Applying for a job in the games industry (featuring the Codemasters audio department) – Part 2: Interviewing

Disclaimer: I’m by no means an expert when it comes to interviews; I’ve been both successful and unsuccessful when applying for jobs. Both myself and various colleagues here at Codies have interviewed applicants to work on our respective teams and as a result we’ve interviewed many applications over the years. None of this information is guaranteed to get you “that dream job” but hopefully it will help to give you an idea of what, at least some people in this industry look for when interviewing candidates.

The process

Interviews can come in a couple of flavours, sometimes you’ll have to attend more than one. From a phone interview, video interview or face-to-face interview, they can be quite daunting. Sometimes several people may grill you, other times the interview may feel more informal with the interviewer and the interviewee simply getting to know each other.

Research

Before arriving for an interview you’re going to want to do a bit of research on the company you are applying to work at. When I asked around the department everybody’s first response was to mention the importance of research. Audio lead on the DiRT franchise, Stuart Ross started off by stating “Do your research on the company, their games, recording techniques and middleware”. Dialogue producer Olly Johnson adds:

“Applicants should research the games we make as it provides a conversation starter and shows you have an interest in the company. If we can’t talk about our products then you are essentially cutting off a fair few questions I might want to ask you, putting you at a disadvantage”.

You will be quizzed by potential employers whether over the phone or in person – it’s only natural that they will want to gauge your interest in the job you are applying for. I recall a previous interview where the applicant was asked if he plays racing games his answer was “Yeah, one beginning with ‘A’ I think”. He then added “Well I haven’t played any Codemasters games but I did once play a game called Grid but I don’t think you made that”. I think he was slightly embarrassed when I mentioned that actually, Codemasters did develop Grid. Equally as strange, audio lead Jethro Dunn recalls asking an applicant what racing games they play. They avoided the answer by talking about the car a relative owns. The applicant could have simply spent a couple of hours playing a game or two and looked far better as a result.

hero_grid_2008-2Applying for a job? Make sure you know a little bit about the history of the company.

Research the company you are applying to work at. It might sound obvious but why not take half hour to browse their website and forum? Maybe head over to Wikipedia and look at a list of games the company have developed? Audio designer David Gurney was part of the interview process that saw us recruit our newest team member, Elias Browning. After an interview with Elias, Dave commented that he ‘…liked his enthusiasm, and he’d obviously done his research on the company and the staff’.

You don’t necessarily need to be the biggest fan of racing games to work here – indeed I know many developers who don’t play games or follow motorsport and they do fine. What you do need though is to show you are competent and have a vague grasp of where you are going to be working and show you are capable of at least doing a little research. Think about it this way, if we would have taken on that applicant how would I have had any confidence in him to go away and do a bit of research on a particular F1 circuit? Perhaps we want to write some interesting lines for the tannoy? Maybe we want to create ambience with the correct types of wildlife? If he didn’t research what games we’ve made in the last few years how could we expect him to research details like the length of Silverstone circuit?

http://thenewswheel.com/f1-set-for-pit-stop-changes-following-string-of-unsafe-releases/

You don’t need to be a race engineer to do the job. It does help to do a little research on your subject matter though.

I wasn’t a fan of F1 before moving onto the team but if I were an outsider applying for that job then I’d be sure to know who Lewis Hamilton is, a little something about the current hybrid V6 turbo power units or who’s the latest rookie destined to be a world champion? Charles Leclerc if you’re asking. If there’s not much in it between you and a fellow applicant don’t you think your chances of success might increase if you know a bit about the industry? I find myself doing these exercises even now; after all we work with F1 teams. For one this is useful when getting to know teams and engineers, you’re going to need something to talk to them about. Aside from being sociable though, imagine if I arrived in Barcelona and worked with a team I’d never heard of? Opportunities tend to crop up when you are passionate about the subject you work closely with. As such we’ve arranged further sessions or found out very useful information just by being embedded in the culture of F1. Could I feel confident sending somebody away on a recording session if they hadn’t got a clue? I realise this section has been very race-centric but this really does apply to interviews in general.

Regardless of the type of games you play you really should play or research games from the developer you are applying for. On one occasion I had an interview at a company and I’d never played any of their games so beforehand I borrowed a couple of their games and sat playing them over the weekend. You may be quizzed on the developer’s latest game or simply asked if you’ve played any of their games and if you like them. It doesn’t look particularly great to say “I’ve never played your games; er… they look good though”. Later we’ll talk more about the kind of questions you may be asked.

Arriving to a face-to-face interview

It may sound obvious but make sure you get to the interview on time. My recommendation would be to aim to arrive in the area an hour or so before the interview begins. This will allow for traffic and other hold ups and allow you to find the building. However, don’t announce your arrival hours early as your interviewer will most likely be busy with their day to day tasks or in other interviews.

Ideally you never want to be in a situation where you’re held up in traffic, you start to panic and sweat, run to the location then end up circling the building looking for the entrance. This will do nothing for your nerves and you’re probably going to look a bit of a state as well as stink upon arrival!

img_3414He might look scary at a face to face interview but Stuart Ross is a big Scottish softie really.

How to dress

So you’ve done some research on the developer, you’ve played a couple of their games and you’ve passed the phone interview. Now you’re asked to attend a face to face. So Cinderella, what do you wear?

I may be a bit of an anomaly here; I’ve never worn a suit to an interview. My advice would be to dress appropriately, now that may sound vague but it depends on the job. Obviously if you’re applying to be a solicitor or an estate agent perhaps a suit is quite fitting. I’m guessing if you are reading this article then you have no interest in selling houses or souls though.

The games industry is pretty laid back, casual clothes are common place, with suits generally being reserved for board members and upper management, and even that is by choice. It’s not unheard of to see people roaming corridors of a dev studio in socks, slippers or dressing gowns. Ok, the dressing gown might be a rarity but yes, I’m totally serious; I’ve observed all of these in my time. And while I wouldn’t recommend you interview in your night time wear, I’m just making the point that the industry as a whole doesn’t really focus on looking smart.

Upper left – Dave Gurney
Lower left – The Duke
Right – Lorenzo, casually dressed.  The mustache is an optional extra.

I doubt anybody would turn you down for a job if you arrive to the interview in a suit but you’ll look a little odd. The Duke and I once interviewed an applicant who arrived dressed in a 3 piece suit. He happened to be the best dressed person in the entire studio (and that includes senior management). Needless to say he turned a fair few heads on the way to my office; he clearly looked out of place. So what’s wrong with looking smart? It’s not the looking smart bit in itself that was the problem, indeed if he was clearly the best applicant he would haven’t been hired. The problem was he just didn’t seem to get the vibe. When working with a colleague day in day out you want to be sure you will gel with them and his attire screamed of “Hey, I don’t understand what the game’s industry is all about”. His dress was one of the main topics of conversation after he left the interview. He was a good applicant and it would have been totally sufficient for him to sell himself based on his skills, not his appearance.

