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Austin Game Conference Update

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We have some Austin Game Conference news to share with you.

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1. Magic Leap Chief Game Wizard Graeme Devine to Keynote Austin Game Conference

2. First Round of Speakers Announced

3. Registration Is Open

4. Sponsors and Exhibitors

1. Magic Leap Chief Game Wizard Graeme Devine to Keynote Austin Game Conference

The Austin Game Conference (Sept. 22-22), with presenting sponsor Electronic Arts, is proud to welcome one of the industry’s most provocative visionaries, Graeme Devine, Chief Game Wizard at Magic Leap, as its 2016 opening keynote speaker. Innovating across multiple platforms, technologies and major titles, Devine is currently contributing to Magic Leap’s Mixed Reality computing platform. To read more visit: http://austingamecon.com/speakers/graeme-devine/

2. First Round of Speakers Announced

We’ve announced our first round of speakers, experts that span the industry.

  • Kathy Astromoff, VP of Developer Success, Twitch
    J. Allen Brack, Executive Producer and Senior Vice President, Blizzard Entertainment
    Harlan T Beverly, PhD Assistant Director, Texas Venture Labs McCombs School of Business, UT Austin
    Adam Creighton, Studio GM & Director of Development, Panic Button
    Patrick Curry, Director, Unity Austin, Unity Technologies
    Graeme Devine, Chief Game Wizard, Magic Leap
    Dallas Dickinson, CEO, QC Games
    Kate Edwards, Executive Director, International Game Developers Association
    Shafeeqa Watkins Giarratani, Partner, Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP
    Scott Hartsman, CEO, Trion Worlds
    Elizabeth Howard, Vice President of Publishing, Aspyr Media
    Rami Ismail, Co-Founder, Vlambeer
    Sean F. Kane, Co-Chair, Interactive Entertainment Group, Frankfurt Kurnit
    Josh Kermond, Lead Producer, Big Huge Games
    Raph Koster, Independent Designer and Consultant
    Aaron Lemke, CCO / Co-Founder, WaveVR
    Starr Long, Executive Producer, Portalarium
    Chris Mancil, Director of Community & Influencers, Electronic Arts
    Phil Mansell, Vice President, Jagex
    Laralyn McWilliams, Chief Creative Officer, Skydance Interactive
    Pete Moss, VRDude, Lead Engineer, Creative Content Studio, Unity Technologies
    Leo Olebe, Director, Global Games Partnerships, Facebook
    Juan Rubio, Freelance Unity Developer, Technical Director and CG Supervisor, Yanki.jp LLC
    John Smedley, CEO, Pixelmage Games
    Finn Staber, Programmer/Designer, Portalarium
    Paul Stephanouk, Design Director, Boss Fight Entertainment
    Chris Shonk, General Partner, ATX Seed Ventures
    Sibel Sunar, CEO, fortyseven communications
    Rich Vogel, Executive Producer/President BattleCry Studios a division of Bethesda Softworks
    Adriel Wallick, Independent Game Developer, MsMinotaur
    Gordon Walton, President Art & Craft Entertainment, Inc.
    Rich Weil, Senior VP Global Operations, ModSquad
    Mike Wilson, Founder/Partner and Patron Saint of Communication, Gambitious Partners
    John Young, Director of Product Analysis and Monetization, Trion Worlds

Additional speaker announcements are forthcoming.

3. Registration Is Open

Registration is open at http://AustinGameCon.com/register/. Super Early registration before July 29th is $249. Attendees who register by July 29th save $300 off of the full conference price.A limited number of student tickets are available for $149. Group discounts are available as well.

4. Sponsors and Exhibitors

AGC is sponsored in part by: Electronic Arts and Aspyr, Epic Games Unreal Engine, Unity Technologies, Nexon, Insomniac Games, Frankfurt Kurnit, SMU Guildhall, University of Advancing Technology, International Game Developers Association (IGDA), Game Recruiter and GameDev.net. Additional sponsorship and exhibitor opportunities are available. Just reply to this email for details.


A Vital Skill for Game Industry Managers

YOU and your guild are ready for the big raid……

aegis-dspit’s a tough pull and as the raid leader, you need to do something—anything—to reduce the odds of a wipe. And you’re almost out of Hot Pockets. Even if you’ve read all the boards and come up with what should be a fail-proof plan, if you can’t communicate your commands clearly, you’re all pretty much setting yourself up for an epic fail. Even with the highest tier gear and maxed-out levels, the ability to communicate clearly is a must-have when you’re out there in a dangerous online world (and it doesn’t hurt to use it in the real world too!)

Getting your message across effectively is a vital part of being a successful manager. While solid financing, a well-founded business plan, and a great team are important, good communication is what makes it all come together and stay together. While some people (Christian “I’ll trash your lights” Bale comes to mind) certainly get their point across, you’re going to want to conduct your conversations in a lower tone of voice. Effective communication (and therefore successful business) hinges on people being able to communicate clearly with each other.


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People communicate in lots of different ways—

through body language, words, Hawaiian shirts, facial expressions, even hand signs—but that doesn’t mean everyone does it perfectly and there’s always room for improvement (Are you listening, Bobby Knight?). Whether you’re an individual or a company, a few basic rules will help you get your message across clearly.

Great communication skills really are the most important aspect of the leadership.”

– Comment from an MMO guild leader


 

Some Simple Rulesac4a4b2b-d245-4c1f-9dcd-e3ae7ccfa2ab

  • Be clear in your own mind about what you want to say
  • Figure out the best way to get your message and meaning across
  • Find a happy medium between too much and not enough
  • Don’t overlook barriers to clear communication–including your own

Choose the Right Method

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Communication methods can be grouped more or less into four general types:

(1) Written word

(2) Spoken word

(3) Symbolic gestures

(4) Visual images (but not Hawaiian shirts)

When you do it right, any of the four works well individually. Combine two or more methods to increase interest, comprehension, and retention (and possibly increase the chance that you will be misunderstood).


So, what type of communication should you choose?

