It finally feels good to be able to say I’m now part of the Gamer Hub team. I’ve been waiting for a chance to express my inner game dev in a public setting, so this seems like a great combination of timing on all our parts.
At Game Hub I’ll be working as a Senior Technical Writer bringing my small yet varied opinion on the games industry as I’m not only a fan but also now a working artists withing said industry. For those of you who are thirsty for more on my origins let me take you back to a cold and wet Christmas in December 2008.
The evening began like any other I was sitting down to watch another video game documentary about how they are made (I think at the time it was a Halo 3 doc) and my phone rang (works phone) there had been a serious fault out somewhere in Edinburgh (I worked as a faulting telecom technician) and I had to attend. Now this was supposed to be my time off, but we all had shots at being what we call “On Call” meaning if the shit hits the fan whoever is tagged as the on call engineer you are phoned and expected to go out. So of course, out I went into the cold and snowy landscape in Scotland. At the time it was -2 C and heavy snow, so I already knew this was going to be hell.
This shift nearly ended me as 16/17 hours later I emerged back into my van to seek shelter from the cold conditions my hands freezing my eyes closing I knew I was not in a good place, and I still had a 40-mile drive home back to my flat. Luckily at the time my then girlfriend was home as soon as I entered the door I collapsed on the stairs. Exhausted, cold and wet she helped drag me up the stairs and into a warm shower. At this point I was 26 and still relatively new to the industry so I had never worked a shift like this. Once I was clean and somewhat awake, I retired to the living room to contemplate the night, I knew that I couldn’t do this job much longer I just wasn’t built for outside.
I spent my youth like so many of you reading this, indoors and playing video games. The outside world was never my friend why even right now writing this introduction I’m in doors warm and cosy with the wind howling outside. Scotland is now a very great place for outside seating. So, I knew in my heart digging holes and fixing railway phones wasn’t my future. I wanted to do something amazing I wanted to change my life. I called my parents that night and convinced them that I needed to leave I needed a fresh start, I wanted to go and created video games.
Where it all started
My journey was never going to be easy back in 2012 there was no online industry to speak of Artstation and other learned websites were in their infancy and of course schools and universities just weren’t meeting the standard I needed to aim for. So, I done the most basic thing and applied for an introductory art course at my local college. I gathered what comic book drawings I had and went for a sit-down interview at Forth Valley College with a woman called Julie Parker. Julie if you’re reading this, Thank You from the bottom of my heart you took a chance on me, and it will never be forgotten. Julie let me splurge on the art books I had brought in; I think one of them was the art of Skyrim and the other Jim Lee’s ICONS book. Then she got down to the real questions. What can YOU do now? Where is YOUR art? I panicked a little but tried to show what little pieces I had I’ll try and include them here if I can so you can see we ALL start somewhere. Reluctantly Julie told me that I didn’t quite hit the mark of what they were looking for HOWEVER she knew of an even more basic intro course that would probably take me, but it would be populated with 19–21-year-old students (me being 27 at the time) and would I feel comfortable in that sort of setting. I didn’t care of course I would say yes but I must admit leaving that interview my stomach sank. One of the conditions of me leaving my old job was I NEEDED a place in a college course for my parents to see sense in my plan and Julie wasn’t sure if there was space left. I had of course not been familiar up to that point with the application process I was applying in July when the course started in September, so it was a late application. However, three days later an email pinged from Julie letting me know she had convinced the staff of my passion and I had a place at Forth Valley College on an NQ Intro to Art & Design.
Fast forwarding through that year it was a blur I can still remember fragments but all I can remember is making friends and having fun creating. At the end of that course, I had another step to take which would be an interesting one. Should I go study a further course or cut and run to something more suited? I really enjoyed the atmosphere and lecturer staff on those courses (Dee, Big John, Rob & Jane love ya all x) and felt engaged and listened to most of the if not all university educated and experienced in their field. I took another year to do an NC in Art and then again after a year then had to decide an HND (diploma) in Design or Art. Here is where the separation began more graphical adventures with text or stick my head into the paint pot. At the time I was thinking more of a safety net. If I studied graphic design then it gave me a fall back if games didn’t work out, plus my lecturer at the time Dee was really engaging and passionate about her work so it drew me to go in that same direction. Plus, a new campus was being built near me and would host the entire graphic department, it sounded too good to be true.
