Moonlighting with Insomniac – April 2016 Edition

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Hi Everyone,

As you know from last month’s Moonlighting with Insomniac, this year we’re focusing on diversity and women in the game development industry.  That theme continues this month with our guest speaker, Insomniac’s very own Gameplay Programmer, Brandi Wilcox.

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Brandi Wilcox, Gameplay Programmer

Brandi graduated from Smith College with a BA in Physics and received a MFA from USC Interactive Media Division (now the Interactive Media and Games Division). While attending USC, Brandi was a design scripter intern for Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time at the Burbank studio.  She later joined Insomniac’s team permanently as a scripter at the North Carolina studio.  A few years later Brandi transitioned into being a gameplay programmer and that is the role she currently holds here at Insomniac. Just a few months ago, Brandi celebrated her fifth year anniversary here at Insomniac Games… she’s had quite a journey!

On another note, this month’s Moonlighting will be pushed back a week.  Angela and I are attending the Great Places to Work Conference the first week of April, so we’ll be unable to host Moonlighting at our regular time.  Please join Angela and I, along with our guest Brandi, on Wednesday, April, 13th at 1:30 PM PT / 4:30 PM ET.

The comments section is open now for your questions so feel free to post away and we’ll answer you when we log in on 4/13/16.  Please remember, we want to encourage open communication and informative discussions but we also need to be respectful around the subject. What subject are we being respectful of?  Not sure that this is needed – but maybe I’m missing something.

Looking forward to talking with you soon!

-Kerri & Angela

  • Anni

    Hey guys! I was wondering if you have ever felt a bit of impostor syndrome when studying for or working in your area of the industry? That is, ever feeling out of place because you are female? Thanks!

    • Angela

      HI Anni –
      Nope. Not at all. I never think of my work/ or myself in those terms. I know that I come to my job with experience and knowledge that is needed, and appreciated in the studio. We all are working together in our studios toward one goal- to make AMAZING games, and that takes all kinds of people. I am privileged to work with some of the most talented people in this industry, and the only time I get intimidated is when I step back and go “WOW- we make some pretty fantastic things”. It’s more awe that I get to do this every day and work with the crazy talented people here….but I never feel out of place. This IS my place, and I’m so lucky to be able to say that.

    • Brandi

      Hi Anni! No, I can’t say I’ve ever had the imposter syndrome
      here at Insomniac or while studying for being female. I, like any other person, do get nervous (especially
      with public speaking!), and can overly worry about making sure I am doing
      something the best way I can, but none of that stems from my gender. And while
      imposter syndrome is very internal, I do want to mention that no one here has
      ever implied that us women can’t do our jobs and people seek out my and other
      women’s technical advice and help. So
      here at Insomniac it is a very equal place in my opinion. I’ve only worked at Insomniac Games, so I can’t
      say anything about the industry as whole.
      And I agree with Angela, we’re all in it here together at Insomniac –
      independent of race, gender, creed, etc!

  • Before I ask my questions I wanted to quickly say thank you for doing Moonlighting. Back in February when Insomniac visited my university’s career fair (SCAD), I actually got to see Angela Baker and talk to Nina Fricker – which felt amazing given that I felt like I had already been chatting with them because of Moonlighting and then I was getting to meet them in person! It was an amazing opportunity and I got to continue some of the conversations that were started on here so thank you.

    Hi Brandi, I agree – it sounds like you’ve had quite a journey! Thank you for taking the time to be here. I have a few questions for you, if you don’t mind.

    1. How much did you feel you got to contribute as an intern at Insomniac?

    2. Congratulations on celebrating your fifth year anniversary at Insomniac! What would be the largest way you think Insomniac has changed over the time that you’ve been there?

    3. It looks like you’ve gotten a taste of both the Burbank and North Carolina studios. Are there any major differences that you would point out?

    Again, thanks so much for taking the time to be here and hope you have a great day!

    • Angela

      Hi Mahreen-
      So glad that you got to meet Nina and Kerri at SCAD (I was actually back in CA), but thrilled to hear that you got a chance to speak with them. I really love how you mentioned that you got a chance to continue the conversation… what a great thought! We are happy to answer what we can and keep that dialogue happening! Thanks again!

      • Oops, so sorry that I got you two mixed up! I had the opportunity to speak to Nina but I was trying to figure out if the person next to her was either Kerri or yourself, Angela. And yes, getting to talk a little bit about Moonlighting and our conversation here was a great place to just … pick things up where we left them, if you will. It was a remarkable event, thank you for making it possible!

        • Angela

          Our pleasure. We really like going to events like that!

    • Brandi

      Hi Mahreen! Thanks, as they say life is a journey :^).