First, ask yourself what you’re trying to express. Think about your target audience. An informal Monday morning stand-up isn’t really the place for a full-blown presentation about benefits. Think about available time and resources. Spending a boatload on an outside consultant probably isn’t the best choice for a presentation to senior management about cutting costs. Especially with an economy so troubled even The Sims are facing foreclosure.

Ways to Get Your Message Across:d1754213-9970-4479-bd94-252aa33a3d67

  •  Writing: Letters, memos, reports, proposals, billboards, notes, contracts, summaries, agendas, notices, regulations, minutes, plans – putting it in writing makes it more formal (and sometimes more “official”). The written word is the traditional way that organizations communicate because it’s relatively permanent and accessible. Now that we use email and other kinds of electronic communication as easily as we used to use hard copy memos, it makes communication faster (which has its upside and downside, which we’ll talk about later.)
  •  Talking: Conversations, interviews, meetings, phone calls, debates, requests, debriefings, announcements, speeches and presentations. Sometimes the most effective way to communicate is to say the words where people can see you while you talk. Along with email, verbal exchanges in person and by phone are the chief means by which organizations function.
  • Symbolic Gestures – Gestures, facial expressions, actions, posture, movement and physical presence. Actions and body language can affect people profoundly, even when it’s unintentional.
  • Visual Images: Photographs (slides and prints), paintings, drawings, illustrations, graphics, cartoons, charts, videos, logos, film, doodles, collages, and color schemes. Calvin & Hobbes is a n outstanding example of effective visual communication. Visual images convey powerful messages. The use of multimedia like television, newspapers, magazines, leaflets, booklets, flyers, posters, Internet, intranet, video, radio, and/or music is especially useful when your listeners can participate. Remember the old adages: “Show, don’t tell” and “A picture is worth 1000 words.”

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”


 

Did You Really Mean That?

First impressions are crucial. The initial five seconds of a first meeting are more important than the next five minutes. This is important whether you’re sending a cover letter with your resume or going into your first face-to-face meeting.

Your body language with its huge range of unconscious physical movements can either support you or betray you. Even if you’re sitting completely still, you may be unknowingly communicating a powerful message about your real feelings through “micro-expressions.” Gestures, posture, and facial expressions, work together can say as much, if not more, than your words. Body language is difficult to control but there are things you can do to make yourself more aware of what you’re “saying.”

You can actually use body language to look more confident that you actually feel by making a conscious effort to smile (as naturally as possible, of course) and relax. Look people in the eye (imagine them in something ridiculous if it makes you more comfortable) whether you’re talking or listening, keep your posture comfortably straight, and try not to fidget. If you’re feeling tense, take a slow, deep breath to relax yourself. Speak slowly so you don’t pepper your speech with annoying interjections like “um” and “y’know” which can make you sound unprepared and less knowledgeable.

You only have limited control over how others react to you but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Attitudes are the real figures of speech.” – Edwin H. Friedman

 


Recognize Barriers

Recognizing and dealing with personal barriers is one of the first steps toward good communication and this includes your barriers as well as others. Everyone has different barriers so it’s important to be aware of your issues and then learn to sense barriers in others.

Prejudice is a major roadblock to good communication. Everyone is influenced to some degree by his or her beliefs but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to change, especially if what you believe is getting in the way of your ability to communicate effectively. Do your best to maintain an open mind.psych

Are you afraid to speak up in a meeting because you like a game that others think was lame? Do you automatically discount what a female co-worker says because you don’t think she’s a “hard core” gamer? Do you think that someone who has been in the industry a long time is a has-been? Or do you ignore input from someone who has only been working in the industry for a year or two? Even though the culture in our industry is seen as laid back and informal, it’s still a business with people who bring their individual personalities (including barriers) to work with them every day.

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen. – Ernest Hemingway


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Marc Mencher Biography:

Game Programmer / Technical Producer gone Recruiter, Marc has been in the Game Industry for 30 years!  Marc is a speaker at game industry conferences.  He volunteers as an advisory board member for several schools offering game programs.  His articles have been featured in publications like Gamasutra, Industry Gamers, Game Daily, and Next Generation News.

Specializing in un-advertised, strategically important and critical game industry jobs, GameRecruiter is staffed by Entertainment Industry Professionals.  Confidentiality Assured!  For more information: www.GameRecruiter.com a detailed bio on Marc can be found: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Mencher


Explore Platform & Growth Opportunities at Inside Social Apps Conference

If you’re part of the social, mobile, app, or entertainment industries, you shouldn’t miss this June’s Inside Social Apps Conference in San Francisco. You’ll have the opportunity to hear from industry leaders including Deb Liu, Product Manager at Facebook, Travis Boatman, Senior VP of Mobile at Zynga, and Ben Liu, CEO of PocketGems.

Tackle key issues and explore new opportunities facing social and mobile apps and games, including monetization, app and game design, marketing, and growth on established and emerging platforms, including iOS, Android, Facebook, and more.

Sessions will focus in on Trends in Social & Mobile Advertising, Social Monetization and Payments in Games, Mobile App Discovery, How Developers Can Successfully Monetize the Multi-Platform Landscape, and Developing Cross-Platform. Explore the full program here.

You’ll explore ideas and business opportunities with like-minded developers, marketers, investors, brand managers, app publishers, mobile platform innovators, and more during conference sessions, coffee breaks, and a cocktail reception.

Featured session:
Maximizing Player Engagement with In-Game Incentives: This panel is designed specifically for game developers to discuss engagement and design opportunities, including rewarding players. Gabriel Leydon of Machine Zone, Andy Kleinman of Scopely, Scott Prather of PlayPhone, and Arseny Lebedev of Signus Labs will lead the session.

PERK:  As a Game Recruiter reader, you’ll save 15% off your gold passport to the event when you enter the promo-code: GR15 and register here.


Attend Inside Social Apps Conference & Expo

By: GameRecruiter

Join GameRecruiter at Inside Social Apps 2013, June 6-7 in San Francisco, a two-day event focused on the future of app and game growth and monetization on mobile and social platforms. Enter our special exclusive promo-code, GR15, and you’ll get 15% off your conference pass.

