DigiPen and I

No, I never did go to the DigiPen Institute of Technology, but I had considered it. I remember reading an article about the school back in the mid 1990s, not long after it opened, in either Nintendo Power or EGM. It was mind-blowing for me at the time: I can do post-secondary education at a school specifically doing game design on Nintendo hardware? Best of all, the school was located in Canada? Sign me up.

I had thought about trying to break into the games industry in those youthful days, but up to that point it was this weird, nebulous goal that I had no idea how to get to. After reading that article, though, it felt tangible and close. I was a junior in high school and for the first time I was considering what to do after graduation.

It was around this time when I started fiddling around with my family’s old Tandy 286, an old shitbox that was already obsolete by about four years. The technology didn’t matter. My interests weren’t with the advanced PC games of the day, Doom or Quake but were focused on QBasic. I spent a summer hacking the language (my first) with only its built in documentation and two examples, Gorillas and Nibbles, as reference.

It was a slow and tedious process but within a few months I managed to make a sort of text-only adventure game (I had never played interactive fiction at the time; I was mostly emulating Shadowgate and Deja Vu.) It wasn’t very good but it was a start. A short while later I learned how to do graphics — all of it via code, there were no external editors — and made a, perhaps unsurprisingly, “Metroidvania“-esque side-scrolling platformer (the “Metroidvania” label was still years away from being penned.) They weren’t very good but they were the first videogames I ever made and they hold a nostalgic place in my heart. I just wish I still had the floppies holding them (and a floppy drive to access them.) sigh.

As I approached my final year in high school I sent for an information package from Digipen and that’s when I learned the disappointing news: Digipen had, that same year, relocated from Vancouver to Redmond, Washington. They were now international and, because they weren’t accredited at the time, they weren’t accepting international students. I might not have been able to afford it either way, but not having the option at all gutted me. The next year I went to the University of Toronto for Computer Science, got bored of the “discrete math” and the theoretical shit, and eventually, in my second year, quit. It’s been a long and convoluted road since then.

Anyway, I realized that I have a ton of old EGMs and Nintendo Powers stashed around here so I made an attempt to find this one article. I found a lot of great content from those days — ads, news, previews, reviews: the mid-90s were weird as it had reviews for SNES and Genesis games right next to 3DO, CD-i, and Amiga CD32 titles. Man, I completely forgot about that one — but not the article in question. Google seems to suggest that it might be in Nintendo Power #75, but I can only find Virtual Boy related scans from that issue.

Further searches yielded a couple of extra interesting tid-bits: a Wired article from December 1995, and a copy of the 1995 DigiPen Applied Computer Graphics School Student Handbook, focusing on The Art and Science of 2D and 3D Video Game Programming, A Super Nintendo Entertainment System® Game Programming Course.

I think about “what could have been”, but then I realize I’m still in my twenties and all those dreams continue to exist as “what can be.”

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