“Game design is like architecture” – video game jobs described by those who do them

By Kirk McKeand, Tuesday, 24 April 2018 08:48 GMT

The game industry is big, but you probably knew that already. If you have ever sat through the credits of a modern triple-A game, you will know just how much work goes into these projects, just how many people are involved – pages and pages of seemingly endless names scroll by as each experience comes to a close.

Publishers such as Ubisoft and EA even use multiple studios to work on different aspects of games, perhaps getting a racing game studio in to tweak vehicle handling in an open world game, or getting FPS experts to fine tune the shooting.

From the animation to the art, from the gameplay to online infrastructure, from concept to marketing, there are many disciplines involved. That’s why we’ve put together this resource after chatting with people from all over the industry, so we can all better understand what it takes to make a video game and release it into the world.

Game designer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

I’m Brenda Romero, and I am a game designer. I’ve run the whole gamut of game design, from junior game designer to design director to chief creative officer. I am a lifer in the game industry, having gotten my start in 1981 when I was just 15 years old. At that time, my job was the dream job for any kid – play games, memorise them and when people call with questions, tell them what they need to know. I grew into the design role from there. Over the years, I had an opportunity to work with many gifted game designers, and I learned the ropes from them. Apprenticeship was quite literally the only way to learn. I went to college where my major was technical writing, an even mix of programming and writing, and continued working in the industry to put myself through school. I am often asked why I decided to get into games, but I don’t remember ever making that decision. For me, it’s been much more of a calling, something I have to do. I am not sure what I would do if I had to do anything else.

What does the role involve?

I often compare game designers to architects when describing what it is I do. In order to build a house, it first has to be designed, and there are loads of systems in that house (electrical, heating, etc). Games are similar. At the highest level, my job is about having a vision for a game and maintaining that vision throughout its development, making sure that the systems – combat, character, economic, etc – are working together to give the experience that I want them to give. Game designers are also experience planners. So, while the architect might design the house, it’s nothing without something happening inside of it. So, I spend most of my time thinking about the second-to-second play.

The big moments are not what sustain a game. If you can’t hold people second-to-second, you can forget about your minute-to-minute, much less holding them to the end. Game designers spend a lot of their time imagining “what if” scenarios, writing specs for the team to implement and playing the game to see how things were implemented. Nowadays, the role of game designer is pretty specialised. So, you might have a single person designing a single sharable moment for a triple-A game, a facet of combat or writing the dialog for a single character. On smaller projects, a designer handles many different facets of the game. For me, there are two critical things that are often overlooked in game design education: I spend a lot of time thinking about the UI of the game because that’s the place where the play really happens, where the systems meet the player. I also spend a lot of time listening to the ways I could make the game better. No one gets it right the first time, and if you work with a great team like I do, it’s important to facilitate and ask for feedback. Welcome it when you get it.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

Many games have character creation. As a game designer, character creation starts out as just a concept that I need to design and spec out so that it can be created by code, art, and audio. When I’m thinking about how I want character creation to flow, I am thinking first of theme – how can I get the theme of the game into every step of play? I don’t want it to feel like you’re stepping through a necessary process. I want it to feel like opening a door into a world you’re eager to get into. I am next thinking about affordances. What does the player expect of this process having been through it many times? I like to use the example of deciding to change the keybinding for FPS games. I mean, you could launch with something different, but those bindings are baked in for many players over many games and many years. It’s a risk. If you look at any character screen in any game, it was a game designer with input from her team that decided what you could see, how it interacted with other things, which data was necessary (starting stats, for instance) and what happened when you made all the decisions necessary. Once it’s implemented, designers go over it again and again to make sure that it feels they way they wanted it to feel.

I am often in a situation where I see John [Romero] working on a level, and when you’re playing a Romero level, what you’re seeing is the result of literally thousands of plays. Every change, every seemingly minor tweak, he’s in the game again seeing how it looks, how it feels, how it surprises.

Studio head

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Mike Bithell: I studied game design at university, and was lucky enough to get a job only a few months after graduating as a junior game designer at Blitz games. I then worked my way up the ranks there, as a concept and level designer. I then moved to London to work at Bossa Studios as their lead designer for a few years. In my spare time, I made a game called Thomas Was Alone, which did well enough that I could go start my own team. We’ve now been going for five years, shipped four games, and are doing ok!

What does the role involve?

I am ultimately responsible for all the creative output of my studio, and more generally share responsibility for all company decisions with my business partner, Alexander Sliwinski. On a day to day level, I write and direct all our games, and collaborate with a team to get them to release.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

Let’s do Subsurface Circular. I initially came up with the idea of a detective game, and started researching the genre. I then brought in a coder to build the tools, and a couple of artists to start honing the look. Every day then became a bunch of writing, and a lot of conversations and meetings with every creative involved. My job is mostly one of curation, making sure that everything comes together and fits. Subsurface Circular was unique for the amount of my own, unfiltered work is in it: I had to write all the text, and there’s a profound amount of it due to the branching nature of the game. After release, I am also usually the primary person speaking about the game, doing interviews and stuff.

Lead character artist

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Gavin Goulden: Currently I am the lead character artist at Insomniac Games working on Spider-Man. Prior to this, I was the lead on Sunset Overdrive and BioShock Infinite. In addition to this, I have been a character artist on Dead Rising 2, The Bigs 2, and contributed to titles such as FEAR 2, Dragon Age, and Damnation.

What does the role involve?

As a lead character artist, a large part of my job is giving feedback to my team as a form of quality control, encouraging career growth within my team of artists, assisting with art direction and maintaining a consistent art style, scheduling tasks, communicating expectations with other departments, and working with publishers on milestone deliverables. This differs from a character artist role as my priorities shift from creating art 100% of the time to bigger picture tasks and managing a team of artists.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

As an example, since it has been released and I can talk about it, on Sunset Overdrive I took on the entire vanity / character creation system. This means original prototyping with technical artists, setting standards for my team to follow, plotting out the amount of items we would create and where they would land on the schedule, and worked with design to make sure there were enough unique options for a satisfying experience.

Voice actor

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Cissy Jones: I’ve been a voice actor for about seven years. Before that, I’d been a working stiff in the Silicon Valley – so I definitely come at it from a different perspective than most. My first job as a VA was Katjaa in Telltale’s The Walking Dead. From there, I’ve gone on to work in several titles, from indies like Firewatch to triple-A like Destiny 2. (I should also mention that while I work a lot in games, as a full time VA it’s important to be versatile, so I also work in other mediums; commercials, animation, trailers, promos, long-form narration, etc).

What does the role involve?

My role in a game is usually one of the last things to happen. There is typically a large time devoted to the actual development of the game and characters, artistically and narratively, before voice actors are brought in. Then we bring the words to life. I always think of my job as making the devs’ life easier – bringing their vision off the page and into existence. If I’ve done my job right, everyone’s happy.

I like to prepare for a role as much as possible, which can be tricky in the games industry with NDAs and whatnot. But if I am given context ahead of time, I like to immerse myself in who the character is, what situations they’re engaged in, what their goals are, etc. Again – doesn’t always happen, but when I can, I do.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

I am responsible for making players care about my character. They have to care about what I’m saying, even if I’m ‘just an NPC’, because I’m giving directives or necessary information for their missions. That means I also need to be believable at all times, whether I’m playing an unseen fire lookout on a walkie talkie, an alien, or an anthropomorphic stick of gum.

Lead programmer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

My name is Richard May and I’ve been in the industry for about 17 years now. I started as a junior programmer straight out of university, joining the graduate scheme at Codemasters. That job promptly evaporated underneath me (financial difficulties meant that I was laid off after three months) but that “toe in the door” meant I got an interview at Rebellion. I started as a junior coder working on their GBA titles, hammering out GBA ports of other games on what were, looking back now, ludicrously short timescales. It was all very sink-or-swim but luckily we got through and after a year I moved on to work on the company’s console titles. After about six years working up the ranks as a gameplay programmer on numerous PC, Xbox, and PS2 titles, I became lead programmer on Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron for the PSP. Since then I’ve led projects on PSP, PC, console, mobile and, most recently, PSVR, Oculus & Vive.

What does the role involve?

My role as a lead programmer is mostly a managerial one. Whilst I do still get to write code from time to time, most of my work is spent guiding my team to ensure they have everything they need to implement the various game systems in a timely fashion. Game development requires input from a lot of different disciplines and this often creates bottlenecks where you’re waiting on art, design or sound input. My job is to schedule the coding tasks to ensure they flow as smoothly as possible, helping to define the tasks themselves with designers and artists to ensure the programmers have a clear brief and can get on without asking too many questions.

I work closely with the lead artist, designer, and producer (as well as other departments such as sound and animation) to map out what needs to be done to make the game, advising on not only what is possible but also what is practical in the time we have and the hardware we’re targeting. I’m also responsible for ensuring the game runs at an acceptable frame rate and is as bug-free as possible. Later in the project, my day-to-day is mostly about fielding bug reports from QA, assigning them out to the relevant coders and ensuring the most important things are fixed first.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

As an example, a designer will be tasked with working up a plan for a specific feature – say a new game mechanic. We’ll discuss it initially and then, after the plan had been written up, sit down with the various parties (design, art, production, etc.) and discuss whether its feasible and what changes might need to be made. Given that plan, I would then break it down into individual tasks in Jira, our online task-tracking system. Each task would then be assigned to a relevant programmer – often one programmer will do the bulk of the work, but I prefer to spread the knowledge around the team where I can to prevent any one programmer being responsible for the whole system.

Once work is underway, I’ll review their progress periodically, discussing any issues with the implementation and design as they occur, making sure the design team is kept in the loop if anything in the original plan turns out to be impractical. Once the tasks are completed, we’ll review the feature to ensure that it fulfils the original brief. Few features survive this process unscathed and the end result is often very different to the original plan – once a designer can actually play with the new feature they’ll give us feedback and I’ll take that feedback and make new tasks for the programmers and we’ll iterate from there. Occasionally, a feature might even get dropped entirely, but if I’m doing my job properly we shouldn’t get to that stage very often!

Lead developer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Jagex Maz: I didn’t go to university. Instead i went straight from sixth form college into a network support role. I was responsible for everything from building servers and network wiring to user support and purchasing. This gave me a really good practical technical background.

13 years ago I relocated to Cambridge and was lucky enough to get a job in customer support with Jagex. Nine months later (still without a degree) I joined the then very small content team working on RuneScape. I obtained my Open University degree last year, after nine years of study whilst working full-time.

I don’t feel that the lack of degree, or being female held me back. Sure I get the incredulous looks of “but you can’t possibly be technical, you’re female” and generally smile and carry on.

What does the role involve?

My basic day to day responsibilities are coming up with ideas, designing and programming content for the Old School game using our in house language and tools. I also do a tiny bit of 3D modelling and 2D art as and when it is required, as we are a very small team.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

Since then I have built up more responsibilities. I have written and administrate recruitment and training for new developers. The lead role I am in sometimes includes line management, but I personally don’t do that now. Instead, I share responsibility for compiling and deploying weekly updates to the game and rebooting the servers.

Game director

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

My name is Steve Thornton. I got my first games job at Traveller’s Tales, after doing some work experience placements at their office while I was studying Games Design at University. I stayed at TT for just over five years, working my way up from junior games designer where I started, to lead level designer, senior games designer, assistant game director, and eventually, game director.

In August 2016 I left TT and moved to Saint Petersburg (Russia) where I am now lead games designer at Sperasoft, a company that offers co-development support and services to other game studios. Currently, we’re assisting Ubisoft Montreal with the post-launch seasonal updates for Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege.

What does the role involve?

