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Jun 15 2015

Art Application Advice Pt.1

This blog post is aimed primarily at new graduates or anyone applying for a Junior ar...

Jun 15 2015 By: matt Close

Art Application Advice Pt.1

This blog post is aimed primarily at new graduates or anyone applying for a Junior art position in the games industry. As such, much of what is in here should be common knowledge to any Senior or experienced artist, however what I am aiming to provide is something of a jumping off point for anyone trying to enter the industry. Of course what is written here should not be taken as gospel, these are merely my experiences and what I have come to look for in applicants over the years. The unfortunate aspect when applying for jobs, especially creative ones, is that everyone has their own tastes and preferences as to how things should be presented. Your job as a fresh faced young applicant is to find the method which successfully manages to capture the recipient’s attention. You may have heard of the old notion that people make up their minds on whether or not to hire you within the first thirty seconds of an interview, this can also be true of people viewing your portfolio and whether or not to call you in for an interview. The reason for this is simple, everyone is busy and looking at your portfolio is taking time away from the work they are currently doing, which often if you are a Lead or in Management is not usually work that can or will be picked up by anyone else and so the time will have to be made up elsewhere. And so your first goal is to interest the recipient enough to actually make it through your entire portfolio or bookmark it to come back to later. Any excuse to disregard an application and get back to work will be leapt upon. Now in general instant dismissal can in fact easily be avoided simply by adhering to a few simple rules which will firstly make people want to actually look at your work and secondly give them all the information they need in order to judge it, hopefully taking you through to the next stage.

Due to the fact that my three partners and I decided to go down the route of setting up our own studio, I personally have never had to create a portfolio or applied for any jobs in the games industry. I have however created personal portfolios many times during my previous career in Interior Architecture when applying for work, and I myself committed many of naive mistakes that I see today. I do receive and review applications on an almost weekly basis. This combined with my work with Universities; Abertay, Glasgow Caledonian and more recently DJCAD has given me a rather good perspective on where students are when they are graduating and the common mistakes they make when sending applications or creating portfolios. In order to keep this post as easily digestible as possible I shall break it down to three parts. In part 1 will be covering CV & Covering Letter, moving onto Portfolio & Showreel and finally Web Presence & Social Media in parts 2 and 3. So without further ado let’s begin.

 

CV & Covering Letter

I want to avoid detailing exactly what to include in a CV here but rather focus on how it is presented. As a professional, or aspiring artist, your job at its very basic level, is to make things that not only look good but keep people engaged for as long as required. Looking deeper into this, and this applies even more so in the games industry, it is your job to take huge amounts of very complicated information and present it to the viewer in a manner that is; accessible, aesthetically pleasing and intuitive.

As such you should view your CV not as a formality but as a collection of information that needs to be delivered in such a manner. The CV is often the first thing I look at when someone applies, not the covering letter but we shall get to that, and the very first thing I am looking for is, has this person actually demonstrated an understanding of how to use their skills in the creation of their CV? When I see a word doc attached to the email application instantly my opinion goes through the floor, and I haven’t even read a word yet. I know as soon as I open that document I’m going to assaulted with multiple pages of 11pt Times New Roman. Remember the very basic level job description as an artist, walls of text may be functional and a lot of the time necessary but they are definitely not pretty and to be honest their necessity does not carry over into CV creation so my first suggestion is simple, don’t do it. As an artist you will have developed skills in a multitude of tools which will allow you do everything that a word processor can do, however further to that they also provide you the means to actually incorporate some design into your CV, making the audience’s experience much more of a pleasure rather than a chore.