Other applicants seemed to strike a good balance between not looking like they’ve crawled out of a wheelie bin and not trying to upstage a CEO. Birmingham team senior audio designer James “Duke Uterus” Kneen adds:

“The computer games industry has the advantage of being a very laid back sector to work in, however, just because your interviewer might be wearing a Slayer T Shirt and Bermuda shorts does not mean you should do the same. At the same time, dressing up too smart can show a lack of understanding of the industry. A three piece suit, pocket watch and monocle aren’t going to cut it here. So what to wear? Smart jeans or trousers, casual shoes or trainers (not dirty) a shirt and jumper would be good. Personal hygiene matters just as much as in any industry. Piercings and “creative” hairstyle like dreadlocks are cool, as long as you present reasonably clean and smart”.

How to conduct yourself

I’d expect anybody attending an interview to be their selves but maybe dial any personality traits back a few notches! When James and I interviewed Dave Gurney we could tell he would fit right in with us. A personality won’t get you the job over somebody much more skilled at an interview but it will help if you are one of a handful of candidates that the interviewers are really keen on but can’t choose between. Don’t forget, these are people you will probably end up seeing more than your own family, you have to make sure you will all get on well. After getting to know Dave his personality came out a lot more, we have a rapport and a similar sense of humour and the 3 of us can joke around but also get the work done.

Conversely James and I have interviewed applicants who are over confident, some of them come across so confident that they almost give the impression that the job is so easy it is beneath them. James adds:

“Although you don’t want to come across as a nervous wreck, be careful not to appear over confident. If you really want the position you will naturally be a little nervous. This isn’t a bad thing and shows you are respectful of the interview process and want to do well.”

One particularly overconfident candidate proceeded to talk to James and myself about RT60 (the measuring of reverb) at a race track. James glanced over at me with an odd look on his face. What was particularly odd about this was that nobody on a daily basis in this line of work refers to reverb tasks as “RT60”. This simply seemed a way for the applicant (who was applying for a junior audio design role) to let us know how much he knew about audio. It really wasn’t needed and he could have impressed us more by being down to earth and simply talking in real terms about audio design for games.

Naturally nerves will probably come through in an interview and that’s ok, just try not to let them overwhelm you. We interviewed an applicant for work experience several years back and he was actually shaking and stuttering because of how nervous he was. My only advice here would be to go into the interview and make it known that you are very nervous and hope that stating the obvious puts you a little more at ease and breaks the ice. Your interviewers might even have some words of advice to help calm you down.

Stuart Ross advises applicants to try and be concise. He’d rather somebody tell him that they don’t have an answer to a question rather than trying to make something up on the spot. He adds “In the interview be honest with your answers as waffling and buzz words don’t impress”.

Common questions

Whether a phone interview or a face to face you’re probably going to come across a couple of these questions:

  • How did you create “X” in your show reel?

If you’ve provided a show reel you may be asked exactly how you created a certain element. It’s worth considering this as you are creating a show reel and perhaps apply a variety of techniques just so you have something interesting to talk about. I recall creating a show reel several years back where I decided to record some assets, create assets on a synth and use some library assets. This way I’d be able to talk about several different ways that I’d obtained assets rather than “I used library sounds and stuck them all in a timeline”.

  • What do you think of the audio in our game?

I love this question; I quite often add to the applicant that I’d like it if they could critique the audio and suggest improvements. For me this is a great question to get some brownie points on rather than saying “Your game is brilliant, I love it. The audio is great.” I’d actually prefer to know what you are going to bring to the team and how you think you could help us achieve something great, rather than telling us you already think we have nailed it. You don’t have to be derogatory here; you can simply pick something you think is perhaps not as strong as other areas. Even if you don’t know how to improve this area it’s nice to see you are thinking about improvements. You might even flag up a set of assets or a system that the developers are already aware is lacking.

The type of answer I’d like to hear is something along the lines of “The impacts you have in game do not always reflect the type of material you are hitting. There doesn’t seem to be a huge difference between hitting a small object and a large object. If I had the chance to rework this system I’d add a larger variety of assets (memory permitting) at different levels of intensity. I’d also split the objects up into different material types so metal sounds like metal and concrete sounds like concrete rather than both sounding like generic impacts”.

  • What games have you been playing recently?

The answer to this question may not be what’s important here. What the interviewer might actually be getting at is “Do you play games and do you have an interest in gaming?” The obvious point here is that even if you don’t get much time to play games you should probably check out what’s going on in the industry right now, what games people are talking about and squeeze in at least a few hours on a game or two. This question also shows that you are aware of what other games are currently doing and how competitor’s tech stacks up. It’s always better to take somebody on who has an idea of how they can improve and push existing tech forward and be aware of what is possible by looking at other games.

As we touched upon earlier you should also really be playing games developed by the company you are applying for.

witcher3_en_screenshot_screenshot_9_1920x1080_1433341621Been having fun playing The Witcher? Be sure to mention it. Bonus points awarded for mentioning anything you like / dislike.

  • Why do you want to work here? / Why do you want to leave your current employer?

I find these ones very difficult to answer but what I’d like to hear from a candidate is something along the lines of “I think I’ve got a skill set and ideas that I can bring to the project and I’m ready for a new challenge and I’m really interested in working on racing games, especially at a Company with a track record of creating some of the best games in the genre.” I would refrain from being overly critical of your current employer but if pressed for reasons you could reword your original answer; “I want a fresh challenge”.

  • What are the considerations for a game like “X”?

Jethro recently asked applicants to spend 30 minutes coming up with a list of considerations for audio design and implementation for a racing game. This became a good talking point for the interview as applicants could then discuss the importance of areas they had focused on as well as talk about areas they had completely missed. Experienced audio designer Lorenzo Salvadori adds:

“I’d expect an applicant to point out common parameters (such as Wwise RTPCs) used in racing games to control things like tyre force. With this parameter we could then hook up skid assets and determine at what force to trigger these assets.”

Other considerations could be things like RPM values coming in from physics. We could then consider just how many other mechanical values we might receive that are being modelled. You might want a parameter for turbo pressure, clutch engagement, suspension etc… These systems will all need setting up with appropriate assets. Aside from the vehicle itself there are plenty of other considerations. There might be a parameter for how wet or dry the weather is or the time of day. What type of car has the player selected? Do different systems and parameters take effect with different vehicles? How does the system control music? Is it being triggered and left to run or is the music interactive? If so what affects the music? Is there a state being set to determine what area of the game you are in and select a new section of music? Perhaps the music evolves based on the action in game, in which case does a state change this or is there an intensity parameter that brings in new elements?

Memory management is a further consideration that could be discussed. Are you going to be loading and unloading banks based on different areas of the game? For example are banks going to be loaded just for a specific track or are all assets used across every track in game always loaded into memory? Consider in a shooting game for example, perhaps weapon assets are created to never exceed a specific file size. In which case we could look at a fixed pool of memory being reserved for a weapon which can be hot-loaded in and out as a new weapon is picked up and a previous one dropped.

  • Where do you see yourself in “X” years?

James often asks questions along these lines. He states:

“There are two answers I’d be looking for here. The first would be an interest in promotions and moving up the ladder while the second would be that the applicant would hope they would be a valued member of the team, possibly specialising or having ownership over certain systems or roles within the department.”

bsslveviaaa495iOne day you could be in the hot seat. The first step is getting through the interview.

  • Is there anything you’d like to ask us?