The game director is the creative lead of the project, the closest thing to the legendary “ideas person”. They define what the game should be at the earliest stages, and then during development have veto power over any decision related to the game’s content. Because triple-A games are so large, it is inevitable that as game director you must delegate the “detail” to others, which means your most important job is to clearly communicate the pillars of the game to the design team and departmental leads, entrusting them to make decisions that serve your high level goals for the game. During production, you will be constantly reviewing and approving the WIP content, answering questions, resolving conflicts and solving problems; all of which means a lot of time in meeting rooms. This is a full-time management job, and you are likely to never actually touch the engine or contribute so much as a single asset or line of code to the game yourself. You can choose when to intervene personally and when to delegate, but in triple-A it is likely that micro-management will turn sour for everyone involved.

In my experience working in the western part of the industry, game director and lead games designer are often interchangeable titles (in fact at TT, they changed titles during the five years I worked there) and the game director is also defacto lead of the games design team. At some of the largest game studios, there may be both a game director and a separate lead games designer – in these situations the lead games designer tends to assume a role as an assistant director, responsible for managing the games design team directly, making decisions with the team “on the ground” and ensuring they are meeting the directors’ higher level goals. Having both roles pushes the game director into an even loftier position, usually doing their reviews of the actual game in bursts via builds and samples that have been pre-approved by the lead games designer. In these situations, game director feedback can seem unpredictable or belated, a common complaint within big triple-A teams.

Game directors don’t have unlimited power, however. Unless they are integrated in the managing arm of the company at a corporate level, it is likely they still need to pitch their original game idea to a publisher or internal executive team for approval, and then continue to keep those people happy throughout development. Additionally, they are usually paired with a production lead who has equal (or slightly greater) power, which they’re intended to exert dispassionately should the game directors requests risk the game missing its delivery dates – something that can be flagged by anyone on the team. Although this is inevitably a push and pull relationship rich in debate, a good game director fears project risks just as much as the producer, because ultimately it will affect the game’s quality and the morale of the team – two priorities that should be shared by all leads.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

Content review: a game director spends a lot of time playing the game, either in regular builds or at pre-determined milestones in the schedule. Although the game director can’t rationally participate in the design and implementation of every level, character, weapon and feature, they all pass by the director’s desk for a seal of approval eventually. The job at that point is to identify any issues, provide clear action points of feedback, set new priorities, or schedule discussions with the team to find those action points. It’s these reviews that move production forwards, and provide chances to check everyone is moving in the right direction.

AI programmer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

I’m Alex Darby and I started in the industry fresh out of uni (I have a joint degree in Comp. Sci. / AI & Psychology) 1996 as a “prototyping programmer” at Codemasters. Amongst others, I worked on the prototypes which went on to become Colin McRae Rally & ToCA Touring Cars.

In 2001 I moved to the now extinct Smart Dog (who would go on to become a victim of the great UK studio cull of the early PS2 era – 20 studios went bust in the space of 18 months I think; essentially because they all moved to PS2 too early) as the AI programmer on a racing game. As AI is so crucial to the player experience in racing games, I eventually ended up moving sideways back into design there and became the design manager for the company until it went bust. After that, I was a founding member of FreeStyleGames in 2003, focussing on triple-A console dev and we went from a team of six at the start to 150-ish in 2010, with a corresponding narrowing of individual focus.

In 2010, I went indie and now am a jack of all trades more than I ever was before, doing all the tedious admin of running a company, managing external relationships, finding paid work, and making my own game in-between.

What does the role involve?

Essentially, any behaviour that any non-human controlled entity in a game does can fall under the umbrella of AI. This ranges anywhere from choosing the correct animations to play when an entity is moving about, through steering to avoid or intercept objects, planning movement through environments, making decisions about tactical, strategic planning and decision making, and even stuff like dynamically changing the music, difficulty level, etc, in response to the player’s actions in the game. The broad remit of the area means that ultimately even within “AI programmers” there are sub-categories and specialisms determined by the kind of games the particular programmer has worked on and their specific needs – for example, the AI in a racing game is very different to the AI in a fighting game, or in an RTS.

For many genres, AI programmers form a bridge between game design and programming, often working closely with designers to enable the game’s vision and allow the designers access to highly customisable AI behaviours so that the set-up work involved in creating and tuning the AI can be parallelised out across multiple team members. I inadvertently specialised in racing game AI which – to do a good job of it – requires a solid understanding of physics, engineering control systems, and human psychology. Ultimately, the code which runs a racing game AI is very much in the same ballpark as the code which steers something like a guided missile or the auto-drive tech in a Tesla.

Day-to-day, this involves lots of 3D maths, lots of thinking about possible solutions, lots of googling and trawling through maths / engineering books to find and learn new maths or new applications of maths you already know to solve problems. Like much triple-A programming, you’re typically solving problems that you don’t know how to solve until you start and so specific in nature that often no-one else will ever have solved them before you do.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

So in any game there are typically multiple layers of AI behaviour running simultaneously and collaboratively to achieve the end goal. In a racing game at a base level this has steering, calculating optimal racing lines, reacting appropriately to avoid other cars, then you might have a meta layers which worry about stuff like team members, grudges between drivers, and the individual ability characteristics of the drivers. The solution I came up with to steering the car at optimal speed around an optimal racing line involves calculus, physics, and a bunch of associated mathematical transformations of the 3D track data into different mathematical domains to enable simpler mathematical reasoning about the numbers involved.

Higher level behaviours such as perceiving the positions and velocities of other cars and the changes in direction of the track might be modelled by further mathematical transformations – for example, the driving AI I made has virtual “eyes” which respond to relative velocity and distance, enabling them to reason in a very natural human way about the other cars and how to avoid them, etc. Ultimately, I think game programmers are in many ways a modern embodiment of the mid-20th century mad inventor archetype like Professor Branestawn – tinkering away in secret, producing weird and interesting interactivity by throwing their own ideas in with all the esoteric bits of knowledge they can dredge from the internet.

Producer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

My name is Sally Blake, I worked at Ubisoft for six years. I started in QA and worked as a tester for about a year and a half before moving into a production role, and worked my way up from there. I’ve always loved video games and it was always my aim to work in the industry, so it’s been very cool to make it!

What does the role involve?

In terms of production, the main aim is to facilitate communication between development teams and ensure that whatever you are creating is on time, on budget, and at the best quality it can be. A lot of it is talking to people, removing any blockers and helping to solve issues. It’s different every day, which is what is so appealing about it, plus you can spend a lot of your day trying to help people which makes it very rewarding! Production is especially useful for big teams – especially if they are cross-studio or cross-discipline.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

In terms of responsibilities, you may be responsible for delivering a game or part of a game. Responsibilities can be split by discipline, by feature, or a mix of both – it really depends how you want to structure the team. If you are responsible for delivering a piece of content, you will usually have a cross discipline team. For example, the team I had on The Division had UI artists, tech artists, UI programming, gameplay programming, design, and QA. So I think you have to have an understanding of the synergies between disciplines, and you are there to help facilitate what they need from each other. You are also there to make production plans, update on progress, and identify and mitigate any project risk.

Principal combat designer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Clint Bundrick: I’ve been in the games industry for about 17 years now. I started in the ATG group of Microsoft in the Wild West days during the development of the original Xbox. I was initially a contract tester and when it came time to go off to college they offered me a full-time job to stay as a lead. Since then, I’ve worked at High Voltage, EA Tiburon, Volition, Irrational, and now I’m back at Microsoft. I’ve made everything from sports and racing games to first-person shooters and open-world action games. I’ve been in a variety of game design roles including systems design, mission scripting, world building, vehicle creation/tuning, multiplayer, combat and level design. I’m currently a design director.

What does the role involve?

One of my previous roles was that of a principal combat designer. The role of a principal combat designer is to work closely with the design director and/or creative director to establish a vision for the core combat experience and game loops. This person leads a multi-discipline team that is responsible, all up, for the quality of the core combat mechanics. This can vary greatly, depending on the genre, but it includes weapons, abilities, core systems, player progression, encounter creation, AI, animation, and level design. Basically, anything having to do with character actions and how they are used in the game runs through this team and this role.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

The principal combat designer has to be able to work with every discipline and every sub-group within the studio as a result. This person has to be able to sell a vision for the combat experience and make the team believe it’s going to be great. Principal combat designers often create a ‘combat bible’ to do this. The goal of the combat bible is to help the rest of the team understand the philosophy behind the desired combat experience and what to expect from the tools they will have to build it. It usually covers all of the character actions along with the enemy list and their expected behaviours. It also touches on encounter composition principals, weapons, and any other detail the team needs in order to wrap their heads around the game they’re making together. From there, this person leads the team responsible for the implementation, tuning, bug fixing and overall execution on all things combat.

Concept artist

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Anna Hollinrake: I studied Game Art at De Montfort University and I liked too much stuff, so I was pretty suited for indie development. I ended up in situations where I could both concept environments and then build them in 3D, which meant I could have a lot of ownership over the art style and tone. As time progressed, my work began to shift further toward concept art and visual development!

What does the role involve?

Research, sketching and painting! A lot of concept art is much less glamorous than the stuff you see released alongside games – it’s much scrappier and messier. You’re making something to communicate as quickly and clearly as possible what the final asset should look like, and so concepts can end up being a biro sketch on the back of some lined paper. It involves working closely with the designers and vision holders of the project to get the right mood and feel of the game or scene, and figuring out how to achieve that through the architectural styles, lighting, costume design – anything really.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

If there’s an important asset in a scene that doesn’t have a ‘look’ yet, I would talk to the designer about what they envision for it and then do some quick look and feel concepts that get the right mood and general silhouette. Then we’d have another chat and figure out the nitty gritty details of it, and possibly make another concept of the asset by itself in neutral lighting for a 3D artist to work from.

Systems designer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Alex Trowers: I started out as a tester / level designer for Bullfrog back in 1990. Powermonger was my first game but after that it was everything from Populous 2 up to Dungeon Keeper 2. I think systems designer is one of the most important roles on a project, but then of course I’m going to say that.

I firmly believe that the ‘how’ part of making a game is more important than the ‘why’ – this has come around from a lifetime of people coming up to me and saying that they’ve got a great idea for a game but then proceeding to tell me a story, rather than how the game plays and how they’re going to make it.

What does the role involve?

The systems designer needs to be able to come up with solutions to gameplay problems – how do the weapons work? how does the character jump or climb or use stamina or manipulate their inventory or cast spells or…

They then need to be able to communicate that design accurately and concisely to the rest of the team so that it can actually be implemented (this is often the hardest part).

You’ll generally find that being a systems designer is a lot more about writing documentation than it is about actually building stuff – certainly in the early parts of the project. Although finding a team that likes to build things from a data-driven perspective is an absolute godsend. Find yourself a coder that likes to expose variables and you’re away.

It also helps having an extensive library of games to play and an analytical approach to working out which bits of them worked and why. Even the bad games will help – sometimes it’s not all about ‘what not to do’ and they’ll have little details that you might want to crib off later. In short – play lots of games. Lots of different games. All of the games.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

As for specific stuff I’ve designed, I’d say things like the combat AI in Dungeon Keeper 2, the base operations in Gene Wars, the weapons system in Battle Engine Aquila (although that was an extension of the same system we used in Syndicate), and most recently the spell casting in our mobile series, Glyph Quest. Then, of course, there’s a whole bunch of projects with awesome systems that never saw the light of day for one reason or another
Particularly proud of the health, shotgun and zombie systems in City Of The Dead (an FPS from Kuju / Hip Interactive) and the charge / stun mechanic we were playing with for Champion’s Alliance (a MOBA from Black Rock / Disney).

Character artist

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

I’m Liz Edwards, I’m from the UK and I’m currently living in Montreal and working as a freelance artist. My journey into games started at Teesside University where I studied Computer Games Art. There, I started learning 3D for the first time and I realised my dream job was creating 3D characters.

