Q. Having fun on the job? That sounds great. How long have you been having fun and working in the gaming industry?
Broken In goes hybrid this week with Art Manager and Senior Environment Artist Sam Jones stepping up to offer insight that covers how he broke into the industry, what the atmosphere is like inside the studio, and what candidates should keep in mind when they decide to try their own hand at building futuristic landscapes. If you're persistently curious about what you need to do to land a role in a gaming studio, Sam is ready to convey information that provides the insider's perspective. If you're prepared to absorb it, read on.
Q. Who are you and what do you do for Bungie?
A. I’m Sam Jones and my current role is as a hybrid art manager with a large share of senior environment art duties. Sounds like a lot to swallow, but it basically means I am charged with supporting fellow artists by managing their careers, helping out with technical advice and providing guidance. In terms of production art tasks I am responsible for "massing out" spaces (making the earliest possible 3D representation of a level) and moving these through "architecting" (making the missions more functional in engine and better to play as well as look at), then finally "finishing" them (polish and bugs). And I really should say that both sides of my job are just as much fun as each other.
A. About eight years now. And fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on the way you look at it) my addiction to videogames has definitely not been cured. I am probably more addicted than ever (still haven’t got that last star in Super Mario Galaxy, though).
Before walking around in the halls of Bungie as an employee, I used to work at another quality establishment far across the Atlantic Ocean in Britain. The place is called Rare and is still cranking out quality titles to this day.
Originally, I got into Rare by being incredibly persistent – whilst at university I applied there every year for three years before landing in an interview. Due to the fact that they knew exactly who I was, were able to track my career, and had given me advice in the years before, I was in a good position when it came to the interview. My persistence helped me and showed them I was really passionate and dedicated. I don’t give up easily.
Rare was a great place for me to start out as I spent most of my time there as Lead Environment Artist on a game called Perfect Dark Zero™, released in the back end of 2005.
Back three years ago, both Bungie and Rare were owned by Microsoft, so it was relatively easy for me to set up a relationship and meet with Bungie folk prior to working here.
Along with the Halo titles I have worked on, I have experienced eight successive years of working on sci-fi first person shooters. In real terms that means I’ve been making shiny future spaceships and neon lit future cities for a whole chunk of time. And I am still loving every second of it.
Q. So, what makes working for Bungie a bit different from the other great gigs you've had?
A. There are many things that make Bungie different, but perhaps the one thing for me that really sets it apart is the "open forum" atmosphere it strives to maintain. And by that, I do not mean it is a free for all of loud voices fighting each other for "air time," but rather I mean that people are not just employed here to carry out their job title, but also they are encouraged to be critical of all areas of our video game production. This way, we are always our harshest critic as a company and I believe this leads to a better product in the consumer’s hands at the end of the day.
Another great thing is that my commute is just two minutes walk down a gentle hill – and that can’t be bad. ;)
Q. During your time with Bungie, is there a single moment that defines the overall experience for you? Have you witnessed any major changes since you came on board?
A. Wow! Around two and half years ago when we were play testing Halo 3 was a big defining moment for me here. We used to be bundled together in the test labs and would regularly play each mission through and fill in questionnaires for each.
One day, I was really enjoying one mission in particular, called The Storm
in the released version of the game. There is one bit when you encounter a fully mobile Scarab for the first time and you have to take it down with a missile launcher while riding a Mongoose. In fact, this is the first time you ride this really cool vehicle in Halo 3. I remember feeling complete elation at just how incredibly well this part of the game played and that I was actually a part of the team making this game.
That was amazing enough. Then, when I spoke to the mission designer of that Scarab encounter and told him how cool I thought it was, he was perplexed at how much I enjoyed it. He actually felt that this particular encounter he had created had not really come out quite as cool as he had originally envisioned and fell far short of what he wanted to achieve and so felt that my gushing about how "cool" it was was nice, but he still wasn’t satisfied. At that point it was really driven home to me how high the quality bar here at Bungie is and to what degree people here hold themselves accountable for creating an experience that is truly quality.
Change? A big change is company growth. In the past three years we have taken on many new people and now it’s hard to go to the restroom without it being fully occupied. ;)
Seriously, its great seeing all the new faces and growing a team that has a greater collected breadth of experience.
Q. As the influx of new faces file in, do you ever feel like you need to recapture your own sense of youthful excitement?
A. I never feel like I am consciously trying to maintain drive here at Bungie. The amazing wealth of diverse tasks I do currently – production art or otherwise – really keeps me fresh. The people I work with are all mega talented and lots of fun to be around. And of course, I have to bring up the fact that we are all avid game players and critics. We passionately discuss the merits of new (and old) games daily and we all share a real love and respect for the videogames we make and play, including Halo of course. Having a common connection really is bonding and makes showing up at work very easy indeed. And that’s not even including donut Thursdays and bagel Fridays...
Q. If you could offer up one warning for upstarts looking to get their hands on some of the studio's circular foodstuffs, what would it be?
A. A lack of preparation is a killer. Preparedness always helps. This applies to interviews, material for presentations, meetings, general working life and most other cases I can think of.
For example – go into an interview unprepared and the first question they ask is an incredibly simple one but catches you off guard (because you hadn’t anticipated it) and the result will be that you will experience frustration with yourself and also worsen your candidacy for the relevant role. Furthermore, let’s say you’ve got to do a demo of your work (in a work situation or elsewhere) and you’ve not prepared for it adequately, and the result will be that you will ultimately look unprofessional and not get people to buy into what you’re doing or your ability to do it.
I have the most insanely boring, but useful mantra in the world: “to fail to plan is to plan to fail." Works in 95% of cases.
Q. Experience, Work Ethic, or Talent - if you had to choose just one of these much sought after qualities to have in a candidate, which would you go with and why?
A. Work ethic is very important. It’s always good to show you are enthusiastic first hand through hard, effective work and a professional attitude. And that also translates into your personal-professional relationships with people around you. A good work ethic in you is also a benefit to the work ethic of others around you.
Talent and experience on their own do not imply that you can make a finished product in a quality fashion with passion – a good work ethic can show just that.
Q. Bonus Round! Give us the top three things aspiring applicants should do if they are looking to break into the gaming industry.
1) Should be passionate about making and playing games – without which you might as well be in another industry.
2) Should be able to intelligently absorb and convey information – this shows that you can learn quickly, be able to teach others well, and be able to substantiate your own opinions as well as respect those of others - essential in the subjective and fast moving world of game development.
3) Should be creative – whether you’re a producer, artist, engineer or whatever – bringing a creative solution to bear on a problem is always a great bonus for you and everyone around you. Creativity = win.
Thanks to Sam Jones for taking the time out to make this interview both creative and informative. He's put his own persistence, preparation, and passion on display and we definitely appreciate it. If you appreciate it yourself because you intend to make a name in the industry by fashioning shiny futuristic spaceships and cityscapes and you think you're prepared to take on a role here at Bungie, you should take it one step further and check out our shiny, futuristic Jobs Page
. We're hiring. And as Sam noted, we have donuts.