk a little bit about Reptoid. A little bit about your experience there.

Ryan  8:14  

Yeah, record was like, probably still still, by far the most influential part of my career in Game Dev, I mean, starting your own studio tends to be so yeah, Reptoid technically, read play didn’t start in 2015. Technically, that corporation was around since 2012, that I was doing a lot of freelancing through. But we, we we amended all the articles and kind of renamed it and made it into Reptoid, when, when Simon and I decided to do something together. So Simon being the other other co founder of Reptoid games. So that company really started in 2015. For real, so I had known Simon for my animation days, in Ottawa, that’s where we met. So he was he was directing the shows that I was working on, as, you know, whatever role that I was on at the time. And we always got along really well together and like to, to chat and have a few drinks together and talk about you know, how, how we’re going to fix the industry and how we’re going to make it better and all that kind of stuff. So I think Simon had moved to Toronto in 2014 I think we were hanging out more and kind of through hanging out and through me telling him all about the game industry and him you know, wanting to to find better ways of doing things. We kind of decided let’s start a studio together and let’s go get some some Ontario creates funding, let’s go work on some client projects. Let’s mix together the like really strong like animation, directing kind of stuff that he did with a lot of the technical things that I’m doing. And I think it was a really good run that we had there together.

Scott  9:54  

It was also just a delightful human being. Oh, yes, yes, it was part of part of one of those programs. So I got a meeting talk to them. I was like, this is just these are the people that I love to meet. These are like the end studios, like the genuine people that just love what they do. Very passionate and just excited to talk about their project. And it’s like, yeah, he was just a delight to be able to meet and talk with.

Ryan  10:12  

Yeah, yeah. And he’s brilliant. Like, I learned so much from him. And his just, he’s a very good analytical mindset. And I’m, like, drilling down to like, what is the what is the thing that we’re really trying to accomplish here? And I think that probably came from, like, he was a an animation director very early in his career. He’s also like a really good storyboard artist, he’s really good at just talking to people and like being forced to, I think, been forced to figure out a lot of stuff early in his career, I think he really responded to that kind of trial by fire really well. And, you know, he’s got a great mind for figuring stuff out. So especially over the development of fossil hunters, you know, I would like like many people who program games, I would have moments of tunnel vision where I’d be like, I have to get this done, I have to get this working, this has to work that way. And then he’d come in with all these things that I think at the time, I wouldn’t be very excited to hear, I wouldn’t be very open to of like, what if we just didn’t have this feature? Or what if this feature just did that? What are we really trying to do with this, and I’m like, Simon, leave me alone. I’m trying to figure out an algorithm for, you know, sorting through these hierarchies of skeletons and evaluating their values in a bubble, blah, blah, blah. And he’s like, let’s just make it work this way, like, but he would come through and like, I remember, it was like, it was kind of frustrating at the time. But then, when I got out of that kind of tunnel vision, like he, he’s so good at taking a step back. This podcast is about Simon, by the way, I saw Yeah. He was talking about taking a step back and being like, what are we really trying to do here, what really suits what the project needs to do, and just kind of like stepping back and taking that framing. And, you know, I found there were so many problems that were so much more easily solved. When you take a step back and look at stuff from the product level, instead of from the like, the task level or like, you know, trying to complete a feature or an epic or, you know, whatever in the game. That’s kind of too much in the trees trying to see the forest. So that’s, that’s probably the biggest thing I learned from him was just like perspective.

Scott  12:14  

And that’s something that I’d seems like you’ve been kind of passing on to the youth in a way, because throughout your career you’ve been teaching. So I’d love to hear a little bit about why you wanted to get into that. And why that is like, that seems to have like defined your career now, with working with AI during college and MRC Studios, which we’re gonna get into in a moment. But it seems to be something that is integral to what you do. So I’m just curious a little bit about where did that drive come from? Was that something early on? Was that something working with Simon that you were like, I want to be able to teach somebody like he’s teaching me this? What was it that kind of struck that for you?

Ryan  12:47  

Yeah. I think when I when I came back to Toronto in 2010, I think it was, I was bringing my own business, I had just kind of like, flipped the entrepreneur switch and started working for myself and then doing projects and stuff. And that was a lot of like working at home alone on my computer. Sometimes, because the projects, you know, the way the NDAs are secret nature, whatever mandated, I do, I was definitely getting socially starved a little bit. So teaching at a college is a amazing solution for that because you go from working alone to working with, you know, by default 20 or 30 different people and talking with them about, you know, the craft, picking up on their excitement about the industry, which you know, the longer we work in the industry, the more of that excitement might fade a little bit as it

Scott  13:38  

kind of give you that juice again and be like that big rain like reignite that passion.