Here’s a chance for you to be keen, don’t just assume the answer should be “no”. When interviewing for his job, Dave Gurney asked us quite a good question. He stated: “Within 6 months how would you be expecting me to be performing and settling in?” This was actually a great opportunity to show us that he really wanted to be a part of the team and fit in. It showed that he was concerned about making sure he was doing a good job and he wanted some way to gauge his own progress. Dave goes on to add:

“I think the important thing is to not only answer the questions honestly and confidently but to also ask some good ones in return – helps to establish a two way relationship and lets both parties know where each other stands on certain issues. ‘How much holiday will I get?’ is not a good question.

I remember also asking if you had any concerns about the match between my skill set and the job because I wanted to know if there was any weaknesses you saw that I could address.”

Summary

  • Research the company
  • Research relevant games
  • Be punctual
  • Be yourself but act accordingly to the situation
  • Think about some answers to common questions beforehand

Leave Luck to Being Rescued – Lorenzo Salvadori

Lorenzo Salvadori
Experienced Audio Designer
Codemasters

Notable games Lorenzo has been involved with: DiRT Rally 2.0, MotoGP franchise, Ride, Sebastian Loeb Rally Evo

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Brad: What was the education system like in Italy when you were growing up?

Lorenzo: It’s very theoretical and not very practical. We had “elementary school” from 6 to 10, “medium school” from 11 to 13, and “superior school” from 14 to 18. You get homework throughout the year on which you are graded, plus class tests every month or so for each subject, plus individual interrogation in front of the other classmates. The results of class tests and interrogations are the most important ones, as they will decide the final grade in that subject. At the end of each cycle you get a big exam about all subjects and you get a final grade. Some Universities will not accept you if your grades aren’t high enough.

Brad: What subjects were part of the curriculum? Were there any audio / music related subjects? 

Lorenzo: We have general subjects like Italian, History, Geography, Science, English, Math and PE throughout all the schools (except Uni), and we only add subjects like art and music in “medium school”. During the “superior school” years subjects like physics, chemistry, or things related to your course of study are added. Mine was Chartered Surveyor, so I had subjects like Topography and Technical Drawing and so on.

Brad: What sort of student were you at school? 

Lorenzo: I have always been a very curious and lively child, and I always asked a lot of questions in class. I generally had good grades in things I was interested in like math, physics, chemistry, science, music, English, and I was doing ok in everything else.

I never really needed to study too hard until I went to Uni. In fact, I hardly did any homework. Most times I was doing it in class the hour before the lecture began. But in Uni it wasn’t enough, especially because I chose quite a challenging subject: Astronomy.

My approach to study was very different than most of my classmates. Because I wasn’t good at memorising I had to understand things thoroughly to remember them. I almost never remembered a demonstration to a theorem or a law. I generally remembered what the premise was, what the theorem trying to address, why and what were the implications on what I already knew, and from there I just used the math I knew to get to the result I needed to demonstrate. It would take me a lot more time, but at least I was sure I understood what I was doing and the implications that it had. In the end it worked out well because I graduated with a first class.

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Brad: When did you first get into sound design and music composition?

Lorenzo: When I was a kid I picked up my dad’s guitar and fell in love with the instrument. At first it was all about the music, and I would spend countless hours in front of a tape machine trying to learn songs and solos. Enter the almighty Yamaha FX500: ta-da! With compression, distortion, eq, delay, reverb, flanger, phaser, tremolo, and many other things I started experimenting with sound, twisting a resonance into the gusts of wind, harmonics into drops in a cave, muted taps in footsteps and a reasonably sustained note into a dragon’s roar.

In the meantime I kept studying music, and wrote my own songs, eventually recording songs with my bands and getting into the engineering side of things. I started learning about microphones and how to place them, what comps and eq do in a mix and how to use them, and I started recording other bands. Then while at Uni I got into music composition, and I thought it would be nice to be a composer. So I started writing music to picture, but I soon realised that there’s a plethora of sounds that go unnoticed in a movie. Moreover, all of the different sonic elements must work together in harmony to make things believable and engaging. So I got into Foley, dialogue editing, and sfx creation.

Brad: Studying for a degree is now commonplace for a career in the games industry. You’ve thrown a bit of a curve ball as you do have a degree but it isn’t in audio. Can you talk a bit about what you studied?

Lorenzo: I picked a B.Sc. in Astronomy, so I had subjects like Analysis 1, 2 and 3, Physics, Thermodynamics, Electromagnetism, Optics, Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, Cosmology, Astrophysics and so on. For every subject you attend lectures for three months and you get tested twice, once mid-course and once at the end. Once you pass the written tests you have an interrogation and you earn a mark from 0 to 30, where 30 is the best and 18 is the minimum to not have to repeat the exam. Once you do all the exams your marks are averaged, and you get extra points for your thesis. Mine was about Substructures in Dark Matter Halos.

In the end it’s all very theoretical and I think it doesn’t work as well as the British school system.

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Brad: How did you end up going from a degree in Astronomy to working in the games industry? It’s a bit of a different choice of careers! 

Lorenzo: After graduation I was fed up with the elitism and general attitude of academia and so I spent all the money I received on a good audio interface and a copy of Pro Tools, determined to make a living out of this. In 2012 I moved to London while starting to think about the possibility of making an interactive soundscape, rather than a linear one. A few months later I attended AdventureX (a small conference about adventure games) and I met Jade Leamcharaskul (game music composer, multi-talented persona and friend). I will forever be thankful to her as she made me realise that what I was looking for was in fact under my nose all the time: videogames!

Growing up I played hours of racing and RPG games, but it hadn’t dawned on me that this was in fact a possible career. From that moment on I started learning FMOD and Wwise, enrolled in a course where I was taught Unity, and did a fair bit in order to improve my knowledge of codes (C, C++, C#, JS, Lua, Python) and engines (UE4). October 2014, Milan Games week: I was at the event and the guys from Milestone were giving a talk about Ride (the GT of motorbikes), so I asked how they would go about making the engine sounds. They told me to hand in a CV, and it all went on from there.

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Brad: What was the process like for getting your first job and how did the interview process go? 

Lorenzo: The milestone interview process was quite hard, as I didn’t know much about cars. I played racing games in the past, and I prepared for the interview trying to figure out how to create engine sounds. I even recorded my own car and implemented it in two ways using Wwise, to show them that I could do it. Then questions about superchargers and turbochargers started to roll in and I had no idea. Fortunately those were things that I could then learn on the job. The last thing they did was a 20 minutes test where I would list all the sounds that are in a racing game and what parameters would I need to drive them. I think it was a brilliant question and honestly a good exercise to analyse any sort of game one is interested in.

Brad: What experience did you gain while at Milestone?

Lorenzo: I worked on many games as there were different teams focusing on different franchises, namely MotoGP ’15 through ’17, Ride, Ride Ducati 90th anniversary (when we started a new pipeline for audio), Ride 2, MXGP2, MXGP3, Sebastien Loeb Rally Evo (like WRC, but based on the life of the 9 times world champion), and Gravel (although I wasn’t there when it was released). I’m very proud of what we achieved at Milestone introducing improvements game by game and slowly making them better. It’s been a nice journey alongside many talented and passionate people that will do very well in the years to come.

hero_dirtrally2_2019.jpg

Brad: You were naturally a good fit for Codemasters then. How did you end up working here?

