Patch Notes (Meeting Summary):
2 November 2018

The One About Naughty Dog (Guest Speaker: Felix Park)Eric Mitchell

This general meeting, we hosted a special guest speaker: Felix Park, a Game Scripter/Designer who has worked at Naughty Dog for three years, and who was part of the development team for Uncharted 4! As a fully-employed designer, his main focus is coordinating production work - where constant communication is key - and implementing scripting logic in engine. Prior to working at Naughty Dog, he also had experience working as a software engineer, where he handled contract work with Unity, various mobile developers, and some game porting.

Felix also relayed what the most critical issue he faced while in the games industry: Communication. In the industry, developers often have different mindsets. Being able to communicate between other departments clearly and specifically is a key skill - especially to avoid misunderstandings and differing expectations. Explaining personal work goals is crucial as well; being able to clearly communicate the intention behind one's work to coworkers helps.

Communication is also needed to garner more information about specific game engines and pipelines - proprietary engines sometimes make communicating about technical specifics difficult, and often have little to no documentation. If one wants to learn about how someone from a different department achieves their work goals, communication with them lets one better understand their work pipeline. Coincidentally, this also helps with understanding a department's needs (or an individual's needs). Broad and general experience with multiple paradigms is one of the most powerful assets to have as a designer.

Felix was also available to answer questions from GDA members. Here's a (non-strictly verbatim) transcript, with some answers given by Jimmy Zhou, GDA's longtime partner for industry contacts:

Q: what are your general thoughts about crunch, and have you personally experienced it?
Felix: Yeah. It’s unpleasant. It's definitely unhealthy. To students starting out in the industry who want to impress their leads and peers, do your best to avoid crunch even if there is pressure. Crunch may be mandatory, but if it isn’t, try to let go. However, most game companies assume crunch, so it may be unavoidable.

Q: Do you think 2D artists should shift their learning of fundamentals to 3d programs in order to break through & get a job in the industry?
Felix: Don’t be that much of a generalist. Find your specialty and know that you want to be hired for. Having breadth is good, but having specialization is good for hiring. 2D art isn’t as popular in the Industry, but it is still highly applicable in mobile and indie fields! Most games are!

Q: What's the best piece of advice you've received during your career that you would tell yourself when you were starting out your career?
Felix: Lean on coworkers for learning and career advice. Your more experienced coworkers as great resources. Utilize connection for learning, not just networking! If you aren’t super into networking, lean into the resources you do have!

Q: What are the best ways to gain job experience when trying to apply for positions?
Felix: First job partially based on student project! Look for job listed as Entry Level or Junior! To build up experience, just make games and build a portfolio. For programmers, READ BOOKS, like Game Engine Architecture by Jason Gregory. For designers, just make games! Get something show, and polish your skills. In this current age, it's much easier to make a cool game without being technically inclined (using tools like Twine, Game Maker, etc)! If you don’t have industry experience, simulate it! Internships also work really well as entry-level jobs, although I never received one.

Q: How often are you able to express your creative vision in design?
Felix: Depends on the project, on a bigger game, the leads contribute the overall vision, but secondary and tertiary level of the game often have opportunities to pitch ideas to the directors and leads. However, on a project so big, it's hard for even a creative director or lead to get 100% of their vision across.

Q: Is it possible to get a job at a dream studio?
Felix: Yes, if you specialize for what the studio wants/needs. Pay attention to what the studio needs right now. However, having a “perfect” company in mind can distract you from getting other jobs and getting the experience you need to move around the industry. Try and get a job making things you love, and you might eventually make it to your dream company! Even working on candy crush clone 8000 is still a legitimate career.

Q: Where to look for internships?
Jimmy: Look on google jobs! Big companies will have all of the current listings. Smaller companies can require linkedin and google alerts. Know how to sell yourself, and cast a wide net.
Felix: Also remember that your work will be compared to industry professionals. Make sure you a good portfolio and make sure you have something to show.
Jimmy: Experiment! Your grade aren’t 100% critical so make something that will make you stand out.

Q: Is grad school worth it?
Felix: Bachelor's is fine. Grad school can open up a peer network, but it isn’t necessary. It's a good if you want to go into academic games.
Jimmy: Yeah, a bachelor's is good.

Q: Are there any passion projects you want to go back to?
Felix: All my old games are done. There were made in a specific time in my life and I’d rather make something new for passion projects.

Q: what is a career path in a game studio like?
Felix: Standing out can get you a promotion. However, seniority also matters a lot a the company. In terms of Naughty Dog, leads get a better say, BUT you don’t override the wishes of your team. You are more a representative of your team and take on more production duties.

Q: How does your creative writing degree factor into the industry?
Felix: Not very much. However, parts of the artistic process (like critique and taking feedback) are 100% applicable.

Q: Did your student projects help you career and skill-wise?
Felix: Yes, especially in terms of technical skills. One of his student games actually did help him get his first job and opened the door to an interview. When he is looking at a student resume, he does look at student work, but it's not always critical, more of a base level of expectation. Student projects do not replace interviews.

Q: If you plan on going into the industry primarily as a designer, how valuable is knowing art and programming?
Felix: As a technical designer, programming is very important. Even as a general designer, it's a good idea to have a basic understanding of all the pipelines and tools that art and other depts use. “Production-level knowledge,” some would say.

Q: how can we avoid crunching?
Felix: Make sure to clearly communicate in terms of expectations. Be able to talk about your needs. Going home (especially on weekends) is a BIG step to avoiding crunch. Figure out where your boundaries are. If a company doesn’t consider your needs to an extreme degree, you may want to consider another job.

Q: What did you do on Uncharted 4?
Felix: Level scripting, including scripting the entirety of the epilogue. I also did AI scripting for AI buddy on coop multiplayer.

Remember, next Friday is Pitch Night - get ready to see what ideas your peers have cooked up!

(Shoutout to Vice President Valentino for taking tonight's notes!)