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Fandom Life Gaming Interviews

The Game of Nerds Interviews: Tyler LaBelle, Game Designer

My youngest son is interested in making games. I decided to ask questions about getting into game making. I was able to talk to a game designer. As I got my answers, I decided to share with you guys and gals. I figure my son isn't the only one to want to make games.

My husband and sons are avid gamers. That’s all my sons want to do is play games. I make them do productive stuff too, don’t worry. My youngest son is also interested in making games. I decided to ask questions about getting into game making. I was able to talk to a game designer. As I got my answers, I decided to share them with you guys and gals. I figure my son isn’t the only one to want to make games. I was able to interview Mr. Tyler LaBelle who is currently working on games as well as other projects. Here are his answers to my questions:

Question: Tyler, how do you specifically help make a video game? Both now and in the past?

Answer: My specific roles have varied a bit from studio to studio. But the majority of my work has been as an Environment Artist/Prop Modeler. Essentially I was responsible for modeling things like plants/buildings/furniture, anything other than characters or vehicles really. The first studio I worked for I had to do a bit of everything so I have made a few random characters and other items here and there.

Other than games I have also worked making furniture for online retail sites, you know the ones that let you place the stuff in your room before buying it? Not exactly the same as making games but more or less the same tools/pipeline for creating assets.

Q: Are you working on anything exciting right now?

A: Wish that I could say… Unfortunately, working with any studio or large company they make you sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA), stating you cannot tell what you are working on or the specifics of your work until it is made public. What I can say is I work with digital scans of human anatomy for the benefit of all. Most of the work is pure Research and Development (R&D) so lots of testing and validation work.

Q: What have you liked working on the most? Why?

A: The project I had the most fun on would have to be “Defense Grid: 2

I loved working with every member of that team and I enjoyed it so much I would even go home and work for another few hours in my personal time. It was probably the most collaborative and trusting team anyone could ask for. My art director would scribble down notes and ideas on a napkin and tell me what he wanted and just let me run with the idea. If I could go back and do it all over again I would in a heartbeat.

On top of just being a fun project to work on, the studio was an awesome place to work. For the most part, we didn’t have “Crunch Time” like you hear about with the bigger studios. This basically meant that I worked my own hours without worrying about getting things in for the latest builds. Most days I showed up several hours before anyone ells, did my work, and then left when I was finished. Everyone was trusted to do their job without being checked on every five minutes, and that’s something you can’t put a value on.

Q: What does it take to make a video game?

A: Games like any other team project have a lot of moving parts to them. If we’re talking specifics you need to have the following

Project managers: The ones that keep everyone on track and set deadlines for the projects. If you look in any office they usually have a lot of sticky notes around their computers and a giant whiteboard with columns and labels of things that need to be done.

Programmers: They are responsible for making sure everything runs in the background… and usually, yell at Artist for “Hindering Performance and frame rate”

Designers: Usually the person/people behind what the game will be about and the mechanics involved. They plan the story and set the general look and feel of the game’s overall concepts.

Artists both 2D and 3D: We make the pretty stuff… and unintentionally break performance boundaries set by the programming team.

Subsets of Artist would be:

-Concept Artist

-Character Artist

-Vehicles

-Weapons

-Environments

-FX

Marketing: People who spread the word about the game through social media, commercials, ads.

There are a few other roles and responsibilities that are usually more upper management/studio lead territory.

Q: Do video games get drawn or do you use models to figure out characters look or move?

A: Just about every game made has some amount of concept art for the artist to work from. Character artist pulls information from a lot of places. Depending on the genre and style of the game an artist will pull reference from the film, other games, and even books for inspiration. Anatomy is always important when designing a character. Just because you have a large fantasy beast or small cuddly animal doesn’t mean they don’t have muscle and bones underneath. Everything is designed to move and react in a game much like they would in real life. So artists have to pull reference from the closest source they can, such as zoology books or human anatomy. You’ll also see a lot of action figures and props surrounding any artist’s desk, they are more than just toys they are the inspiration for future projects.

Q: How much research goes into a video game?

A: Depending on the game it can take a lot of research to accomplish what you want. If you’re going for more of a historically accurate/inspired game then chances are would want to gather some history books and maybe visit a local museum. It wouldn’t make much sense to have Wild West game where the main character wears gladiator armor and eats sushi.

Other things to consider are what type of game it’s going to be, such as Role Playing Games (RPG), First Person Shooter (FPS) or puzzle games to name a few. You want to look at the market and see how certain games fair and what mechanics they employ for success. A game can look pretty but if the gameplay is crap no one’s going to want to play it. That’s why older games such as Super Mario are still such a hit today.

Q: Do you have to be really creative to make a video game?

A: Being creative is definitely a plus if you’re going to be working on games. However not every role is a creative one. Take for example finances or project managing. Those roles are more technical than creative but are still an essential part of the team.

Q: Are video game making platforms like Steam good to use to make a video game?

A: It depends on a few factors; platforms such as steam are friendlier to the indie creator allowing novice startups to get visibility were places such as Epic or Origin tend to go with more established developers. Each platform has specific rules on the content and quality of the products they allow on the market. It’s an investment for both parties and isn’t a guaranteed money maker. You have to look over the specifics of each company’s rules and regulations regarding game content and how much they take off the top from your profits.

Q: Do you have to go to school to get into making video games? How long does it take?

A: No you absolutely do not need to go to a formal school to make games. There are many schools that offer game courses varying from 6 months to 4 years depending on where you go. Some of these classes are accredited (give you college credit at certain schools) but many are not.

With the internet these days it’s a lot easier to find and gather information about making games than ever before. When I was going to school it was hard to find any information on the net like it was a heavily guarded secret. If you managed to find the right message board you could get some insights from people currently working in games and find out how they do things. Now the information is so abundant you can find tons of YouTube channels and websites dedicated to anything you could want to know about making games.

I’ve worked with people that were totally self-taught and others that went to expensive colleges to learn their craft. When it comes down to it you will learn more on the job than any classroom.

Q: Do you have any tips for someone looking to get into the video game field?

A: If I could give one bit of advice, have a backup plan. No matter how good you are the game market is never stable and jobs get cut all the time. It’s a tough market and you are one of a thousand people applying for the same job. I’m not saying don’t follow your dream, I’m just saying set your expectations accordingly.

On average it takes around 2 years for a college grad to get into a studio if they ever make it that far. On top of that, you will most likely be on a short term contract for 3-6months. Not to say this can’t turn into something great just make sure you can sustain yourself between jobs. Make sure you’re up to date on the standards and practices of the last of your chosen discipline. Things change quick and new software becomes a necessity to break in or to keep up with others.

Something else I recommend is networking with others in the field. Having a friend in a studio goes a lot further than just randomly applying. If you have the time and money to go to any career event, meetup, the convention you can, and share your work and your story with others. You will find a lot of people who started out just like you that might be able to lend a helping hand in the future. It’s not an instant payoff and requires a lot of work but in the end, it may land you at the studio of your dreams.

These answers are a big help to my son and to help me understand what my son needs to do or not do. I hope it helps answer some questions you have. Do you have any more questions? Mr. LaBelle has said I can ask some follow up questions if there are any. If you have questions, leave them in the comments below and I will ask and answer for you. Til next week…

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