A while ago I was discussing the state of certain CVs with a colleague who works in the film industry. He in fact disagreed with my disapproval of word docs. In his experience, whenever he had received applications that were anything more than the applicant merely throwing random images with little thought, ultimately distracting from the information that he was interested in. And he was right, that is a terrible way to go about creating a CV. What I am talking about however is not simply throwing in a few images and saving it out as a PDF, it’s quite the opposite in fact. I never expect nor want to see portfolio images in a CV. I explained that in fact I agreed with his sentiments and he had in fact brought up another very common issue. The type of CV I love to receive is one which employs some very well thought out visual communication; if don’t know what that is look it up…you’re going to need it! Visual communication and design are not about throwing in a few random images and calling it a done. Successful design, especially that of a CV, should draw strongly from the sentiment that “Less is more”. Your viewer should be able to extract all of the information they need exerting the least amount of effort possible because you have already made all of the effort for them.

Visual CV by Antonio Di Vico http://visual.ly/antonio-di-vico-visual-cv

Visual CV by Antonio Di Vico http://visual.ly/antonio-di-vico-visual-cv

Now putting aside the fact that this particular style may not necessarily be to your taste or you may dislike the rather ‘on the nose’ Swiss Army Knife reference, take a few minutes look it over. The first thing you will notice is that you are not instantly bored by it; there is a quality which compels you to look at it. Secondly and most importantly look at the amount of information…on one page! Now I don’t expect you to simply copy this example of course, your job is to take it, and others you find successful, as a basis. Find their flaws and rectify them, find their strengths and improve on them.

Finally onto your covering letter, I will keep this short much in the same way you should your covering letter. If I’m being honest, of all the applications I have received I have read exactly zero covering letters in full. At most I and probably many others will skim read it, unless it is ridiculously stupid in which case it gets passed around the office as the afternoon’s entertainment. Your best bet is keep it as concise as you possibly can, half a page max, that way people are far more likely to actually read it in full and there is far less margin for error.

The very last thing I will say regarding the CV and covering letter is this. If you are emailing multiple companies at one time, which you should really be doing, under no circumstances send it to every company in one email. We have had too many applications sent to us where alongside Guerilla Tea is every other games company in Scotland. It sounds stupid but I assure you it happens more than you would care to believe, and there is no quicker path to the trash folder.

In Part 2 I shall be talking about Portfolio & Showreels, covering common mistakes and what to include in order to allow your recipient to accurately judge your work.

– Matt (CCO)

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Mar 25 2015

Community Engagement

  Community engagement is something we’ve always been involved with since the ge...

Mar 25 2015 By: Charlie Close

Community Engagement

 

Community engagement is something we’ve always been involved with since the get-go, and just recently we’ve taken on some other responsibilities.

It’s a side activity for us, but nevertheless important, and about high time we put together a summary of our activities alongside our main company projects.

 

STEM Ambassador Scheme

Several months ago our CTO Alex and programmer Brian signed up to the STEM Ambassador scheme. On the programme, they are essentially responsible for promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) subjects. Their task is to advocate and inspire young people to pursue these subjects, and follow relevant careers. The video games industry is very relevant to STEM, and they’ll be taking part in a number of different events over the year to promote a career in the games industry.

So far this has involved a number of different promotional activities for young people keen on the games industry and looking for the next stage after high school. They recently attended a ‘Meet the Expert’ event the Dundee Science Centre, meeting local teachers to promote CoderDojo, a community of free programming clubs for young people aged 7 – 17. In the coming weeks they will be helping to set up a Dundee CoderDojo.

 

Student Teams – 3rd Year Projects

For the last two years we have provided project briefs for 3rd year student teams at Abertay University. During the first year of our involvement, three teams accepted projects from Guerilla Tea, and by the end of the academic year one in particular stood out. It was a virtual reality game called Drop, where the player free falls through a space station environment, finishing in the core. The team attended showcase events including Protoplay and Deecon alongside Guerilla Tea, giving people the chance to play the game using the Oculus, which went down very well.

This year we are working with two student teams, who are building prototypes for some of the game concepts we have in our back catalogue, but haven’t had the chance to make yet. One team is again working on a virtual reality prototype, with the second team building a castle defence game. Hoping for some impressive vertical slices by the end of the year.