I went on to do an MA in Video Game Development at Birmingham City University. The course was structured like a small game development studio with students taking on specialised roles – I focussed on character art – and working together to create a PS4 vertical slice. From there, I got hired as a trainee character artist at Creative Assembly. I worked for Creative Assembly for 2.5 years on Total War: Warhammer where I got to work on all kinds of weird characters and creatures!

What does the role of a character artist involve?

Character artists are responsible for the creation of the 3D characters in a video game. The exact responsibilities of a character artist will vary from project to project – for example, on a smaller team, they may need to take on extra responsibilities like rigging and animation, and on larger teams their focus might be on a smaller area, such as clothing or hair.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

On Total War: Warhammer, character artists were responsible for creating entire characters from start to finish, so I’ll go over that process:

First, we’re provided with concept art – when I made the Treekin, I got to work from this amazing concept by Rich Carey.

Then, the high resolution model is made. This Treekin was a very organic character so I was able to sculpt it entirely in ZBrush, but different kinds of character would require different approaches. Notice the multiple heads, arms and shoulder pieces – these are modular and will be mix-and-matched later to create visual variations within a unit.

Next is retopology – the process of making the low resolution model that will go in the game. Generally, it involves drawing a nice, clean mesh by hand over the high resolution sculpt. This turns a multiple-million poly mesh into something a game engine can happily handle. This low poly mesh will be the right shape, but it has none of that lovely surface detail. To get that back, the low poly needs to be UV unwrapped – basically, flattened out like a sewing pattern. Then, the details from the high resolution mesh can be baked onto texture maps that will be applied to the low resolution model.

The final step is texturing the model, adding colours and material definitions – this is the stage where the wood on the Treekin really started looking like wood – and really making the characters come to life.

Quest designer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

My name is Luke Botham, I’ve been in the industry for a little over five years now and I’m currently a level designer at Sumo Digital. I began as an intern at Guerrilla (Sony) Cambridge. Shortly after completing this and returning to Uni, I was contacted about another internship at Guerrilla Amsterdam helping out with the Greenlight of their new IP. Two days later, I was sat running around and getting to grips with Aloy and her world.

I returned to uni to finish my degree, but ultimately made the move back to the Netherlands to work at Guerrilla. At this stage, Horizon was still in pre-production so I was hired as a junior designer – we were very fortunate to be offered the chance to pick the direction we’d like to specialise in when the scale and team ramped up, and I ended up as a quest designer.

What does the role involve?

In essence, a quest designer is responsible for the creation and implementation of a quest (akin to a mission in other genres), but depending on the type they can also be heavily involved with the concept and narrative. For something like a main quest, the majority of it is first dictated by the writers who have a specific vision for what they want to convey. As a designer, you’ll then take this information and try to break it down into different gameplay chunks and suggest where other bits can be implemented.

A large part of this discussion is often about what is conveyed through a cinematic (which has the strength of ensuring the player sees the story you are trying to tell) and through gameplay (which the player might not approach in the manner you intended and can miss potentially key information). There are times where initially small inconsequential pieces will grow into more complex areas that need a large amount of time dedicated to them.

For a side quest, the story brief is generally a lot simpler and more of a rough guide for you to fill in the blanks – simply a jumping off point to get the tone and direction on the right track. There are also times that you might approach all this the other way and come up with a cool concept or setup that you can then working with the writers to justify narratively. Horizon features examples of all of these approaches.

Narrative lead

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Anna Megill: I’ve been in the industry for almost fifteen years now, working mostly as a writer and narrative designer. I got my start in QA at a small studio called Cyberlore, then worked on Hasbro’s Littlest Pet Shop online game before moving to Seattle and a job at Nintendo.

Writing was my obvious interest and skill, so I volunteered to write any text the game needed: ad copy, UI text, game manuals, you name it. I started at ArenaNet as a QA Editor for the original Guild Wars, but quickly transitioned into a writing role on Guild Wars 2. Since then, I’ve worked on stories for Airtight/Square Enix, Ubisoft, Arkane, and a bunch of small indies. Now, I’m narrative lead at Remedy Entertainment, working on P7.

What does the role involve? Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

I’ve learned that titles mean different things at different companies, but at Remedy “narrative lead” means I own the story for P7. Sam Lake is our creative director and is the vision-holder for the project, so I make sure the project stays true to that vision. I’m loremaster and taskmaster rolled into one. I supervise a team of writers and narrative designers and help them realise the characters and map out the plot.

I coordinate with other teams – art, design, audio, programming, QA, etc – to make sure that our work flows together. Story is an important element of Remedy games, so everything needs to fit together seamlessly. But the job isn’t just management. I’ll write dialogue, lore documentation like our story bible, trailers, give notes and feedback, go to VO sessions and brief actors on their roles, and help process scripts as they go through the narrative pipeline. In short, my role is making sure that every element of the game works with the story we’re telling.

Physics game programmer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

I’m Ale Cámara (pronounced like Alex without the ‘x’), a Spanish physics game programmer. As a kid I didn’t know I could work as a game programmer, so I studied physics instead of computer science or game development. After a MSc in Theoretical Physics, I finished a PhD in Optics.

During my PhD I discovered that I didn’t see myself in the future working as a researcher – it’s a long and unstable career. At the same time, I was spending most of my spare time learning how to make games. After some hesitation, I applied for a position as physics software engineer at EA in Guildford, UK. During three happy years I enjoyed working for multiple triple-A titles within the Frostbite Physics team and learning the ropes of robust, high-performance, high-quality, and scalable C++ code. In the last two years I’ve been a game programmer in Ustwo games, where I’m collaborating with amazing creative humans.

What does the role involve?

A physics software engineer or physics game programmer, is a programmer that specialises in physics. A big chunk of what physics means for games is collisions between game objects. By using physics laws to control the collisions, we can get a level of fidelity with real life that makes the game world believable. Without physics, or with low-detail physics, the game world breaks, and thus player immersion. A common example of this is ‘clipping’, eg when a character limb goes unimpeded through an apparently solid wall. Apart from collision, other game systems also fall into physics, such as water, wind, cloth, ballistics, destruction, etc.

As physics software engineer, you mainly work in three different types of problems. One is to design and implement simulations of physical situations that provide the maximum level of realism allowed by the CPU budget allocated for the game. This is high-efficiency and high-quality code that will be executed at runtime. For example, collisions between characters that hit each other (FIFA, or NFL), or buoyancy and water wave simulation (Battlefield series).

You also design and implement workflows for designers and technical artists so they can create offline assets that are consumed by the physics simulation at runtime. This usually involves some high-level language like C# and UX. Most common example is the workflow for creating cloth for character suits and character hair.

Physics software engineers are also best suited to fix physics bugs, eg when framerate drops as certain objects collide, or when a character is falling through the ground in certain area. In this situation, you often become a consultant for an external team, working closely with them to solve the problem.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

One of the responsibilities that I enjoyed the most in EA was supporting the character physics of Mass Effect: Andromeda. There was a specialised team for character physics in BioWare Montreal. They fully designed, tested, and extended the character movement system. But sometimes a low-level physics bug appeared or the character would behave incorrectly in a normal situation or the frame rate would drop in certain scenarios. That’s when I could help the most.

The routine was: get a description of the problem with steps to reproduce it (or a record of the physical simulation to analyse); reproduce the problem myself; analyse the physical simulation step by step, sometimes painfully stepping frame by frame with the debugger, very rarely having to actually print floats in the standard output or a file for later analysis; construct in my mind a model of the situation that produces the bug and test if it’s correct; come out with a solution to the problem and test that it actually fixes the bug; intensively test the fix (with the help of external QA teams) to make sure it doesn’t introduce new bugs somewhere else; explain inners of the problem and the solution to the BioWare team so they can take the fix home.

This experience was very rewarding because you get challenged with difficult and obscure problems, but also because you get to tightly collaborate with amazing people in many different game projects.

Writer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Charlene Putney: I have a Masters degree in Near Eastern Languages, and ended up working in Google after university. After four years there, I ended up in Facebook on the product team. I worked in Facebook for three years, before leaving in 2013 to write a fantasy novel. I moved into the games world from there, and have been with Larian Studios for three years now.

What does the role involve? Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

A little bit of everything! Depending on the day, I write core story, create characters, design scenarios, write dialogues… and an infinity of other things, including item tooltips, skill descriptions, marketing content, and liaising with all departments to ensure we are all on the same page.

Technical director

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

My Name is Sean Davies. I was a big gamer as a kid but I never really considered it as a career till about the last year of university. We had a Quake LAN in our student house and I found myself spending a lot of my time writing little mods to amuse my housemates – I got a bit addicted

My first industry Job was junior programmer at Gremlin in Sheffield (England) in 1999, working on franchises like Men in Black and Superman. I was then one of four programmers in the original 12 staff at Sumo Digital in 2003. We did a lot of work for Sega (Outrun 2, Virtua Tennis 3, Sonic, and Sega All Stars Racing). My first job as technical director was LittleBigPlanet 3. I’m now working at Rare on Sea of Thieves and whatever comes next

What does the role involve?

Technical director is a fairly new role in the industry so individual companies have their own requirements, but broadly it’s a higher level, more business-focused version of the lead programmer role.

I still do some hands on programming but the meat of my job is in meeting with other members of the leadership team from, for example, design, art, marketing, and production to decide on the overall direction for the game and then make sure that that direction is communicated clearly to the programming team.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

There are often decisions which make absolute sense from a full company perspective which look like bad or stupid decisions from the point of view of a single team. That tends to mean that individual tasks get done in ways which don’t help towards the overall goal. My job is to do my best to anticipate where these issues might occur and talk to the engineers involved to make sure they understand the requirements from everywhere else in the business that their work will affect. This helps them to make the right decisions at implementation time and means that we don’t end up with wasted work or disagreements between the departments and the overall product is of the highest possible quality.

Lead social media manager

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Grace Carroll: My first job was actually in music and entertainment journalism, and at the time I didn’t even know that social media managers existed! I thought all ‘games industry jobs’ were for programmers and involved a lot of coding, and I’d never managed to get to grips with anything close to the skills needed for that. I was managing the social media for a couple of the websites I wrote for and wondering what I wanted to do in the future when I started watching Rooster Teeth videos. That’s how I found out about Barbara Dunkelman, who was the social media manager at the time. It opened up my eyes to the industry and the fact there could be a place for me and that I could combine my current skills with my passion for games.

Following this realisation, I applied for a community manager job at Jagex – and I got it! I worked on the now-defunct Transformers Universe game before briefly spending some time at an agency to improve my social media skills. When the job came up at Creative Assembly, it seemed ideal – and I was lucky enough to get it. All in all, I now have about three years’ experience in the games industry, and about five or six in social media and community management. In fact, I’ve recently been promoted to lead social media manager, taking on the responsibility of team management.

What does the role involve?

A lot! One of the reasons I love it is because it encompasses so much – but that also means it can be hard to describe. There’s the basic every day activities of updating our social media platforms, which involves looking at all of the planned Total War activity, curating our communications in line with our Total War tone of voice, strategising on timings and additional supporting assets like artwork or videos. I attend events, and I also spend a lot of time listening to the community, engaging with their feedback and making sure this goes back to our development teams. I come up with long and short term strategies, keep up to date on what else is happening in both social media and games industry news, and as a lead, I also manage the rest of my team and make sure we all know what’s going on with each other.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

One of the things I enjoy most that I’m responsible for is setting the tone and style of the Total War social media presence. We have a fantastic community that’s really fun to engage with and having that responsibility is not only huge, but something that’s always interesting and keeps me on my toes.

Senior services engineer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

I’m Oli Wilkinson, I work at Rare as a senior services engineer, where I’ve been for the past two years. As you may know, we just shipped Sea of Thieves, so it’s an exciting time for us due to our game being played by real players.

Previously to that I worked at Ubisoft, Rare (yes, I went back!) and Lionhead. In total I have six years of professional gamedev experience (joined the biz in 2012), but I’ve been a professional programmer since 2003/4. My focus and specialism has shifted significantly throughout my career.

