A Conversation with… Brock Robin

We’re back with another edition of A Conversation with… This time we had a chat with Brock Robin from our 7th graduating class.

  • Tell me about what you are doing now in the Games Industry

I’m a senior systems designer at Relic, working on core gameplay systems for an unannounced project.

  • How has this changed since you graduated?

I started out as a junior designer so it’s been an interesting ride all the way up to the senior level.  Since my first day at Relic they’ve thrown me into the deep end and I’ve enjoyed more responsibility than a freshly minted designer should probably have.  I’ve been fortunate enough to try my hand out in a variety of design roles from progression, core system design, content creation, mission scripting, level design and even managed to get into the nitty gritty of hooking up motion trees for the havok animation systems that were designed for Space Marine.  There were days that consisted of nothing but repeatedly shoving a chainsword into an ork’s mouth… just so the animations would line up properly!  Now they trust me with overseeing the design of core systems, creating and owning processes and even some light mentoring.  I went from being interviewed as a VFS student… to interviewing at least a dozen VFS students a year!

 

  • Can you describe a typical day in your office?

Lately it’s been a lot of hands on in-engine prototyping in an effort to lock down the feel of our game as more systems come online.  It’s a lot like a science experiment – propose a hypothesis, test it in engine and then evaluate it amongst ourselves and repeat.  Although designers can spend a lot of time theory crafting, the only thing that really matters is what you have in software.  Besides that the type of work that I do varies quite a bit over the course of a project so the job never feels stale.  Some days are filled with meetings, giving / watching presentations, creating silly videos and images to help sell or convey my ideas, having discussions with artists and programmers, playing and analyzing other games.

 

  • What’s the most fun thing you get to do? What’s the most stressful/challenging?

Designing games is such an amazing job that it’s hard to pick just one thing.  If I had to be specific – I never get tired of making crazy, over the top abilities, the kind that you know will fill even the most jaded gamer with delight.  At Relic an innovative spirit is really the core of the company; we like to try mechanics and systems that don’t exist in other games.  More often than not there is a good reason why those systems don’t exist – it is very challenging but similarly rewarding to try and make new and unproven ideas work.  I try not to get stressed out to much, I’m a pretty laid back guy so I only have small flashes of stress.

 

  • What games are you playing right now, and what elements have impressed you?

I just got into the Heroes of the Storm alpha.  Being a seasoned HoN/DoTA player, I don’t think the gameplay is quite there yet but I do appreciate many of the unique approaches they’ve taken to the MoBA genre.  In particular I think the creative use of secondary objectives on the map have lent quite a bit of strategy to the game and are well executed with the polish you’d expect from a Blizzard game. With both Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm they have done a good job of taking the complex games of DoTA and Magic respectively and managed to remove a lot of the complexity but retaining or finding new ways to add depth.

 

  • What are some trends you see in upcoming games?

Between steam, kickstarter and a renewed commitment to making it easier to publish games for the new consoles we’re going to see more and more excellent games made by indie developers.  They have a willingness to explore unique and interesting mechanics that are catching ever greater attention.  I was fortunate enough to go to GDC this year and I was impressed with the support and sense of camaraderie that I witnessed amongst indie developers.  With the advent of Unity and cheaper models of licensing great engines – it’s getting even easier to make great games.  With this surge of indie games you generally see a higher level of challenge and replayability in order to engage users.  These games are able to pick a niche audience and deliver an incredible experience, they’re not trying to make a game that everyone and their mom can play, so they can embrace an unapologetic attitude.

Oculus Rift – I’m very interested to see where this goes.  If done right it has the potential to disrupt the gaming industry.  There are still a lot of challenges, but I’m eager to see if they can pull it off.  I feel like if it’s something that’s too risky for big publishers to dip their toes into the water, indie developers will pick up the slack and show us what kind of interesting experiences that can be had.

Blurring the lines between singleplayer and multiplayer – Dark Souls and even the last iteration of Need for Speed have proven that a traditional singleplayer experience can be a unique, dynamic experience.  This is rife for potential and you’re seeing games like Destiny and the Division trying to explore this.

Lastly, games (and franchises) are devoting more effort to keep their users active and engaged over longer periods of time.  This takes the form of second screen experiences, companion apps, mobile version of games, alternate reality games and social media presence.

 

  • What do you feel was the most valuable skill that you learned in the Game Design program at VFS?

Before I came to VFS I had never worked with anyone that truly cared about the work they do.  VFS provides you the opportunity to be completely immersed with passionate, creative individuals for an entire year.  It was challenging trying to reconcile different opinions from people with a variety of different backgrounds and interests but it’s an important life skill to develop.  I really do feel that the team based projects at VFS do feel like a microcosm of actual game development.

 

  • If you could give a current student in Game Design some advice, what would it be?

This is your best chance to follow your dream.  Take it seriously, work your ass off, make friends with your classmates, respect and try to understand their opinions, question your own assumptions, challenge yourself, don’t be afraid to be wrong, learn from your mistakes, read every insightful article and watch every GDC presentation that you can, completely immerse yourself in game design, embrace learning new skills, don’t be afraid of broken software and NETWORK!  It’s important that you make good connections and leave those you interact with a positive impression – it really does matter.


Dave Warfield is the Head of Game Design at VFS