 

Talks, Glasgow Caledonian University, IGDA Scotland

All four co-founders give talks at industry events, including guest lectures and presentations at Abertay and University of Dundee.

Matt and Alex have both given talks at Glasgow Caledonian University, and Matt is on the industry advisory board there. He has been involved in ongoing communication with students, providing 3D Art project briefs for honours projects, and critiquing portfolios.

Several weeks ago I attended a games industry event at the Creative & Cultural Careers Festival, giving a brief presentation and then speaking with students about routes into the games industry.

Since late 2014, Mark has been on the board of IGDA Scotland, and is serving as the treasurer.

 

Breaking into Video Game Design – A Beginner’s Guide

Not long after starting Guerilla Tea I decided to write a short eBook guide on how to get into game design. The main idea was to share some tips from the perspective of someone who isn’t a 30 year veteran, who would have joined the industry at a time when it was a completely different beast compared to what it is now. I wanted to provide some tips as someone who is in a position a little more relevant to recent graduates.

Later last year I gave the book a major re-write, updating it with some new insights.

Here’s an extract from an old Gamasutra blog post.

Or buy the book, it’s only £1!

 

ENABLE Scotland

A few years ago we teamed up with ENABLE Scotland’s East Renfrewshire LAC team to run game development workshops with a group of young people with learning disabilities.

Over the course of two workshops, we organised talks from Brian Baglow, Phil Harris and Ryan Locke, and used the first workshop to establish a game concept, under the team name Lazy Boyz decided by the group!

The second workshop involved building a game, an endless runner called ‘On The Freerun’, which was released on iOS and Android after the event.

You can give the game a try…

 

iOS

Android

OTF1

OTF2

This post is just a short summary. We’re always active on social media about community engagement work we do, and will continue to share info about further activities throughout the year.

 

– Charlie

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Feb 16 2015

VR Development

A new year brings about new opportunities and 2015 is going to be interesting. One of...

Feb 16 2015 By: Charlie Close

VR Development

A new year brings about new opportunities and 2015 is going to be interesting. One of the main focus points for the year ahead will be to give some rightful attention to virtual reality development.

Our mission statement as a company is ‘to integrate areas of study and interest with innovative game design and development’. From the very beginning we’ve been taking on projects which have helped us grow and represented our business goals in terms of this statement. Early on we worked on a medical study aid called Ward Round, applying game design techniques. Our breakthrough came about a year and a half ago when we began working on Play to Cure: Genes in Space, which released early last year. This was a successful project and basically the epitome of our mission statement. This year we’re looking to combine our experience in the serious game space with virtual reality development, and are looking to find new ways of creating products which have engagement akin to video games, but also have a practical end use.

As game developers we are extremely well versed in creating immersive environments, which have a wide range of bespoke interactions.

There is a lot of scope for the use of virtual reality within training applications and we’re keen on exploring new VR based methods of solving problems. For example, being totally immersed in an environment has a wide range of possible applications to any industry which involves working in dangerous environments, such as the energy industry and its various sub-divisions. There is a vast scope for what we can achieve here and it can be tailored to suit specific needs.
The virtual training world can lead a user through specific tasks, which can be easily repeated, and context specific interactions would play a major role. These are all aspects that lend themselves to the domain of game development; we can script certain situations such as emergencies within a simulation also.

On the opposite end of things, we are looking to incorporate VR into our original IP, and we’ll be developing a number of prototype experiences this year, which we’ll consider carrying forward.

Speaking of prototypes, we’ve used the last two game jams to experiment with off-the-wall game concepts, where VR support breathed new life into the experiences.

First time around we made Just One Trip, a game about addiction where the challenges modify depending on whether you take the easy way out and give in to temptation.

JOT1JOT2

Then this year we made ‘What Have We Done!?’ which was all about the development process, but with an Oculus it became completely outrageous. Have a read about the process here.