The conference will provide you with the opportunity to discover the latest solutions to challenges presented by social and mobile platforms, receive insider advice on exciting opportunities in the space, meet with emerging top companies and exhibitors, and enjoy great company at our cocktail reception and after-party.

The event will feature 40+ speakers and industry experts for keynote and panel discussions. Past speakers include professionals from Facebook, GSN Digital, TripAdvisor, EA, Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Wildfire, and more.

PARTICIPATE IN THE JOB FAIR

The event’s companion job fair on June 6 allows job seekers to meet with top startups and established companies in the social, mobile, and gaming spaces. If you’re interested in having a recruitment booth at the event, please contact Trevor for available opportunities.

Remember to enter our promo-code GR15 to save 15% off your ISA conference pass.  Register Here  


Physics and Game Development; or, What Goes Up Better Come Down

By: Marc Mencher

Unless you’re making a text-only game, you’ll need to apply some form of Newtonian physics to pretty much every action that occurs on the screen. Computer and video games apply the laws of physics so that objects “behave” as they do in the normal world. This means that programmers need to know the physical science equations to apply them accurately and appropriately to the game code. (Even objects in an “alternate” or cartoon universe have to follow the rules of physics to be believable.)

The online book description for Physics for Game Development states, “Colliding billiard balls. Missile trajectories. Cornering dynamics in speeding cars… By applying the laws of physics, you can realistically model nearly everything in games that bounces around, flies, rolls, slides, or isn’t sitting still, to create compelling, believable content for computer games, simulations, and animation.”

Game elements that require application of physics include things we take for granted in the real world, like elasticity, light, sound, reactions and interactions, and especially gravity.

  • Gravity – This basic principle is at the core of motion in our world; all falling objects respond to the force of gravity according to the laws of physics. Falling objects accelerate according to certain equations but all objects fall at the same rate, unless they are affected by air resistance.  Likewise, if a game character jumps in the air, that character must come back down to earth according to the rules of gravity. (Even the girl in Leisure Suit Larry fell back down at some point . . . )
  • Motion – A game in which things don’t move is going to be pretty boring.  Even old school side scrollers have at least some type of motion on the screen, even if it’s rolling terrain and limited pixel animations. The more you understand physics and programming, the more efficiently and you’ll be able to add realism to your game—which means the more you can do with limited funds.
  • Elasticity – Things bounce, stretch and snap back to their original form depending on how they react to the force effecting change are—in other words, depending on how “elastic” they are. This principle can be applied to create realism in an MMO, humor in a cartoon-based world and action in a super-hero type of game.
  • Light – There are laws about how a beam of light will reflect off an object or how it will bend or refract when going through something transparent. Not only will application of these rules affect the overall realism in your game, they will also affect the game’s visual appearance. Myst explored the use of these principles to great effect. Modern MMOs like Guild Wars 2 and action games like Call of Duty set a very high standard for the dramatic use of physics in this area.
  • Sound – Sound characteristics like echoes or the Doppler effect (the effect of relative motion on sound waves) are applications of physical laws on sound.  While we know that there’s no sound in space, we accept the convention of explosions, collisions and engines in our entertainment media.  Lack of sound would not only hamper the storytelling (and the drama) but it would mean that a lot of talented sound engineers don’t have anything to do!
  • Collision detection – Used to determine how two solid objects interact in the envrionment.  This could be as simple as whether your avatar walks through a fence or over it, whether you go around an NPC or through her, and whether you can shoot through rocks or not (applied as “line of sight.”)
  • Particle systems – A common aspect of computer games are explosions. Early computer games used the simple expediency of repeating the same explosion in each circumstance. However, in the real world, explosions vary depending on the terrain, altitude of the explosion and the type of solid bodies that come in contact with the explosion.  A particle system model allows a variety of other physical phenomena to be simulated, including smoke, moving water, precipitation, and so forth.  An environment’s realism is limited by processor power, the knowledge of the programmers and of course, time and money available to make it fancy.
  • Ragdoll physics – A procedural animation and simulation technique that displays the movement of a character when it drops to the ground, usually when it’s killed. The character’s body is a series of rigid bones connected with hinges at the joints; simulations model what happens to the body as it collapses to the ground.  More sophisticated physics models of creature movement and collision interactions require greater level of computing power and a more accurate simulation of physical principles and elements. Programmers need to understand how physical principles in the environment affect anatomy—and they also need to be able to communicate really well with artists!
  • Cartoon physics – We’re all familiar with hapless characters who fun off a cliff and continue to move horizontally until they realize that oh no! there’s not more ground and down they go. Sonic the Hedgehog moves at superspeed, characters survive being crushed by a heavy safe and just about any object can endure the classic “squash and stretch” process. These physical anomalies are intended to provide humor and create improbable situations for superheroes. While we don’t necessarily want to see them in Call of Duty, we would feel cheated if they didn’t show up in a cartoon or superhero-based game.

The bottom line is that while you might be able achieve these important (and expected) game elements without a knowledge of physics, the quality and believability of your product would probably not support a high level of art, action and story without them. Without the appropriate application of physics in a computer or video game, you might as well be attacking creeping coins or going through a maze of twisty little passages.  As Alice said, “What is the use of a book without pictures . . .?”

_______________________________

[1] Pertaining to the laws developed by Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

2 http://www.amazon.com/dp/0596000065/?tag=stackoverfl08-20

3 Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Marc Mencher Biography:

Game Programmer / Technical Producer-turned-Recruiter and Career Coach, Marc Mencher has been in the Game Industry for 27 years.  He is the founder and CEO of GameRecruiter www.GameRecruiter.com

Marc began his career working for Spectrum Holobyte, Microprose and The 3DO Company.  While he enjoyed coding, through the experience of developing product and leading teams, he realized that his true passion was helping people plan and manage their careers.

