This time A Conversation with… tracked down Grayson Scantlebury at EA, he is from our 8th graduating class.
Tell me about what you are doing now in the Games Industry
I’m a designer on Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2. When I joined the team I was working on some of the new stuff we haven’t announced yet but the last few months I’ve been focusing on designing levels.
How has this changed since you graduated?
When I was at VFS I focused my studies on level design. After graduating I’ve had a variety of different design related responsibilities, from system design and balancing to writing quests. The biggest difference from VFS is learning to work with a much larger team with a lot more going on. At VFS I needed to keep track of 1 or 2 features that I was responsible for within a team of 5. I now have to keep track of way more, and I have a ton of people who are dependent on those things, and also have all their own responsibilities. Making sure all the pieces of the game not only work on their own, but work together in the bigger picture I think is the biggest mentality shift.
Can you describe a typical day in your office?
I spend the majority of day sketching/planning or whiteboxing sections of the level I’m working on. I sync up with the art team a couple times a day to discuss ideas I have or review art assets as they get put into the game. The levels I’m responsible for are quite large and have a lot of people working on them at the same time so it becomes a very involved process keeping track of all the elements that go in. We have a very collaborative design team and everyone is very open to ideas, so I try to take time to catch up with the other designers and talk about what they’re working on as well.
What’s the most fun thing you get to do? What’s the most stressful/challenging?
The most fun part of my job by far is seeing ideas come to life. Often I’ll have a wacky idea late at night and come to work the next day, tell some people about it and they’ll add stuff to it and make it even wilder. PvZ is such a fun project to work on because no idea is ever too crazy! Getting to see those ideas come together in the game is really rewarding.
PvZ, however, is such a big game with so many characters and so much going on, all those moving parts can make even a simple idea become an arduous task to design properly. I often find myself going back to the drawing board to rework something so it intertwines with other aspects of the game.
What games are you playing right now, and what elements have impressed you?
Darkest Dungeon – I used to work with a couple of the guys who made this, and seeing such a small development team produce such a beautiful and unique game is really inspiring. The atmosphere and the mechanics have been blended so well, which is normally not something I look for when I play games, but they did such a good job of it.
Dota 2 – Icefrogs approach to system balance is something I admire. I also really hope to be able to find some time to dig into the new source2 engine editor and see what I can tinker around with.
What are some trends you see in upcoming games?
I’m curious to see where VR/AR will go. I’m trying not to be skeptical that this first consumer wave will become a gimmick in gaming if the technology isn’t able to keep up with developers’ ambitions. I’m hopeful it’s going to bring some really cool stuff to the table though and I’m enjoying what I’ve seen so far. (Still waiting for holodecks)
What do you feel was the most valuable skill that you learned in the Game Design program at VFS?
Time Management. You will never have enough time in the day to do all the things you want to do. As a designer I’m constantly coming up with ideas in all areas of the game, but there’s simply no way we could ever do even just the good ones. Learning to pick and choose what and where to apply your time and effort will become an increasingly more valuable skill the longer you stay in the industry. If you think cutting an idea from your student project is hard, try cutting something you’ve already spent months working on. Hard choices need to be made for the greater good of the project and the more you can manage your time wisely in day to day matters the easier those bigger decisions become.
If you could give a current student in Game Design some advice, what would it be?
Ask Questions. The VFS community is an amazing tool at your disposal but it’s only beneficial if you use it properly. Learn as much as you can from your teachers, mentors and fellow students as often as you can. Asking thought provoking questions will often expose answers to questions you may not have even thought of beforehand. Never be scared of something new and keep learning.
Thanks Grayson, and best of luck with Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2!