Presentation date: 07/11/2011

David Bramhall and Ben Curtis are both employees of Evolution Studios, which is a games studio owned by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.

Ben is a vehicle artist currently; however he was once a student at the University of Bolton. His career path started from finishing the University CGSD (Computer games software development) then he became a QA tester at Evolution Studios, then he became an Animation assistant, then he moved onto becoming a junior vehicle artist, then to an Assistant producer, which led him to where he is now, a vehicle artist.
On a daily basis Ben uses Maya and photo-shop, and some of his main roles are bug-fixing and housekeeping amongst the vehicles he creates.

David also was a student studying CGSD at Bolton University, and finished his degree the same time as Ben. His career path was similar to Ben’s; he first became a QA tester, then a production assistant, then he moved onto an assistant producer, he was then promoted to a development manager, which lead him to the position he has now being a Producer at Evolution Studios.

Studio Roles and the qualities you need

Production – Management and people skills, organisational and planning skills, excellent understand and communication between different disciplines and you must be able to use basic programmes such as Microsoft Word, Excel, Project, etc.
In the production role, you have to be able to direct and organise the developers within a company. Producers also have to communicate with any outsourcing companies that are needed during development, and the producers must help to organise them.

Designers – Good communication and writing skills, broad technical knowledge over all of the disciplines, ability to learn and take criticism (thus always improving work), good and up-to-date knowledge of games and the industry, and lastly presentation skills are important when pitching ideas for mechanics, themes, etc.
Designers use tool sets created by the programming team (unless the tool set is bought from an outsourced company), and they have to use the assets created by the artists to create a level for the game they are developing. As designers are using the tools and assets from the different disciplines within the company, it is important that they are able to communicate and understand how the other disciplines work and function.

QA – Concentration and patience, good communication skills, perfect writing ability (no spelling mistakes), they need logical and problem solving skills, an analytical mindset and lastly they need to be pro-active and productive to progress and shine-through amongst the testers.
It is important that in-house quality assurance testers have an analytical mind-set, and have a good and up-to-date knowledge of games in the industry. Quality assurance testers must have perfect spelling and bug-finding skills, as this is their main role. They must also be able to have good writing skills, as QA testers/engineers must be able to write up about bugs that they have found and how to re-produce them. (I have had experience doing this and there is a lot of writing up documents, and working with excel documents to document whether a bug works, and how it works, etc).

Art – An artist needs to be a director of their own work, and they need to be able to follow creative direction. There are many different types of artists in the industry, and to name a few: Environment, texture, technical, character (organic/alive), vehicle (non-organic/never alive), VFX (Special effects), concept artist, GUI, and graphics designer.
There are many different artist roles within companies; however each role requires that the artists create various assets for the game. Depending on what the artists are creating, they usually have to communicate closely with any IPs involved in the development of the game, but they also have to communicate and work with other disciplines, such as programmers and designers.

Development cycle for AAA Games

High-level concept – A small team of 1 – 5 employees, this is where the game overview happens, and ideas are gathered. Some of the game’s core mechanics are theorised and tested, in addition to being raised in the green-light meetings. Ripomatiss happens here too.

Prototype – A small, but larger team between 2 – 20 employees is formed and this is the stage where major mechanics are prototyped against real players. The employees aim to create fun and memorable mechanics for the game. In this stage, full levels are grey-boxed with core mechanics are applied; this is so the levels can be played through from begin to end, and the player will have a feel and thought about how the level plays out.

Pre-production – This is a team of about 10 – 30 team members. At this stage ideas are flashed out, and tools that are needed to create the game are made. Lots of testing on the tools is conducted, just to make sure that all of the tools are suitable and work correctly.

Production – This is one of the biggest stages of development, and the team size can vary from 20 – 250 people. All the levels are created, along with all of the assets to be used in the game. The game, along with bugs is finished ready for testing. All of the game content is finished in this stage.

Alpha – This is the first stage of testing, usually conducted by an in-house team of QA. The main feature is complete, however the QA team work together to find any game breaking bugs, or missing-assets.

Beta – This is the stage where the finished game will only have a few minor bugs in the game, and nothing game-breaking. The game is polished at this stage, and this is the stage where the in-house QA, and outsourced QA work together to get rid of as many, or all of the bugs in the game.

Gold Master – This is a bug-free version of the game, and usability testing is conducted here.

Shelves – This is where the game is finished, all of the development team can take a break, and the game goes to retail.

Benefits of working for Sony

-Free Sony games.
-Staff discount on Sony hardware and software.
-Profit sharing and bonuses within the company.
-Flexitime – You can come into work any time, as long as you work 8 hours a day.
-Company trips (E3, go-karting, Amsterdam).
-Summer half-days.
-Casual-dress code.
-Relaxed and creative work environment.

Ways to apply for a job at Sony: It is always better to apply directly, with a website, portfolio CD, CV, etc. Going through an agency, and using contacts can also help get a job at Sony, however Agencies take a 10% cut of the employee’s wage.

From this lecture I learned that many disciplines work closely together when in most companies. Ben and Dave only had experience of working with evolution studios, however between them they have worked in many roles. Another aspect I learned from their lecture is that to go up the career ladder you need to shine within the company and pull out all the stops. They mentioned that they both started in Quality Assurance, which they then slowly progressed upwards (Ben going in the art direction, and Dave going in the design/producer route), they both did voluntary and outside work to prove to their bosses that they can work hard and they had the talent to progress up the career ladder. This proves that even when you get your foot in the door of the games industry (whether it be QA or a junior role), you need to work harder than just the work hours you are given, and do things which no ordinary employee does. One thing I also got from the lecture was that you need to love your job, and you need to be as enthusiastic and passionate as possible, this can also keep you motivated to do extra work.
Dave and Ben were really enthusiastic about their job and love it; they were very bubbly and friendly, in addition to welcoming questions and knowing their stuff in great detail.


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