Ryan  13:43  

Exactly. So yeah, I really liked it. I started start picked up a couple of courses at Durham and I picked up a couple more. When I when I first started teaching college and I see a lot of teachers kind of falling into this. I was really formal about it, I’d wear a nice shirt, nice pants, like tuck in my shirt and stand up straight and be very, in the industry. That little little bit uptight, my first year of teaching, I hopefully I was still a good teacher, I think I was okay. But I found that teaching that way, you know, it kind of blocked a lot of connection that I could have otherwise made with the students. And it also was just a lot more energy to teach that way. Because I was kind of putting on a putting on a mask to do it. Right. My my sister in law was a teacher she went to like Teacher’s College, she taught a bunch of stuff and I think that’s where I kind of got the idea of that’s, that’s how I should reach college teaching because it’s this big, prestigious, fancy kind of thing. So after teaching like that, and finding like, Man, I’m not sure if this is for me, that’s a lot of work. I’m exhausted at the end of the day. I don’t feel like I’m making a good connection. I kind of chilled out for the next semester that I taught. And that led to like a lot more rapport. That came a lot more naturally the students did better And I was like, Oh, wow. Right, I found my teaching style. Right. So that’s, that’s really good. That was very nice. So I, basically, for several years there, I think probably between 2010 and 2015, I had made a steady career, like, like a lot of people have been, I’ve talked to teaching and freelancing, that can be a pretty good combination.

Scott  15:25  

Does, you’re able to kind of make your own schedule at that point, when it comes to freelancing? Are you able to be like, You know what, this semester is going to be a little crazy, or at this time of the year you get a project done, and then be able to give yourself a little bit of time to be able to focus on one thing at a time.

Ryan  15:37  

Exactly, you can kind of like turn those knobs as needed to turn one up and turn one down, or vice versa. So that was pretty good. At one point, I was teaching at Durham in their game art program and their animation program. And I think at this point, it probably taught every course in their gameart program at the very least. So at one point, I was teaching 24 hours of classes a week, which I think is more than some full timers teach Wow, this time. Yeah. So I was having a blast. It was great. But then I got a letter from I remember exactly who it’s from, if it was from the Dean or from the union somehow. But basically, there’s like rules around teaching, you know, teaching the teachers union is a big thing. We hear about it on the news all the time, obviously. So basically, there there was a byline there guideline or whatever. Basically saying, if someone works this many hours for this many semesters in a row, you must hire them full time, because clearly you need them full time. Oh, and at the time, the college didn’t want to hire any full time people, because it’s kind of been a trend in education, where there’s a lot less full time teachers being hired. And a lot of programs are kind of turning into like a army of part timers. And I don’t want to right talk about that too much. Because obviously I don’t agree with that. I think you know, full time permanent jobs are good for people. And

Scott  16:59  

good for the students do right when you have some exactly as their full time dedication.

Ryan  17:03  

Because it kind of sucks when you find a professor that you really like, and then they’re gone next year, and someone else is there and you don’t get any consistency, it makes the program harder to coordinate as well. So I kind of got kicked out of teaching at that point. They told me next semester, I could come back for a maximum of six hours a week. And I was like, Well, I really got to pay my bills doing that. Yeah. So that was right around when Simon and I were hanging out a bunch. And I was like, not gonna go back to teaching this fall. Maybe I’ll just go full time with the freelance and stuff and try my hand in Ontario creates application for production fund or something. And we’re like, oh, light bulb. That’s, that’s when record started to really I’ve drunk college to think, for the founding of Reptoid games. And we’re kind of going all in on starting my own thing.

Scott  17:52  

Which is something that like, how many how many games ended up coming out of Reptoid? While during your tenure there at least?

Ryan  17:56  

Really, there was only two like original games that were Redford games. We’ve plenty of you know, game jams and prototypes and stuff that went on. But really, it was just fossil hunters and fire tonight that came out with my time there.

Scott  18:10  

Which I still see you working on, like random game jams and like random little projects and like Hell yeah, trying out different programs and stuff. Like even now like, obviously, I want to get into MRC studios. But that’s something that is continued at least as long as I’ve been following you have there’s no getting comfortable. There’s no okay, this is my position. This is my full time thing. This is what I want to be doing until you know I retire or even though you found something that you clearly love, and you love to do that you’re continuing to, to finish with things and to try different things and to help this person or jump with the studio. Is that something that you feel like you would just get super restless and bored? Because you’re so used to always having that, like freelance is always that secondary thing? Or Yeah, so like, it’s just something that like when you’re even when you’re doing you know MRC studios, you’re like, you know what, I always need something else. There’s always part of my creative brain that isn’t being satisfied. Yep.