GGJ9

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Apr 17 2014

Guerilla Tactics

The original post “Guerilla Tactics – Handling Unfamiliar Terrain – How to deal...

Apr 17 2014 By: Charlie Close

Guerilla Tactics

FB BannerThe original post “Guerilla Tactics – Handling Unfamiliar Terrain – How to deal with Clients” was written by Alex for a blog on MobileCamp Dresden. Take a look at the original article HERE.

So, let’s talk about clients. I know a lot of indie game devs frown at the very thought of working for hire. And let’s be honest here, if we could just do our own stuff without ever having to worry about how we pay next month’s rent or get food on the table, most of us wouldn’t even bother talking to someone outside the industry. But the reality is, we’re still running a business and we need to make money. And unless we’re producing the next Flappy Bird or whatever magical timesink is currenly floating on top of the app store charts, we need to have an eye on our revenue stream.

 

Now, I’m no expert, but we’ve been around for about 2.5 years now and worked with a whole bunch of different clients from a variety of industries. The most notable ones were DC Thomson and of course Cancer Research UK, with whom we developed the hugely successfull Play to Cure: Genes in Space – the world’s first mobile game that actively helps with finding a cure for cancer (seriously, how epic is that?!). But all of that still doesn’t make us the ultimate authority in the field of B2B relations, so don’t take everything I’m writing here as gospel. It’s just how we do things at Guerilla Tea because we found they work for us, and our clients.

Now, with that said, let’s get to the question. How do we deal with clients that don’t have a games background but want to develop a game? (Note: most of this is applicable to pretty much any client regardless)

 

1. Know the territory!

This is probably the most important part when working with a new client. Do your homework! It’s a bit like a job application; the better you know who and what you’re dealing with, the easier the whole process will be and the less friction will occur once you actually start working on the project.
The first thing we did when putting together the pitch for Genes in Space was researching the other companies involved, their experience, past projects and so on. For example, we knew CRUK had already sucessfully launched a serious game on the web called Cell Slider together with Zooniverse (of Galaxy Zoo fame), so we knew they had some experience working with external developers and had people with the technical background to understand the implications of running a backend system for several hundred thousand users. This was great for us since it allowed us to be more technical and therefore precise when writing the pitch. If your client doesn’t have a technical background, it takes a lot more effort to explain what and why you’re doing things, so be careful and make sure you adjust your language appropriately (and *never* try to hide knowledge gaps behind tech lingo)!

Maybe even more important than researching your client is doing the research for the project itself. What is it? Why do they want it? What and who’s problem does it solve? How? For Genes in Space, this involved me digging through every academic research paper on BAF Data, detection of Copy Number Variations and related subjects that I could get my hands on. I didn’t become a Geneticist overnight, but at least I got a good enough understanding to be confident about the project requirements. As a side note here, don’t be afraid of researching subjects that you don’t have previous experience in. My knowledge on genetics before that was basically 7th grade biology and watching Jurassic Park, but by constant cross referencing and a lot of help from Wikipedia I still managed to get a decent enough understanding of the subject. You don’t need to know everything about it – that’s your client’s job – you just want to know enough to communicate effectively and make sure you understand what it is you’re supposed to be doing.

At the end of the day, this will keep both you and your client happy because you will have a lot less misunderstandings that cost time and money to resolve. The more you know about your client and the subject, the easier it is for both parties to find and realise a common vision!

 

2. Control communication!

Keeping clients in the loop is important. Keeping clients that don’t know about games development in the loop is a lot more important. Look at it from their perspective: they just shelled out a lot of money to a company they never worked with to build a product they don’t fully understand. Of course they are nervous, so the better you keep them informed about the project, the happier they will be.

We acomplish this in multiple ways. The first one is to have regular conferences with the client (usually weekly). If possible do face to face meetings, but if the distance is too large, Skype and Google hangouts are two viable options we use regularly for that purpose. The more often you communicate directly, the easier it will be for both of you to spot problems and address them before the project veers off track.