Before that, I was a hobby game programmer all through my teens and early 20s. I’m entirely self taught; although I did go to Uni – I studied business and IT project management!

What does the role involve?

My role involves writing low level infrastructure code (storage libraries, networking libraries, security & authentication, etc) and turning them into gameplay-facing cloud services to support player experiences outside of the game. Most of this code is written in C# and hosted on the Microsoft Azure platform. In addition to writing these services, I also integrate them into the game which involves providing SDK-like APIs in C++ for Unreal 4.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

In terms of things I’m specifically responsible for, you’ll see my hand in a lot of things that people never really notice until they go wrong. Examples include: online authentication with Sea of Thieves, matchmaking, commerce & store systems, configuration, build & deployment systems for the game, etc. As my job is primarily in online, the role has shifted into a different gear now we have real players, so lately it’s dealing with things to optimise the player experience – improving performance of systems, optimising storage and generally keeping things running tip top.

I love my job and the work we do; like I said, you often don’t see my work until something ‘goes wrong’, so I really enjoy keeping things running smoothly for our players – if they’re not having problems about things I have a hand in, I feel good about that.

I often refer to my role as something analogous to tools crossed with engine crossed with operations. We’re low level, we’re in the background, but the game wouldn’t be the same without the stuff we do. The real challenge comes into the role when you launch, all the guesses and assumptions are all tested with millions of players. It certainly keeps you on your toes!

Marketing manager

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

I’m Haley Uyrus, the marketing manager at Failbetter Games. In a previous life I was a graphic designer in the States for big companies like Hasbro and Staples.

Knowing I wanted to switch into an industry with more narrative, and a job where people were happy to come to work each day, I decided to do an MA in Game Design & Theory at Brunel University. I tried and failed at getting my first game job in the four months the UK gives foreign students to find placement with fewer visa restrictions. I was doing a lot of 2D freelance projects for some of our professors like Tanya Krzywinska and Steve Jackson (the one who worked with Ian Livingstone and Peter Molyneux).

I then had to go back to America for a time but was still entirely determined to work in the UK games industry as it had a much nicer community feel than the US one. I went back to the UK to get an MBA in Creative Industries Management, and combined my marketing skills from my previous graphic design jobs to learn more about business – of course, with a games focus. At this time I was also a QA and production intern for Mediatonic.

The second time around I was more prepared for what game companies were looking for and managed to get a job as a marketing manager at BeefJack Promote, a small company that did marketing and PR for indies – they also had their own game studio branch so sometimes I got to help with the writing and design. It was a small company and so I also did all sorts of other roles like business development and even finance for a time.

When I felt I needed to move on to learn more, I was extremely elated to receive a job offer from Failbetter Games.

What does the role involve?

At an indie studio? Everything. In triple-A they’d have marketing and PR as separate roles – departments even. For Failbetter, my role comprises of marketing strategy, PR, social media, event management, advertising, community management, and even using my graphic design skills to art direct trailers and to create all our marketing assets.

Marketing is essentially doing a lot of research and testing to make sure you know the most efficient way to make the right people (the people who are going to buy your game) see that your product exists. In a crowded and still growing market, that means working from conception to launch and even post launch.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

In the beginning stages I do market research, competitor analysis, product analysis and identify who’s our right audience and where they exist. I check and make sure our price is the right fit, that our name is Google-able and not taken by another game or even product in another industry.

From there, a marketing strategy can be laid out along with campaign plans for different stages (announcement, preview, review, post-launch etc). Concurrently, I work to grow our community and keep those who have joined interested in our progress. I also create and implement paid advertising campaigns, social and fan competitions, and host development blogs on Twitch.

Each game is different, and it’s important to keep up to date with current industry trends and the market itself (imagine how much my job has changed since Steam Greenlight was done away with!).

Software engineer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Blaine Hodge, formerly worked in the triple-A game industry, now indie and VR/AR developer. Worked at EA and Rockstar, NBA Live 2003, March Madness, Bully, and some time on Skate.

What does the role involve?

Software engineer involves building the tech that goes into the game and is used by other developers on the team. So rendering, physics, etc, including tools used by artists.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

One (favourite) specific example was building the AI systems that allowed characters to have snowball fight in Bully. So running around behind cover and throwing snowballs at each other.

Build engineer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Ross McKinley: I’m a software engineer from Dublin, Ireland. Making games was always an interest of mine, but I’m not involved in the creative process. I started off engineering as an intern in at IBM at 23, which is when I got into build engineering, and looking into optimising how the organisation works. Then I moved to DIGIT Gaming at 25 where I designed and built a continuous release pipeline for the ambitious project they’re working on, and was involved in designing and building and running a reliable global network of servers for a MMO mobile game. That’s when I moved to EA Dice, where I am now, to work on Star Wars and the next games that Dice has in the pipeline. I’m still in the build engineering space, although I’m a fair deal more senior now.

What does the role involve?

The role of the build engineer is to enable the rest of the company to make the product. You’re responsible for shipping the product to players, as well as getting different versions of the game to each of the stakeholders inside the company: testers, developers, creatives, outsourcing companies. Usually you’re someone who views the world as a series of interconnected systems. You have a radical impact on the effectiveness and productivity of the entire company.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

There are a lot of different responsibilities involved with being a build engineer. Your primary goals are to enable the game team to produce builds. Those builds are then given to other developers and creatives, QA, automated testing, producers and executives, internal play tests, external events, and eventually into the hands of players.

The secondary goal is to do all of this as fast as possible and in a reliable way: if the build breaks because anyone has introduced a bug, the systems that the build engineer(s) build should quickly identify when and where that bug was introduced. The third goal is then to analyse the workflow of every team, and to optimise that. A build engineer has the unique visibility of how every other team interacts, and a responsibility to reduce the friction there as much as possible. Build engineers are force multipliers for the rest of the production team. If we can save five minutes from some process that everyone does a couple times per day that can quickly add up to thousands of hours of productivity saved.

It’s normally the build engineer who makes sure the game is packaged correctly for first parties: Apple, Google, Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Steam, and any other providers of a platform – they all have different requirements. Right now, I’m working on a system where every creative or developer can test their changes centrally before pushing them out to the rest of the company. We make a build and give early feedback to the creator so that only validated changes enter the system and get pushed out to the rest of the team. A bad change (what we call a build failure) can stop production for hours or even days before a fix is made, so stopping these changes from entering the system is crucial to the productivity of the entire organisation.

Associate brand manager

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Lori Forder: I’ve only really been in the games industry for just over a year. Until then I’d worked in television production for just under five years and before that I’d worked in sales for Gamestation for two years. I started as lead community manager at Creative Assembly and ten months later moved over into brand management where I’ve been for three months.

What does the role involve?

Brand managers are essentially project managing the marketing plans for whichever title they work on. We plan out marketing hits and pull all the various teams together (devs, community, cinematics, PR) to make it all happen. As associate I’m on the lower level of responsibility for that as I learn the role, but I work alongside the senior brand manager to plan and pull hits together, decide on product packaging and feed back on all marketing assets.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

We’re pretty much responsible for everything the public see of our game before release, but examples of things I do are write product copy for the Steam page, give feedback and approvals on all videos and images before they go out, plan out trailers with cinematics, design the back of packaging. It’s pretty varied.

Junior engine programmer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Iker Gimenez Bilbao: I’m a junior engine programmer at Ubisoft Barcelona. This is my first professional experience in the industry. I started here as a junior gameplay programmer working on Rainbow Six Siege. When a new project arrived at the studio, I was offered to change departments because the profile on my resumé is closer to that of an engine programmer.

What does the role involve?

As a junior engine programmer, I’m expected to have a wide amount of knowledge about how things work under the hood inside the game. I’m also expected to be able to extend its capabilities and to improve its stability. Major new features are usually handled by senior team members. Other stuff that I have done is update engine middleware, diagnose and fix crashes, and provide support to the other departments.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

One of the more interesting tasks I’ve done is update and configure the crash handler of our engine. Since we’re adding new functionality and changing older parts, new issues arise when other devs use those tools. A good way to centralise and work towards stabilising the engine is to have automated crash reporting. Instead of having to take over another dev’s machine to look at a crash, you get sent a snapshot of the program state at the moment of the crash. At Ubisoft, there’s more sophisticated tracking and information gathering, such as a screenshot of the engine when it crashes, automated count of occurrences, etc.

Project assistant

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Nick Taylor: My current job at Ubisoft Reflections is actually my first role in the industry. I spent a few years after my undergraduate degree applying for any job in the industry I could find but in retrospect, didn’t really know what I was looking for as I had no experience. In 2017 I graduated with a Masters degree in video game design and production which gave me the benefit of experiencing a studio environment and working on both a mobile title (Nanovault) and an unreleased PlayStation 4 project. From there, I went straight to Ubisoft

What does the role involve?

For the most part, the role involves tasks and responsibilities that facilitate the dev team; focusing on supporting the teams logistical needs – organising meetings, ensuring action points are followed up on etc, but the role also puts me in the position of scrum master. This means conducting daily scrum standup meetings – but also conducting sprint planning, review, retrospectives, and everything involved with them. Finally, on a day to day basis, the role involves monitoring and constant maintenance of the teams backlog tasks and use of Jira to track each persons sprint by sprint progress.

Can you give me a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

One thing I’m responsible for is tracking the workload vs allocation of each individual developer working on my assigned feature from both sprint to sprint, and on a project long basis; allowing for estimations of project deliverables across each discipline and highlighting of dependencies, then communicating that information to senior production.

UI artist

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

I’m Rich Warner and I have been a UI artist, as an official job title, for five years now. My background is in Flash and motion graphics as well as graphic design. I’m a massive gamer so working in the industry is a good fit. I have previously worked in the graphic and web industry and hated it pretty instantly.

What does the role involve?

My job currently sees me build UI concepts for menus/huds based on the game’s design and its game design document. There are a lot of other disciplines involved like production/design and mostly code as they have to rig it all up.

It’s a role that can be very demanding as it’s not as grounded as say an environment artist. I could be tasked to come up with the core wireframe of a menu flow to the full animation of UI elements, so you have to be flexible and good with conversations with the previously mentioned parties. Sometimes explaining to code on their level, yet explaining to production in their terms on what happened with this feature or that feature.

UI relies heavily on compliance and guidelines set by MS/Sony/Nintendo. We have to bear these factors in mind from the start with wireframes to testing so the game will actually be published. This can be how often something flashes on the screen to yield epilepsy concerns to the iconography/imagery used for buttons or controllers. All these factors are well documented, but finding out certain items are of course behind NDAs. Also important is making sure that the layout and designs made are good for multiple languages. But that all fits in the same umbrella.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

For my skillset in particular, I would spend a lot of time building animated mockups of menu sequences/transitions or design ideas before it goes into full implementation.

Technical artist

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

My name is Nick Uttley and I worked a number of years in the games industry following my studies at university in games art. I started from the bottom working as a games tester for some time, working on multiple titles on multiple devices for long hours. Eventually, I managed to succeed in my application as a tech artist.

What does the role involve?

Tech art is a complicated role and changed over time between the two offices I worked at. Initially I was working at TT Fusion where they primarily worked on the handheld Lego titles. The role was primarily focused around optimising the full Lego props from the console, baking them down in to single mesh assets from full 3D Lego builds. Additionally, we would build the levels in terms of placing all the props built, triggering all the interactions, writing all the scripts and events, and ensuring the player can make it from start to finish in a level. We also built bespoke props and optimised them down much the same as the props from console. These would have to be animated and set up for scripting much the same as everything else.

The TL;DR: we placed and created everything in a level that isn’t the level art itself. Created all the cameras and animations that were not character animation and ensured the player could go from beginning to end. We would also set up everything from all other departments such as VFX character level art and so on.

