A lot of hype has been generating around Obsidian Entertainment these last few weeks. The rumor that the studio was being acquired by Microsoft turned out to be true. Coming straight from the major news, Roby Atadero Senior Programmer at Obsidian Entertainment, offered UCR students some mentorship. As a student of the university I thought it be a good idea to share his talk with other people interested in the gaming industry. With his experience as a member of the interview panel at Obsidian, Atadero offers one of the more direct sources of advice in the Southern California area.
Arriving at UCR in the year 2005, Roby Atadero originally started off as a Computer Engineering major but would later switch to Computer Science with no background in programming. His first notable video game project would be a version Pong. The game would be his first decent into the world of entertainment and one he would revisit often.
During his time at UCR Atadero had no access to gaming tools such as Unity or Unreal. Unfortunately for him the popular game engines would not be available to the public just yet. He would have to program on his own without the support of an established engine or community. Using Open GL and the Win 32 API Atadero would forge his own game demos. What would he go on to create? A better Pong game. During his second year he built his own framework he called the Instinct Engine in order to make games faster. He would use this framework to teach other students at UCR game development. Atadero wouldn’t stop there, he would continue to create games on his spare time up until his graduation.
Eventually he would create an Xbox Live Indie game named Spoids for the Xbox 360 with just himself, a fellow programmer and a single artist friend.
Applying at Video Game Studios
One of the more shocking reveals at the talk was the explanation of what the application process looks like across the gaming industry. Sharing his first internship attempt Adetero recalls when he applied for an internship at Heavy Iron Studios. He emailed the studio and in response they sent him a programming test in which he had to optimize the physics in the demo they presented him in just a few hours. After that they had him do a phone test for 2 hours. Atadero reveals that it’s pretty common for video game companies to do this type of interviewing. After the entire process was over Atadero was met with a rejection message.
As a member of the interview panel at Obsidian, Atadero shares that his studio is a bit more progressive than most other companies. Unlike the competing companies in the area Obsidian sends you your project with loose time constraints. “Just send it back in a week” Atadero comments. It’s not uncommon for the UCR alumni to see new potential recruits share the same nervousness he once did when interviewing. Atadero recalls the pressure of his interview with Obsidian.
Before his over the phone interview began, Atadero expected the worst. Just to prepare himself Atadero printed out several reference sheets on programming such as data structures and math formulas. It turns out he didn’t have to use any of them and instead Obsidian asked general information questions on his experience developing for the Xbox. This would be his screening interview, the next interview would be on location and would take 3 hours of tests on his knowledge on C++, memory management, and ways in which he could have improved his games.
Working in the Gaming Industry
The work environment at Obsidian was not what Atadero imagined coming from school. Because he worked on South Park the Stick of Truth, Atadero would often find himself in a work environment promoting saucy language. This wouldn’t be the first time Atadero would feel the culture shock between his expectations and reality. The first time Atadero applied to a video game studio he was teased on his wardrobe. Wearing a suit from Men’s Warehouse, Atadero stood out like a sore thumb from other game developers who dressed up in a casual wardrobe. Atadero’s advice when interviewing is to wear a polo or a nice blouse. The game industry isn’t strict with its professional attire but you should at least try to look decent.
One of the more surprising reveals during the talk was the development process of features in a game. For Pillars of Eternity, a game made in Unity, Atadero revealed a few screens of the progress of a game in development. The final character select screen shown off during the presentation showed a robust and highly polished user interface. The character select that Atadero had been working on for the first week looked super basic. “When you’re working on things in gaming and things don’t look too good don’t worry. They look that way in the industry too.” Atadero says.
Overall to summarize Roby’s tips for applying to a video game studio are.
- Build a Portfolio of Games: You’ll have content recruiters will like to look at and that’s far more important than your GPA. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t full games just build something.
- Look into Console Certification: Roby had the chance to put his game on the Xbox 360’s indie marketplace, you too can put your game on the store.
- Learn about Unity or Unreal: These are the two popular engines in gaming and they are free.
- Dress Appropriately: No don’t wear a full suit from Men’s Warehouse. The gaming industry isn’t that strict. Just wear something decent like a polo or a blouse. Go for a clean look.
- Learn Gaming Related Topics: Some of the interview questions will be on matrix transformations, memory management and more.
- Expect a long interview process: Yes several hours will be had answering questions so get used to a similar setting.
- Try not to be nervous: Try to take some mock interviews. It’s common for people applying to be nervous, try not to be.
- If you fail try again: Roby didn’t land his first, second, or third try at applying at a video game company. Don’t give up and don’t be discouraged.