This time A Conversation with… tracked down Diego Pons with Next Level Games, from our 4th graduating class.
Q: Tell me about what you are doing now in the Games Industry
Working at Next Level Games as a game designer, currently doing Core Design.
Initially I was hired as a Presentation Designer, but I’ve had the opportunity to do UI Design, Level Design, Project Pitching, Story, Preproduction and even a bit of Environmental Art.
Q: How has this changed since you graduated?
You could say I’m a bit of an odd ball within the games industry:
About 8 years ago Next Level Games offered me a position just after graduation… and I’m still here!
I’m in love with this studio and its people; they’ve granted me the privilege to work in several different projects, with different roles and at different stages of production.
Thus the learning, the challenge and the fun just kept coming!
I’m not too much of a hierarchy climber, I rather keep developing my skills and gaining experience, which is another great opportunity NLG has given me.
Q: Can you describe a typical day in your office?
Right now I’m part of a team fully dedicated to preproduction, which is a phase I truly enjoy.
Unfortunately I can’t reveal anything else.
But I can tell you that every single day there’s lots of brainstorming, reviewing and constant iteration.
I often go around and pick the brains of team mates.
I used to be a person to take a lot of pride in my own ideas, but this company really made me see the true meaning of team effort.
And leisure also counts! I’m talking about amazing Magic: The Gathering matches during lunch!
Q: What’s the most fun thing you get to do? What’s the most stressful/challenging?
Tough question. I enjoy a lot of things and the answer probably would be different if you asked me the same within two days.
Map drawing comes to mind; I’ve had the chance to draw a lot of maps for previously released titles.
I’m very passionate about spatial awareness and navigation, so hopefully I’ll get to do more of that again.
The most challenging… reminding myself constantly that the eyes of the user are not your own, and that the things you might love might not work for the experience that the game needs to be.
Also stressful is understanding the exceptions and caviets of the English language, since I get to write a lot. Reaching perfection is just simply impossible.
Q: What games are you playing right now, and what elements have impressed you?
Have you played Splatoon? It’s a lot of fun!
I’m quite behind with my games checklist, because I’m a completionist.
One hand is enough to count the games I have played that I haven’t finished.
If you don’t count playing games as research, the latest one I’ve played thoroughly is Bravely Default, which impressed me greatly with the fresh twist they gave to turn based gameplay.
Also worth noticing is how they tackled repetitive gameplay. I’m not convinced they succeeded.
Which didn’t impress me at all is the inability to seek specific Nemesis. Fighting two of them is the only thing I couldn’t experience in the game; and I’m a very patient player!
Lesson: Always take in account the completionists among players!
Q: What are some trends you see in upcoming games?
I’m indecisive as the industry changes now so quickly, but I certainly know what trends I would like to see!
It would be great if steps were taken towards better integration of gameplay and storytelling.
We designers are crazy about gameplay.
Although I believe gameplay should have priority, I firmly believe story should never be neglected – no matter how simple the game is.
And taking care of story is not simply crafting beautiful cinematics that the developers hope the player won’t skip.
I’m talking about using story-telling as a problem solving device – form the developers’ perspective – and as the fuel to carry the player’s goals and motivations.
Q: What do you feel was the most valuable skill that you learned in the Game Design program at VFS?
I must say that’s what truly gave me the opportunity to succeed.
Before VFS I was a motion graphics designer, and a lot of my work was done solo.
When the time came to start our final projects, I seriously considered doing it alone.
But after learning so much and becoming more aware of the industry – another great benefit of the program – I realized that the games I really liked were works of art done cooperatively by large groups of talented people.
I needed to prove that I could become part of a team, and be prepared to share responsibility and learn to make decisions within a group.
The time to design solo had to be a thing from the past.
Working with those three amazing talented guys became one of my most valuable professional experiences and one of my most cherished memories.
Q; If you could give a current student in Game Design some advice, what would it be?
Absorb like a sponge.
In the early terms, don’t rush the final project; the time for that will come.
When I was taking the program, I remember having 11 different classes within the same term.
I absolutely loved that, as it provided us several learning experiences from very different points of view.
Not all of the instructors were game designers, and that made the learning experience even richer. Game designers don’t work in a silo.
If you think learning Creative Process techniques or the basics of User Interface is a waste of time… you better think again!
Thanks Diego, and best of luck on whatever your next project is