Narrative designer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

My name’s Sophie Mallinson, I’m currently working as a narrative designer at Arkane Studios.

My first gigs in the video game industry were as a freelancer, initially specialising in English localisation before purposefully gravitating towards roles that directly impacted the story, such as editing, proofreading, and narrative consulting. Last year I completed a four-month internship at Arkane Lyon, which eventually led to them hiring me full-time. That was my first experience in triple-A.

It’s also worth noting that throughout my erratic education and sparse freelance gigs, I’ve also worked a bunch of mundane part-time jobs (supermarket cashier, fast food employee) while writing about games for online publications and making my own tiny games in my spare time.

What does the role involve?

A narrative designer’s job description can vary a lot from studio to studio, but generally speaking, their role is to champion story throughout the development process. Some narrative designers are focused on writing, some are more techy or design-oriented, many are all those at once.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

On an average workday, I will write both UI text and dialogue lines, help define the fiction of a video game and integrate “story” assets directly into the game world. For example, if I want a certain book to appear on a certain character’s bedside table because that supports the narrative, I can open up the editor and place it there myself. I also might be required to cast and direct voice actors, script NPC dialogue, or take part in “high level” brainstorms about core concepts of the game.

Working at a big studio also involves a lot of talking with other members of the team, from artist to programmers to level designers, to ensure their work supports the narrative and vice-versa.

I can’t say that my job as an intern differed that much from my job now, but it was a great way for me to get acquainted with Arkane’s tools and process while simultaneously demonstrating my skills.

Senior technical artist

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Hello I’m Luke Maskell, and I’ve been in the games industry ten years or so now. I’ve been making games/mods since I was a teenager. I used to make Counter-Strike maps for me and my friends before I realised I could do this for a living. So I went to University to study games design.

First job was at a small time indie unit called Gusto Games where I was a junior artist. During my three years there I began to specialise in the more technical side of games art development. I spent the next six years at Sony Cambridge, working on Killzone Mercenary for the PS Vita and Rigs for PSVR. I have since moved on to join Frontier Developments, now working on Jurassic World: Evolution.

What does the role involve?

As a senior technical artist, I am embedded within the animation team. (Some studios would call this a technical animator, but it differs company to company). I develop animation rigs, (skeletal puppets) that the animation team will use to do all the fancy animator work. We are also responsible for asset integration in the game. So, stuff comes through to us from asset artists (character artists, for example), then we both set it up for the animators and do all the other stuff to make it work in-game as it should, (physics, ragdolls, etc).

This is about 60% of my job. The other 40% is tools development so we can improve our pipelines.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

At the moment, I’m working on some Maya-Python tools for our animation riggers, but I rigged a whole bunch of dinosaurs for Jurassic World: Evolution.

Tech artists are also usually the front-line firefighters when stuff starts to go bang in weird ways. Because tech-artists very often come from a cross-discipline background and will end up with fingers in many pies, they end up with a better overview of how all the game assets and code systems fit together, hence why we end up fixing nasty problems (during the last three months Killzone: Mercenary I would have a fucking queue at my desk of people asking for assistance with some stuff or other, this was not fun). But all in all, I love being in games dev – many, many great, talented people out here.

Composer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Gavin Harrison: I’m a composer / sound designer who’s been working within the games industry for approximately eight years now. I’ve been composing all my life, being mostly self taught from an early age (save a few lessons on the church organ). Aside from my work in games, I also work as a composer for TV / film, mostly via Audio Network, which has allowed me the opportunity to record at Abbey Road.

I’ve worked across several different platforms, and have long standing collaborations with developers such as Orangepixel and Robotality.

What does the role involve?

My role as a composer can involve wearing many hats, but usually all in the audio ring! Generally I’m given free reign to have my own input into every project – after all, it’s not about getting a ‘good’ composer on board for a game, it’s about getting the right composer. Of course, developers will have their own thoughts on the music, but I’ve yet to work with anybody who hasn’t been open to hear new ideas.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

I’ve been responsible for the composing of the music, finding / hiring any session players where the budget allows, and production and mastering duties on any music. The production / mastering side is particularly important when it comes to giving the player a consistent experience that won’t break the atmosphere of what they may be playing.

I would also say the whole audio tone of a game can be my responsibility as a composer, so making the right instrument choices. A good example might be the game ‘Light’ I worked on for Just A Pixel, where everything was purposely chosen to feel digital to match the rest of the game. Another example, the choices made for the upcoming game ‘Pathway’ (Robotality) give the feel of an epic desert explorer style movie.

Quality assurance

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Anon:Work history is just mundane bar and retail jobs before I graduated from University, then joined Rockstar QA. I like video games beyond all reason, finding every wee bit interesting no matter how weird. Probably sounds very boilerplate but I just love those wee tricks devs use to make mechanics work (a lot of trees in older games are just 2d rotating sprites that constantly face you, evident while flying in Far Cry 3 and you look down), or engine quirks.

What does the role involve?

The role involved testing along a test sheet of basic scenarios they knew would throw bugs, and keeping an eye out for anything happening otherwise. Because it was open world GTA Online, we’d use a cheat menu to gift ourselves the shit we needed to test, but sometimes that would birth bugs of their own. Also had to be aware of what others were doing in the server, as we live tested with a couple of separate QA teams. Had to keep track of a bonkers amount of info at once.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

A specific responsibility might be handling payments after sell missions. You tool up your business to have X product, then you get other testers to go do the mission while you note all the variables (product being sold, from where, mission difficulty, how many players in server, if any product gets damaged/lost), then trawl through the figures given to us by design on how much those missions should pay out, to make sure the correct amount is taken. Notepads, spreadsheets and shouting across the room to keep track of it all, and a keen eye needed to see any wacky behaviour happening.

Developer relations

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

I’m Byron Atkinson-Jones and I’m currently a so-called indie developer but I worked in the triple-A for a number of years, starting in 1997 at a company called SN Systems who made the SDKs that game devs used to make games for the PlayStation One and Nintendo 64. While there, I came up with a tool to solve a problem I was having writing the device drivers for the SDKs and I called it Target Manager. Little did I know this tool would go on to be used by every PlayStation developer to make their games (Sorry!)

Through my career I’ve had many different roles at many different companies such as Sega SI, Lionhead Studios, and the roles varied from coder, senior coder, lead coder and even a producer at one point. But the role I loved the most was developer relations at EA.

What does the role involve?

EA is very large company and they have their own dedicated tools and technology department where they made everything needed to develop games from simple API to handle specific tasks in code to full blown game engines. One of the tools they made was a system called Apt. Apt was a tool used in games to provide them with their UI – this included in-game HUD, the main menu, etc. Apt was based around Flash in that the artist would design the UI in Flash and the game would display it correctly in game. It was used in a number of games including the Harry Potter series, FIFA and NHL, to name a few. I had experience developing Flash players and Flash games, so EA hired me to go into teams to show them how to use Flash in their games and to support their use of Apt, from training them to solving any bugs they found using the system.

The Apt team was based out of EA Tiburon in Florida and I was stationed in EA Sports Core in Burnaby, Vancouver, but the role meant me travelling to the studios the teams were based in, mostly in Vancouver. I’d get a call, and within an hour I’d be travelling to the studio to deal with whatever issue they had. It meant I got to see the development of a lot of different games and I was in high demand because I was the only worldwide dev relations for Apt in the whole of EA. That also brought a lot of pressure.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

There was one bug in one of the games on the PS2 that only manifest itself if you went into the pause menu 13 times, at which point the game would crash. It was one of EA’s biggest titles, so it was important to nail this one. To do this, I would act as a middle man between the team developing the game and the team developing Apt. It involved a lot of communicating the issue to the Apt team and then relaying the status to the very worried game team. I would have to get to know both code bases really well to do this as I would be embedded into the game team until it was solved, getting my hands dirty with their code. I loved it.

3D animator

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

I’m Aron Durkin and I’ve been an animator in the games industry for 11 years. I was always a fan of games and any medium that can tell interesting stories with characters we as an audience can care about.

I got a general Animation / VFX degree in University, after which I was lucky to work on a known property – Broken Sword: The Director’s Cut – as a contract 3D animator for a year. Then I got a job at Blitz Games Studios as a junior animator. I cut my teeth at Blitz for six years on various console and mobile titles, including some awesome Disney & Dreamworks characters, until it went under in 2013. The day after which my old colleague Mike Bithell contacted me about being the animator for his second game, Volume.

As a freelance animator I worked on many titles after we shipped Volume, the last of which was Q.U.B.E. 2 by Toxic Games. In 2016, myself and another animator, James Childs, started an animation company (Super Spline Studios) where we service the expanding market for flexible, remote animation bandwidth. We’re currently working on various projects including Dulac & Fey: Dance of Death with Salix Games.

What does the role involve?

It can vary. Sometimes we are given a “digital puppet” to animate with from a technical animator, and sometimes we make them ourselves. Then we try to fulfill the design and artistic goals of the game while making the characters as appealing as possible while making sure player experience always comes first. Sometimes we get a lot of creative freedom for what a character is doing or – often, more importantly, how it’s doing those things. Sometimes we have a very strict brief and we work from storyboards / video reference or we edit, clean up, and amplify motion capture.

Sometimes we make “standard” gameplay stuff like runs walks and more functional things, and sometimes we get to do elaborate cinematic cutscenes. Every day is a new challenge, we just try to make it look good to watch, feel good to play, and keep the style, tone, and quality consistent throughout projects that last months with multiple animators working on them. An animator should really have autonomy and accountability for their work, so that means also getting it into the game, deciding how it should play with your other animations, generally test things and polish or bug fix, which can be the day-to-day of most positions in the industry really.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

I’ll use an example from animating cutscenes for Volume. We had a mega talented storyboard artist on our team, so I’d look at the storyboard animatic and read the script, maybe I’d ask the director some questions. I listen to the voice performance over and over and over again. I figure out what the tone of the scene is, what the point of the shot is, what the characters are trying to say, the subtext, feel out the best performance for that, and then I act it out on camera. I act it out about 20, 30 times, basically as many times as it needs until I feel confident with it. Then get my Maya file open and start animating! The final stage is sending everything through for review and hoping that they’re happy with it.

Environment artist

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Brett Lewis: Wanting to make games since I was a teen, I poured my time into the area that interested me the most which was the worlds great stories were told in. Early 2012, I started working for Just Add Water on the Oddworld franchise, which for a first job in the industry was a dream come true. From there I explored freelance and then created a company with like-minded professionals met along the way. I’m currently an environment/ level artist at Fat Kraken Studios, working on Oddworld: Soulstorm.

What does the role involve?

As an environment artist, the role can differ between projects and companies. Sometimes it will involve creating environment assets to build the world – these can range from modular kits (like buildings, hallways) to unique epic hero pieces (think of the awesome set pieces you see in modern games).

The other side of the role can include world and level building, which means taking the assets and working with the level designers to portray the gameplay in the best possible way and give the world an artistic touch through composition, lighting, colour, and more.

Day-to-day an environment artist will work closely with game designers, level designers, art directors and other artists, all of which help balance art and design to create the best experience for the player.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

Through my career I’ve found responsibilities on environment artists can vary a lot. I’ve worked on 3D models, animation, particle effects, post FX. While there are roles for all of these, I think having even a basic knowledge in these areas is great for an environment artist to have as they will be closest to working with the scenes and trying to achieve the best possible look.

For me right now, my responsibilities mainly revolve around a bit of asset creation, level art and lighting. I will also regularly check into environment artist tech mode which is a sanity check on performance and optimisation so engineers don’t hunt me down!

Senior animator

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Jack Ebensteiner: I started working professionally in 2010 as an animation intern at Visceral Games. Currently, I’m a senior animator at Santa Monica Studio and we’ve just shipped God of War. Prior to that, I’ve been both contractor and staff across several studios, working on projects such as Black Ops 3, The Last of Us, and BioShock Infinite.

