Opposable Games: Dev Diaries: Alix Briskham talks 2D art and games industry tips
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Dev Diaries: Alix Briskham talks 2D art and games industry tips

Posted 2014-07-04 10:00:00 by Opposable Games

Hey Alix, how are you?

Aloha Dan, I'm spiffing, how are you?

Positively radiant thanks. Can you tell me a little bit about what you do?

I'm predominantly a 2D artist, which means I draw characters, creatures, environments, UI (User Interface) and any other aspect that needs to be visualized and rendered in a game.

This ranges from concepting/ sketching ideas, rendering them out as final polished versions, texturing 3D models and animating sprites. So quite a range of things!

What do you enjoy the most about working for Opposable Games?

That’s a tough question since I genuinely love all aspects about working for Opposable Games. Apart from the fact that I’m doing the job that I dreamt about doing when I was only ten, and the awesome projects that we work on, I think it’s the people that make me go to work with a smile on my face each day. We’re friends not just work colleagues and I feel like I work with my bosses, not for them.

What’s the most fiddly thing you do?

UI (user interface) tends to be quite fiddly. I’m a character artist at heart so having to draw things that are geometric buttons, shapes and interesting transitions can be challenging. It’s easy to make a character look interesting, it’s not easy to make a menu interesting. But without UI there is no way to navigate through a game. It’s an incredibly important part of games and a vital skill that I’m trying to improve on as much as I can. You know you’re doing well when things actually look fun to press or interact with. That’s what I’m constantly striving for.

What are you working on today?

Funnily enough Dan I’m working on UI. It’s for a game called “Pesky gNATs”, which, if you’ve read our project manager Ben’s Dev diary you’ll know all about.

The short description is it’s a therapy game for young people ranging from very young to early teens, who are dealing with N.A.Ts (Negative Automatic Thoughts). Essentially, bad thoughts that spring into their head as soon as something goes wrong or not how they expected, they may jump to the conclusion that it’s their fault. They’re thoughts that we all have once in a while but the role the game plays is to try and catch it early and help a young person deal with these thoughts so they don’t become a negative thinking adult later on. For most of these young people, it’s much easier to confront a problem through a game character than to talk to an adult face to face.

To tie in with the PC game we developed for this project there are some mini games to go with “Pesky gNATs”, I’m working on a match 3 game right now, which is almost completely User Interface design.

How did you get your job at Opposable Games?

I technically didn't get the job that I applied for at Opposable Games.
I applied for the Junior Artist position, went for the interview, and while I got on really well with the Art Director, I was told later that I didn't have enough experience.

However, she then asked me if I wanted to work for one month as a freelancer. So I leapt at this opportunity and began working for  Opposable Games for 3 days a week doing, you guessed it, UI design!

I was working in a retail job for the other 2 days a week so you can imagine how busy I was, but I poured everything I had into that project and gradually one month turned into two, then three. By the end of the three months I was then told if I could learn adobe illustrator in one more month I would be offered a full time position and contract. So I did it, even though I was working at the studio and at my retail job I spent every evening and weekend learning it, and they created a position for me.

I’m still so grateful every day to my art director for taking a chance on me and pushing me into the deep end to see if I could float. Hard work gets you a long way, but there’s a bit of luck involved in everything, and for me, it was meeting her.

And man, if I thought learning illustrator in a month was tricky, I’ve since had to learn programs as complex as that in a week, sometimes a day!

Were you always aiming to work in games?

Since about age 10 yes. My Dad is into games, always has been, he used to make board games for training exercises when he was in the BBC and other pet projects. He never pressured me into liking games it just naturally happened. I remember playing racing games with him and one fateful day I beat him. He didn’t want to play with me again after that. I guess being beaten by a seven year old was too much. 

I do distinctly remember I went from playing games to suddenly wondering about who made them. And if that was something I could do. It seemed like something so far off that it would never happen, but as I got older, the indie scene got bigger and bigger. And suddenly this far off dream was obtainable.

What’s your advice to those out there that are aiming to work in games themselves?

I’ve been asked this quite a few times, and not just for getting into the games industry. Obviously there are a lot of factors; but for me and others I know, it’s boiled down to four things: Contacts, Networking, Portfolio, Experience. 

Contacts - Contacts is tricky because you might be lucky enough to know someone in the industry but that's not going to guarantee you a job. But if you do know anyone in either the games industry or one related, ask for advice via email very politely. Name drop if you can, because then it will remind them who you are. Advice is free and it’s quite flattering to be asked so people should respond.

However, if you are like most people and don't know anyone, contacts can be built up through networking. I keep a small book with every business card I've collected stuck into it with a note about who they are and who they know. So I have a whole catalogue of people that I could contact either for advice or work experience/ jobs.

Networking - Possibly one of the most important parts. I know of people who, through networking have got jobs. Go to events that are game-related, talk to people, be interested in their projects. Make business cards and make them look professional. Hand them out to people, they probably won't say no since everyone goes to those events to meet people. And be nice to everyone, you never know who might turn out to be an important person in the indie scene, we do tend to dress quite casually!

Portfolio - Make sure you have a digital one that you can link in emails and a physical one (if applicable). Don't overload it though, edit it down to your best work, people don't want to flick through endless examples. Put time into a range of work but edit it to what the job wants from you, so if it was for coding, examples of projects you’ve coded. Or maybe a 2D artist position, so show any 2D sketches/ concepts you've done etc. Cut out anything you know the employer isn't bothered about. It will say on most job descriptions about what they're looking for.

Experience - The hardest of all. To keep a business afloat no-one really wants to spend money they don't have, so you may find yourself working for free for a bit. Don't do longer than 2 months though, it's not worth your time and you'll come out resenting it. But it’s really good to get any work experience to start with. Go for low end jobs, be realistic, but it doesn't hurt to fire out a load of emails anyway - just make sure that you won't be out of your depth. Keep editing your CV to look as professional as possible. Even if you've done other jobs in between (maybe retail) put them in because it shows you haven't just done nothing. Having "Worked in Tesco" is better than "Did nothing for 4 months".

Finally, what’re you playing at the moment?

All the things!! I’ve got “Assassin’s creed 4:” lined up, “Baldur’s gate” 1 and 2. “Shadowrun Returns”, “The Witcher” 1 and 2, “Civilisation V” the list embarrassingly goes on and on…and on.

However, right now, I seem to have been sucked in by “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” once more, I love that game with a passion and thanks to its nifty saving system it’s easy to drop in and out of. Which is good for me since the irony of working in the games industry is now I don’t have any time to play them!

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