Working in the video game industry

This week a Queens’ CompSci alumnus, Ben Nicholson, gave us a talk about his journey in the video game industry.

Ben started life at Oxford, graduating with a degree in Mathematics. However, he quickly saw the error of his ways and decided to read the Computer Science Diploma at Queens’. This was a postgraduate course run until about 2007, that was intended as a one year crash course in Computer Science.

Like many CompScis, Ben had grown up playing video games. He wanted to combine his knowledge of maths and physics with computer science to make games a lot more realistic when it came to the laws of nature.

Ben took us through his life in the most creative way possible. His presentation was a video game (made in Unity3D) with a metaphorical hill of life. As we climbed it, we saw more and more of what he’d done.

He left Queens’ and started work at Sony on the game “This is Football” series of games. This was his first taste of working in AAA game studios and he shared valuable insights on the experience. He walked us through one of the first problems he had to solve: making goal nets move when they come in contact with a football. There was a trade-off here between how realistic the physics was and how fast the computation, and he showed us some cool physics hacks and approximations.

He then moved to Rocksteady Studios where he worked on the Batman: Arkham series of games. As the physics developer on the games, he was in charge of Batman’s cape and funky physics on ropes/explosions/hair etc. We all left with a much greater knowledge of point masses.

Ben also worked on destruction physics at Frontier Developments, leading the development of the destruction tech engine for Scream Ride. This is a game where you get to build a city, put a rollercoaster around it and then watch the ride smash through your creation.

After his 11 years working on large AAA games, Ben decided to form his own indie games studio. Inspired by his work on Batman, it’s called Cape Guy!

A lot of us, especially final year computer scientists, trying to figure out what we want to do, have thought about starting our own companies. So a game studio sounded like the perfect opportunity. However, while Ben is loving the experience, he did provide a little bit of reality check on the indie life. He talked about how things he hadn’t considered in AAA games were suddenly important – such as PR and marketing. He weighed the pros and cons of being on your own versus a big studio and spoke about how we should proceed if we wanted to join the industry. The games industry certainly provides a whole host of roles based on your interests – from game mechanics, to graphics, physics engines or high level animation.

Personally, I can’t wait for Ben’s next game – check out his twitter and website to find out more!

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