Learning the style of graphic design
It was another big jump in learning and style but again the staff were so welcoming I never gave the process a second thought. The team was comprised initially of some great people (Enzo, Brian, Hannah and of course Dee) and they all had nothing but time for the students and the work. It was great to see because as I learned at university my time and interaction with lecture staff was limited. This was the complete opposite at forth valley as the staff were nothing but encouraging and courteous with their time and energy. Some of my fav lessons were carried out on those two years at FVC including one where Hannah attempted to show us some Adobe Illustrator tools using a graphical art bear, she had created using some simple shape tools. I butted in with jokes like “I bearly understood that” and “Bear with me” Hannah rolled her eyes at me a lot, but I didn’t mind we had an understanding.
Honestly if I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing those days were some of the bests of my life and I can’t thank the staff enough for everything they taught me. One of the best decisions at the time was taken by our course curriculum manager Stephanie Toms who had a great idea about bringing in some graphic design industry vets. Someone who was currently working out in the field of design and could bring real world knowledge to the students, so through that initiative we got Pam & Stacey who left their REAL jobs to come in and show us the ropes. Again, another year of greatness that ended with a final show displaying all our work and hard efforts.
As my time at Forth Valley ended my ramp up into the industry started and now it’s 2015 and I need to think about my next move. While working on my end year display, I thought about where I wanted to be after college. My options were limited I wasn’t the best designer in my class but maybe the most determined to make it. I knew that graphic design while cool and very accessible wasn’t where I wanted to end up. My initial goal was video games and entertainment so, “why stop here?” I knew applying to university was a big step and potentially a lot of years more in education. I also knew there was a stigma with “Mature” students (I was 29 nearly 30 at the time of finishing my design HND) so I just had to throw out the signal and hope someone answered. I applied everywhere that had a games design course and put together a portfolio last minute, this included Glasgow University and Dundee (Abertay) University some of the most high ranking in their sector for games media and education.
I got back nothing, no one wanted me another feeling of dread fell over me. Was this the end? Was I doomed to stop here? The answer to that is a simple no……. because well you know my job title ha-ha. I learned after clearing was a thing, the process in which after initial placement is decided then spaces that are left are thrown up in a kind of free for all. This means I had to be quick, I searched through the terms like “design” and “art” but the first one I got a hit on was “3D” unknown to me my future was staring me in the face. I had never heard of UWS (The University of the West of Scotland) or their 3D Art & VFX program. At this point there was a chance, so I had to take it. I managed that day to get their department and course head on the phone. He told me with being busy he would email me and let me know about the course to see if it was right for me. We talked back and forth about his lecture and course layout as well as their connections to industry, this was the first time the word AXIS came into my head and from there the rest they say is history. I told John that I would be happy to join the course and he also suggest going into year 3 but perhaps with my lack of 3D knowledge 2nd year might be more suited as that’s when they began to learn Autodesk Maya, another new term. I also was directed at that time to check out an artists called Suzanne Helmigh who was an up-and-coming concept artist working out of the Netherlands. Her approach to art and streaming was some of the earliest things I saw that were a standard for what work would be accepted in the cutthroat industry. Suzanne had already worked on several AAA games and was now writing and illustrating her own book Caldrya (Now working on Wizards of the Coast properties like Magic the Gathering and D&D)
My first year at University
I couldn’t wait to see the accepted light ding on my UCAS application I was over the moon I now had a place at a real University. Fast forward to September and as I started the course I also reached out to AXIS ANIMATION (Now AXIS STUDIOS) and asked them about their hiring process. Debby Ross was my first point of contact but then I was quickly passed onto Jill Wallace who was their “Talent Manger” at the time. Jill told me briefly about what they looked for and the type of work that would attract them to bring someone on board. My first year at university was the same kind of stuff it was learning the ropes and the ins and outs of Maya 3D modelling amongst other things.
The staff were friendly and keen to interact with us (John, Mark, Patrick and eventually Peter) we learned a lot of basics and got handed assignments to show off our 3D skills. Through that year of 2015 into 2016 I watched a lot of online content to do with the industry anything I could get my hands on then of course I started to consume artists on TWITCH. One artist was Anna Hollinrake (Now working at Mediatonic on Fall Guys) she spent hours at a time painting on Twitch and interacting with her audience and one day randomly she talked about an event in London called Industry Workshops 2016. I asked her at the time “What is this” it was she said an industry networking event where artists from all over the world gather and discuss the artists process withing games and film. I was already searching the internet for a ticket I couldn’t wait to go, a chance to talk with like minded individuals and artists who I could learn from! What was I waiting for!?