Marc is the author of “Get in the Game! ” an instructional book on building a career in the video game industry. His articles have been featured in a variety of industry publications. He is a speaker at game industry conferences and volunteers as an advisory board member for several colleges. Marc has been interviewed on television and radio as an expert on working in the videogames industry.  His detailed bio can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Mencher

Along with his team of Recruiter / Career Agents, Marc has had the pleasure of representing the game industry’s hottest talent, and has helped thousands of people manage their career and obtain strategically important game jobs.  Integrity and confidentiality are the cornerstones of his success.

 


Hiring Managers: Vetting Game Programmers

by: Marc Mencher

So you’re in that blue sky brain-storming session and there are a ton of awesome ideas up on the board, and then someone says, “This is GREAT! Now we need someone who can make it work like that.” Yep, you need a programmer. And not just any programmer. You need someone who can push the envelope, work with all the teams and fit into and grow with your company’s culture. That’s the moment your Quest begins . . .

There’s a lot of “ebb ‘n flow” these days and a lot of open jobs. A lot of people are getting hands-on experience, thanks to the ease of making small social games. Their work is easier to see but harder to vet. There are programmers at big companies whose projects are either ending or whose companies are downsizing (or closing), but there may be relocation issues that have to be considered in addition to salaries.

To increase the odds of making the best hire for your company, you want to develop a basic “vetting” system that looks at traditional and non-traditional aspects of your potential new programmer.

Step 1: The Job Description

Before you write the job description, be sure you have a good understanding of what various job titles mean. Terms like developer, programmer and engineer aren’t always interchangeable. A QA person might be called an engineer at one company, while developer might refer to someone other than a programmer. Some programmers prefer engineer because it sounds less like a drudge position. If need be, include a sentence or two that describes what the title means at your company.

Figure out what you want your new hire to do, then write a job description that clearly states you’re required and preferred criteria. Aim for something between “as long as you’re breathing” and “must have a Masters Degree in everything.” (Hint: It’s pretty easy to spot a job req that’s been customized for someone you’ve already decided to hire.)

Here are some things to look for:

  • Deep interest in gaming, both as a programmer AND a player. This used to be designated as “avid gamer” but what does “avid gamer” mean any more? Of course candidates are going to tell you they’re avid gamers!
  • Wide variety of gaming genres (ok, at least two!) If you make MMOs or FPS games only, specify that you want someone whose interest and passion is in your genre.
  • Want someone with corporate-culture experience? These days, that’s different from “must have shipped an AAA game” because small companies can ship AAA titles too.

Let candidates know if some kind of testing will be administered. If you have questions about the legality of testing, check with your HR department, and if they don’t know, get the info from someone who does, like your state’s employment agency. Surprising an interviewee with an on-the-spot test (the formal kind) can be grounds for action, and not the good kind.

Be clear about your interview agenda. Will candidates be asked to undergo both “personal” and “technical” interviews?

Do you want to see a demo of the candidate’s work? Do you want to see it online by yourself? Ask for a CD or URL. Because of proprietary software and NDAs, be willing to look at open source work and/or game modding.

Does your formal application allow for an attached resume, or will the candidate be required to fill it out? Will the candidate be asked to provide a salary history? Letting interviewees know this in advance saves you time and helps reduce the normal anxiety that comes with interviewing. (It also tells you if the candidate can read and follow directions.)

Step 2: The Resume

Read the resume before the interview. This may sound sort of “duh” but looking at the resume in front of the candidate sends a message (intentional or otherwise) that this interview is either inconvenient or a pro forma exercise so the company can hire the person it REALLY wants. Reading the resume in advance gives you a chance to come up with specific questions.

Check out the companies listed on the resume. How long has the candidate worked at the past few companies? Are any of them start-ups? Do you really want someone who has moved quickly up the ranks and name-drops like crazy but has no real experience?

Step 3a: The Interview

If someone in HR is doing the initial interview (other than having the candidate fill out paperwork,) be sure you’ve reviewed the job reqs with that staff member, and provided some initial questions you’d like them to ask the candidate. Letting someone with no technical background and/or real industry knowledge conduct the initial interview might let a fast-talking candidate in the door and a good one get away.

Everyone who’s participating in the interview should be prepared (i.e., has a copy of the resume and has seen the website or CD). If you’re including “peer” interviews for the candidate, be sure your staff knows that their job is NOT to scare the candidate way.

You know the drill: be prepared, be prompt (and if you might get called away to an emergency, let the candidate know before you start the interview), don’t take calls (unless there’s a pending emergency). Be focused and ready to listen. As a courtesy, if you’re deathly ill, stay home and let a colleague conduct the interview, or make arrangements to do it via Skype or some kind of video conferencing.

Having a member of the team with whom the potential hire will be working, preferably the team lead, as part of the interview process is always a good move. While there are many skilled programmers who can fill your job, getting one whose personality meshes well with your other programmers is always a bonus and in some cases, a must.) Remember that these people will be working very closely with each other, often in frustrating circumstances (the dreaded crunch time, for instance), and an argumentative or disruptive team member can cause a hit to productivity. Personality and work ethic is just as important as skill set, especially when you’ve got a small team, a tight schedule and no money to spare.

Step 3b: Interview Testing

Assuming you’re cleared for testing, use simple programming or logic tests. Asking very specific questions, like hex and terminology definitions, isn’t the most effective way to evaluate a programmer’s ability to code because rote answers don’t tell you how the candidate programmer THINKS. Recent grads will probably be able to answer “arcane” questions because the info is fresh in their heads but is that what you really need? Good programmers like to solve puzzles, riddles and mysteries rather than apply canned solutions. The right candidate will have some basic problem-solving skills in addition to specific programming knowledge.

Propose a simple programming issue and ask the candidate how s/he would handle it. Maybe a brain teaser or a suggestion for a modification to your product, which has the added benefit of showing you how well the candidate prepared for the interview.  A good type of coding question is one that has several answers; ask your prospective hire to give you the most optimized solution. You can quickly gauge how well he/she thinks and solves problems based on the answer. Someone who consistently picks the most obvious but less optimized answers is good for entry level positions, but if you’re hiring for senior positions, you’ll want people who can think on their feet, understand the need for optimization and have good reasoning behind their choices.