Lorenzo: After Milestone I briefly moved to Lyon to work at Ivory Tower (a Ubisoft studio), making vehicles sounds for The Crew 2 and trying to help as much as I could with technical assessments about console performances and how to optimise it. I met many good people there and I am still in touch with some of them.

When my work on The Crew 2 was done I had the opportunity to come and work at Codemasters, and here I am, almost one year in, working on Dirt Rally 2.0, with some incredibly experienced people from which I learn a lot every day.

Brad: While driving home from work one night you look up at the night sky and see a light coming towards you. You see a flash of light and pass out. You wake up aboard a craft and notice a collection of games these creatures have collected to analyse our society. Quickly you grab some games and a soundtrack before passing out again. You wake several hours later in the middle of nowhere and find a log cabin. What games did you bring with you?

1) Duck Tales 1 (NES)

These were very fun and surprisingly challenging games I used to play with my father when I was 6/8 years old. Also, gotta love Duck Tales!

2) Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec (PS2)

It came with my PS2 and I spent countless hours getting gold in all licences and filling my garage with every possible car. And yes, a lot of Suzuki Escudo on the ovals. This game was traded with a friend for…

3) Final Fantasy VII (PS1)

This is a game, or more precisely a saga, that I enjoyed playing with my best friend. Maxed all our characters to lv.99 (except Aerith, so sad to see her go…) with a great story and an incredible soundtrack. I loved them all from FFI to FFX.

4) Machinarium (PC)

It was one of those games that blew me away. I am a big fan of puzzle games and point & click games, but the art and the music on this one was just something else. Honestly everything from Amanita Design is just on another level.

5) FIFA

I might be a nerd audio person, but I’m still Italian so I’d have to pick a football franchise but I can’t narrow it down to a specific year as they constantly evolve and improve. Plus the commentary implementation was really impressive in FIFA. And the crowd excitement states depending on how the match is going, home/away matches, etc, was also ground breaking for me at the time. PES comes a close second.

Soundtrack – Child of Light

I loved this game so much, but the soundtrack was just something else. Best soundtrack in a game by far for me. I listened to it so many times and I can never get tired of it. It is delicate but powerful at the same time, fitting perfectly the theme of the game. Brilliant use of leit-motifs, orchestration is top notch, it has a wide dynamic range and it makes use of accelerandos and ritardandos that really makes it come alive. Love it.

Brad: As the aliens come back to retrieve their prized collection you manage to escape with just one game from your haul. What will it be?

Lorenzo: Machinarium!

About the choices

Duck Tales

Developer – Capcom
Platform – NES
Release – 14th December 1990

Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec

Developer – Polyphony Digital
Platform – PlayStation 2
Release – 20th July 2001

Final Fantasy VII

Developer – Square
Platform – PlayStation 1
Release – 31st January 1997

Machinarium

Developer – Amanita Design
Platform – PC
Release – 16th October 2009

FIFA

Developer – EA
Platform – Various
Release – Various

Applying for a job in the games industry (featuring the Codemasters audio department) – Part 1: Writing a CV

Disclaimer: I’m by no means an expert when it comes to job applications; I’ve been both successful and unsuccessful when applying for jobs. Both myself and various colleagues here at Codies have interviewed applicants to work on our respective teams and as a result we’ve seen many applications over the years. None of this information is guaranteed to get you “that dream job” but hopefully it will help to give you an idea of what, at least some people in this industry look for when assessing your cover letter and CV.

The Cover Letter

First and foremost is the cover letter, I’ve received everything from no cover letter at all to a 4 page document detailing everything said applicant has done from birth up to the moment they clicked “send”. Writing a cover letter that covers everything in your CV in very minute detail is not a good idea. Cover letters should be brief (a paragraph or two), address the employer and give a brief indication of why you wish to apply for the job. The cover letter doesn’t need to go into great detail about how when you were 8 years old, your grandmother bought you a copy of Colin McRae Rally on PlayStation 1 and you’ve been hooked on Codies games ever since. Instead focus on a few succinct points. Something along the lines of “I’m passionate about video games and motorsport and I believe my skill set and qualifications make me a great fit for the role of audio designer at Codemasters.”

IMG_2026Don’t you wish your CV was hot like me?
Brad – Silverstone GP weekend 2018

CV Length

Much like the cover letter, I’ve received everything from a 1 page CV to mammoth 5 or 6 page submissions that go largely unread. Most industry professionals will agree that a CV should be around 1-2 pages long. In fact, the first point everybody in the Codies audio department mentioned when I asked what they look for in a CV was the length! Think of the person reading not only your CV but many others, they don’t want to be scouring through 5 pages of information to extract the core details. An overly long CV may actually damage your chances of getting an interview as it may be skimmed over just to get through it quickly or worse yet, the potential employee may simply sigh at the length and ignore it completely.

Jethro Dunn, Principle audio designer here at Codies adds:

“The last time we were hiring I had around 40 or 50 CVs to go through. I don’t want to be looking at that many CVs if they’re all 4 or 5 pages. Keep it to 2 pages maximum and only include relevant employment history and education and keep it simple”.

P1020403.jpgJethro likes working here, he doesn’t like bad CVs. Don’t make Jethro angry.
Jethro – On location

So, let’s break down what you should be including and how you can be concise.

Employment History

Generally I’d advise that you tailor a CV towards the type of job you are applying for. What do I mean by this? For example, now that I’ve worked in the games industry for over a decade I don’t really need to list every retail job I’ve worked at and my “very important” responsibilities I had during those roles. Does a prospective employer really need to know that not only could I gut and skin a salmon while on the fish counter but I was also trained to serve on checkouts and use the cardboard compactor safely? Think about how much relevant experience you have as you create your CV. If this is indeed your first job in the industry and your last job was a retail position that you held down for 8 years then add it. If you’ve worked as a developer already and you’ve had 7 menial jobs in supermarkets and pubs then feel free to leave them out all together or spare the reader every detail about your irrelevant skills.

Senior audio designer James Kneen comments:

“Especially when you’re in your advanced years you really don’t need to list every job you’ve ever had, just the most recent and relevant ones. Bullet points for the notable skills are also fine – the more concise the better”.

IMG_1293.JPGWrite a good CV and you too could drink hot camels milk in Abu Dhabi.
James – Yas Marina F1 test session 2017

I’d also point out for comedic sake that James toyed with changing “advanced years” to “Past noon” or “twilight years” (He’s only 50).

I’d advise you hold work experience at a developer in higher regard than your bar job if you’re applying for further developer work. James Kneen and I previously mentored an audio intern and had advised him to apply for a QA job. After an afternoon of updating his CV we noticed he’d left off his work experience at Codemasters (his only relevant developer work). If you’re applying for a temporary QA job or a work experience placement and then return to retail or bar work, feel free to once again tailor your CV. A bar is going to be far more interested in your previous 2 years working at another bar than your knowledge of Jira, the difference between class 1 and class 3 bugs or that you know how to stream a build to an Xbox One dev kit.

