We all made it to where we are today through the support of others, be it a loving wife, a caring parent, the understanding of close friends or the encouragement and knowledge passed to us by our mentors and teachers.
I woke up this morning to the sad news that the world had lost just one of those people. In April of this year I graduated with honours from the Digital Media and IT program offered by the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton, AB Canada and it was there that I had the privilege of being a student of Graham Miller. Last night, on his way home from the school, Graham died in a motorcycle accident.
I consider the impact my teachers have had in my life immeasurable. When I entered into the Game Programming stream at NAIT, the course was in its infancy. Graham was handed a book on Game Development Essentials and asked, “Can you teach this?” Although Graham was a programmer, he took the class on.
The course itself was a useful examination and discussion on what makes games playable, what makes them fun, the importance of story and characters and how to organize these ideas in a way that you could then use to create a development plan. Graham introduced students to the excellent series, Firefly, as a starting point so we all had common ground from which to discuss the theories introduced by the course.
But that’s not what I took home from this course. Any teacher can pick up a text and discuss the general ideas with a class. In fact, a cynic might point out that Graham, having never developed a videogame maybe wasn’t the best choice for the job. That cynic would be wrong.
What Graham brought to that class was an enthusiasm for the subject matter that was infectious. It filled the room each class and that’s what made this course stand out for me. Not the subject material, the man presenting it. Graham as an instructor made me want to push myself. I wanted to hand in assignments just to see his excitement at the new ideas presented in front of him. Graham’s confidence in us mixed with his exuberance made me feel that I could make videogames that people wanted to play. He pushed me to do what I’m doing now in his belief that I could do it and he probably didn’t even realize it.
I didn’t really know Graham as well as I would have liked personally. Even as an older student at the school, I’d stand just as transfixed as the teens and twenty-somethings when Graham was taken off track and started sharing stories of his English rugby days, or his tales of drinking with Australian field medics in seedy African cities while there as a chopper pilot. I often came to him for advice or help in other classes and his no-nonsense attitude and candour was always appreciated. When my son was born prematurely and I needed to spend a great deal of time at the NICU, Graham was always making inquiries as to his wellbeing, and my own, while probing to make sure no instructors were giving me a hard time or working me too hard. And now, he’s gone.
I wish I had thanked Graham for his belief in me, and the support he showed when I hit him with the idea of starting my own game development company. I’d like to think that he knew that his encouragement helped me take the chances that I did, but I wish I had said it. I’ll fondly remember that last day of classes, hoisting a pint with him after it was all said and done and discussing the new company and where we felt gaming was going and how I needed to start watching “Game of Thrones”. He gave me his card with the offer that if I was ever stuck with a programming issue to not hesitate to use him as a resource. I didn’t know him long, but that was just such a Graham thing to do. I wish he’d seen our first game completed because I know he would have been proud.
We’re all so indebted to the people like Graham who support us as we each make our way. It’s said that teachers open the doors and we walk through. Let’s make sure we don’t forget to give them our thanks.