This week A Conversation with… tracked down our 18th graduating class, and found Chris Fox at PopCap Games.
- Tell me about what you are doing now in the Games Industry
I’ve been with PopCap for nearly 3 years now. I’m currently the lead gameplay designer on Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare.
- How has this changed since you graduated?
I think the main difference is scope. I’ve always been a gameplay guy, so even as a junior, I spent most of my time tuning and balancing whatever I could get my hands on. These days, instead of a single weapon, it’s a hundred of them. Instead of designing a single event, it’s an entire game mode. The stakes get bigger, but ultimately, I’m still just making sure the game is as fun as possible.
- Can you describe a typical day in your office?
Garden Warfare released nearly 8 months ago on Xbox, and we’ve been fortunate to be able to support it aggressively post-launch. For me, that usually means playing the game, responding to fan feedback via social media, and helping to plan which areas we want to address next. That can be anything from new maps, game modes, and characters, to critical balance and bug fixes.
Specifically, I work with our creative, art, and audio directors to come up with new ideas for characters. I’ll then take their weapons and abilities from prototype, all the way through final and beyond.
- What’s the most fun thing you get to do? What’s the most stressful/challenging?
Having a direct line of communication with our fans is unquestionably the most rewarding aspect of my job. I get to see and hear the reactions to our decisions first-hand. When an 8 year old sends you hand-drawn art and tells you Garden Warfare is their favorite game, it doesn’t get much better than that.
I think the most challenging part is always going to be outdoing your previous work. You put so much of yourself into the game, and you always want to walk away feeling like you did your absolute best. Constantly upping your effort and emotional investment with each new project or piece of content can be stressful. But ultimately, you get out what you put in.
- What games are you playing right now, and what elements have impressed you?
I try to play as much as I can, even if I’m finishing fewer games than I’d like. On console I’ve been splitting my time between Forza Horizon 2, Shadow of Mordor, and Diablo III. On mobile, I’ve been playing a lot of Adventure Xpress, and Terra Battle.
The Nemesis system in Shadow of Mordor took me by surprise. The way enemy AI react to and address your previous actions gives them a sense of life and persistence that stands out. It goes a long way in giving that world a life of its own.
- What are some trends you see in upcoming games?
I mentioned direct fan interaction already, but I don’t think I can overstate it. It’s not for everyone, but I’ve found it to be an incredibly powerful and rewarding process. I look at what Double Fine did with Broken Age, or what Epic is in the middle of doing with Unreal Tournament. Allowing your biggest fans to contribute, and see how and why games are made the way they are is awesome.
- What do you feel was the most valuable skill that you learned in the Game Design program at VFS?
VFS taught me how to ship a game and be a part of a team. I learned what it takes to commit to a project, hit your deadlines, and see it through to the end. Immediately after leaving VFS, I joined a 200+ person team from alpha to final. My experience at VFS prepared me for that in a way that raw technical or design skills alone simply could not.
- If you could give a current student in Game Design some advice, what would it be?
Work hard, have fun, and treat your year at VFS like a job interview. It’s a small industry, especially if you plan on staying in Vancouver. If you make a good impression early, it’ll stick with you. The opposite can be equally true.
Thanks for the update Chris, best of luck on your next game!
Dave Warfield is the Head of Game Design at VFS