Live, breathe and sleep games
24 Aug 2017
Live, breathe and sleep games
24 Aug 2017
Ben Herron has always relished the opportunity to make people laugh, cry and cheer. After spending some of his earlier years in theatre, Ben’s love of play, creativity and skill lead him to study a Bachelor of Games Development at SAE Brisbane.
It took Ben five years to complete the two-year degree. Studies at SAE were put on hold one year into the degree when he was whisked away to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) having received a scholarship offer to study at TwoFour54 Gaming Academy in Abu Dhabi. What followed was a job offer at Gamified Labs’ studio in Dubai, followed by another job offer with leading global publisher of digital and social games, Gameloft, that enticed his return to Australia.
Studies completed, Ben continues to grow and learn in his career, devoting several hours each day to building on his knowledge of games development. For three years he’s been a resident at Gameloft’s Brisbane-based studios as Game Designer & Writer. The company that’s renowned for games such as; Modern Combat 5: Blackout, Dragon Mania Legends, Asphalt 8: Airborne, and Brothers in Arms: Sons of War.
As one of the world’s largest global gaming companies housing two studios in Australia (the second is in Sydney), Gameloft boasts 6,000 employees in 21 studios throughout America, Europe and Asia…
“Our greatest reward is seeing that 2.8 million new Gameloft games are downloaded every day.”
Boasting the largest development and creation team in the digital games industry, all Gameloft games are developed in-house by designers like Ben whose specialties include; Systems Design, Technical Design, Narrative Design and anything else the studio might need!
With hobbies that include American football, cosplay, and of course games, we spoke to Ben to find out more about his passion for game design and his experience studying Games Development at SAE Brisbane…
What inspired you to study games?
I didn’t really have a singular light-bulb moment when it came to deciding to study games. I’d played games my whole life and had never really considered it seriously as a career. Over time however I became more interested in what made games tick; why did players turn right at on a map instead of left? How did particular systems function under the hood? How were different assets made? What were all the tricks devs used? So my interest grew organically for a while until an opportunity presented itself. I’d recently quit my day job with the intention of going back to study and a friend of mine mentioned that SAE Institute was having an Open Day that weekend. I attended and as the saying goes… the rest is history!
What did you love most about studying at SAE?
It’s going to sound horribly sappy and exaggerated, but it was one of the first times I remember truly belonging somewhere. I was finally among mentors and peers who shared a passion for games that matched my own. I was able to have extended and informed conversations with fellow students and lecturers about games development. I knew then that I’d made the right choice.
"...it was one of the first times I remember truly belonging somewhere."
Can you share how the skills you learned while studying at SAE have helped you in your career?
The most valuable learning at SAE came from the course intensity itself. When you need to be delivering an assessment every week (sometimes 2, 3 or even 4) you learn time management pretty quickly! Learning to balance quality and time on a deliverable has been an invaluable skill working in this industry. I also believe that learning to have faith in yourself and your ability to learn is key. To know that if you’re faced with a problem you have no idea how to solve; with a little research you can always find a way through.
What have been your career highlights?
My career is still in its infancy, but a highlight so far has been playing a key role in the development of Gameloft Brisbane’s first release, Zombie Anarchy. In particular taking over writing duties for the project, and being able to develop the game world and its characters alongside the design. This experience has definitely been at the top of the highlights ladder!
What do you enjoy most about working in your industry?
Just working in it - I love the work!! Games has always been a passion of mine, and for me making games is now almost a game in itself. Games are about learning and resolving a series of challenges for a reward. Making a game is no different. You learn, you solve design problems and you receive the reward of seeing people play your finished product. Your colleagues are also great. Games isn’t really a career you take up because you want money; you do it because you love it, you simply have to make games. This usually means that your colleagues share that same passion, and that makes for an incredible working environment.
"Games isn’t really a career you take up because you want money; you do it because you love it, you simply have to make games."
What projects are you working on at the moment?
Unfortunately I cannot disclose what projects I’m working on professionally, but I am working on a few personal projects at the moment. I’m currently building maps for Doom and Half Life 2 to practice level design. I’m also working on a sci-fi tactical shooter (think Mass Effect meets XCOM) as a way to keep my scripting up to scratch.
Can you share an artist that inspires you?
Only a team can make a game, no one person can create everything (with rare exceptions obviously!). Thus I don’t like to single out particular people as inspirations, it’s studios that inspire me. Kojima Productions, Guerrilla Games and Naughty Dog inspire me with the exceptional quality of their narrative driven gameplay. Blizzard, Firaxis and Nintendo inspire me with their attention to fun and purity of design.
What advice would you give to students aspiring to become successful their field?
Lots of clichés but here’s a few…
Continue learning and developing yourself.
The learning doesn’t end once you’ve finished your degree. New technology emerges and new techniques are developed. Multi-skilled developers are not only more valuable, but the more you know about development the better you’ll be. A designer who can code will know how to talk to programmers. A programmer who understands art will know how to implement an element the art team needs.
You have to want it.
After all my nice words I have to be real for a moment. Working in the games industry is hard. There will be bad days, long nights and unreasonable requests. Something you’ve been working on for months will be cut or refactored. Projects will be cancelled. Studios will close. On top of all this you’re competing with thousands of people for a relative handful of jobs and some of them are industry vets with 15+ years of experience. Just liking games won’t be enough to get you through this. You have to NEED to make games. To live, breathe and sleep games. I know it sounds daunting, but if you really want it bad enough you’ll get it. But you have to want it.
Play everything. Plan ahead.
Related to both of the above, make sure you expand your horizons. You never know where your next job may come from or what skills you may need for it. If you’re not a fan of mobile games, download a few of the top 10 grossing and play them. Try and understand what methods the designers are using to retain users and drive monetization. Play board games, they’re some of the best examples of pure design around. Take the time to keep building your portfolio and putting yourself out there. Make connections and network. Who you know can take you a long way.
This and That Game
* Converse or Vans
Skechers - if I’m being honest! Otherwise Converse cause I’ve heard the name more! I’m not big into fashion ;)
* Coffee or Tea
Definitely coffee, what kind of dev do you think I am?
* Apple or Android
Droid 4 Lyfe
* Instagram or Snapchat
I don’t use either but my fiancé insists on putting the Snapchat filters on me every other day and I guess they can be entertaining at times ;)