What does the role involve?

It’s a lot like playing with digital action figures. Very generally, it means bringing static characters to life. That can mean keying character motion by hand, using motion capture data as a base to start from, or most often a combination of the two. It can also involve any motion required by props, vehicles, and environments.

Before the actual animating takes place, lead and senior animators will usually be involved in the character creation process, providing feedback and voicing needs and concerns. That feedback is to ensure that characters aren’t designed or modeled with qualities that inhibit any motion they’ll need to be performing. Animators also work with character tech artists so that the character rigs (the skeleton and control structure that animators manipulate to pose and move characters) have the necessary features and are as user-friendly as possible.

After rigs are (mostly) settled, an animator will work with designers and programmers to prototype out systems, narrative beats, and the personality for all of the characters. As ideas are added to, trimmed down, and solidified, those prototypes are then refined by polishing hand-keyed work or shooting motion capture for editing and polish.

The responsibilities of an animator outside of doing the actual animation work will vary from studio to studio. Some teams need the animator to solely animate, while others will also require the implementation of the animations into the engine – usually through a structural organisation UI that also controls states, blend times, and compression. In smaller studios, animators may also be required to do some scripting to more specifically implement their animations into their in-game context.

There are also narrative/cinematic focused animators that will carry out any non-playable sequences in service of the game’s story.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

I’ve been mostly responsible for gameplay/interactive animations in my previous projects. That means on Black Ops 3, directing motion capture shoots, taking that mocap data and creating full weapon sets including idles, starts, stops, cycles, jumps, reactions, slides, reloads, fires, etc, for standing, crouch, prone, and swimming stances. On The Last of Us, I worked primarily on in-game cinematics, which meant somewhere in-between full gameplay and cinematics, leaning towards the former. It could be anything from a custom one-off opening a jammed door to a full 30 second scene involving six characters and a horse. For God of War, I focused a lot of my time on the son character. That meant working with combat design to determine and create what sorts of attacks he could perform and when. It also meant creating a lot of non-combat personality building animations he’ll do to interact with the environment and to generally be a normal person.

Beyond that, there are lots of miscellaneous things that animators can be responsible for, like posing characters for marketing images or UI menu animations.

Game development is inherently extremely collaborative. Animation is often one of the most collaborative in the process as it sits in the middle of the pipeline and so influences and is influenced by many other departments. It is constantly fascinating and demanding, with endless creative challenges that lend themselves to a lot of face time with your coworkers. And that time often involves jumping around and flailing your arms to demonstrate your ideas.

Senior PR manager

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Tom Goldberger: My journey into communications and the games industry began in 2010. Since joining the industry, I’ve had the privilege of working for Electronic Arts, across their shooter portfolio of titles (with Battlefield still being one of my all-time favourite series), represented King from an agency perspective, and, now, in my current role, as Senior PR Manager at Ubisoft UK.

I began my PR career as a publicist at EA, which gave me vast experience working across a number of triple-A franchises: Battlefield 3, Dead Space 2, Medal of Honor, and Bulletstorm to name but a few individual launches that I worked on. After three years working across boxed titles, I moved into the expansive world of mobile publishing as EMEA PR manager for EA Mobile. It was a very exciting time for the company and I was involved in the launch of a number of titles, including FIFA mobile and Real Racing 3. This proved an excellent move in terms of my natural progression and expanding my abilities. When it comes to marketing, launching products across traditional consoles in comparison to mobile platforms is a very different prospect and certainly requires a more bespoke skillset and tailored experience.

This led my career into an agency role. For anyone looking to move into a communication role, I would highly recommend gaining experience across both in-house and agency, in order to truly understand the varieties of publications and their individual requirements.

Which leads us to my current role at Ubisoft. I work across one side of the company’s portfolio of titles, leading on communications for a number of our franchises, with a main focus of my role seeing me working across the Assassin’s Creed franchise. I also maintain my mobile roots by working alongside our mobile team at Future Games of London, the creators of the Hungry Shark franchise, who are breaking incredible milestones on a daily basis.

I always aspired to be part of the games industry, but I wasn’t fully aware of the vast array of roles available across gaming. Traditionally, the roles that you would associate with gaming would predominantly have been on the dev/studio side, but there’s a real range of job opportunities across the publishing sector, whether that’s sales, events, brand management or communications – there really is a huge range of ways to enter the industry.

On a more personal note, I’m a huge film buff, aspiring script writer (not a very good one), lover of FPS and RTS titles and an amateur runner.

What does your role involve?

This is a question that I’m often asked by friends and acquaintances – and is the one that I find hard to cohesively answer in a short, elevator pitch scenario. Essentially, I handle communications for a range of products for the company, which sees me working alongside members of the media, dealing with first-party platform teams, and creating innovative, original campaigns for all my releases. But, personally speaking, the best part of my role is the real variety it offers. Working in communication requires you to be able to boast skills across a range of disciplines, which include campaign management/development, event management, asset creation and, most importantly, media relations. Essentially, my role is to create a platform for publications and individuals to experience our titles at various points throughout a title’s launch – and this process is continually evolving based on experience and the changing of the media landscape.

And, yes, I get to play our titles early. Best advice I can give to any aspiring communications individual is play the products that you work on or would like to one-day represent. Luckily I’ve always been a gamer, so it’s just another great benefit of the role.

Another part of my role sees me travelling across the world to our various studios with members of the media, or attending industry expos. Whether it’s travelling to E3 or Ubisoft Montreal, I certainly don’t ever take it for granted that I’m afforded these incredible life experiences.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

I’ve worked across a number of releases for Ubisoft UK over the past three years. I recently led PR in the past 12 months on the launches of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands and Assassin’s Creed Origins.

The anticipated comeback of AC Origins was certainly a launch that both myself and the entire UK marketing team are especially proud of – both in terms of the quality of the experience and the fans reaction to the final game. Throughout the campaign, we put together a range of events and opportunities for media to experience the title, held a BAFTA Showcase to celebrate the AC franchise’s 10 year anniversary, worked with various talent, such as Abubakar Salem, the incredible, BAFTA nominated actor behind our main protagonist Bayek, and we created two standalone creative activations.

The first original concept saw us aligning with trainer designer Dominic Carmeno of Carmeno Customs. Dominic brought to life the world of Assassin’s Creed Origins by creating two unique trainer designs to mark the launch of the game – which was received extremely well across the media. We also created the world’s first machine-crafted Sarcophagus using the latest 3D crafting technology. These are just two examples of the expansive nature of my role and the levels of creativity that we can bring to each of our campaigns. But the success of any concept or campaign is a collective achievement – thanks to the incredible teams around me – whether that’s our supporting agencies, our wider marketing teams and individuals in my team, especially my colleague David Burroughs, who worked alongside me for the launch of AC Origins.

But, to answer your question in simpler terms – I’m responsible for making it as easy as possible for media to experience our titles, while being a strong support for the team around me.

VFX artist

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Hello, I’m Bruce Slater. I graduated from Teesside University and then went into freelance VFX/technical art work, while making games in my spare time. First game I released solo was called Audital for iOS. That was around four years ago now. Since then, I have worked on games such as Lazarus, Gang Beasts, Sub Level Zero, and a few other projects here and there, spending most of my time doing art, shaders, design experiments and adding the effects work.

Being a contractor lets me do all sorts of things on a fair few interesting projects.

What does the role involve?

The VFX role can involve anything that needs to be done to make the world feel alive – things at a basic level such as dust, fire, and smoke particle effects. It stretches to things like post process setting, building shaders and manipulating art to do things it doesn’t want to do. But really it’s about adding magic to the world. In triple-A, you end up working with the animation and environment art departments for cinematic and level set-pieces. It’s basically your job to make the effects run efficiently. Tools of the trade are things like After Effects, Photoshop, 3ds Max(or some modelling software), Substance Designer, Houdini … oh and in-engine particle effects editors.

As a VFX artist, you end up juggling a fair few programs to get the desired result that you are after. It’s quite a technical job and you need to understand how engines, 3d model data, and textures work. Like I said before, it’s about adding the magic layer to the game that makes a static world feel alive. This role does overlap with the more visual end of technical art.

Can you give me a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

I just finished doing shader work for Lazarus. The plan was to make the art style feel more cartoony, so we went down the line of a more cel-shaded look and feel. This mean creating a shader and a look for the majority of the world. As well as doing this, I was in charge of doing the planets for the background. Because Lazarus resets every week, I set up a system for procedural planets so the world is different every time it’s reset – this borders technical art as well as effects art. For example, the planets are technical art and the planet rings and black holes are VFX work.

AI design

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Karin E. Skoog: I received a BA in Comparative Literature and MBA, after which I started as a games journalist for a UK tech site. I launched my career in the video game industry by becoming game localisation marketing specialist at LAI Global Game Services, where I combined my love for video games, business, and languages. I did narrative/quest design work for cancelled indie RPG Echoes of Eternea and served as a producer/designer hybrid on multiple titles for the US branch of Japanese studio Voltage Entertainment.

After a couple years in the industry, I wanted to get deeper into game development, so I returned to school in Sweden for a diploma in Game Design (with a specialisation in AI Design), which led me to Avalanche Studios for an internship in AI design.

Since 2016, I have traveled nonstop across the Asia Pacific, developing indie games with Golden Moose Collective. My current game – simulation game “In the Heart of Borneo” – was inspired by recent travels in Malaysia.

What does the role involve?

As an AI designer, you essentially create the brain of an AI agent – when should an agent transition from one behaviour to another? What should they do while in that behaviour state? How should AI agents organise themselves and respond to each other, as well as the player?

I worked on animal AI for theHunter: Call of the Wild at Avalanche Studios. This involved using a behaviour tree (a tree-like scripting structure) to create the behaviours for different animal species. An image of a behaviour tree is available on my blog, plus a detailed writeup of my AI work.

An interesting challenge in theHunter: CotW is that many of its fans are real-life hunters, so players know when an animal behaviour is off. (Plus, players don’t automatically shoot everything that moves in a hunting simulation game. They may wait for some time to get the perfect shot.) This means that a lot of research and nuances went into making the AI believable.

Can you give me a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

As an example, each species responds to specific animal callers, and different species respond differently – one species may zigzag in its approach and another may respond vocally as it goes toward the player, pausing more as it approaches. These variances in behaviour change the player’s strategy when calling in different species.

In addition to changing these individual behaviours for species (i.e. how one species flees from the player, versus another), I also designated in-engine where each species ate, slept, drank; how herds were composed (size, gender composition), and daily schedules for each species, among other key aspects of their design.

It takes time to make AI that looks correct to the human eye. AI Design is one part Game Design and one part behaviourism. There needs to be enough randomness so behaviours look natural. With eating behaviour, for example, I had to add enough options for each agent so that deer in large groups wouldn’t exhibit the same behaviour simultaneously. When eating, an animal has the option to lie down, go to a random point nearby, walk forward while grazing, or simply stand in place and eat.

All of these small details and behaviors add to the player’s perception that this animal is a realistic creature.

Animation director

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Kristjan Zadziuk: I’ve been in the industry professionally for around 18 years. I had always loved animating as a kid and was lucky enough to live in a town that had an up-and-coming video game developer in it (Travellers’ Tales). So, I ended up doing work experience there when I was 17 and fell in love with all aspects of development. But the most fun was animating a puffer fish for Sonic 3D.

I decided to study animation at University to further my knowledge and from there moved to Bristol with Hothouse Creations and worked my way up to lead animator. I then moved to Montreal with Ubisoft as a senior animator whilst working on the original Assassin’s Creed. Then back to the UK to work with Pivotal and Bizarre Creations for a few years. In 2011, I moved back to Canada to help setup Ubisoft Toronto as their animation director on Splinter Cell Blacklist, and a few other games. I left Ubisoft in 2017 to join Lucid Games in Liverpool as their animation director.