You also want to give your clients at least some access to your internal scheduling tools. Trello and Asana are really good for that, but if your tool of choice doesn’t support this behaviour, an up to date spreadsheet on Google docs will do the job as well (you should still get a better tool though, because yours is obviously crap). This will reduce unnecessary communication overheads because everyone involved knows what you’re currently working on and when a certain feature is supposed to be implemented.

Finally, having an iterative development methodology works incredibly well with that. This way your client always has the latest stable version of the game for testing, and necessary changes can be fit into the schedule with very little friction. You don’t have to use any of the heavily formalized methodologies like SCRUM for that. We’re using our own homebrew mixture of agile and waterfall which gives us enough stability in terms of cost and time projections, but still allows us to act and react very flexible on changing requirements. Anything that gives your client enough input into the development process should work.

 

In addition to keeping up client communication, make sure you don’t forget to talk to the most important group of people: your target audience. Most of the time this will be your players, but it doesn’t have to be that way. For Genes in Space, our main audience were not the people who played the game but the researchers that had to use the analysed data. We therefore made sure to run any changes we made to the data analysis by them first to verify that it was still accurate enough. We also sent them regular samples of the data to see if we needed to improve anything. That’s not to say that we didn’t do regular playtesting sessions as well to make sure the game was fun and accessible, but those were not our main priority.

 

3. Hold your ground!

The last lesson we leant when dealing with clients was probably the most difficult one, but it’s absolutely crucial if you don’t want your project to turn into a nightmare of Lovecraftian proportions: you need to learn to say no. I know this is hard. It requires being somewhat confrontational and it can be incredibly scary because that clients money could be the only thing keeping your company from going belly up. But if you think that a client not getting the feature they wanted is bad news, wait till you see what happens when the deadline slips for the 3rd time because the project is choking from feature creep, you’re nine months late and your code has more bugs than a roadside motel bed because all those nifty little features were glued together by spit and good hopes, without any proper planning whatsoever. That is when you should be scared.

Now, I’m not saying you should just tell your client to bugger off when they have an idea for a new feature. But if it doesn’t fit into the schedule or would be too costly to implement or is just a generally bad idea, you’ve got to deal with that. Explain the situation. Look for compromises. Maybe you can get that new feature in if you remove another one that is less valuable. Maybe you can come up with something that is less costly but emulates almost the same functionality. In the worst case, tell them that you will have to adjust the schedule and costing of the project if they really want the feature in. Whatever you do, just don’t simply say “yes” because the client asked for it; that’s the express lift to developer hell. Stay focused on your goals. Keeping the project on time and on budget is infinitely more valuable for everyone involved in the end than a little disappointment every now and again.

Also, don’t just watch out for the client. Your team members are just as prone to come up with potentially damaging features. However, they are usually easier to deal with since they have a better understanding of the development process. When we were building Genes in Space, Charlie (our designer) had a lot of ideas that I’m sure would have made the game a lot more exciting to play. Making a game fun is his job after all. However, we needed to shoot a lot of them down because they would have meddled with the accuracy of the data analysis. For these cases, I recommend having one team member as a dedicated “guardian”. The job of the guardian is to make sure that whatever is proposed does not interfere with the main goal of the application; a bit like a vision keeper, but with a much narrower focus. Take the person with the best understanding of the project’s goals and give him the authority to veto every new feature if it violates these goals.

Now, as I said at the beginning, this is just the way we do things. It took us a while to get there, but for now it works pretty well – for us and our clients! However, we’re still prone to making mistakes at one point or the other, so if you use a different process that might help us or have a good idea that might improve the ones we have, we’re looking forward to hear about them. Maybe in a year or so I’ll write an update for this post to see what we’ve learnt in the meantime.

Alex out.

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