23 March 2012

Working in the Games Industry - Interview Preview

The Blurb
Working in the Games Industry features interviews with 21 people working in a wide range of jobs. As well as general information about careers in this field, the book is made up of interviews with real people talking about their jobs.
The book is part of a series of Working In titles published by Babcock Lifeskills. These are well-respected careers guides produced to help 13- to 19-year-olds of all abilities with their career decisions. They are available in schools, libraries, careers centres and bookshops throughout the UK.

Release Manager
Andrew Powell is a release manager with Eutechnyx in Gateshead.  As a new game goes through development, it’s Andrew’s job to build the constant changes to code and art assets into ever-improving versions of the game, to check the work-in-progress and report any bugs or crashes.

How would you outline your role?
I work with the team that creates the NASCAR games.  My job is to accumulate all the changes made by the different departments working on the game into a playable version.

What are your main responsibilities?
I decide when a new build (a revised version) of the game is needed, although there are also requests from other departments to check what they’ve been working on.

I grab code changes and art changes using special software and briefly test all the enabled functions to make sure they are playable without crashes.

I usually do this on a daily basis, alternating between different platforms, such as Xbox and PS3.  I run the current version on multiple test kits using debugger software.  This software records everything that is happening code-wise on the console.  This simulates the end-user multiplayer experience and captures any crashes or bugs to be examined later.

What is your working environment like?
I sit at a desk surrounded by the programmers of the team.  All other members of the team are just a few steps away.  The atmosphere is generally calm with members of staff coming and going, communicating ideas and solving problems.

Who do you work with?
I work closely with the lead programmer of the project, and other programmers that take care of various aspects or modes in the game.  I also work closely with members of the QA team when I find a bug that needs extra attention.

What special skills or qualities do you need?
I need to be self-motivated as I manage myself day-to-day.  I need to know what’s going on in terms of progress – is this particular aspect of the game working or not working?  What’s needed for the next milestone?  If it’s not working, I’m normally the first person to notice!

How did you get into this job?
I knew I wanted to have something to do with computer games as early as 12 years old.  In secondary school, my strongest subject was IT.  I decided against the general education of sixth form and went to college to study ICT for a year instead.  I then went on to a BTEC National Diploma in IT Practitioners in Software Development.  Here I had my first experience of programming and realised what doors it could open.

Afterwards, I went to university to do a degree in games computing, which helped me get my first job.

What training have you had?
Different studios use different hardware and software and much of it isn’t available commercially to the general public.  Some studios even develop their own in-house tools and engines to achieve the required results.  It means you tend to train as you go, working with new equipment and learning from your colleagues.

Do you use any special tools or equipment?
I use test consoles for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, a debugger and a lot of specialised software packages.

What do you like and dislike about your job?
When things aren’t working, progress can be very slow and frustrating.  But I enjoy knowing my actions make a big difference to the final product.  I get a real buzz when the project is finished and in the shops, knowing my name’s in the credits.

What are the main challenges in your work?
When people ask me to perform different tasks at the same time, this is when I’m really pushed to my limits.  It’s easy to panic in that situation but you just need to step back and assess the situation, then prioritise the order of tasks.

What are your long-term career plans?
I’m interested in becoming a games designer or producer or in leading focus tests with users.  At the moment I’m really happy where I am.  I’ve haven’t learnt everything my role has to offer.  When the time comes, I’ll look for opportunities within the company or companies I’ve already worked for.

Andrew’s route
● GCSEs.
● NVQ level 2 in ICT and BTETC ND IT Practitioners Software Development.
● BSc (Hons) Games Computing.
● Jobs as a graphical artist and in quality assurance.
● Release manager with Eutechnyx.

Andrew’s tips
● Try to play as many different genres as possible.  You won’t enjoy them all but you can ask yourself: Why has the game been designed like this?  What makes it enjoyable? What could be done better?
● Know your hardware.  Gain experience with all current consoles and handhelds still in production.

Related jobs
Computer games developer
Computer games tester
IT support technician
Software developer
TV or film producer
Web developer

Getting in
Some studios only take graduates – usually with a degree in games computing or development, but not all.  A strong portfolio will put you at the top of the pile.

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