Industry Insights – Advice for job applications: level designer edition [Mike Bithell, 2018]
This is going to be a very short and sweet entry to my Industry Insights series in which Mike Bithell of Thomas Was Alone and Quarantine/Subsurface Circular fame goes over his own advice on creating a good level design portfolio, inspired by his recent search for a freelancer on an unannounced project. This is a rare chance for direct and soberingly honest advice that many aspiring developers will benefit greatly from.
Keeping with the spirit of this series, I will do my best to be as brief and concise as possible, hard as that may be for me.
As a disclaimer – I will inject some of my own interpretation and expansion of the ideas, as this is unavoidable. For the full picture, always refer to the sources, listed at the end.
- Communication skills are number one priority, especially in junior hires. You can learn almost anything if you’re willing to listen, and you can’t be a designer without being able to explain a position and fight your corner (professionally)
- So make sure to spell check. Arrange your CV/portfolio clearly. Show that you can get an idea across (in this case, the idea that you’re fantastic). Show that you pay attention by following the instructions (despite asking for email, he still got a fair few DMs, twitter applications etc.)
- Show what you did on games, don’t just offer a softography. It is of course impressive if you worked on a game that is known and even liked, but game dev is a team effort, so you need to highlight what you actually did, and the limits of that responsibility.
- The strongest candidates take you through their work history by naming projects and then actually bullet pointing “I was responsible for these specific areas of design in these specific parts of the game, or its systems”. That helps the recruiter.
- If they haven’t heard of your game, that presents an opportunity. If you’re just starting out and all your work is student or indie projects, then you have an amazing opportunity to walk them through your process. Some great students presented playthrough vids of their levels.
- One idea that wasn’t seen but might be worth a day’s work for any students about to start job hunting – make a GMTK style break down video of a level that was designed. Similar to the dungeon mapping ones – show the recruiter. SHOW NOT TELL.
- Be incredibly careful about oversharing personal info before work info. They shouldn’t have to get to know you personally before seeing your portfolio, so keep it fresh and professional. This is in your best interest: they might be a jerk who doesn’t like you immediately…
- It’s 2018 so if they’re into your work, they will google you and check out twitter to see if you’re an arsehole before getting back to you, but it’s a risky play to put your personality too far ahead of the work you’re hoping to wow a prospective employer with.
- One great tip for students is to share analysis of other people’s levels – one of the best portfolios ever seen included, among other things, a 5 page analysis of why and how rocket launchers were placed in Quake maps. Brilliant.
- They’re not going to download an executable. They’re not going to download a mod, a map or anything else at the first round of review. a) It’s slow b) I’m doing this on a Mac that doesn’t support your game c) I’m not logging into steam on this work machine. It sucks, but it’s true.
- Time is limited, so make it profoundly easy with PDFs (opens on anything these days) and YouTube/embedded videos. Flash intros are, thankfully, much less popular these days, but bear in mind that you have 5 minutes to earn their attention for another 5 before moving on.
- Show debug rendered overviews of maps that were made. In a very big pile of applicant, the ones that did it could be counted on one hand. It’s exciting to see level maps and layouts. A sexy gameplay shot is fine, but it’s more a showcase of the environment artist(s) you worked with. Show the unsexy debug view with spawner gizmos and grey boxed layouts. Show that you’re able to build and pace a space. It doesn’t matter if it’s ugly, for a level designer, it’s the meat of what they’re hiring you to do.
- The final one – if you don’t get hired for a job it’s almost certainly not because you were shit.
- No single application this time around managed all 7 of the above
- He was hiring for a genre you have no experience of
- You were second best, but there is only one job