This approach should also be taken into account when you decide what developers to apply for. As Codies dialogue producer Olly Johnson states:

“If you’re applying for a writing job at Naughty Dog then you probably want to work on a narrative driven experience and have an interest in storytelling and defining strong characters. You should have an encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema, literature, and storytelling techniques. If you’re applying for a job at Codemasters then you should know we are passionate about motorsport and want to contribute to representing the different racing types as realistically as possible, and to have a good understanding of racing terminology, and preferably be a keen racing gamer with plenty of opinions on the subject”.

Feel free to list any work experience you have completed but make sure it is relevant and not already superseded by more recent professional or relevant work. For example, my CV around the time I was graduating listed work experience I’d completed running the mixing desk at a local bar and a brief stint at a college working with the audio department. These were both relevant and at the time I’d had no better “professional” experience to list.

Education

Short and sweet also applies to your education; by all means add all relevant qualifications but perhaps go easy on listing every GCSE and A level that you achieved. If your CV is light on actual relevant professional experience you could add more detailed information about the skills you picked up, performances organised or even a brief description of what your dissertation focused on. For example, when I was applying for my first role in the industry I added a few bullet points about the interactive live event I organised and performed in while at Uni. I also had a bullet point that mentioned the focus of my dissertation (how improving audio quality can subjectively lead to a perceived improvement in graphical quality). These were two relevant areas during my time at uni that would at least indicate to a developer that I have an interest in audio and video games and had actively been tailoring my final projects towards these areas.

David Gurney, audio designer on the F1 franchise adds:

“Don’t give high regard to menial qualifications if you’ve got a degree or masters. I’ve seen CVs that list individual GCSE results as bullet points and even elaborate on certain subjects by stating how well they’ve done.”

IMG_8787.JPGThis is Dave, Dave writes good CV’s that’s why he now works with us instead of cleaning floors.
Dave – Silverstone GP weekend 2016

General content to avoid

There are a few things I find to be really overused in CVs, particularly word clouds or generalised sentences about how great you are. “I am a hard working individual who can work well as part of a team but is equally happy to work on solo tasks” is one of the classic personal statements. I’ve also seen word clouds with generic feel good phrases and positive descriptors about the applicant. Words like “motivated”, “hard working”, “creative”, “thoughtful”, “Resourceful”. It’s just a bit overdone and who would define themselves to an employer as anything but positive descriptors?

CVs also don’t need to detail every extracurricular activity you embark upon. Feel free to add a few bits about yourself but leave out the 20+ activities you take part in at your local church. I received a CV once that had a large paragraph stating that the applicant is involved in their local church community. The applicant had listed things like “part of the church band”, “very active at the local church”, “helps run church camping weekends”, “mentors and helps with church band members”. Not only were the majority of these points utterly redundant to the job they were applying for but the church section took up around a quarter of the CV.

Finally, don’t exaggerate or you will get caught out! Olly Johnson adds:

“I would always question details in your CV and cover letter to ensure you do really want to work for a company that deals in a racing and motorsport niche. Don’t overplay your interest in something, or your skill set and previous experience.  Ultimately, a great CV should give us plenty of talking points to discuss in the interview phase, and not for it to feel like an interrogation.  If you love writing… but have never watched an F1 race, it would always be better to say you are passionate about delivering great dialogue first and foremost, and that should you be given the chance, you would be keen to dig deep into any subject that was thrown your way.  An honest answer always trumps even a slight fabrication”.

41375499_301739793949417_6588902839098015744_nOlly likes to ruin cables, he does not like to ruin CVs though.
Olly – Not on location

Structure

As we’ve already covered you should prioritise both previous employment and education in terms of importance. Don’t have your GCSEs at the top of your CV, if your education is first and foremost on your CV then prioritise in terms of most recent, highest qualifications earned. A potential employer will be far more interested in your masters degree than the A you got in woodwork at GCSE.

Base the structure around relevance and experience, if you’ve never had a job in the industry (or any relevant work experience) then perhaps have your education at the top of your CV. This way an employer can quickly and easily see that you have a degree in your chosen field. On the other hand, if you’ve worked at Naughty Dog for a couple of years and perhaps done a year’s stint in QA at a small developer then have your professional experience at the top of your CV. You’ve already proved you are capable of working in the industry, make this obvious to your employer! Bury the retail job you had 10 years ago at the bottom of your employment section.

Check your links and details

Check all links and addresses then check them again. I’ve received links to show reels that either don’t work or ask for a login. I once reached out to one applicant to let them know a link didn’t work and we spent several emails back and forth trying to rectify why I couldn’t access the show reel. I’d imagine a lot of people (especially if they have a stack of good quality CVs to get through) may give up at this point and move on to the next applicant. Likewise check everything from your email address, website links and your name…yes, even your name! I received an application once that had a different name on the CV to the name the applicant had put in their email. Not only was I confused and had to clarify with the applicant but it’s also a good way for your application to get lost in the ether.

Summary

  • Keep it short and sweet
  • Include relevant details first and foremost
  • Avoid exaggerating your talents or feigning interest in subjects
  • Check all of your details
  • 2 pages or less

In the next article we will go on to discuss the interview process.

Making the most of work experience in the games industry. An Interview with Jamie White.

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Meet Jamie, a student on the Level 3 extended diploma in Games Design at the City of Wolverhampton College. Jamie recently completed a work experience placement at Codies in the Birmingham audio department. The placement would last for two weeks and would mainly be focused on audio QA. Students weren’t necessarily required to be primarily interested in audio; rather we were looking for keen students, interested in finding bugs. Work placement would also involve engaging in basic audio department maintenance while getting an inside look into the world of game development.

Jamie’s interest in gaming started from an early age, as he recalls some of his favourite games (which make me feel old) included Crash Bandicoot, Rayman Raving Rabbids and Pokemon. Although gaming had always been a hobby of Jamie’s he never actually intended to pursue a career in the industry – in fact he’d already started working as a chef. The Halo Wars 2 trailer, E3 2016 changed everything for him though and set him on his current path. He recalls:

“It gave me goose bumps as I watched it, I loved how they could compose such a piece of art, it blew my mind how much effort must have gone into making it. I decided right then and there that was what I wanted to work towards. It was a huge risk for me, as I had invested so much of my life into my previous career”.

IMG_0526.jpgSenior audio designer James “Duke Uterus” Kneen showing Jamie the ropes

One of the key points mentioned here is that Jamie had to take a huge risk, he’d already set out to become a chef. Suddenly he’d decided that he could become a developer, providing he worked hard and applied himself. After meeting Jamie it became clear that he is driven and has so far taken all necessary steps to ensure his dream becomes a reality. Jamie stood out amongst his peers at College and secured a work experience placement and it quickly became apparent why. During his two weeks, Jamie was attentive, valued our feedback and advice, networked as much as possible, asked questions and made an effort to seek out any opportunities presented to him.

