Presentation date: 05/12/2011

Peter Akrill is an experience programmer (focused on game-play and AI programming); he started off as a graduate from the University of Bolton, on the first year of the Computer Games Software Development course. He referred to himself and his peers as guinea pigs as the course taught him 50% useful knowledge, and 50% not-so useful knowledge. However when he entered the industry anything he hadn’t learnt that he needed to know, he had to learn through self-teaching or learning it at his work.

He was lucky enough to get a job pretty quickly after applying for jobs and this first job was at Travellers Tales in Knutsford. After four years of ‘crunching’ work at Travellers tales, he decided enough was enough and applied for a job at CodeMasters (Guildford) and got it! However they recently got shut down and moved to the North, so Peter applied to games companies around Guildford, and got himself a job at ‘Super Massive games’, where he works currently.

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What Peter has learnt:

University of Bolton – He learnt: how to debug, that large code bases aren’t scary, software architecture is your friend, and he also learnt some art skills.

Travellers Tales – He learnt: C with classes, hacking things into games, never ending deadlines are normal (short time to produce a lot of work each week), polishing things is a good habit to get into, different bugs and bug databases, console programming skills, extreme debugging, team management and motivation. Peter worked as a producer for a short while in Travellers tales, however did not enjoy being “the most hated person” in the development team. Something important that Peter learnt at Travellers tales, is that games need to play nice and feel natural when it come to developing game play and AI within a game. He also said that as a programmer you can never escape from fixing bugs or crashes.

Codemasters – He learnt: C++, software architecture in more detail than at university, scrum/sprint, how to have a social life again, and how marketing affects projects (without marketing, games will not sell many copies). Peter explained that it was a blow to all the hard work him and his peers had put into the game ‘Bodycount’, for it to be ignored in the marketing process so no-one heard about the game. I believe this is probably the point where he became very cynical about the games industry. He also explained that this was most likely the reason why the company went bust, but he said it was the best place he had worked.

Super Massive games – He learnt: how to work with UnrealScript (UDK), different methods of Scrum/Agile development, and a flat studio structure. What Peter meant by a ‘flat studio structure’ was everyone in the company is on the same level; he explained that he could walk up to the studio head at Super Massive games and have a casual or work related chat with him. I think I would personally like to work in this basis as with everyone on the same level, I believe you can get on with people a lot better.

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The team:

In the Super Massive games team there are: programmers, artists, animators, designers, development management and audio team.
Programmers are the backbone of the development team and they write the under-lying systems and pipelines for the game. There are many different types of programmers and these are: rendering, tools, game-play + AI, and Audio programmers.
Artists make the game “look pretty”, and create environments, props and characters for the game.
Animators make the game look believable; if a character moves realistically an animator has created the movement.
Designers have the overall vision of the project, and Peter explained that they are the ‘go-to’ person for features to be developed into the game. He also said that they are usually never sure of what they want and can be a cause of frustration to the rest of the team.
Development managers make sure the game is finished/polished and leaves the door on time. They also organise the workload for each development team, and they often keep the designers in check (telling them what they can and can’t have in the game).
Lastly there is the audio team who make players feel immersed in the game using sound effects and background music. They work closely with the audio programmers to get the timing of sounds right in the game.
Other team players: QA, Studio head, Office manager and Brand/Marketing.

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Surviving the industry:

  • Expectations of the industry; it is not an easy job, there is always silly deadlines to meet, you have to work as a team, there are high levels of stress a lot of the time, priorities often change on a project, there is loooooooong hours, and if there is mismanagement and frustration amongst the team during development, the game will never live up to the original expectation.
  • Avoid burning yourself out; relax and stay healthy!
  • Work with your allocated budgets.
  • When doing overtime, make sure you leave the fun tasks for overtime and the more monotonous tasks for during your normal work hours.
  • Do fun things and have rest days, otherwise you will end up very depressed and not happy. “All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy!”
  • If you’re having a bad day, leave your work for a minute and come back to it after a think.
  • And most importantly: Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

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My opinions:

After the lecture, I felt that Peter has had some bad experiences in the industry, as he didn’t always have good words to say about other companies. I feel it was a little unprofessional as these are the companies which we could potentially get a job at, and I think he was putting them in a bad light. Fair enough if he had a bad experience there, but that doesn’t mean everyone will have a bad experience. In addition, he explained that he had to learn a lot of programming skills by himself as the University of Bolton didn’t teach him everything he needed to know for the industry.
Other than that, one of the main things I took from this lecture (as it was heavily focused on artists/programmers) was to learn how to deal with stress, and Guildford is the games hub in the UK currently. He explained that in Guildford many of the games companies’ employees go to various pubs around Guildford, so it is easy to find friends/peers in Guildford.
Peter explained that it is good to keep a healthy social life, as well as keeping a health regime to stay fit. He explained that having a good social life is good for networking, but also good for de-stressing; he said it is important to unplug and switch off after work to de-stress further. Also, whilst he was working at Travellers tales he was 19 stone in weight due to eating take away food every day, and doing no exercise due to ‘crunch time’ at work. He said that it is important to eat healthy snacks and do some exercise each morning, as it is not only healthy to do this, but it keeps you motivated and positive throughout the day. I felt that this was some important and useful advice as from what else he said, he made it seem like the industry is a stressful and hectic place.

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