Ryan  19:03  

It changes from time to time, like so. So I left Reptoid in 2020, like early 2020. Kind of because of the opposite reason where, you know, we were we were having we’re working on fire tonight. We had done, I had been doing a lot of kind of like client work freelance work with the studio and I was kind of having some some feelings, my 2019 or 2018 Sorry, it was a rough year for me. First it was you know, my daughter was born, which is amazing. That was not rough at all. But obviously it’s a hard things, baby. There’s a lot of change that happens in your life and a lot of things that kind of make you reevaluate your priorities. And then later that year, my father passed away. Like very suddenly, I had no idea that was coming. So that was really tough. So kind of those two things happening was leading to a lot of self reflection and kind of figuring out what I wanted to do next. And I couldn’t really see what it was. I didn’t know exactly where I was going. And I think I couldn’t shake that feeling that it was time for me to leave Reptoid and go do something else, even though I didn’t know what that something else was at that point. So, you know, Simon and I had lots of chance to chat about it and ended up leaving leaving officially in, I think it was January 2020. And then finishing up fire tonight, just like a contractor, leaving leaving the company to him in his good hands to kind of keep going with the stuff that he was interested in.

Scott  20:34  

I’m looking really forward to their next project to hopefully we get to hear a little bit more about it soon.

Ryan  20:39  

Yeah, they’ve done they’ve been doing some cool stuff. Very, very excited to see anything that he puts out.

Scott  20:45  

So thing is after after Reptoid and during Reptoid was your your time back at Durham College, and now with Mercy studio, and now as the manager of MRC studio, for audience who isn’t aware, can you give us the quick elevator pitch on what MRC studio is?

Ryan 21:00  

Yeah, so MRC studio is an applied research hub that works with industry partners to solve problems, solve challenges, to engage in projects involved in mixed reality, virtual reality, virtual production. And anything that involves a game engine, really, we do a lot of work with indie game studios. But we do work with like training and simulation, we work with interactive media stuff we work with like film and television. So kind of all over the place. Generally, I say if a game engine is involved, you know, if you can do the project using Unity or Unreal, it’s probably a good project for us,

Scott  21:38  

which is just becoming more and more prevalent when it comes to film and television, right? Like sure you can speak better than most that that is now what you’re seeing in the background.

Ryan 21:46  

Yep, unreal, is taken over the film and TV industry, which is really cool to see. And even even unities to a lesser degree are are moving into that space as well. And also just there’s there’s so many old processes that we’ve been stuck with for a few decades now of like, you know, even just rendering out stuff. A lot of people are still using those old kind of offline renderers that require a render farm and take ages. And now real time rendering is taken over for everything. So you know, let’s use let’s use game tech to get those frames out faster.

Scott  22:17  

Do you feel like this is something this position kind of gives you that satisfaction that you’re always doing using the new cutting edge stuff where you’re always toying with different things, because it’s all about optimization? Or do you feel like you know what you kind of have? Because with MRC studio, obviously being at Durham? Is it just industry professionals? Or do you have students involved? Or like, how is the frame and the structure of the studio? Because it’s not your typical video game studio as it work?

Ryan  22:43  

No, it’s so strange. When

Scott  22:45  

that’s my that’s what I mean, I look at I’ll talk to you about it before and I’ve looked at it I’m like, I really want like the distinct XSplit explanation from you. Yeah, that’s something I can repeat to other people.

Ryan  22:53  

I mean, when I when I first started the MRC Studio, you know, I saw I saw I was stepping away from Reptoid I was I was still finishing up fire tonight. It was looking for some part time stuff. I called up John Goodwin, the coordinator of the the game rec program. He was my teacher back when I went to college, like 2003, he taught us Unreal Engine 2004 level design. So I called him up and I was like, hey, Gandhi, you have any classes or whatever, I’m probably gonna come back to teaching for a little bit while I figure things out. And he was like, Yeah, of course, shuffled a bunch. And he’s like, by the way, do you want to come work at the MRC? And I’m like, Oh, I don’t know, I I worked on VR a lot. And like 2013 and 2014. And I got pretty sick of it. Not really interested in VR. And he’s like, Oh, no, it’s not it’s not just VR. It’s it’s pretty much anything so he explained it to me, I met the director of Applied Research at Durham Vivah tight Tyagi, who is awesome person to work with. And I kind of started learning about the world of applied research, which is absolutely not what I thought it was. And while I kind of understood it, as was, we find industry partners to like small and medium sized game studios, that are like pretty local, who are having projects that they need help with and targeted areas. So let’s say they want to build a new kind of animation system for their game, or let’s say, they want to put together an Internet of Things device to talk to their game engine to create some kind of new mechanic, or even, let’s say, you know, they have a character rating pipeline that they’re not happy with. And they have a couple of weird requirements that they need to kind of put together all these things are like really good research projects. And from running game projects, you know, previously, I knew that, you know, game development is unfortunately always full of uncertainty. And you’re always trying to figure things out and everything is a custom use case because we want every game to be different. So every game studio has a ton of like applied research opportunities. I think I think I didn’t know applied research for a while I was just thinking about research for the sake of research, right? You know, Naughty Dog or CD Projekt RED or something released a paper We’re on a really complex like, you know, motion matching animation system or something. And it’s like 50 pages, and you have to be very, very, very smart to understand what they’re talking about and to be able to implement it. It’s not that it’s like hopping on projects and working. So we get these industry partners, we look to the college for the students that are here and what we studied to support their work with like, you know, work integrated learning. So there’s a game art program at Durham, there’s an animation program at Durham, there’s a computer programming program at Durham, there’s an interactive media design. So it’s like all of these people are people that can contribute to games that are probably looking for careers in games. So students, companies, federal research grants. So not only can we pair these two up, have a project lead at the college who is like, you know, an industry person who can lead the students to mentor these students talk to the industry partners and get the projects done. We can get a federal research grant to pay for like 80% 90% of it. I was like, holy moly, this is this is like a gift I can take to the industry. So called up all the Indies I know. And I’m like, what, what indies do I want to work with? Who, who’s inspired me and all these years in the local thing? So good. I love that I get to talk to everybody on like a regular basis about like, Hey, what are you working on? What do you need help with? What are the current challenges you’re doing? And then giving like, students those opportunities to like, get great game credits and contribute to a game before the graduates helping a lot of industry, people who, you know, they might be a little bit burnt out, some of them on like the 40 hours studio week with or more than 40 hours in some cases. And this is a really nice position for them. Getting all that stuff together and the value to the industry partner, we’re like, they get an almost free project to help them develop their stuff. It’s been it’s been really good.

