MEng, Software Engineering (2012)
For many, working in games design is a dream come true – but a dream realised only after years of study and hard work.
We spoke to Lauren Truesdale, a camera programmer with Rockstar Games, the award-winning company most famous for producing Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption.
“I’d always been interested in programming throughout high school, and after looking at a few Computer Science courses in Scotland I decided to study at Heriot-Watt. The campus was beautiful, the lecturers were so enthusiastic and friendly, and the course felt very hands on and practical – I knew I would find a home here.
Living on campus in my first year really helped ease into moving away from home, and however tough it got, the baby bunnies and swans never failed to put me at ease! Heriot-Watt really does have beautiful grounds, walking through those areas around my old halls would always show me something new throughout the seasons. I was definitely guilty of starting most days with a bacon roll and vanilla latte from Liberty’s in the Union! That was a pretty great place for meeting friends before class.
The course itself was excellent. You would be eased into new material and then challenged on it. Every class I took was very practical, we were taught the theory behind something and then shown how it was applied in real working situations – this experience was invaluable.
The course covered a lot of ground. For example, it gave me the ability to pick up new things quickly, and exposed me to how computer science can apply across a variety of sectors. I went into video games, but some of my friends went into mobile app development, other are in security or financial software – we all took the same course, and can apply our skills across a broad spectrum.
I used to review games some years ago, and this is a great way to get your foot in the gaming industry door. I still find myself reviewing games in my head as I play them. I loved the art direction and writing in Gearbox’s “Borderlands” series, it’s become iconic for them. I’m having a lot of fun with Blizzard’s “Heroes of the Storm”, it’s an incredibly polished game and a joy to play. And though I was playing it as a student, the atmosphere in “Fallout 3” is still really something to me. Thinking about the future, I’m super excited about “Fallout 4”, “Guitar Hero Live” and “Star Wars Battlefront” – there’s a lot of excitement on the horizon!
After graduating, I started work at a games company called Frontier Developments in Cambridge. I got to live in a new city, meet a whole bunch of new friends and apply my skills straight from the get go. There was still a lot to learn, but I was armed with the ability to pick new things up and apply them quickly. After a year I moved back to Edinburgh to work for Rockstar North, and have my name on the next-gen version of one of the biggest selling games of all time – that’s a pretty big highlight for sure!
Towards the start of any career, there is a challenge in adjusting to a new way of working. University prepares you in a way, but every graduate must remember that you don’t leave already knowing how to do everything – you leave knowing how to learn. You pass your exams, you walk on stage and receive your diploma, then you walk into work and you’re surrounded by passionate and brilliant people and you have to learn from the beginning all over again. But it’s a challenge you can rise to, and excel at, and in the end if you wake up every morning looking forward to going, you’ve won.
Working in the games industry has been a dream, I get to be creative and apply my technical skill. I hope to continue on that journey working on exciting titles in the future, and it’s important to learn what factors contribute to making a successful game. Above everything of course it has to be fun and engaging, but this must be supported with a solid technical backing, a good narrative and immersing environment. I personally work with cameras, so I’m a bit biased when I say a good gameplay camera can really make a difference!
The games industry really fascinates me, it’s incredibly varied in its structure – one person has the tools available to them to make a game and put it on Steam, or it can take a multi-studio effort of 1000 people several years. I believe games have come a long way since its small beginnings, and that now more than ever, it has the power to tell incredible stories to a global audience.
You need to be passionate about gaming to work in the industry. You need to play games and start making games – learn C++, learn how shaders work, learn how physics is simulated, learn how characters are animated. Games are incredibly complex systems, and there’s a piece of that puzzle that will fascinate you like nothing else – find it, master it, and show them that your passion is your greatest strength, because it drives you to learn more.”