Here’s an example of a good question:

Every number between 1 and 100 has been inserted into an array of 99 integers in random order, with a random number missing. What’s the most optimized and memory-efficient way of figuring out which number is missing?

A weak answer would be to create 100 flags, then loop through the array and log each number, and subsequently loop through the flags to find the missing one. A stronger answer would be to loop through the array and add them all up into a single integer, then subtract the answer from 5050 (the sum of all the numbers between 1 and 100). An even stronger answer would be to sort the array, then loop through until a number gets skipped.

If you want to ask technical questions, avoid asking hypotheticals like what types of inheritance or global variables appear in a CPP file or polymorphisms or singletons in C++. Instead, present actual situations that are relevant to your product or project (unless, of course, any of those other examples ARE relevant. Bear in mind that the simplest code is, more often than not, the best code. A programmer who loves to pepper the code with unnecessary methods like ‘mutable’s and ‘goto’s might not be the best candidate. Likewise, don’t ask questions that are overly complicated for your code base. Unless you regularly need inline assembly code, don’t ask the hire to describe how to unwrap loops or other overly complicated questions. While it’s a great indication of general knowledge, it won’t tell you if they’ll do a good job.

In some circumstances, you may be looking for someone who can not only move forward with a project’s code but also knows how to deal with legacy issues in a manner that doesn’t involve stopping the entire project and starting over from scratch. It’s great when the candidate sees this situation as an interesting challenge but you want to avoid the candidate who claims to be able “fix anything.”

Step 3c: Interview Questions

Ask the RIGHT questions. Hopefully, the combination of a well-crafted job description and vetted resume has weeded out candidates who aren’t right for the job.

Does the candidate use/play your product regularly? If you make MMOs, you’ll be able to determine the level of immersion and investment pretty quickly. If the candidate gets that glazed look and launches into a Very Detailed Account of her avatar and the last raid, that tells you something, too.

“Beware the lone programmer in a room” is an old industry adage that still rings true. You want someone who will fit into your company’s culture and actually likes working with other people. Does the candidate seem like someone who will thrive in a high stress team environment (if that’s what you’ve got) or does the candidate seem like someone who’s more interested in showing others “how it’s done.”

Consider asking some off-the-wall questions like, Do you prefer cats or dogs? Cake or pie? Summer or winter? And why? An industry veteran interviewing a programmer candidate said, “Tell me a joke.” The stunned candidate replied, “Oh. Do you want a funny one? I didn’t really prepare anything.” That told the interviewer what he needed to know about the candidate’s ability to think on his feet.

Ask about a “hot” programming topic that’s making the rounds on industry boards and at conventions. Is the candidate passionate about one side or the other? Dismissive? Baffled? (Hopefully the candidate will not say, “Well, does that really have anything to do with this job?”) Having a sense of humor is actually pretty important in our industry because it reduces the possibility of melt-down at the worse possible moment.

Ask candidates what they love about programming. (Hint: “An easy way to earn a living” probably isn’t what you want to hear. “I love to solve problems” or “I like to make great games” is better.)

What’s the biggest thing the candidate worked on that didn’t ship? Do they have any idea why it didn’t ship? Watch out for indications that the candidate thinks failure was other people’s fault. One of the tenets of Agile Development is that failure by one unit is failure by all, so you don’t want to hire someone who’s more adept at finger-pointing that accepting responsibility and proposing positive solutions.

Has the candidate worked in an Agile Development environment and if so, how was it? If it seems that the candidate felt it was intrusive, see if you can determine whether the system was poorly administered or the candidate just doesn’t like to be interrupted or told what to do.

What was the biggest challenge the candidate has faced as a programmer so far, and how did s/he solve it? (For female programmers, gender bias may be the biggest issue so be sure you stay within the boundaries of what can and can’t be asked legally.)

Ask question(s) that give you a sense of how flexible the candidate is, how willing to try new approaches, take suggestions and explain solutions. Odds are you probably won’t be happy with some hot shot who thinks that everyone else is too simple-minded to understand what he does. (In fact, sometimes this is a red flag that the programmer might not be so good at building strong foundations or accepting responsibility when fixes don’t hold together.)

If you decide to review the candidate’s demo in person, ask what specific portions s/he handled. Obviously, with a small app, it’s probably “all the programming” but if it’s a big game, the programmer was probably part of a team. Ask about how collaborations worked and whether the programmer’s suggestions for game play improvements were considered. Avoid the programmer who says, “Oh, I write the stuff but I don’t play the game.”

Here are some questions on the “lighter” side:

  • What do you like about gaming?
  • What was the first computer or console game you played?
  • What was your first computer?
  • What’s your favorite game and why?
  • What’s your favorite book? Movie? TV show?
  • Do you prefer open worlds or well-defined quest lines? Do you think a game should/can have both?
  • What’s your favorite character class?
  • How would you briefly describe the mechanics of your favorite game to a non-programmer?
  • Do you usually play games to the end?
  • What’s your Beta test experience? (No, you’re not looking for a QA person BUT it doesn’t hurt to hire a programmer who thinks like a QA person at least a little, as in being able to vet their own work before they hand off a fix as “done.”)
  • What’s your favorite game of ours and why? (If you’ve only published one game, they better have played it! And listen for their own words—if they sound like they’re parroting what they read about your game, it’s entirely possible they haven’t actually played it.)
  • If you could work in any other area of our industry, what would it be and why?
  • What makes a game fun for you? (No, you’re not hiring a game designer BUT the programmer’s job is to make the designer’s vision work.)
  • If time and money was no object, give me a quick pitch for a game idea. (No, you’re not hiring a marketing person but you want your employees to be well-rounded and be able to communicate with each other.)

Although there’s no single magic formula for hiring the best programmer, you’ve got a lot of tools at your command that will give you a pretty good sense of which candidate has the right skills and is the best fit for your company.

Special Thank You: Kody Kahrizi for participating in this article.