Scott  26:55  

Is there anything else like this in Ontario, or even in Canada? Because this is the first time I’ve really heard, like the actual breakdown of what MRC does. And then I’m trying to figure out like, is there something else that is doing this.

Ryan  27:07  

So other colleges have applied research departments, not a lot of them are gaming focused. I think the closest thing is cert, SRT centers by from Sheridan College, but they’re there in Toronto. So they’re more focused on like TV and film, but they do do some game stuff as well. So we’re actually partnered with cert for some of our funds and some of our work. So we’re talking all the time, and collaborating on things. So they’re really more more of a film, virtual production focus. And we’re really more of a we’ve ended up as more of a games first kind of thing with some virtual production and mixed reality stuff. So I’m in the studio right now, it’s a disaster.

Scott  27:49  

I don’t know, it was pretty cool. From here,

Ryan  27:50  

we’re just opening up the new space, it’s only been a few weeks. So there’s like computers that are half built. And like I should have closed those doors at the very least. boxes and stuff.

Scott  27:59  

Shows shows the inner workings of the studio. Awesome. Yeah, so

Ryan  28:04  

this is our new performance space. So this this room is like fully set up for markerless motion capture. So if I could turn it on, I could get myself captured sitting at the desk here. Which is not really useful data for anything. But

Scott  28:18  

well over the over the last couple of years, like getting to know you and seeing some of the stuff that you’ve been working on. This seems like the dream position for you, where you’re just, there’s constantly things coming in and out, things are constantly changing in motion, new people, and you get to still continue to like enrich all those relationships that you spent the last decade building. Yeah, it’s awesome to see.

Ryan  28:37  

It’s very cool. So yeah, as, as like managing the studio now. Like, I’m not directly on any projects really like pop on now. And then if there’s like, you know, there’s some programming involved in one project and the project leaders not really familiar with programming, I’ll jump in and mentor the students a little bit. Or if there’s like, some specific unity thing or whatever, I’ll hop in as needed a little bit. But mostly, I’m like the management level, which is different for me. I think a lot of my job now is like bizdev, and talking to people and making schedules and figuring out, you know, if I have these seven projects that I’m scoping, and these nine project leads, I want them all to have enough hours. And I want these projects to make sense. And I want that to work towards a strategic goal and kind of like mapping all that kind of stuff out together. Is is what we brains doing. So I miss programming a little bit.

Scott  29:28  

I was gonna say, I think now I understand why I’m seeing you doing these like random little projects and like testing these things out. Because if you’re spending so much of your time now with pipelines and bizdev that you still need that that creative itch that you crave.

Ryan  29:40  

Yep, but I’m gonna get my brains too noisy to like actually focus on that. I’ve started I’ve been developing a game called Krogh which is actually a remake of the first game that I like made solo in, like 2012 So I’m making that in my spare time but I don’t have that much spare time. I was gonna say and, like my there’s a A lot of stuff bounced around in my head these days. So progress is slow, but like slow, very slow, but steady. But that projects been a little bit therapeutic even because I don’t have to subject it to my usual kind of like project management rigor. If it takes forever, that’s okay. It’s just, there’s no stakeholders, right? But yeah, once once a year, I get to do toe jam will do toe jam every year until I die probably. And, and that’s a really good time. Like, it’s really fun to just like, Okay, everybody shut up. I’m making the game this weekend. And having something to show at the end of it. Usually, I put it on the app store or something like that’s, that’s the good stuff. I really like getting some work out there.

