From there to here: Part 2

General / 10 August 2020

Part 2

University and beyond, my approach to study and finding work after graduation

Education

Swinburne University of Technology

First year

Honestly, first year of uni I barely studied at all ...

... I don't regret it one bit.

First year was a time of huge personal growth, meeting new people, and really breaking out of my shell (you should know, this was immensely valuable career-wise). I went from being stuck indoors on my computer 24/7 to not touching my PC once in a week (though I really should've for study). I went to events, joined clubs, and volunteered. I signed up for Tae Kwon Do and became friends with an amazing bunch of people.

Taekwondo Grading Ceremony

In the second half of the year, I actually started to study. It's then that I found out that my decision to study computer science alongside game development was not in my best interest. What I found was every unit felt seperate from each other and I had no idea where things were headed. In hindsight this was probably something that would be rectified by the final year, but I didn't want to wait to find out. 

Second Year

Second year, I dropped computer science. Immediately things felt better. You wouldn't believe how much more coherent the units felt. 

On top of that, we finally were able to start making games:

We Will Live - 2017 university group project

We Will Live is a game about evacuating clueless beings from burning buildings. It's a bit rough around the edges, I will admit, but I'm proud of what we ended up with. I was responsible for all in game art, FX, and lighting as well as tuning Unity's post processing stack to suit the game's needs. For a second year uni student, I'd say I did pretty well.

My approach to study has always been self-focussed. At uni, I massively reconfigured my study plan and did units out of order. I applied for multiple pre-requisite wavers just so I could do the units I thought would help me the most. I also took part in cross-institutional study which was an ordeal but I ended up learning alot from the unit I picked up. I took on a unit at the University of Melbourne about the impacts on deafness from a teaching perspective. 

Otosclerosis visualisation (exaggerated)

If there's one thing that I suggest you do if you're a student, it would be to take charge of your studies. Your uni won't teach you what you need to find a job, you have to do that yourself. Uni provides resources and connections. Other than a possibly decent structure to serve as a backbone to your own studies, uni won't provide you with anything else.

Third Year

PAX Australia 2018. This was the year I exhibited at PAX. One of the unique opportunities provided by the Swinburne games degree is the chance to showcase at PAX. This was the real deal, we had one year to develop a game with October 26th serving as a hard deadline.

Halfway through the year, this is what we had come up with:

Sol Floreo alpha build (Wreath)

We had our core mechanics in the build. As the player, you control the sun guiding a small plant with your beams of light to its goal. The game was something, it had achieved our aim of being a relaxing puzzler but we felt changes needed to be made. It was visually incoherent and much more could be done.

Behold! PAX build Sol Floreo in all its glory!

Sol Floreo PAX Trailer

We made a major shift away from the 2.5D aesthetic towards full 3D. Like in my second year project, I was responsible for modelling, animation, lighting, and FX. Additionally, I developed a system that allowed the developers to easily transition the game between day and night, as well as allowing the atmosphere to grow the more the player revived the world. I'm very proud of what I (and the rest of the team achieved with this project). One major point pushed by the team's leadership was a no crunch strategy. They actually did a great job at limiting the stress inherent with a major project such as this. They ended up finishing us up a week before the deadline. It gave us an opportunity to spend more time on other subjects and overall made life easier.

The project was a huge success!

Playtesters intuitively understood the game's mechanics and nearly everyone was impressed on some level by the visuals. We were also covered by game magazine Superjump.

Sol Floreo - Front page on Superjump magazine

Sol Floreo at PAX Australia 2018

If you want to see more about Sol Floreo, check out our Twitter page at https://twitter.com/Sol_Floreo_Game.

Beyond studies

After uni, I regrettably was a bit too relaxed in finding proper work. I felt self concious about my portfolio as I knew that what was on there both wasn't good enough, and also just not enough in general. I had barely anything. Over the next year, I worked on my portfolio and picked up a few quick gigs on the side. I developed augmented reality applications for RMIT as well as CG Futures, produced product renders for a brand concept, and kept up self-study learning new skills I thought would be useful.

Constellation Australia - brand concept

Financial issues finally started kicking me in the groin and I pushed myself to get goin'. I spruced up my resume, built up a brand and a website using Artstation, and started applying for jobs. To my surprise, an opportunity came my way but from where I least expected it.
While weathering through a typhoon in an AirBnB in Japan, I got a message from someone I worked with in the past in my volunteering days. She told me there was an opportunity that might suit me and asked me to come along to a meeting in a couple of days. Being in Japan at the time and suffering through a typhoon, I thought that it best to say yes! I said that I would come along so long as I wasn't killed by windy weather.

The meeting time was set for less than two hours after I was due to land back at Melbourne. As you might expect, I flew economy and needless to say I was truly, utterly fucking tired beyond belief. I sat there in that meeting trying my very best to stay present. Luckily it wasn't boring, and was actually very exciting and engaging. Not only that, but I was invited back for an interview and got the job at Soundfirm where I work now.

Where I am now

I've been at Soundfirm for nearly a year now and have absorbed an incredible amount of knowledge in that time. They've got me doing RnD for new workflows involving Unity. I'm in a very interesting and unique situation as they're a post-production studio and I'm the only game developer there. It means that I'm left relatively alone and have freedom to come up with new techniques and workflows. I'm constantly researching ways I can bring my skillsets to the business while also picking new skills along the way.

While at Soundfirm, I picked up skills in Houdini and I'll say right now it's bloody amazing. I can fully see myself sticking with Houdini for a large part of my career at least. As an artist with a technical way of looking at things, Houdini is my jam. It's the perfect combination of logical and artistic thinking. 

First attempt passing data between solvers in Houdini

Future

My future blog posts will definitely be shorter than this one and be more focussed on the interesting things I discover while working. As I progress in my career, so too will the type of content I choose to share. I hope to one day soon provide tutorials and resources to help you out if you need it. Thanks for following along, I hope this has been at least somewhat interesting. Feel free to shoot through any questions you might have and I'll for sure try to provide some kind of useful answer. Hopefully it's useful anyway 😶

UPDATE (12th of August, 2020):

I just wanted to add that I have omitted a lot of personal aspects of my journey. I went through serious financial and emotional trauma, lost a close family member, and got into my first relationship (been together a few years at this point, moved in together and still going strong!).

I don't want to pretend that everything has been perfect and I don't want to hide these aspects of my life. At the same time, a lot of it is very personal and I don't yet feel comfortable sharing that on the internet. Thank you for your understanding, can't wait to see what the future holds!