 

Marc Mencher Biography:

Game Programmer / Technical Producer-turned-Recruiter and Career Coach, Marc Mencher has been in the Game Industry for 27 years.  He is the founder and CEO of GameRecruiter www.GameRecruiter.com

Marc began his career working for Spectrum Holobyte, Microprose and The 3DO Company.  While he enjoyed coding, through the experience of developing product and leading teams, he realized that his true passion was helping people plan and manage their careers.

Marc is the author of “Get in the Game!” an instructional book on building a career in the video game industry. His articles have been featured in a variety of industry publications. He is a speaker at game industry conferences and volunteers as an advisory board member for several colleges. Marc has been interviewed on television and radio as an expert on working in the videogames industry.  His detailed bio can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Mencher

Along with his team of Recruiter / Career Agents, Marc has had the pleasure of representing the game industry’s hottest talent, and has helped thousands of people manage their career and obtain strategically important game jobs.  Integrity and confidentiality are the cornerstones of his success.



Joining an Established Company vs. an Underfunded Project

By: Steven Granieri

The core hardware and software markets in the Game Industry have matured far enough to require a large capital investment and a great deal of team experience to ensure success. Companies like Infinity Ward, Blizzard Entertainment, Rockstar, Epic Games, amongst many more, have solidified their position in this core market, and within a capitalist society, the Video Games Industry slowly teeters the cusp of monopolization.

A job within this market can come along with a lot of positives:

  • You’re likely to be working for a company that is already established and financially secure.
  • You’re likely to work with many experienced individuals in which you can learn from.
  • The experience will look good on your resume and help you with future employment.
  • You get to be a part, however small, of a big project that can potentially make a lot of money.

Now, although the aforementioned sounds lovely, there are a few cons to breaking into this market:

  • These jobs are HIGHLY competitive and difficult to obtain without a few notches under your belt already.
  • You are unlikely, in most cases, to be working on projects that prioritize innovation.

I say this because, on average, most established developers make marginal profits; however, they also have expenses that deter them from taking risks. If you have a team of 75 developers working on a game, you can’t run the risk of delving into avant-garde, post-modern gaming innovations that could potentially tank your company.

A good example to take is Infinity Ward. Clearly the Call of Duty franchise is unbelievably successful and has rewrote the standard for production values in a first person shooter; however, you’ll notice how playing things safe is indicative of their success. They build on top of game mechanics that work, and drop the ones that don’t, while preserving the core formula that makes Call of Duty distinguishable.

This isn’t to say that no big name developers prioritize innovation. An obvious example would be Nintendo, who clearly thrives off of new technologies and innovation to push hardware. Nintendo has an entire generation of success to cushion the event of a failure, so it makes being creative not only possible, but a direction the company foresees to be conducive to success.

Still, underfunded companies are often the ones to take risks and try new things because they understand that rivaling a big name company and trying to deliver a polished product that’s better than what’s currently available is unrealistic. The funds and team experience just simply won’t be there in most cases. Young companies have looked for new areas of expansion such as mobile and online gaming. These outlets combined with innovative ideas have led to growth of prosperity for many new developers who understand that taking calculated risks is necessary.

So, say that your resume is as detailed as a decorative paper towel and you’re not making Blizzard melt when you apply for a job. Joining an underfunded project may be your only option; however, you have to start somewhere, and this project has the potential to help you start climbing the ladder.

I feel the best thing to keep in mind when looking for a job is make sure you believe in the work you are doing. Have confidence that you are producing something of merit, something that you would want to play yourself. Be innovative, be creative, but be realistic in the longevity of these ideas, and how they would be actualized and a sustainable source of profit.

 


The Expansive Market of Video Game Advertisement

By: Steven Granieri

The amount of time people spend playing video games has grown exponentially over the years, subsequently resulting in new monetary opportunities for the Advertising Industry.

According to research from the Pew Internet Project, 53% of adults are playing video games through some medium, whether it may be a gaming console, a computer, or a handheld device.

Noticeably, 81% of those between the age of 18-29 report playing video games.

When sized up against those watching television, keep in mind the myriad of mediums in which you can play games. This gives advertisers options on what platforms they want to focus their ads.

Advertisers are spending millions of dollars each year to have their branding in games, but this new way of reaching out to the younger demographic hasn’t come without its share of ethical controversy. There are those that argue that In-Game Advertisement (IGA) compromises the integrity of the gaming experience, and on the opposite spectrum there are those that defend IGA for its ability to help fund the production of the game, thus resulting in a lower cost of the product itself. In the end, the matter becomes subjective, varying from individual to individual based off of their tolerance for these ads.

Regardless, numbers don’t lie. The amount of money spent on IGA is growing at a staggering rate.

 

eMarketer has forecasted IGA to grow from roughly $400 million in 2008 to close to $700 in 2013. This is excluding advertising in mobile games.

So if IGA is causing such a controversy within the gaming community, why are companies pouring more and more money into this method of advertisement?

The answer is simple: Because it works.

While Console and PC-based advertisements have seen a marginal gain over the years, Web-based ads are projected to almost double by 2013. This correlates with the fact that there are a plethora of Web-based games that are available to play for free due to IGA. Nothing else puts morals and ethics to bed quicker than the word free. Gamers are willing to endure exposure to IGA as long as they don’t have to pay to play, and really, can you blame them?

Through video games, advertisers have a gateway to reach out to the increasingly elusive youth, but are there standards for what is appropriate IGA? Allow me to draw the lines.

Good   

Advertisements that naturally fit into the gaming world without breaking the lore. For instance: the advertisements that appear in a sports game that are spread out across the perimeter of the stadium. These banners and ads often reflect the ones used in real life and even go as far as adding to the authenticity of the game.

Or even a couple soda machines spread out across an open world, sandbox game. Once again, not taking away from the immersive experience that the game offers, and even adding a layer of realism.

Bad

Advertisements that fail to mesh with the universe of the game or even flat out contradict the universe of the game.

A giant billboard about a sub-par movie is hardly relevant to the experience of a first person shooter. Tasteless ads such as these take away from the potential that IGA has to seamlessly integrate itself into games, and inevitable save the consumer money.