Scott  30:41  

That’s awesome. I’m glad to see that you’re still like able to use that, like, flex those creative muscles. When you’re when you’re in this manager role, with all the extra spare time you have besides managing Durham College, like MRC studio and doing your own game as well. You also recently started Ontario game testers. Where do you find the time? I have no idea? Was it something that you you wanted to do? Because you felt like it was a gap in the industry? It felt like it was something that was really missing? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Ryan  31:14  

Yeah, I’d love to. So we I first started getting really into game testing at Rockford games, and we were working on fossil hunters. So you know, fossil hunters was a decently long game for compared to the stuff that I had built in the past. And, you know, the, we did weekly play tests and set our studio of just you know, Friday afternoon, the studio, everybody get off their computers go sit in the couch, we’re gonna play the game of it. And that’s pretty good for catching stuff. But like, it’s got to be someone else. It’s got to be external to actually like, notice the problems that your customers would notice. So that’s when we started looking into QA. And because we had some QA in the budget, we wanted to have some external testing. And we call them a handful of testing studios. And I just didn’t like how they worked at all. They wasn’t necessarily that they were expensive, but they were, they required a lot of work from us to get started. Most of them wanted like 50 Page test plans to have Oh, wow. And JSON formatted in certain formats of like, tell me what every single mechanic is in your game and how it’s supposed to work. And we’re like, Are you kidding me? Right? We’re an indie studio, everything is so iterative, we I can tell you how a feature is going to work. But like two weeks from now, it’s going to work a little bit differently, because we found it was better that way. So like, it just didn’t work out. It was too much of like a big batch probably suits triple A really well. But just too much of a big batch for like indies,

Scott  32:47  

when like triple A’s have like the bandwidth to be able to have people assigned to that and getting them the things that they need. And like that can be you don’t you don’t have those hours in a day. You might most people don’t have the hours in a day to be able to do that.

about that?  32:59  

Yeah, like they could probably stick a PA on it and take care of it. Exactly. I mean, they’re much more documentation heavy there as well. Right. So it probably does work better for them. So rightly so. I mean, the keyway studios probably should chase those AAA dollars, because they’ve got the big budgets. But yeah, I didn’t think any of the studios were like a good fit. So we ended up doing our own QA. We got some students were sticking games into the studio. And we kind of structured a pretty scrubbed like kind of testing, basically revolving around like a rhythm of testing of like, every week, you play through the game start to finish. You log bugs as you go. And you confirm bugs that the development team has kind of marked as should be fixed. And the rule is that, you know, the development team can’t say something’s fixed. Because we tried that for a while and was like this is fixed, it’s definitely fix, it’s not going to happen anymore, like not bug is still happen. You find. The person who says a bug is fixed has to be the person who found the bug in the first place.

Scott  34:06  

So it’s a good way to look at it.

Ryan 34:08  

We kind of figured out the system that worked really well. It was really lightweight, it required no documentation. You can throw documentation at it for like specific testing. And that can be really helpful if you if you want specific focus in some areas. But yeah, it was a good process. It worked really well for us on a couple of games. It worked especially well in fire tonight, because like fire tonight, I’m really happy to say like, it didn’t launch with any bugs that we knew of. And we were we were testing the whole time. So that’s that’s a statement. That never happened.

Scott  34:36  

I don’t want to gloss over that. I think that’s more of a statement than most people realize. Still.

Ryan  34:41  

Yeah, so pretty proud of that. So at MRC following that, you know, we were looking for a lot of projects in our first couple years that were easy to kind of start up and scale and helpful to industry partners. So we started doing testing projects with the MRC as well. So those went pretty well, we refined that process a little bit more. But you know, as people started talking, we became more well known. We want to take on bigger projects, we want to take on more impactful projects that kind of end up under the MRC portfolio, we’re doing less testing. And that’s kind of like on purpose, because we can do other things other than testing. So I think we’d probably still take testing projects at the MRC studio, if there was something like really researchy about it, like some good angle of like, log bugs with your brain and have a thing that leaves your mind or something or I don’t know, I I’m definitely dreaming up an idea of like a voice activated bug reporting system, which would be especially helpful for like VR console or something where like, your device isn’t going to be the thing that’s capable of logging that bug that like, pulls the player log in the screenshot or a video or something out and kind of like allows for hands free. bug reporting, but

Scott  35:55  

interesting, I feel like you’re gonna implement that the next year.