Although Jamie would be primarily testing audio, I wanted to figure out how work experience could best benefit him as well as us. I wanted to ensure Jamie had ample opportunities to network, improve his own portfolio and figure out his next steps and experience how different disciplines within game development interact to create the final product.

model23.pngJamie’s in progress modeling work

Jamie revealed his main interest is video editing, he remarks “I love watching cinematic trailers; I think there is nothing better than a clean, well done and polished trailer”. Even while Jamie was a chef he spent time picking apart trailers, analysing how they had been composed and what effects had been used. He would then take what he’d learnt and try and create his own trailers for fun. Based on this I encouraged Jamie to talk to the video editing department and any other disciplines that were of interest to him. I’d already explained to Jamie that the key here is to make yourself known without being a pest. Keep in touch and network, let developers know you are keen and work on your show reel and a portfolio but don’t hassle. Jamie took the initiative and quickly sent his show reel to one of the video editors and asked for feedback.

Jamie also took the time to introduce himself to our animation department, who were willing to sit with him and offer advice and feedback. It can’t be overstated how important a step like this could be to Jamie’s career. Not only did he have the opportunity to talk directly to developers and get feedback on his show reel but he was also networking and putting his name forward. As a student on the outside it can often be difficult to know truly how good your work is and what you need to improve upon without feedback from professionals. College and University lecturers are useful resources but even their feedback can’t replace good critiquing from industry veterans who work in development for a living. It can also be challenging to approach and get feedback from developers via email, they have no obligation to reply to you and emails can often get lost in the void – but being right there, face to face next to a developer who specialises in your area of study? Now that is a rarity. Weeks later Jamie would remark:

“The most important thing I took away from my experience is the links I have created with people from the industry; at my age you can’t put a price on networking with industry veterans”.

IMG_0524.jpgJamie working his way through our audio test plan for F1 2017

As his time with us was coming to an end Jamie asked what other opportunities he might be able to get involved with. We got talking about the possibility of doing a bit of extra work experience directly for the QA department, after all he’d been working through our audio test plans for the last two weeks so he’d already had a taste of what to expect. I had previously mentioned to Jamie that the QA department was my foot in the door (read more about that here) and it might be beneficial to him in two respects. Firstly Jamie would get a bit of experience working in an important and often underappreciated game development role. Secondly if any paid work came up in the months and years ahead he’d likely land himself a position (providing he had done a good job during his work experience placement). Several weeks later Jamie did indeed start 2 weeks of work experience with QA at the Southam studio.

With a month of work experience under his belt I’d asked Jamie how he now felt about the industry. He commented that it was “exactly what I hoped it would be like” and interestingly he now felt that pursuing game development as a career was well within his grasp, rather than the pipe dream it had once been. Jamie has also been hard at work on his portfolio since his work experience came to an end and he now feels he has a goal to work towards as he remarks:

“It was great seeing how a professional studio works; how everyone’s individual skills have such a massive effect on the game. What was great about this was that I could see what level of expertise I need to be hitting to make it into the industry”.

GameJam1.pngPokemon style art assets created by Jamie for a gamejam

Before Jamie starts his career in the industry he plans to continue his education by enrolling at Teesside University in Middlesbrough. Aside from his education Jamie intends to build more relationships with fellow developers before pursuing a career in video game cinematography.

Saturday Spotlight: Sounding Out F1 2017’s Audio (Interview)

Note: This article was originally published on the Codies Blog, June 2017

When you’re driving F1 cars in-game, both classic or modern, what they sound like really makes the difference – from hearing the 2017 Scuderia Ferrari overtake you around Spa, or hearing the charm of those screaming V10s or V8s. As there’s nothing that puts a smile on our face more here at Codemasters than the sound of an F1 car driven around a circuit in anger, we sat down with F1 2017’s Audio Lead Brad Porter and Audio Designer David Gurney to sound them out about F1 2017’s audio.

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What’s new for F1 2017?

Brad: As an audio team F1 2016 was our maiden voyage, taking over from the previous audio designers. As a team we decided that an important part of our job going forward was to communicate with and take feedback from the community. So going into F1 2017 we’ve listened and we’ve made improvements as well as added many new features. As always we’re very active on the forum, on social media and on YouTube so feel free to continue sending in comments, feedback and letting us know about any issues you find. We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved as an audio team for F1 2017 and we can’t wait for you to hear the results!

David: For 2017, we’ve made a host of improvements, but the two biggest ones have been around how sound propagates through the virtual world. These are occlusion and convolution reverb. Previously, when a car disappeared behind something, like through the tunnel at Monaco, you might have been able to hear it through the wall. If a car drives behind a building or something now, the audio should change according to what is in the way. The second one is quite nerdy, but it sounds super cool. We previously used algorithmic reverb, but now we use convolution reverb. What this allows us to do is to take an ‘impulse’ of a real world location, for example a real tunnel, and apply that effect to our Monaco tunnel. We have a bunch of different impulses that are used in different environments, so each one has more character and sounds more accurate.

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How have you recorded the sound for F1 2017?

David: We attend events (with the cars) and organise our own. We take a bunch of microphones and stands, memory cards, and batteries on trips. Almost all of our recording trips take place ‘in the field’, so we have to be prepared for bad weather – like the rain at the British Grand Prix in 2016 – and good weather – like the second stage of the 2017 pre-season testing in Barcelona, where one side of my body was burnt from being stood trackside pointing a microphone all day! Recording trips are a huge amount of fun, especially when they involve my favourite sport, but they are tiring and sometimes challenging.

When it comes to recording the cars themselves, we grab as much trackside reference as we can, from as many different angles as we can, and we work alongside teams to record their cars. As you may know, car engines and exhausts are very hot to the touch – especially on high performance cars like these – so we have to be very careful with microphone placement and preparation, since we don’t want any melted cables or the microphones themselves being damaged. We generally give the equipment to the teams’ engineers who will mic the car up, according to our guidance, as they know how to balance the weight of the equipment to maintain performance.

Brad: We’ve been out and about doing some crowd recording sessions, you may have even seen us next to the podium at the Silverstone 2016 GP! We also recruited some willing Codies staff to perform chants and other crowd noise for us so if you’re lucky there’s now also a chance you’ll hear the crowd chanting driver names. We’ve also made great efforts this year to research the little details that fans may not even realise unless they visit a circuit. We’ve researched pit horns for example and ensure to the best of our knowledge that each track now has authentic pit horns triggering whenever a car enters the pit lane. Where possible we’ve grabbed the actual pit horn used on each track. With the help of some teams we’ve even recorded different types of air blowers.

What should people listen out for in F1 2017, that they might not otherwise notice?

David: One thing that I think is that when audio works well, it doesn’t get noticed.

Brad: Our new occlusion and reverb systems. We’re now using convolution in game so audio with the world now sounds far more like it belongs in that world, while tunnels now sound like tunnels and grandstands now sound like grandstands!

What’s your favourite thing about your job?

David: This job suits me down to the ground, based on my experience and interest in audio, my love for video games, and my passion for all things motorsport. It’s almost like the job was made for me. It’s a joy to work on this project, with this team. And I love Mondays.

Brad: I get to work with two other great audio guys and we’re all on the same page about how we want to drive audio forward for F1 2017 and beyond. We all have our own particular strengths and we gel really well as a team as a result, so in almost a decade of working at Codies I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had here.

What are you playing at the moment?

David: When I was asked this question, I said Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild because it had just been released. I would be lying if I said I had completed it, Hyrule is soooo big. And Mario Kart 8. Both are fantastic games.