Free-to-play games online have done a lot for the reputation of IGA. They have showcased the endearing potential ads have to bring you free gaming experiences, and because of this, IGA has become a less sensitive subject for the time being.

“But, let me be clear…”

I live in a generation where the current president of the United States used video game advertisement to help boost his presidential campaign. That speaks volumes over the power of this market. Now, every time I pop in a copy of Burnout: Paradise, I remember those who desire change, and those who oppose it.


The Exponential Growth of Social Gaming

By: Steven Granieri

In a universe where all things are in continual flux, constantly changing and evolving, it would be silly to expect the Video Game Industry to exist outside of these governing principles and remain static. In fact, if you are looking for variety, there is no better resource for entertainment than video games.

Innovation and creativity are what help companies flourish, this is universally understood, and it’s apparent when you look at the progress of console gaming over the past 20 years. Even if you boil things down to a small scale example such as a timeline of Nintendo’s controllers, the amount of change and innovation is incredibly overt. From a D-pad to help you traverse the two dimensions in Mario Bros, to a Wiimote, helping you traverse the three dimensions of your living room; it is clear that things have changed.

But what happened to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? Why ditch a conservative mindset when it comes to video games? Well, there will always be the old-school, 8-bit enthusiasts, but I’d like to believe that this desire for innovation is inherently human. It’s quite simple: We like to be entertained, but humans grow bored of repetition, so the desire for a variety of stimuli is naturally spawned. We want devices and games to intellectually captivate us. We want something we haven’t experienced before.

With the aforementioned in mind, taking a look at the market today is very telling of society as a whole. In the 90’s, consoles flourished, but now they’re tackled with a daunting competitor: The Social Gaming Industry. Now, you may tease your friend if you walk in on him playing FarmVille, but the numbers for Social Gaming are nothing to joke about.

BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s research division, has predicted the market to grow to $5 Billion by 2015, currently valuing the industry at about $3 Billion.

(“We think social gaming will reach new audiences and new people, and we think it’s disruptive to current models of video games. Because games are provided as a service they can be optimized on the go to improve the product and monetization, and they’re inherently viral because they live on social platforms.” 


                Due to accessibility, Social Gaming is reaching a broader audience via Facebook and mobile apps. According to the Wall Street Journal, the number of people playing video games has risen 241% since 2008, and they feel this is due large in part to the craze of Facebook games such as FarmVille and CityVille, along with the multitude of mobile apps being downloaded.

But how is this possible? How are games with low production values making so much money? This, my friends, is also inherently human. The social connectivity that allows you to be a part of a community, and allows you to either play with or best your friends is what fuels this market. The compromise in production values is supplemented with social interaction and accessibility.

However, this must end at some point right? When are gamers going to start demanding more from the games they play? As it stands now, you either spend anywhere between $40-$60 and you get an isolated experience, sans Xbox Live, PSN, etc. Or you take the free-to-play route and you compromise in terms of graphics and cutting edge hoopla. When I try to forecast the future of gaming, I see a bridge being drawn between the two. Microsoft had a hunch in 2002 with Xbox Live and they unearthed a market with limitless potential. The ability to share experiences with people all around the globe is powerful.

I imagine that the consumer is going to get the better deal in the end, with the console market taking a big hit in the long run. People have so many outlets to play video games for free now, so they won’t to be willing to pay $60 for a single-player game without some “Level 99” apprehension. I feel like in the end, mobile gaming will conquer all, it just depends when technology will catch up and be able to provide the gamer with all the power they need in the palm of their hands.      
 

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Catch 22 – (Game Artists): Prior Experience Required

You know the routine: there’s this job you really want but you don’t have the experience. You could pretend you did but then they want to see your portfolio and odds are you probably haven’t finished it (or even gotten around to starting it.) Does this mean that you’re doomed to sitting in front of your monitor dreaming about a career as a Game Artist?

No!

Put down the game controller and pick up that stylus! You’ve got a ready audience for your work—all you need is a website and some determination. (Oh, and maybe a class or two if you’re not up on the latest game art programs, but it’s easy enough to get going on that.)

Instead of wishing for a job, it’s time for you to make it happen. . .

The Art Stuff
If you’re serious about working in the video game industry, you need to get serious about your job hunt, and that includes creating your demo / portfolio. Here are a few pointers whether you’re doing one for the first time or updating the one you have:

If all you have is art completed for coursework, don’t submit your resume (yet). Competition for these jobs is pretty fierce so you have to have an established career or be a complete (if undiscovered) superstar. A degree doesn’t prove your ability and does not entitle you to a job, it just equips you with the core skills you need to perform in the job and to build your demo / portfolio. Apply the knowledge you learn in school and continue to create art assets. Keeping pushing yourself to increase your skill level. That said, if you have an opportunity to get your portfolio reviewed, do it! Practice makes perfect.

It really helps to have a well-maintained blog with interesting articles showing your experiences with game development and game art. What if you can’t post anything from your current game? It’s ok to explain that you can’t show anything from the game-in-progress but you can clearly demonstrate that you know how to use the tools. (If you’re working on an indie game, creating a production blog is a good way to create some buzz.) Just remember that you’re trying to build a career here so don’t use the blog for political rants or questionable art.

Avoid fan art in your portfolio (unless it was commissioned by the show and / or the author, and you have permission to show it or link to it.) If you want to join LucasArts to work on the next Star Wars game, don’t re-create Darth Vader or any of the original characters. The hiring manager is trying to assess not only your skill but also your creativity, so design original assets that could be used in a Star Wars game. (It’s also a chance to show your knowledge of the IP as long as you don’t get too geeky.)

Be sure the art in your portfolio is 100% yours. A candidate who went for an interview at a big company included some gorgeous screenshots in his portfolio from a well-known game. The interviewers were very familiar with the game, and queried him about that art. It turned out that those were shots of levels he’d played in the game, NOT levels he’d created! Needless to say, he didn’t get the job.