Ryan  36:00  

thing of is your brain. Yeah, no problem. Yeah, we started doing less and less testing projects with the MRC, unless there’s some like specific novelty to it. So that kind of made me start thinking like, all these all these studios are still gonna want testing, and like there’s a good solution out there for them. So kind of combining that with, you know, this is a good system for indies. I don’t see any good testing system for indies, as well, there’s no testing companies in Ontario for some reason. Like, there were none. And all these people working on on Ontario creates projects. You’re familiar with how that fund works? Like, it’s kind of like 50% off if your testing happens in Ontario, in a way? Not exactly. But yeah, there’s some of the the eligible Ontario expenditures. So I was like, Okay, well, maybe I should start this up. We were also turning away a fair number of testing projects at the MRC, because people would come to us and say, I need game testing, I need to start next week, or even start tomorrow. And like, the MRC is within the college. And as we know, colleges aren’t known for being fast. So it takes us like four weeks to get a project started, if we’re on the ball. So I think a lot of cases, you know that that testing of like, Hey, we’re going into certain a couple of weeks, we need you to test the thing. We just couldn’t respond to it. So

Scott  37:27  

but now you can personally. So pointing in this direction.

Ryan  37:31  

Yep. So really, really good market opportunity. And like a system that had been working really well, that just needs to get out there a little bit more. Yeah, it’s pretty cool. And part of the the things I want to accomplish with this, as well, as you know, I want everything to be really kind of open and transparent. So I tell all the telco companies and the people that we work with that, like there’s no non compete, there’s no non solicitation. So like, if you’re working with us for a couple of weeks testing for a company, and that company just wants to go and hire you directly, because they want to keep working with you. Go for it poached by people, that’s fine. Because unlike, you know, staffing up the development of games at Reptoid, which was difficult because you know, you want to get a really good 3d artists, you want to get a really good programmer, you want to get a really good level designer. Those are really skilled positions. And everyone’s talking about labor shortage, right? Like, let’s say, I need an unreal C++ developer, I think I’m Sol. So if you have such high demand right now, I can hire testers, I can hire people who are really good testers. And like this system, simple enough that I can onboard them pretty quickly, and like they’re doing really good work. So building a business around something that can scale, like personnel that can scale has been really good. So in a lot of cases, I’ve had to set up staff up projects really fast. And like it’s been successful,

Scott  38:54  

if people are looking to get involved with Ontario game testers, whether it be they have a project to offer or to position or something they’d be interested in, how could they go about doing that? 

Ryan  39:03

Scott  39:05  

Boom, we’ll drop it in the description.

Ryanr  39:09  

If you want if you want to, if you want to work with us as a tester, if you scroll down to like the bottom, there’s like a like a newsletter signup thingy that we use for sending job alerts. And then there’s like an email that you can get in touch with us for if you’ve got a company that wants testing. And like the testing is really simple. Like it’s $32 An hour figure out how many hours a week you want, how long will this build it That sounds really really simple and transparent. All right,

Scott  39:36  

I think that yeah, that’s something that is sorely lacking in Ontario. So that’s, that’s awesome to hear. I will make sure to push that everywhere we can. One of the things I do always like to ask all of our guests, especially ones who are obviously very ingrained in the videogame industry. Is there something that you’re currently playing right now it doesn’t have to be from Ontario that you’re you’re using for inspiration or you’re finding something that is really just grabbed your Attention in a way that a game hasn’t been a while. See,

Ryan  40:05  

just a couple of weeks ago, my partner and I finished playing through our second playthrough of paradise killer, which a lot of people have heard of, it seems paradise killers like, it’s like an open world Danganronpa kind of thing. So it’s like, first thing, very interesting game. And like, totally didn’t know what I was getting into when I first played it. So we played it on switch last year, we had a blast with it. And there’s this effect, and you play really good game that like, you finish it. And wow, that was a great ending. I love that ending. I love this game. This is so great. I know you’re just sad for a while

Scott  40:42  

you feel this emptiness, watching the credits. I’ve felt that many times.

Ryan  40:47  

And then you’re like, you’re looking for a rebound game. And it’s like, oh, well, the game was really good. I want to play another game. And it’s like and play this one like, the same. It’s just, it’s just not what I’m looking for right now. And then it will take like a month free to like, you know, to love again. So on a whim, because we’re like, oh, what should we play? I don’t know. I don’t know. Let’s try playing this. I was too much text. It’s tiny on the TV. We were like, I paradise killer on Steam. You wanna play paradise killer on PC, it will be like an HD remake. Compared to Yeah, 100% it’s got Ambient Occlusion now. It’s got cast shadows. Whoa. So we played through we 100% of the game, we got every achievement, and we’re like, oh, yeah, that was that was a great use of time.

Scott  41:33  

Is it? Is it couch Co Op? Or is it like different screens?

