It’s safe to say the evolution of the computer game has been an impressive one. From arcade favourites such as Pong in 1972 to the first Super Mario Brothers game in 1983, the last forty years have seen computer games go a schoolboy hobby to an industry that is now bigger than Hollywood. But what’s it actually like coming up with the concepts and creating the games we spend hours playing? One man who is more than qualified to answer this is Steve Bennett, Creative Director at Super Punk Games. Coming to computer game design as a second career, Steve was more than happy to share his story with Hotcourses. Confirming that yes, it is the dream job many perceive it to be, if you think you’ve got what it takes to design the games of tomorrow, sit up and take note.
So Steve, were you always interested in computer games?
Yeah I’ve been interested in computers from an early age. My first computer was a ZX81 which I enjoyed programming games for – as long as I didn’t press the keys too hard, as then it would crash and restart. My interest waned a little during my teens and early 20s, those years for me were about creating music and socialising, although I did play a lot of games during these years, mainly on consoles. In my late twenties I decided to ignite my interest in games so I quit my job as a music producer and went back to university to study computer science. I graduated with a first class honours and started looking for jobs whilst writing a demo game.
It took me about three months to finish my demo and I was lucky enough to be offered a job at my second interview as a programmer. After about six months of coding I realised that my heart was really in the ideas and systems that made games play well, more than building the technical systems behind them, so I asked to move into a design role and the company agreed. Since then I’ve mainly worked in game design, although I did have a couple of years out founding an internet company. I am now director and game designer at a new Indie studio called Super Punk Games, and we’ve just started developing our first IP (intellectual property) whilst also working with other studios as third party developers.
Wow that’s quite a journey! Was it nerve wracking going back to university and starting again?
I knew it was a risk, but a calculated one. Having computer science skills in today’s world is never going to be a bad thing. Also, people change careers all the time these days – I actually think in a lot of cases the broad experience that this brings makes you more employable.
Do you think getting a degree is important for getting a job in the industry?
Well because I changed careers and moved into video games later than most, I felt like I needed a computer science degree behind me to boost my CV. This isn’t always required though and there are many people in the industry that haven’t followed that route. I also developed a demo to show in interviews, which if I recall correctly was some sort of archery game in a forest!
What’s the best part of working as a game designer?
I have two best bits. The beginning of a project is great. It’s a time when anything goes, when you are free to think new things and dream new dreams. This time involves a lot of bouncing ideas off colleagues and creative thoughts in the middle of the night, which eventually solidifies into something that you get really excited about building. The second best bit is seeing people enjoy something that you’ve been involved with making.
What’s the most challenging part then?
Finishing a project is definitely the most challenging part for a number of reasons. Working on one project for so long, it’s sometimes easy to start thinking up new and shiny things, when you need to be focusing on the project in hand. On the flip side of that, the project becomes your baby; you know every bit of it intimately including its flaws, so getting to the point where you’re happy to expose it to the world at large is sometimes a difficult state to get to.
Good answer. The game industry is always evolving – how has it changed in the years you’ve been working in it?
I’ve been working in games for around ten years and during that time there have been several sea-changes in the industry. Social gaming, mobile gaming, free-to-play games and digital distribution have all played a major part in shaping what the games industry is today. We’ve seen an empowerment of independent developers over this time for various reasons. They can now fund themselves through crowd funding, they have ways to get community validation of an idea through things like stream greenlight, and they have been given direct access to their customers through app stores, digital distribution and social media. The audience for games has never been larger.
Do you have a project or game you are particularly proud of?
That’s a difficult one. I’ve enjoyed all the games I’ve worked on. I released a puzzle game called Glyph – The Chain Reaction Game on the App Store with some friends recently. I’m proud of that because of its simplicity – people get really hooked on it and can’t stop playing it, which is exactly what you want to hear as a designer. What I’m most excited about right now though is the formations of Super Punk Games and the ability to build what we want to build. We have a new game in the pipeline which will be the project I’m most proud of – more on that soon!
I look forward to seeing it! In your opinion then, what are the most important skills needed to succeed in the game design industry?
Clearly it depends on the role, but taken as given that you need specific skills in code, art, design and project management, more generic skills might be energy and a passion. Also, the ability to make things happen and get jobs finished, a thirst for knowledge and new techniques, an eye for trends, ability for innovation, high quality work and being a team player.
What advice would you give someone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Practice and hone your skills. Be confident and proactive.
Finally then, if you could only play one game for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I’m really not sure I can answer this question without exploding. Civilization IV, Rise of Nations or Railroad Tycoon 2, I can’t be more specific. (Or actually maybe Elite, ahhh!)
Ok I won’t make you answer that one! Thanks again Steve.
If Steve has persuaded you to quit the day job and follow your computer design dreams, why not take a look at the courses listed on Hotcourses and get inspired? With plenty of full time, part time and online options, if you’ve got the passion, we’ve got the people to get you trained.