What does the role involve?

I am ultimately responsible for the look and feel of any character movement in a game, ensuring that there is a consistent aesthetic and delivers the right amount of emotion throughout. The animation director is tasked with helping other animators understand the vision and delivery of all animated assets in the game, making sure quality is maintained. It is essential that we collaborate and communicate with programmers, designers, and the creative director to make sure that systems are connected and the vision is maintained – an animation director is often involved in pre-vis and implementation of a system in its prototype stage.

In addition to an animation director’s creative and technical responsibility, we are heavily involved with interviewing and hiring animation staff and communicating our team’s progress to other senior members of staff in a studio. Depending on the studio, the animation director may split their time between animation and supervision/organisation. But the animation director is expected to be a master of their craft and have a clear understanding of how systems should work together.

Can you give me a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

On Splinter Cell, it was my first job to assess what sort of gameplay actions the character needs to be doing, how they could be doing them and why, with the view to creating an overall animation vision that can be shared with not just the animators, but the rest of the team. This almost acts as a contract between myself and all involved, highlighting what they could expect from the animation team.

I wanted to make sure that I was faithful to the previous iterations of the project and building on the success of what had been created before. The initial stage involves plenty of conversations with the creative director, gathering reference and playing previous iterations – getting myself into that headspace of what everyone is looking for and expecting.

The creation of this vision is often ongoing throughout the early stages of development and can be shown in different ways. I personally prefer collating it all in a powerpoint deck (that I later present or record a video of for future reference), but will involve elements of pre-visualisation to varying levels of polish depending on the amount of clarity needed, sometimes mood videos and style guides. By making sure that everyone can see and buy into the animation vision, it allows everyone on the team to ask “What would Sam do?” and be able to come up with a few clear examples. I will often refer to this with my team (especially with larger teams this becomes essential) and effectively allows your team to be more self-sufficient.

With larger studios, it is impossible to be intimately involved with all gameplay systems, so building a team around you that you can trust and will understand what you are looking for is key. This allows me to pick and choose systems that I feel would benefit from a more focused approach, this may mean me creating blocked animation that can be used to prototype a system to the final polish to take it to the next level.

Towards the later part of production, I get more involved in polish and animator dailies as all systems should be prototyped and signed off. Our job then shifts to making it all ‘look pretty’ whilst making sure it all still feels good, working with the lead animators to decide what systems need most animation attention and assigning resources to bring those systems to final.

A top tip for me was sitting in playtests, watching how people play our games, and taking notes regarding how players use those systems: what wasn’t clear, what they enjoyed, if a moment could do with more exaggeration or calming down. I would sometimes watch our creative director play and adjust the look or feel dependant on common issues, such as entering cover: is it fluid enough? Is it responsive? Does it look good enough? Should I leave it alone? Or could this common action be improved? That way I feel my eye as an animator helps improve the feel of all the intertwining systems and give the player the experience they are expecting.

Tools designer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

I am Robin-Yann Storm, and I am a tools designer at Guerrilla Games. Before that I was a tools designer at Io-Interactive on Hitman, a freelance tool designer where I worked on some Unity level editors for in the Unity Asset Store, a co-founder of an indie company, a game & level designer, and an all-round developer doing scripting, programming, 3D modelling, game design, and level design. I’ve done a whole bunch of things! Which is helpful when doing tool design, as it gives me insights into how tool users use their tools and what they would like to accomplish.

What does the role involve?

The biggest part is talking to users every day, as well as simply watching them work. By doing this, you find out how the users (your colleagues) use the tools, and how they could be improved. If you see a lot of users stuck with a certain tool, or it’s slowing them down with, for example, obtuse menus, you have the time to find out that this is happening, and the time to find out what to do about that. Sometimes users tell you a specific tool isn’t working well, but the underlying issue is actually different, so you have to both find out what the underlying (sometimes invisible) issue is, and then make a tool design and workflow that would fix those issues, that fits within your tool framework and works well for your users. In the best possible scenario you would build a cost-benefit analysis of what to fix, how to fix it, with a UI mockup and a workflow explanation, and how time consuming that fix would be vs. how much time it would save users when they are using the tools over the next few months/years.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

Let’s say that we see it takes relatively long time for users to complete tasks involving placing and scripting NPCs to do certain actions – we would want to speed that up! So you sit with users, find out what tools they are using, and where they are spending time. You may uncover some bugs the users are running into, and find out that placing NPCs is quite difficult due to the 3D view in the editor not showing you where the NPC would be placed when dragged onto an area, until you let go of the left mouse button and the NPC is placed. You may also find out that, to go to the scripting tool, the users have to go through some large menus first, and they have to set up the same basic script every time for every new NPC.

In that case, what you could suggest is a way to show where NPCs are placed, when dragged onto an area, like a small translucent ‘ghost’ NPC model or a small coin/dot. You may also design and build a certain hotkey setup that makes it easy to open up the scripting tool using only one hand, so users don’t have to let go of the mouse, so they can work fast. Lastly, you may suggest that whenever a new NPC is created, it automatically generates some basic scripts, or a list of scripts that the users can choose from in a dropdown, with whatever basic NPC behaviours are used most. You’d then find out how difficult those things are to implement, how much time it would save, and present them to both the users and tool programmers to find out what sounds best, what would make users happiest, what would allow them to work what is and isn’t possible to build within the time available, and what is the biggest bang for buck.

Associate PR manager

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Gemma Cooper: I’ve been in the games industry since I was 16 years old when I first fell in love with competitive gaming. As I attended these events, I grew more immersed with the world of gaming and I knew that’s where I wanted to be in the future. I began running and organising my own competitive gaming events for various companies and through this I learnt some aspects of marketing; maximizing the reach of the events to broader audiences and engaging with sponsors.

At the time, I was studying Geography and as I knew this wasn’t the career for me, I actually pursued a placement year at Warner Bros in marketing and PR, to build on the basics I’d gained through esports. I had a fantastic year learning from some of the brightest minds in the industry. While finishing up my studies, I kept my foot in the door by working remotely for a PR agency, which was a great way to learn more about client management in relation to PR. I’ve now been at Creative Assembly for almost a year as the associate PR manager on Total War. While mine may be an interesting route into the industry, it’s definitely not one I regret.

What does the role involve?

My role is incredibly varied, which is part of the reason I really enjoy what I do! One day you may be planning for a press tour for your upcoming release, and the next day you’re writing a press release to announce a new title. It’s got peak workloads when you hit announce and launch months, but the in-betweens are just as important in spreading the word about your brand. PR in games also means travelling a lot, talking about our games, and engaging with our passionate fans. While in the studio I also have constant communication with the developers and the wider brand team to ensure the correct messaging is utilised across the franchise and to ensure we’re keeping our communications in line with other aspects of the studio. I also get to play our games – a lot!

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

If we have a game coming out within 12 months’ time, I have to ensure that we’ve got a number of different supporting PR activities throughout the year to support the title. This regularly means working with our event manager to create immersive events, designing booths and coming up with creative ideas to wow both the press and our fans. It’s a really exciting role that gives you a lot of freedom to stretch your creative wings.

Community manager

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Toby Palm: I’ve been the community manager for Life is Strange since late 2015 and was a general community manager for Square Enix Europe before that. I got into community management after coming up through the Square Enix customer service team.

What does the role involve?

The role involves handling both the social media and online presence of the brand (Life is Strange), but more importantly I am the conduit between internal stakeholders and the community/fans. I need to be aware of how the community/fans currently feels and how they will react to things (brand news or game content) and provide recommendations for how to address issues. I also organise community-focused initiatives/projects and am also a visible “face” that the community can turn to with questions.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

Looking back at the Before the Storm announcement at last year’s E3 for example: I wrote the announcement blog (in collaboration with our PR team’s press blast) and also prepped the announcement assets (announce trailers) and links everywhere. That would include uploading several versioned YouTube videos, adding subs, and providing links for those to PR as well as uploading versioned videos to other channels like Facebook and Twitter and writing the copy for them. Organising localisation into EFIGS is another task here.

Once everything has gone live, I then get to monitor all conversation around the brand and also engage in it with fans – whether that’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr, or forums like Reddit, Steam etc. If there are questions that keep cropping up from fans (or confusion), I will use the branded accounts to answer those where possible, or use my CM account to answer more personally. Finally, I will need to create a report of everything that has happened and been said and provide that to the business, along with my recommendations on the topics of discussion we should be aware of and how we might be able to address them further down the line.

When it comes to a product launch, I will be sat in a group chat with lots of other staff, including QA and developers, and I will essentially be the Harbinger of all evil. I will constantly be throwing the issues I see players reporting at the chat and the team investigates them – I then also need to be the conduit between people experiencing the problems and the team investigating them.

Those are only isolated examples of particular community management “events”. There are loads more different days throughout the year!

Lighting artist

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

I’m Richard Whitelock, a freelance games artist and indie developer currently finishing the art for Frozen Synapse 2 and my own project, Quiet as a Stone. However, for six or so years, my industry work was devoted solely to lighting and FX at Rebellion on titles such as Aliens vs Predator. I have always been interested in art and computers, and I particularly love atmospheric, evocative art and the possibilities of realtime 3D.

I felt a strong pull to study Computer Animation & VFX at University, which set me on a path into the games industry (note: at a time when studying was cheaper and the games industry was booming!). Starting out as a general 3D artist, as I progressed I focused more on environment art & FX, with some useful experiences as a lead artist. I kept an interest outside of work on other art forms and studies, one of which was photography. This played a key part in helping me understand light and atmosphere. I began applying these lessons to in-game environments and it wasn’t long before I found myself being tasked with lighting all environments of the projects I was working on.

What does the role involve?

A large game project involves many talented people of different disciplines all pooling their efforts towards creating one unified virtual world. There are large environments with hundreds of objects, a cast of detailed characters and the dictates of art and design to set the aesthetic and mood. At some point, all of these assets come together, and a suite of standard and proprietary tools, tricks, and techniques are utilised to create the illusion of a believably illuminated scene.

The core of the lighting artist’s role is to use their strong visual sense in choosing how to apply these tools towards making the team’s environments and characters look as brilliant as possible. The degree of specialisation here will vary from studio to studio, but a lighting artist may also work on the FX that help sell the idea that the entire world: its fog, smoke, volumetric light, rain, and sky are all part of a cohesive whole. Environment lighting and FX are all smoke and mirrors – especially smoke and especially mirrors.

While games often aim towards cinematic conventions, certainly both cinematography and photographic lighting are useful reference points, it is perhaps better to think of the lighting artist as the director of illumination and weather at a fantastical theme park.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

Placing and configuring all the different types of light that form an environment’s lighting setup. Work with the lead artists to ensure that art assets are setup in a way which allows them to receive different types of light correctly. Help define guidelines for creation of meshes, materials, and textures. If concept art or screenshot paint-overs are available, then interpret them as is best suited to the available technology – if no suitable tech exists then use innovative tricks. Sometime concept art has to be translated from the realm of what works in a 2D image to that which is feasible in an explorable 3D world. If no concept art exists, then have the artistic imagination and feeling to create something evocative from scratch.

Stay informed on both old and cutting edge rendering techniques. Low dynamic range (LDR) vertex lighting might be perfect for one project, but another might need to correctly handle a high dynamic range (HDR) render buffer with materials that utilise physically based rendering (PBR). Old and new techniques may well co-exist for different aspects of the same game. Consult with the leads on ensuring that the game not only looks as good as possible but also stays within its rendering budget. Lighting and environment FX are often the most expensive part of a game’s limited rendering time.

