The Gaming industry is something we have been delving into recently, so we are doing August’s Digi Download around this topic. Here is an insight into Mark Gilbert’s life as a Senior Technical Designer.
1. You became a Games Designer back in 2010, is this a career path you always wanted to go down?
Great first question! Being a Games Designer was not my dream job when I was growing up, in fact, as far back as I can remember I’d always wanted to be an Engineer, specifically Aerospace as I got older. I studied Maths, Physics and Design Tech at A levels and even got as far as applying for an being accepted for a University course.
I attended an open day and as I was being shown around the University, I came to the worrying realisation that this was not what I wanted to do. On the trip back my dad realised something wasn’t right, and I eventually revealed that I didn’t want to do that course. His question was really simple: “Well, what do you want to do?”. I had no idea and over the next few hours over a long lunch we started talking and writing down everything I loved doing: Creating Things, Puzzles, Games etc.
We eventually crossed a few off that list as I liked them but didn’t love them. The list ended up with Games and some creative points, so again, another simple question from my dad: “Well why don’t you go make games?” The thought had never crossed my mind, I never even realised that was something you could study. I immediately contacted the University and cancelled my application and went and got myself a job for a Gap year. I then spent a few months researching the courses and contents before finally applying and being accepted at University of East London (UEL).
2. Please tell us more about your role… What does your day-to-day routine consist of in work as a Technical Designer?
My role as a Technical Designer is fairly broad, I work on the same work as a regular designer such as features, UX or UI but I spend most of my time working on core games systems such as those that would control progression, levelling, unlocks, crafting. I then fill in all the numbers to make the systems work properly before gathering data and comparing it to the original aims. The role is often also known as “Systems Designer” or “Game Balancer” but the name changes based on the individual project and responsibilities.
A normal day might see me working with a regular designer on a new feature. They handle how the player interacts with the feature, what the feature is meant to do and what type of players it’s meant to appeal to. I then design the systems to make it fit in with the existing game loops and ensure it doesn’t unbalance the game experience. I usually then create a working prototype or model so I can confirm it will work as envisioned. Finally, I then work with the programmers to create the systems and make sure it works as required.
3. As a Senior Technical Designer, do you get to play games on the job?
For the majority of the project I will often have the game I’m working on open, however, I’m not really playing it as it would be at launch. Instead I will be using tools and short cuts to check certain areas of the game to make sure they work as intended and feel good. Most of my interaction with the game however is working with the numbers that I get from the Data Analysts and QA to ensure they match the modelling I’ve done.
4. Have you ever worked on a game that you would not necessarily play yourself?
I have worked on a few games I wouldn’t play myself; I think that’s a very important thing to bring attention to. It is very hard to be objective when you are very invested in the game. I have seen a few features be designed poorly because the feature owner designed it to be what they wanted, rather than what the game needed.
To make a truly great game, you often have to step back and look at everything objectively, often throwing away things you really like because they’re not in the best interest of the game.
5. Given that you work in this industry, do you have certain games you play outside of work? If so, what is your favourite and why?
I have 2 main types of games that I play most of the game; Multiplayer games and System heavy games. Multiplayer games are across a lot of genres and are based on what my regular group of friends fancies like playing that night. They’re great for calming down at the end of the day and joking around with friends. For system heavy games, I lean more towards things with a lot of depth and complexity such as Factorio, Space Engineers or Satisfactory.
If I had to pick a favourite game of all time, it would probably be the original Guild Wars. I spent hundreds of hours in it and made some lifelong friends.
6. What advice would you give to a Designer who is starting out? We’ve seen that you attended University, but do you think it’s necessary for everyone?
While University is a way into the industry, I personally think that many Games courses at Universities are poorly put together and not suitable for the industry. This may sound fairly cynical but working in the Games Industry is a dream job for many and Universities throw together “Games Designer” courses without any industry experience to make money. The games industry is VERY difficult to get into and experience trumps education. My own course started with 100 people and only 3 got into the industry.
My top 3 tips would be:
- Research the University Course and their employment rates, the difference between the good and bad is huge. Do they have industry veterans working there? Do they have ties with actual studios?
- Get an internship and work your own projects, real world industry experience is worth a lot.
- Have a backup plan, if you don’t get into the industry, what are you going to do?
7. Would you say there is any specific perks associated with working in the gaming industry?
The job is hard work but there are perks, the job is always different and when you get to a more senior design position, you gain a lot of control, deciding on what you’re going to work rather than being told directly.
Working in the Games Industry is a job of passion, you have to love what you do or you can risk burning out, It’s not for everyone. That said, the people working in the Games Industry are some the nicest people I’ve ever been around, everyone knows the work can be hard but everyone pulls together to help each other and to create the best game possible.