Brad: I have a big backlog, including some games of a daunting size like The Witcher 3 but I’m renovating a house and I have a 1 year old son so I’m finding it increasingly difficult to put aside time. Right now I’m playing the odd bit of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and I’ve just started Rise of the Tomb Raider.

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We can’t wait for you to hear what both the modern and classic cars of F1 2017 sounds like, and fortunately we’ve only got until the 25th August to wait! Don’t forget that you can pre-order F1 2017 now on Steam here.

Develop – Get That Job (Interview)

Note: This article was originally published in Develop, June 2017 #183, p.44IMG_8781

This month:Brad Porter, Formula 1 audio lead at racing game developer Codemasters

What qualifications and/or experience do you need?
15 years ago or so, many audio designers were taken on with little-to-no qualifications – but today, setting yourself apart from the rest is more important than ever – so qualifications are a must.

In terms of experience, that really depends on the job role. Experience with common software such as Soundforge, audio middleware like Wise or Fmod and audio library software such as Basehead are also really good to have under your belt, regardless of the job level you are going in at.

In terms of the audio lead role, that’s normally a position you’d work your way up to based on experience, years in the industry, and a vacant position. I started in the industry with a degree in music technology but I had basically no experience with game audio. I worked my way up the ranks at Codemasters, and almost a decade later a lead role opened up. In previous roles (and still today) I was big on organisation, documenting workflow and processes, training new starters and fixing and simplifying audio systems. I think these are good strengths to have in my current job role.

If you were interviewing someone, what do you look for?
It depends on the job role we are looking to fill. Our Junior designer was taken on last year and he had no professional experience – but a general rule of thumb for juniors, I’d be expecting applicants to have a related degree – so something music tech based. With fierce competition about and more applicants than there are jobs, I’m increasingly seeing applicants with a Master’s degrees!  If we were hiring for something like an experienced or senior role, typically I’d be expecting the applicant to have put in several years within the games industry and have credits on at least one or two titles.

What opportunities are there for career progression?
I guess I’m a good example of career progression, as I started at Codies immediately after my degree as a temporary QA technician. I’ve built my way up through audio from an “associate” audio designer to a project lead. It’s taken time and I’ve had a big learning curve, So I’ve had to work closely with my peers to pick up the various skills I’ve needed along the way. There’s certainly a lot of variety in what we do and plenty of opportunities to specialise and diversify, as well as working your way up the ranks.

We’re encouraged to take many opportunities, from recording Hypercars in Italy, to F1 in Bahrain, to learning new tools and software, to interviewing applicants for new roles, to managing your own staff.

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So you want a job in the games industry? Musings from Codemasters Birmingham audio department.

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I’m occasionally asked how I got into the games industry and while my path is fairly straight forward I can ask almost anybody else at Codies and they’ll tell a different story of their own path into audio design. The core audio department here at Codies Birmingham consists of three audio designers, myself in a senior position as the project lead designer, James “Duke Uterus” Kneen in a senior position and Dave Gurney in a junior audio designer role. Here we share those three stories.

I never formally interviewed for a job in audio when I was originally taken on. I’d started out as a QA technician at Codies and got talking to the audio department and one of the audio programmers. As well as continuing with my general QA bug reporting I also went out of my way to add each and every audio related bug I could find for each project I worked on. The benefit here was that I was immediately identified by the audio department due to how few people in QA seemed to concentrate on entering audio bugs at the time. On top of that I’d make it my mission to go over and chat with the audio guys that I knew a couple of times a month – not so often that I’d become annoying but not too infrequent that they’d forget about me. The important thing to remember here was that I’d never normally get a great opportunity like this had I not worked in QA. I couldn’t exactly turn up unannounced at game companies for a chat with the audio guys. Even handing in CVs and show reels and bugging designers via email doesn’t have quite the same impact as being able to walk across the office and interact with people face to face.

Luckily, at this stage two great steps forward happened, firstly the audio guys mentioned that there might be some “dog’s body” work coming up. Generally this would be tasks such as chopping and organising assets or adding regions and markers to projects. The second step was that one of the audio teams really needed somebody to focus on audio bugs for a particular game – having seen my list of audio focused bugs on the database and knowing I had an interest in audio they approached QA management and asked if I’d be interested in some focused QA audio work. Even to this day this is quiet a rarity; it involved me temporarily moving over to the audio department and specifically working with the audio guys to identify as many audio bugs as I could, all while still under QA management and budget. You can read more about my QA job role here:

https://leavelucktogames.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/working-in-qa/

06062008287.jpgNew beginnings – My first desk in QA.

After several months of working with the audio team they decided to take me on permanently in a junior capacity. It’s worth adding that before working in QA I’d been studying music technology for 3 years at college and a further 3 years at University. I then gained around 1 ½ years of QA experience which in itself provides great background knowledge when moving into games development. Two of my previous articles go into more detail on my time in education:

https://leavelucktogames.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/studying-music-technology-at-college/

https://leavelucktogames.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/is-an-education-really-needed/

I’m actually the only member of Birmingham audio who started off in a QA role, Dave (our junior) completed a master’s degree in game audio before applying for the junior role we opened up. Both Dave and I enrolled on generalised audio / visual media degrees but Dave furthered his education with a game audio master’s degree where he got to grips with middleware such as FMOD and Wwise. At degree level neither of us went into game audio territory, the assignments I completed during my 3rd year were specifically massaged to steer towards game audio but there was no training with any middleware or any game audio practices.

Dave applied to us straight after his master’s so he had gained no previous professional experience. One of the audio designers at Codies contacted him through Linkedin after seeing his profile, at which point Dave sent in his CV and show reel for us to consider. James and I looked through all the CVs that were handed in before narrowing down the candidate list to around 6 or so or of our favourites. This decision was based on multiple factors such as the applicant’s previous experience, the quality of their show reel and how excited they seemed to be about working on racing games. For us it wasn’t essential that our junior be into racing or racing games but let’s say in a situation where two very similar applicants applied then somebody with a good interest in motorsport would have the edge. Not only would this mean the applicant is less likely to tire of the sort of audio design work we do but they’d also be more likely to be excited to attend recording sessions, watch reference footage and suggest and work on very specific features present in motorsport. This might include things like turbo systems, detonations, engine bundles, mechanical tools and so on.

img_0146David Gurney – We insist he wears this hat when working on critical tasks.

Once we had narrowed down our search we held a skype or phone call interview with each candidate. James and I went through each candidates show reel; before we gave them feedback we asked them to critique their own show reel to see if they understood where their short comings and strengths lay. We then provided our own feedback on the show reel before going over each applicants CV and asking them for further questions. Typical lines of enquiry here were questions such as “Why do you want to leave your current job?”, “What games do you play?”, “Do you play any Codemasters games?”, “How do you feel about re-locating?”. After narrowing our search down further we finally invited our candidates in for a face to face interview. By this stage we were finding it difficult to choose one applicant, there wasn’t a lot in it and in all honesty I’m sure any one of these guys would have fitted in just fine. The main goal here then was to talk to each candidate to see how well they would fit in and so we discussed their hobbies, games, audio and other generalised chat. Importantly though, Dave was also excited at the prospect of working on a motorsport game; he suggested ideas for systems and asked us how existing systems were implemented. He’d asked questions about recording sessions and what we’d be expecting from him. He showed a clear interest in what we were doing and how he’d like to help build upon our work if he were given the opportunity. James and I both felt it was important to take on somebody that we could get on with as a friend as well as a colleague; after all we have to work very closely with each other day in day out.