The Technical Stuff
Today’s game industry artist needs to be specialized and technical. Showcase your strengths. Is it 3D? Create some strong environment pieces: one natural, one man-made, maybe something futuristic or fantasy but always totally original.

Character art is harder to break into but not impossible. Maybe show a progression of how you got from sketch to character with brief explanation (probably in a blog) about your inspiration and your tools.

Thriving platforms include Steam, XBLA, PSN, mobile, and Freemium. (Yes, there is a definite bias towards social games.) With the shift towards social and casual, you should know Flash, especially with recent announcements by Epic and Unity about their in-engine support for Flash11. This requires strong 2D skills and facility with a Wacom tablet.

It (almost) goes without saying that every artist needs to be good at drawing if for no other reason than you can illustrate feedback or suggestions to others–look good doing it. Split your time studying from life and drawing and painting from imagination. You might even try doing master copies of great artworks (that’s how students back then learned), studying human and large animal anatomy, and knowing key artistic foundations like perspective, color and composition.

Study the path of those whose work you really admire. You’ll be amazed at some of the secrets you can pick up from doing a little research.

Pointers for Specific Specialties:

  • Modelers: No Moving Videos. Show still images from different points of view. Show wireframes, unwraps, normal maps, spec maps (all as separate files). Hiring managers wants to see the modeling decisions you have made. Stick to Modeling; we see way too many demos where the modeler is also showing animation or special effects and this gets confusing. Focus on what you do best and show only the best work within that piece, whether it’s Characters, Weapons, Apparel, etc.
  • Concept Art: It’s really hard to break into the games industry as a concept artist. Hiring managers want to see a lot of early and quick exploration of rich strong shape design, good understanding of color and color theory and the ability to render—all of which their current art department already knows how to do. That said, if you can do amazing concept art AND have an equally good specialty, you might be able to show your creative process through a progression.
  • Animators: Focus on a couple of high quality moments of animation in your demo and really pay attention to weight, push / pull tests, and fluidity. You’ll get hired on two seconds of push / pull rather than an entire unfocused demo. Study the basic motion loops needed for the genre of games your target company publishes and prove that you can do that.
  • VFX: Show quality in-game effects that make sense and fit the genre. Understanding the Unreal and Unity Engines and their related particle effects systems is a big help. Innovate, don’t imitate.
  • Technical Artist: Understand Unreal and Unity, specifically their scripting languages (MEL and MaxScript). Learn Python. Show examples of your scripts (code), along with little movies of the scripts in action.
  • About Unreal:
    • If you’re an awesome modeler who can do awesome textures, everything needs to end up in Unreal—and it needs to work.
    • If you’re an animator, make sure you have some Animation Tree going shoe me what your animation. Show me what the animation are doing to textures and your assets in Unreal. Take everything you know about art and apply it in the engine.
    • If you do Visual Effects, designing particle effects and coding Cascade (using Unreal’s Particle engine).
    • About Engines in general: Plain and simple: demonstrate a mastery of your craft and knowledge of the engine your target game company is using.

 The Networking Stuff

Regardless of your area of expertise and / or interest, you need to network. Join one of the Social Game Developers groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. It’s ok to read and “listen” for a while. Find the sweet spot between total n00b and flashy know-it-all.

Online Art Community and User Groups

  • MeetUp
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • PhotoShop
  • Digital Art Groups

Online Resources for Artists

There are a lot of sites out there that provide all kinds of helpful information. Here are a few of the bigger ones:

  • www.CGSociety.org (www.CGTalk.com is the site’s forum)
  • www.3DTotal.com (3DTotal was founded in 1999 as a simple 3D resource website. Over the last decade the site has evolved into one of the premier CG art websites.)
  • www.PolyCount.com (Polycount offers 3D videogame artists news, resources and a forum)
  • www.DominanceWar.com (The website of a massive annual game art competition)
  • www.ConceptArt.org (Offers a forum, news, information about a variety of classes, and contests)
  • www.visualliteracyprogram.com (The Visual Literacy Online Program is for both the serious student of any age and the professional artist.)
  • http://www.unrealengine.com (If you don’t know what this is, don’t apply for a job until you do!)
  • www.design3.com (This site has over 1K amazing demo’s to teach you 2D and 3D art skills.)

Which Company?

If you’re just starting out, even if you have a degree but you haven’t landed your first job, keep applying to the smaller studios. It would be exciting to claim Bungie or Blizzard as your first job but you’re up against a lot of “veterans” who are already making gorgeous, cutting-edge art.

Apply directly! A seasoned recruiter will rock your world once you have at least two professional games sold on the market. Prior to having professionally published titles the best way to succeed is by directly applying for a job yourself. There is no magic bullet or easy way to skirt around the job hunt.

Stay current on big games or AAA tiles, especially the ones that use the Unreal and Unity engines. (This does not mean be obsessed because you need time to work on your portfolio!)

Creating a Killer Demo

Find other people who also trying to break into the game industry. (See Networking above.) There are plenty of Programmers; Game Designers, and Web Developers who also need a demo. Combine your skills and create an online demo that rocks. Create mini games that are a logical extension of your favorite games (or the games of your target hiring company).

Customize your demo for your target audience. If you excel at sci-fi images, approaching EA Sports probably isn’t the best career move. Unless the game involves some kind of futuristic sport, they probably don’t care that you can do a spectacular rendition of Fenway Park or Tom Brady throwing a perfect spiral pass.

  • Keep it simple and easy to navigate.
  • Customize and target your work for the interviewing studio.
  • Create original assets.
  • Never force downloads to view assets.
  • Create a “brand” for yourself and manage it via social networking sites, etc.
  • Pay attention to poly count and use it as a measuring stick. Hiring managers want to see how well you used polygons in the art asset itself.
  • If you are showing your senior project from school, make sure it’s finished. Often senior projects are too ambitious and don’t get completed so scale it back to reality. Managers hire folks who can complete things.
  • Show both low poly and high poly work. Tag each image with brief info; the 2D or 3D software you used and how many pixels is usually enough.
  • Show only your best work. Less is more!

 

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