Ryan  41:37  

Just one one player. So we just play through and you know, take pass the controller back and forth. Take turns exploring reading. Sometimes the other person’s like, looking up stuff on the iPad of like, how do we get this achievement? Oh, there’s a thing hidden over here.

Scott  41:50  

My partner and I literally did the same thing. We did that a lot with like breath of wild and like a few other games. Yeah, no, I do. I do love being able to have those games that really sparked that in you. And you’re right, though, as soon as something that’s like that does end like me like, most recently for me, it was probably I want to see the last one was two. But I’m sure there was something else like in between that. But that was just one game that like it ended I just like felt empty and said I need I need to find something else.

Ryan  42:20  

The other games are mostly blank. My daughter’s my daughter’s four. Actually, she’ll be five in like a week or two. So she’s she’s four years old. She’s really into Paper Mario originally, and Pokemon Mystery Dungeon. reels are kind of our two things that we want her back and forth with there

Scott  42:37  

must be kind of fun for you, though certain games that you wouldn’t necessarily have played on your own. But now like, kind of have an excuse to go through it. And if you find like, I feel like you find certain things that little more satisfying than your average person. Just based on programming experience.

Ryan  42:50  

Yeah, well and learning her perspective on things to like, she’s she’s five or four, whatever he is right now. She’s, she’s not interested in like 100 presenting a game.

Scott  43:02  

So that’s true doesn’t have that dopamine itch yet. She doesn’t have any worries.

Ryan  43:07  

She just wants to enjoy it. So there’s like there’s all these questions we could do in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon where like the post game now, it’s like, Oh, don’t you want to go find the Fallen artifact or talk to all the legendary Pokemon birds or whatever? And she’s like, No, I want to make a team of red Pokemon. And I want to go to displace the blue with them. And I want to fight Pokemon that are red against blue. And like, sure, I love Paper Mario, like she loves. She loves dry, dry desert and the dry dry ruins. And I’m like, Hey, do you want to go forward and like get through the haunted woods and everything’s like, That’s too scary. Let’s go to the desert. Like we’ve been on the desert for like a month now. And like, I don’t think she has any interest in progressing past that. And honestly, that’s a really good perspective, because she’s like, I found the fun part of the game that I like, and I’m just gonna push on it like,

Scott  43:51  

good honor. Instead of like pushing your way through, that’s awesome. So the fact that most of the time with with his podcasts, we try to keep it a little bit separate from interactive Ontario. For those who don’t know, the Lodgge is run by interactive Ontario. But having you on I feel it gives us a unique opportunity to be able to discuss the indie Superboost, which is a program that interactive Ontario runs and you are in fact the chair of the committee and moderate most of the panels do want to give our audience a little bit of a breakdown of what the indie Subarus has to offer.

Ryan  44:23  

Sure, yeah. And the surface is really cool. It’s sort of it’s a, like a monthly gathering of game developers started to just be Ontario, three interactive Ontario, but I think I think we’re beyond that now. And it’s a bunch of other Canadian studios are kind of coming in through some like cross partnership stuff.

Scott  44:40  

We’ve opened it up to CIAC members. So like, you know, did you see the guild? Anyone that’s a part of one of those organizations, they get a free ticket as well. Same thing as aisle members. And then anyone that’s in Ontario is also able to purchase a ticket as well as outside of Ontario people are able to purchase the ticket anytime on

Ryan  44:59  

Thank you. That’s. So it’s a it’s kind of more of the spokes. So it’s not, we have a monthly guest, which is, you know, industry person who’s known for for creating, you know, creating certain kinds of games doing certain kinds of work. That kind of thing, like reputable people in the industry will come in and be our guests. But it’s not like a GDC talk, there’s no slides, it’s not prepared. And like, we encourage the audience to kind of come in and go off the rails and kind of go off on tangents about things. So it’s a really more of a like, intimate thing. We also don’t record them, we recorded one, but that was like, kind of a special case. And it made sense for that one. But generally, we don’t record them. So then if we’re talking about like, consoles, or publishing deals, or, you know, other kind of like, usually bizdev II kind of stuff like you can, they can feel a little bit more open to sharing, which kind of makes the conversation a little more valuable to everybody. So,

Scott  45:58  

you know, something we decided, like very early on, is we wanted people to be able to be as candid as possible. And of course, something’s recorded, people are automatically going to be a little bit more reserved when talking about, you know, maybe like deals or experiences they’ve had or something that may not shine the best light on, on situations that they’ve been involved in. But this allows people to be much more candid and open and like, you’re right, I think it brings a lot more value to the conversation, because people are open and honest and transparent. In a lot of situations where people may not be. So yeah, we did record the one it was more of a panel with Kaitlin Trembaly, everyone should go check that out that was awesome was on the collective world building. But that yeah, that was a that was a unique case, for the most part that we do try to make sure that we don’t record anything. Let everybody know that so that people can be a little more forthcoming and forthright, even with their questions. Some people might be a little bit insecure about specific questions, it’s something that they feel that they should know, or whatever it may be, this gives them an opportunity to be in a safe space, and come in and kind of just asking the open and it’s a hell of a group of people. It’s really fun.