Unlike Dave and myself, James doesn’t have any formal education in audio design. James seemed destined for a job in the audio industry; he grew up with a passion for all things sci-fi and audio related. Sometimes I wonder if he’s part synth – both of the android and musical instrument varieties. The “Duke” as we affectionately call him here at Codies first became interested in audio when his parents bought him a portable cassette recorder when he was a child. He started off recording joke “radio” shows and silly sounds before moving on to recording episodes of Doctor Who. Listening back to these recordings sparked an interest in sound effects and synthesis. This passion stuck with James through his teenage years and the first wave of hip-hop only helped cement this passion. From here on out James decided that he’d like one day to become a sound designer. With no qualifications to speak of James decided to go down the experience route and seek out a tape operator position in a studio. Unfortunately James found this extremely difficult to secure and ultimately failed.

Capture.PNGExterminate! – Where it all began for James.

Although James remained passionate about audio and production he decided to seek alternative employment and instead tried to break into the games industry. James considered trying to start a career in QA (similar to my own route into games audio). By his early 30s he found himself working for Empire Interactive but rather than a QA role he found himself burning game builds to disc. This ultimately would form the basis of his path into game audio. After a few years James made the move over to EA in a similar role and during his time here he’d spotted the recording studio and over time became friends with the audio studio head. Not one to miss a great opportunity James sweet talked his way into using the studio for a few evenings a week. A junior audio designer role eventually came up and after cutting his teeth with the EA studio gear James decided to apply. Once again the Duke was on the cusp of making it into one of his dream jobs but it was not to be. Although interviewing well, James lost out to an applicant with current experience.

IMG_0148.jpgJames “Duke Uterus” Kneen – He’s really not that grumpy, he really is that old though.

An audio assistant role eventually came up which James did secure – finally he was in! By this point James was into his late 30s, so a relatively late starter. James currently holds a senior audio designer role here at Codies Birmingham and readily admits how difficult his path to this position has been. I’d asked him for advice to pass onto up and coming audio designers seeking a position within the industry to which he replied:

“Securing a position in game audio is difficult, but not impossible. It’s about your attitude, passion for audio and your tenacity. If you keep on keeping on, you will do it. I am of course biased but I reckon it’s the most interesting and fun job on the planet.”

Three designers all with different paths into the industry; so where does that leave you if you’re seeking the best way to secure a job? Well you’ve still got to carve your own path out but here’s some general advice to help you along the way.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. The important points to remember are to network and gain some experience and while these steps are by no means sure fire ways to success they’ll greatly help you out. About a year ago I had a situation where two budding audio designers contacted me about work experience; one was a recent college graduate who was mainly interested in composition while the second was on a temporary contract in QA. Both prospective designers had graduated from sound related courses at college and both had at least started out on the right track; they’d done what many in my opinion fail to do. They had both contacted me and politely introduced themselves and shown some level of enthusiasm. As always I asked both of them for a show reel and a CV and asked them what they wanted to get out of any work experience. The guy in QA replied to tell me he would have to update his CV – I heard back from him about 4 months later! I politely informed him that unfortunately he’d missed the boat on this occasion as I’d taken on somebody else who’d replied with the information I’d asked for. The college graduate who applied was given a shot, despite primarily being interested in composition.

F1_2016_May_012_WM-823x436.pngF1 2016 – Sound design by Brad, James and Dave.

A decent education does help and in all honesty these days I don’t know of many young audio designers without a degree or higher. That being said, you could land a 1st class honours followed up by a master’s in game audio and you’d still not be guaranteed a job. Considering most of the other candidates will also have a degree it probably won’t do a lot to help you stand out. Think of your education then as a good fundamental framework once you’ve landed the job. It’s pretty obvious when we’ve spoken to or taken on work experience designers which are from a University background and which are not. That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions to this rule.

Experience is great but none of us in Birmingham audio took the work experience path and although it’s a great way to get a foot in the door we quickly discovered our work experience graduate didn’t have enough knowledge to be considered anywhere near ready enough for a job in the industry. I have however dealt with one intern here at Codies as well as managed a handful of University students on weeklong work experience. What I will say here is that you should only take on whatever work experience you feel you can manage. Generally you’ll find yourself forking out for travel and accommodation as well as working a full time, unpaid job! On top of that jumping in head first to something you’re totally unfamiliar with may actually deter a future employer from taking you on. Before taking on any experience try and find out what software the company uses, ask what their day today workload consists of then prepare yourself. Work experience is valuable and not easy to come by so if you do land a temporary position utilise it and make the most of it. Jump on new or unique tasks; ask the designers what they are currently working on and how different systems work. Don’t be too pushy but make it clear that you are interested in learning all you can in the limited time you have at the company.

Apply for the right positions and tailor your CV and show reel to appeal to these positions. We had various applicants apply for the role which Dave ultimately ended up getting. Dave handed in a show reel which highlighted various types of sound design, but importantly it also included motorsport. Not only did this show he was interested specifically in the role he was applying for but it also highlighted his aptitude for tailoring assets to suit motorsport content. Contrast this with some of our other applicants who handed in show reels full of low budget mobile games and no examples of motorsport. Some applicants occasionally send in show reels which only highlight compositional skills rather than sound design ability. We were specifically looking for a full time sound designer and there was no mention of music in the job specification so highlighting these skills didn’t really give us any idea as to whether the applicant was suitable for the position. It’s important to note at this point that I’ve had quite a few composers contact me over the years asking for advise, work experience or just to pass on their show reel and CV. I’ve explained to each of them (including our previous work experience graduate) that generally speaking not many game devs will take on a full time in-house composer – it’s just not something that happens. My advice here would be to go freelance or work on some small indie projects. If you are clued up on sound design you could get into the industry and eventually you may even find that you’ll be suited to score some of the projects you’re working on but composition shouldn’t be your primary driving factor.

Some of the really great applications we received showed off actual middleware implementation and video of middleware projects in action. I personally find this an excellent and interesting way to highlight sound design ability as well as the ability to implement finished assets and take into consideration variety and dynamically altering soundscapes. Audio for games is quite a different skill from track laying for linear media such as film so highlighting this ability proves you’re able to fulfil some of the requirements for a job in game audio.

Finally, as James experienced, don’t be deterred by rejection. We’d actually turned down a previous applicant because we were only taking on one designer. It pained us to turn him away as he was just as good as the applicant we offered the job to but we had to make a decision. Several months later we called him again and offered him a job on another project. You’ll apply for jobs and most likely you’ll be rejected for quite a few of them. This could be through no fault of your own, maybe another applicant took the position for a lower salary, maybe you were just as good but a coin flip decided on another applicant for the one vacant position, maybe your skills were tailored for a different role. Refine your CV, ask the company for feedback on why they didn’t proceed with your application, continue working on your show reel and continue applying.