Write From The Heart

"Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back."

A Look Into Robert Denton Bryant: St. Edward’s Professor and Visionary

April9

St. Edward’s University had but a small, fledgling video game department before Robert Denton Bryant showed up. Upon putting out an ad for a professor to help “shape an existing major,” Bryant offered his assistance to the department. What got him accepted was demonstrating his lecture about the “Aristotle VS Mario” problem, in which he highlights the conflict that nuanced storytelling has with interactive experiences like games. It helped that, not only was he a veteran of the industry at this point in time, he also co-authored the acclaimed book the lecture was coined in.
Bryant is a man of many trades and many accomplishments. Before coming to St. Edward’s to teach, he began his career in screenwriting with a degree from The University of South California, even making it to Hollywood. His love was for writing, but he became tired of the daily grind. Then, as a self-described “happy accident,” Bryant began freelance work for Mattel. He was enamored with technology and wanted “to do something with computers,” as he puts it, which began the period of his life working as a tester for toys and games alike.
Mattel eventually made a bad bet on The Learning Company and needed lay offs to continue functioning, so Bryant moved on to a up-and-coming development company, Crave Entertainment, where he would help reboot the company into a massive value publisher by making games for the value market. By focusing on smaller, more niche games, some of the company’s biggest successes were created such as “Pinball Hall of Fame” and XBox Live’s “World Championship Poker”, both pitched by Bryant.

“Pinball Hall of Fame”
PlayStation 2 PAL boxart.

Taking a cursory glance at Bryant’s office in St. Edward’s will tell anyone how much his early career shaped the man he is today- with memorabilia littered throughout the room, framed posters of the games and movies he helped come to fruition, old products from his Mattel days, and a shelf filled to the brim with Crave games.
It’s evident even in his teaching style, too. What he’s been trained to do in the workforce is what he wants to bring to his students, to help them feel like a “big fish in a small pond,” in his words. He’s brought his own work, “Slay the Dragon: Writing Great Video Games,” as part of the curriculum, even putting major emphasis on the Aristotle VS Mario lecture.

“Slay the Dragon: Writing Great Video Games” cover image.
Cover design by Johnny Ink

Such being, he draws from past experiences to give a clearer picture frequently. He re-adopted a test question for his Mattel position as an exercise for his Analog Game Design course in which he was asked to write step-by-step instructions on how to operate a landline touch telephone for someone who has never seen a phone. It ended up being a great tool for game design, more specifically for understanding how to properly communicate to clueless players and break down simple actions.
It’s this expertise in navigating game design through multiple lenses that makes Bryant respected by the video game development community and his peers. Fellow professor, Jeremy Johnson, recounted being scouted by Bryant for the department after presenting his game for an Interactive Fiction class at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, then working under him. Johnson believes that Bryant “has strengths everywhere,” regarding his talent in game design fundamentals, and commends his leadership skills, jokingly remarking that perhaps “he likes doing it.”
Because of the unfortunate timing of the COVID-19 pandemic closing down the department’s crown jewel event, Game Fair, wherein all the students’ own developed video games, board games, animations, and such are presented to a crowd, the university will be left without arguably Bryant’s best development for the school. But, Toppers in the video game development major will have numerous future events to look forward to, and hopefully be pelted by the Bryant’s traditional congratulatory Cheeto’s toss.

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