Ryan 46:58  

It is, yeah, yeah, a lot of a lot of the same people come in every week. So we’re kind of figuring out with a little tribe of people are. But yeah, I really like it. It’s, it reminds me a lot of you know, when I first kind of got into the game industry, like not making games, but like actually talking to the people who make games. It was like 2010, when it first came to Toronto, or came back to Toronto, I was going to the IGDA meetups at Metro Hall, they don’t have those anymore. And having a desk at it was bento me, so then turned into gamma space. And now it’s not even like a space anymore. But like co working with other game devs it reminded me a lot of those experiences like going out to a bar after the IG eight event, or just goofing off in a co working space with other game devs. And just hearing what they’re up to hearing what their talent challenged by and you know, the kind of stuff that they’re going through. And even like, you know, the immature stuff of like mass Sony, or Microsoft, like those kinds of conversations, like even if they’re kind of, you know, crude or petty, or, you know, not something that anyone would admit to talking about later. They’re really valuable for kind of shaping those experiences, and getting into the industry and getting connected to people. So it’s kind of like your, your game dev friend group that will tell you about all the stuff that they’re going through, which, you know, especially these days, where we’re trying really hard to stay connected to someone stay connected industry,

Scott  48:31  

this Yeah, this, the idea came up for this, obviously, during the pandemic. And it was something that was we sorely sorely missed doing in person events. Luckily, we’ve been able to you know, we do one in December, we’re going to be doing more coming up XP, things like that. But this seemed to be a place that a lot of people would come in, we even had like the chat in the discord that you know, a lot of people are dropping Resources Information. It’s also connecting a lot of people because we are able to get we’ve been very lucky to getting some quite outstanding guests to be frank. Yeah, people coming in and every single one of them has been so giving and so open, answering you know, all the questions in the chat staying late most of the time to make sure we get to everybody, and then jumping into the chat afterwards, and offering you know, this resource or that resource. And connecting with people and seeing the relationships build from that has just been a joy to watch, which is like more than we could have ever expected. And yeah, having a hell of a committee to kind of come in and take over and do do such a wonderful job with it something that we’re really proud of. So

Ryan  49:35  

it’s fun, it’s fun to to interview people too. And it’s not something that I like ever thought I’d really be doing on a regular basis. But I mean, either a lot of juice out of it and it’s fun. It is fun. I mean, it helps that it’s good people. I agree. But yeah, definitely every now and then, you know when we when we get someone coming in, it’s like hey, we secured this person has The guest for our next one, I’m like, holy moly, that’s a it’s like a real game deaf person who isn’t just like a little indie studio person. And like, I don’t know if I can find anything to talk to them about, do my research, try to find a couple of things, talk them about and I’m like, every single time, even if I think I’m not gonna have anything to talk about, there’s tons to talk about, I learned a ton. I’m amazed how open everybody is. And I’m amazed how everybody’s kind of going through the same struggles, like hearing from the big studios, like, like we had we’d Max Hoberman a little while ago from certain affinity. And like a lot of the stuff that he kind of cited as, you know, challenging for him, like, I’m talking to studios of the MRC all the time, who are going through the exact same issues. It’s like you can get bigger and more successful and that’s great. But like, fundamentally, you know, games are always still hard to make.

Scott  50:48  

It’s a miracle that any game comes out. Yes. Yeah,

Ryan  50:52  

I mean, hats off to all these brave game developers who are jumping in with both feet and pulling it off on a regular basis somehow. It’s, it’s an incredible industry just because of how like dedicated people are to sticking with it.

Scott  51:07  

I agree. I think that’s obviously a phenomenal way I think the end of the episode. So that’ll about do it for episode 16 of the LOD podcast. Ryan, do you have any final words before we sign off for the day?

Ryan  51:19  

Be kind to each other.

Scott  51:22  

That’s the best one yet. So thank you, everyone, for joining us today. And thank you to Ontario crates for your continued support of the Shout out to Natalie, our producer on the ones and twos always making us look and sound good. We appreciate that. Everyone makes sure to go and check out everything going on with MRC studio, Ontario game If you have other project to submit or position that you’re looking for, and everywhere else that you can find Ryan Miller. We will be back next week with a brand new episode of the lodge podcast and we cannot wait to talk to all of you again and see you all be safe and most importantly take care.

Ryan Miller

Ryan has worked on dozens of games across many platforms as a programmer, artist, and manager. He has vast experience teaching Game Art and Animation in college, while also working with game studios to give their businesses a boost and making his own games on the side!

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