My Job: Game design an idea worth entertaining

By Angela McCarthy

Name: Caroline Jeffries.
Age: Mid-30s.
Occupation: Senior technical artist and game development course leader at Media Design School.
Salary: $85,000 - $120,000 for senior technical artist role.
Hours: 40 hours-plus.
Qualification: Masters in Computer Animation from Bournemouth University, United Kingdom.

Caroline Jeffries says New Zealand game design companies need to stand up and get noticed. Photo / Ted Baghurst
Caroline Jeffries says New Zealand game design companies need to stand up and get noticed. Photo / Ted Baghurst

What does a senior technical artist do?

The overall aim is to get the game working efficiently by managing the art pipeline, working alongside the tools programmers as a buffer. Games artists tend to ask for the "moon on a stick", while programmers point out engine restrictions so a lot of the role involves finding out what the game restrictions are, then negotiating with the programmers to create in-house tools or helping to develop techniques that allow artists to get the maximum aesthetic look and performance out of the game.

What is your background?

Before coming to New Zealand to take up the role as course leader for game development at Media Design School, I was a senior technical artist for about 10 years in the UK. Most of that time I spent in Guildford, a focal point for games development in Europe. I worked with various companies including Lionhead Games and Electronic Arts (EA), on their Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix game.

My last two years I worked for Supermassive Games, one of the best games companies in Guildford. They were a start-up company that grew from four to 70 people in just two years. They were pushing the envelope with new controller technology for Sony's "move controller" and starting to develop interactive drama-based projects that were cutting edge.

How did you get into the industry?

When I left school I wanted to do computer graphics but at that time there wasn't really an avenue into it so I did a graphic design and illustration degree instead. I worked as a graphic designer for about six years while saving to do the Masters in Computer Animation at Bournemouth University. It is a globally recognised computer graphics qualification. I worked in post-production and then got into the games industry.

What do you enjoy about the games industry?

I really like the technical challenges and particularly like helping to improve the aesthetic look of games. I also like to encourage games companies to look at genres that appeal to both sexes; something that is starting to happen now.

Why move to Media Design School?

I came to New Zealand last year with my Kiwi partner Dean, who also works in computer games. Dean's parents were getting elderly and he wanted to be in New Zealand.

I had been talking to MDS about this role for a while but it took two years to move, largely because of project commitments. I like MDS because they maintain strong industry links, particularly with the games industry.

What are some of the challenges for New Zealand game development?

Exposure! When my partner Dean was researching work options, we looked at gamesdevmap.com, an industry-recognised website that tracks games companies globally. There was only one New Zealand company on this map, yet we have since found over 20 here. They need to literally put themselves on the map.

There are some fantastic innovative New Zealand companies that need to get better known to publishers like Microsoft or Sony who help fund games projects.

Fifteen years ago Guildford had just a couple of companies, then industry contacts were made with big companies like EA who bought them out and off-shoot companies started and it took off. I want New Zealand to do the same.

Are there many women working in the games industry?

Not many, which is a shame. At MDS we encourage female students who've come into the basic level courses to think of it as an acceptable option. According to 2010 research (www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/), only 4 per cent of the industry's staff are women, a diminishing number. Those women employed tend to work more in roles such as development managers and animators.

Advice to women considering it as a career?

Go for it - you won't get a role if you don't apply. And don't feel negative about the lack of women in the industry. There is a sense that games are a male product with teen boys being the typical demographic but a growing number of women play games. Generally women are most interested in interactive dramas which have more depth in their story lines. To give you an example, the interactive drama Heavy Rain involves searching for a missing child with the outcome changing depending on your navigation through the game and the options you choose. Sci fi, fantasy and horror are other genres that also interest women.

Your favourite project?

Probably Start the Party, my last project with Supermassive Games. We were developing it as Sony was slowly releasing the technology to us. We used new move controller technology which allows people to interact physically with games without using handheld consoles; something parents love because it gets children moving around. There were lots of technical challenges we hadn't encountered before so it was fun and challenging.

- NZ Herald

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