A Conversation With… Andres Molina

This time A Conversation with… checked out one of our local developers and caught up with GD18 alumni Andres Molina.


• Tell me about what you are doing now in the Games Industry
I’m currently a Game Designer at Popcap EA, working on Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2. My primary focus is game modes (particularly Garden Ops), but it’s such a dynamic team that I have the opportunity to dabble in different areas of the game. It keeps me on my toes!

· How has this changed since you graduated?
I was very fortunate when I graduated from VFS and was awarded the Brian Wood Memorial Internship at Relic Entertainment. I started off as a Designer on Company of Heroes 2, where I helped build the encounter management systems and tools used throughout single-player content. This later turned into a contract position, which in turn led to a full-time role as a Campaign Designer on the team.

After shipping Company of Heroes 2, I continued as a Campaign Designer on The Ardennes Assault expansion and afterward had a chance to work on smaller, experimental projects within Relic that unfortunately didn’t come to fruition.

After 4 years at Relic, it was time for me to explore new horizons so when an opportunity to work on Garden Warfare came along I decided it was time to make a change. It was very tough leaving Relic as I made some very strong friendships there, but I’m having a great time at EA.


· Can you describe a typical day in your office?
It all starts with cup of coffee – the elixir of life. After syncing up to the latest build of the game and spending a few minutes catching up with any straggling emails, we have a stand-up meeting by our scrum board. If there are any active tasks that require support from other departments I check up on that and then I return to my desk to continue with my work.
I work primarily on the Garden Ops game mode, where I’m often implementing new content and improving existing functionality. This requires a fair amount of work using Schematics, which is the node-based visual scripting system used in FrostEd (EA/DICE’s main game engine/editor).
In the afternoon we run a team-wide playtest of the different game modes. If there’s any particular area of Garden Ops that needs playtesting I’ll organize a small sub-group to play it and collect any pertinent feedback.
There’s usually another cup of coffee that takes place somewhere in between all that.


· What’s the most fun thing you get to do? What’s the most stressful/challenging?
One of the things I enjoy the most is just coming up with insanely goofy ideas for things we could put in the game, and then realizing that they would fit entirely within the PvZ universe. Obviously scope will limit what we ultimately are able to add to the game, but it is a lot of fun to just let your imagination run wild.
This in turn can also be one of the more challenging aspects. Your imagination may run wild, but at the end of the day you have to work within constraints in order to turn that crazy idea into a feature. Your new feature requires a new UI screen? That’s too bad, UI has no bandwidth to provide support. Can you make it work without that UI screen? Possibly…


· What games are you playing right now, and what elements have impressed you?
Sadly I haven’t had a lot of free time lately, so I haven’t been playing as much as I should. When I do have time lately I have been trying to clear out my backlog of games and I tend to gravitate more towards smaller and somewhat-experimental titles. Some recent titles I’ve player are Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons, The Talos Principle, and Stanley Parable.

One thing that has impressed me, particularly based on these types of games, is the quality of the experience they can generate by being a much more focused game. You don’t need a 75+ person team and a multi-million dollar budget in order to create compelling experiences that resonate with players.

· What are some trends you see in upcoming games?
There’s been a lot of buzz around VR and AR gaming, but I think we’re still a number of years away from that becoming mainstream. There’s still various limitations with the technology (for instance, locomotion), but make no mistake: it’s coming, and it’s coming fast.
Games will have to evolve in order to fit these new platforms. VR works great for simulation-type games, but the core interaction paradigms will probably have to change in order to fully take advantage of VR. It’s not enough to simply strap a headset to a 3rd person game and call it a day.
As far as games themselves, the big budget, high spectacle, AAA productions are here to stay, and I don’t see them going anywhere any time soon. They are after all the highest grossing entertainment franchises in the world.
Independent developers is where most of the innovation is going to come from. The barriers of entry are pretty much non-existent nowadays, which means that the next great game can come from anyone or anywhere.
Interestingly enough, big companies are seeing the value of these smaller, experimental games and have begun creating them themselves as small passion projects from individuals within existing teams. Take for instance Child of Light and Grow Home from Ubisoft. I expect more of this to happen as more developers experience “AAA fatigue”.


· What do you feel was the most valuable skill that you learned in the Game Design program at VFS?
I’d have to say working as part of a multidisciplinary team is definitely up there, but seeking and knowing how to receive feedback is also key. These two are the bread and butter of my every-day life as a Game Designer.

For me, one of the great things about the Game Design program was that it allowed to me gain a solid level of understanding of all areas of Game Development. I might have not come out as a master audio composer, but I understand the basics of it when interacting with the Audio lead as we tackle a feature. Same goes for production, 3D modeling, animation, UI design, etc.


· If you could give a current student in Game Design some advice, what would it be?
First and foremost, foster the relationships you create with your classmates and instructors. You’ll probably be told on the first day that the Game Design program is a “year-long interview”. That is absolutely correct. Many of my classmates, including myself, have gotten jobs and been referred to different opportunities based on the network we started during our days at VFS. Similarly, continue growing that network past graduation. Go to game jams, check out Full Indie, go to conferences and talk to people. We’re a very tight night industry, but also a very large one.
Lastly, one great piece of advice that was given to me and has always stuck: Always be a pleasure to work with.


 Thanks Andres, and best of luck with PvZ!