Communicate frequently with the tools team on improving the lighting workflow. The sky is an integral part of the environment’s illumination. The lighting artist may create these from scratch as static skyboxes or work on an animated sky using various FX and shader techniques. An environment isn’t complete without FX that complement the light and atmosphere. This could include low lying fog, waterfalls, rivers, distant clouds on mountains, or volumetric shafts of light illuminating a cave. They could take the form of particle systems, post processing shaders, or manually placed meshes with bespoke animating shaders. Aid the design team’s goals by utilising lighting and environment FX to guide (or misdirect) the player. Create shot by shot lighting and FX for cinematics and cutscenes. Use the engine’s scripting tools to create animated lighting events and FX sequences. Configure post processing FX and colour grading settings to define the environment’s final look.

Business development

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

My name’s Nick Tannahill and I’ve been working at Firefly Studios for a little over five years now. Like many people in their late 20s and early 30s I didn’t really consider a career in games was viable until right at the end of university, when I was in the process of getting my thesis on serious games published. From that point, I followed the usual path of unpaid QA and internships until I could find something permanent. I eventually advanced from Firefly’s PR Officer into a management role, and now work in a director position. We’re a relatively small company so I still wear lots of hats, but I’m now largely responsible for expanding the business and developing the commercial strategy for our games.

What does the role involve?

Just as I might find more technical job titles indecipherable, ‘business development’ can be a nebulous phrase for developers and those removed from the commercial side of a studio. Essentially bizdev is about exploring and identifying opportunities to expand the business, using the games and IPs at your disposal. It’s about finding partners both within and outside the industry with similar values, audiences, and nerdy obsessions so that you can collaborate on something cool that either opens up a new area of business or finds new uses for existing games and technology.

So the producers of Ironclad want to make a Stronghold movie starring Dolph Lundgren? Let’s talk! Is there an upcoming streaming platform that could give our game massive exposure if we support it from day one? We’ll work out the technical details and risk involved. Maybe a certain piece of Japanese hardware is selling like hotcakes and we want our game on there as soon as possible? Time to make contacts, work out platform-specific features and develop that relationship. Whatever the opportunity, the process of planning, budgeting and at smaller studios, managing the execution of your proposed plan remains the same.

Attending trade events and good networking often provide the best opportunities to meet with potential partners, but honestly Twitter is just as powerful. Indies might not have bizdev teams or even the bandwidth to spend more than a few hours per week on this kind of thing, but it is essential work. As an example, putting your game on Switch is not enough to make or break a game or studio. That said, being in Nintendo’s top tier of curated devs because you have a unique game, care about the same things they do, and work hard to develop that relationship absolutely can.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

I was responsible for organising the first ever free-to-play Humble Bundle back in 2016, which brought thousands of new players into our Stronghold MMO and around 100,000 signups for the Firefly Studios newsletter. It also allowed me the pleasure of working with many devs I’d long admired such as Splash Damage, Hi-Rez, and Grinding Gear Games who develop Path of Exile. As with many bizdev projects, there was no guarantee of this taking off until the eleventh hour, when it was approved by all parties and of course Humble. It involved a great deal of outreach, coordination and a little faith, but ended up going down as well with players as it did for the devs involved. This is always the ideal outcome for everyone involved, assuming they’re after long-term success and sustainability as a business.

Sound designer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

I’m Jey Kazi and I’m a sound designer based in Manchester, UK. I’ve been working in the industry for a few years now, my first game being Phi Games’ TinyKeep back in 2014. I’ve worked with a number of indie studios since then, including Sigtrap Games on Sublevel Zero, Alex Rose Games on Super Rude Bear Resurrection, and Oddbug Studio/Fabrik Games on The Lost Bear. My current project is a game called Terratech by Payload Studios.

What does the role involve?

As a sound designer for Indie projects, you’re usually responsible for all the audio that goes into the game, working closely with other disciplines to drive the audio direction of the project forward. This includes designing audio assets from bespoke recordings and/or libraries, implementation into the game engine using audio middleware, optimising/debugging and mixing. It also involves working closely with the composer on the project, editing and implementing the music for the game.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

What’s great about this role is that its both technical and creative. The Lost Bear is a unique VR title where you’re playing a 2D game while sat down in a 3D space. A lot of bespoke recordings were done to fit the aesthetics of the hand drawn art style. For example, I went to the edge of the Peak District in the UK to record ambiences for the game such as bird calls, rustling trees, and wind. Also, in this project there was a spider-like character called the Scavenger. I recorded a combination of squelching orange peels, porridge, gelatin, and my voice for the movement sounds of the creature. From a technical standpoint, we had to figure out how to make audio work for a 2D platformer in a 3D space which involved trying out a lot of different processes before we landed on what worked.

UI programmer

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

I’m Robert Macdonald and I am a lead UI programmer. I graduated from the University of Teesside in 2004 with a degree in Interactive Computer Entertainment (an early-ish games programming degree). After university, I landed a junior programming role at Climax in Portsmouth working on the UI for Ghost Rider on the PS2 and PSP.

UI programming was a niche I hadn’t considered, I more or less fell into it on my first day, but my interest in graphic design inspired me to give it a go. I continued working as a UI programmer on Silent Hill: Origins and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and also I had a brief stint implementing a VFX system and gameplay systems for a couple of Nintendo DS projects. It was not to last, I had found my niche in UI programming and wanted to stick with it.

In 2010 I moved to London and to Splash Damage where I have now been for almost eight glorious years. During my time at Splash Damage, I have remained focussed solely on UI programming, working on a number of projects which led to me having a hand in developing the UI for Brink, Batman Arkham: Origins multiplayer, Rad Soldiers, Dirty Bomb, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and, most recently, Gears of War 4.

What does the role involve?

As a lead UI programmer my role involves less development work and more management work. Leads roles tend to share a lot of managerial similarities so, rather than tell you about UI programming from a lead perspective, I shall dive into the fundamentals of a the role instead.

On a basic level, a UI programmer is primarily responsible for using a UI middleware to program the HUDs (Heads Up Displays) and menus seen in games. UI programmers work very closely with UI artists, converting their UI wireframes and menu mock-ups into a working interface seen in game so, being familiar with their pipeline and tools is useful.

A UI programmer should program their UI to be as data-driven as possible; this means that data intended for display in the menus or HUD is created and/or fetched from remote systems not directly related to UI. Due to this aspect of their role UI programmers will also work closely with other code disciplines to design and format the data the UI needs.

UI programmers are also involved with setting technical UI boundaries on an game project, some of which might affect UI design. If a game is shipping on console, they should be familiar with the technical guidelines set by MS/Sony/Nintendo. They will then work to create systems that automatically mitigate the variations of UI visualisation caused by shipping on different consoles, in different localisations, and on different display devices.

Away from programming, UI programmers analyse HUD and menu wireframes or mock-ups created by UI artists and deconstruct them into core widgets and systems for implementation that can be used over and over again in different menus. Finally, having a good eye for what makes a good user experience in UI and being a pixel-perfect perfectionist also helps.

Can you give me a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

As my career has progressed, my responsibilities as a UI programmer have changed but, one specific UI programming responsibility I enjoy is optimisation. In many cases, a menu does not have to be that optimised as it is only required to be as fast as a human, but in-game HUDs are an entirely different animal.

A HUD has to run as fast as possible with the smallest viable memory footprint to free up crucial resources which will be required by the other gameplay systems. Finding new and quicker ways of getting the same visual result, trying different engineering techniques to solve performance bottlenecks, or working with UI art to cut or modify art assets for repurposing within a HUD visualisation all contribute to minor improvements which, when aggregated, can bring significant performance gains.

Technical animator

Tell us about yourself and your work history.

Hi, I’m Dan Lowe, I’ve been working in games for 12 years and I’m currently a senior technical animator at Motive Studios in Montreal. I’m originally from the UK and studied Game Design at Teesside University. After graduating I was fortunate enough to land a job as an animator at Bizarre Creations where I worked for five years on games like The Club, James Bond: Blood Stone, and Blur.

When Bizarre closed its doors in 2011, I made the leap across the pond to Ubisoft in Montreal, starting as a senior animator on Far Cry 3, and eventually transitioning to a senior technical animator role. I worked on several other games in the Far Cry series, the original Watch Dogs, and briefly for Ubisoft’s Central Technology Group. After five years at Ubisoft, I moved to San Francisco, where I worked for a year at Visceral Games on Amy Hennig’s Star Wars project. When Visceral was shut down, I decided to move back to Montreal and joined Motive, where I’ve been working since January 2018.

What does the role involve?

The role of technical animator is quite difficult to define because it covers a very broad set of responsibilities, and often different technical animators will specialise in different areas. In some cases, this has led to different studios having different definitions for what they think a technical animator is. It’s not uncommon to meet other technical animators who have an entirely different skill-set to your own.

In general though, I would say there are four main areas of responsibility that technical animators cover…

Animation tools: Some technical animators build tools for the 3D applications that animators use to animate game characters (applications like 3D Studio Max, Maya, and Motionbuilder). Some of these tools help to manage the different characters, animations, and motion capture files that have been created for the game. Others are to process animations into the correct format for use in the game. Others are to help animators with various tasks relating to their work, like copying and pasting poses, or retiming animations.

Animation pipeline: Some technical animators work on building a robust animation pipeline, which is to say they will look at the different steps that are involved in taking an idea in someone’s head, to a working animation system in the game. These steps might involve different software, tools, techniques, or working with external partners such as actors or motion capture facilities. It’s the technical animator’s job to set up a pipeline that produces high-quality results, in the most efficient way possible.

Rigging: Some technical animators produce the character rigs and animation controls that animators need to be able to animate their characters in 3D applications. This may also include setting up ragdolls, cloth simulation, muscle simulation, and various other types of character dynamics in the game engine.

Runtime animation systems: When a game is running, the game’s animation system has to decide which is the most appropriate animation to be playing each frame, for each character, based on their current circumstances. Some technical animators are responsible for building the logic systems that are responsible for making these kinds of decisions. These types of technical animators mostly work in the game engine, and may be involved in building other runtime animation systems like “IK” systems, that ensure that feet and hands correctly contact with the environment, props and other game characters, or “retargeting” systems, which allow for animations that were created on one character to be played on another character that has a completely different size and set of proportions.

Most technical animators have a reasonable idea of how all of these areas work, but usually a technical animator will focus the majority of their time on one or two of these areas.

Can you give us a specific example of what you might be responsible for?

Imagine you’re working on a game series like Far Cry, and the directors of the game would like the player to feel more grounded in the world, so they’d like to be able to look down and see your body from the first-person camera. If I were a technical animator on that project, I might be tasked with figuring out how to make that work.

What are the kinds of animations that we would need to build for this? How are they layered together? Can we base our body animation on the third-person player animations that we already created for co-op and multiplayer, or do we need entirely new first-person body animations that are framed specifically for the first-person camera? If we create separate first and third-person body animations, how do we make sure that they stay synchronized? Do we render a shadow from the third-person body and if so, are we making sure that when the first-person animations contact the environment, that the shadow is still in sync? Do animators have the tools that they need to make sure that they can create these types of animations and view them correctly in the 3D application? If we create separate first-person body animations, are we going to motion capture them, and if so, do we need to place restrictions on how our motion capture actors should move? Can we get a good visual result without compromising our game feel? When we create the animation system for this, what information are we going to need from code in order to drive that system?

As a technical animator, it would be my job to answer these questions and to create solutions for how to deliver on this feature. In some cases I may need to create prototypes that help to prove whether this is a viable feature or not. In other cases, I may need to create tools that help animators to produce the required work. I may be required to draw-up a motion capture shot list, and to be on-set to ensure that what we’re capturing is technically sound. Once animators are done with creating the animations for this system, I may be tasked with integrating those animations into the game engine, collaborating with the animators, programmers and designers to make sure that the system looks good and works as intended. Regardless of team sizes or budgets, there’s always a finite amount of resources to work with, and so a major goal in all of this is to balance visual quality with the resources required to make the system work. The best technical animators can make systems that look and feel great, but are built in a very quick and efficient way.

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