      1) I contributed a lot! :^) I worked hard on the E3 demo for Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time, I scripted a lot of the behavior of the fighting arena, I did a lot of scripting/design support throughout the game (like placing crates, battery bot paths, conversation scripting, etc), and what I am most proud of is that I was in charge of the Clank puzzles while I was there (prototyping some, putting the puzzles in, scripting the logic, implementing training/help related stuff – several of the ones I made are actually in game, one in the critical path which makes me very happy!).

      2) Thanks! Ah, gee, I’m not sure – that’s an easier question if you saw it once five years ago and then saw it now. Living through it, everything is always little and gradual challenges. We get studio lunches here on Friday now though, we didn’t have that perk when I came here :^) Seriously though, thinking about it, while not an overly large change, I think it’s that the Insomniac Games have taken many steps over these five years to make sure the two studios are able to work as seamlessly together as they can – this studio is ~7 years old after all, it was still fairly new when I joined.

      3) The Burbank studio is much larger – it was a maze for me when I first started, and I didn’t know all the people there. It was also in Burbank, so things unrelated to the studio still make for stark differences between the two (traffic, heat, and the lack of trees which I missed a lot). I like being here at the North Carolina studio – I know everyone here, it is easy to talk to people. Mind you, if I was at the Burbank studio for five years, I might have got to know everybody there!

      Thanks for the questions and have a great day yourself!

      • Wow it sounds like you had the opportunity to contribute a lot as an intern – that sounds really amazing and exciting. Ah, I’m just imagining the feeling you must have had from seeing some of your stuff actually make it into the game – one even in the critical path! Thanks so much for sharing that insight and talking a little bit about your experience at Insomniac over the years, it’s very inspiring to hear.

        Thank you for answering my questions and have a great day yourself!

        • Brandi

          It was and still is really awesome, Crack in Time will probably forever be my favorite game I worked on because of that! You are very welcome, and thanks for coming and for your questions!

  • Hello Angela, Kerri, and Brandi and thank you for taking the time to answer questions!

    Brandi, your story is very inspirational. Here are a few questions for you:

    1. Angela and Kerri often recommend that interns explore the different departments at Insomniac and network with all the awesome people. What are some other ways a person could maximize an internship opportunity?

    2. What were some of the major takeaways from your internship with Insomniac?

    3. What are some best practices that help developers excel in their respective field and rise above expectations?

    Thanks again and congrats on the successful release of Ratchet and Clank!

    • Angela

      HI Lauren!
      Just wanted to give you a shout out for being so loyal in your dropping by Moonlighting! I think it’s so cool – and a perfect example of why we keep doing this. It’s to share knowledge and maybe demystify a few things…

      • I wouldn’t miss an opportunity such as you have provided here to ask questions and learn the stuff I wish they taught in school, so thank you!

    • Brandi

      Hi Lauren! Thanks for coming by! And thanks, we are allreally proud of Ratchet and Clank!

      1) Now mind you I am not an expert on internships – I only had the one in game development! But I would say the best way to maximize your internship is to do the best job you can, don’t be afraid to ask people how to do things and learn, and if you see something that is interesting even if it isn’t related to what you are doing don’t be shy about asking them how they did it. It’s primarily a learning opportunity for you, a teaching opportunity for the people around you, and very welcome help on the current game for the studio!

      2) My major takeaway was that I could do this. Game development was something I wanted to do, that I was going to grad school for, but I wasn’t certain of the
      particulars, and was worried that I didn’t have the skills needed for it. It was a great experience and I enjoyed everything about it! It gave me the knowledge that I could do the job, that I actually did enjoy doing it, and that my chosen career was indeed the one for me. I was pumped and ready to get my degree and get a fulltime position in game development! I also learned that Insomniac Games was as awesome a studio and working environment as I thought it was (I loved them since Spryo) and that if I could I definitely wanted to come back (and I did :^)).

      3) Wow – that’s a complicated question. Let’s see- I would say, whatever it is that you are developing/your field, do it as often as you can (aka, accumulate experience), get people’s feedback on it when you want/need it and take that feedback to heart, to always do your best, and to always keep an eye out on things you can improve/develop/what-have-you without people asking someone to do it (if you see something you can do to make whatever you are developing better, do it – it will make the end product so much better – and if it isn’t something you can do, bring it to the attention of others who can – you are all striving together to make the best game/product and people really appreciate that).

      • Thank you so much for these extensive answers. People like you make the industry awesome, I’ll take it all to heart!

  • Angela

    HI Everyone! It’s a few mins early – but we can kick this all off… And thanks in advance to Brandi for joining us!

    • Brandi

      Thanks Angela! And thanks for having me! And hello internet, thanks for stopping by!

  • Angela

    I’m going to drop on Brandi a question – as it has to do with Internships. Brandi – what are the one or two best tips/tricks you learned as an intern that you would recommend to other students?

    • Brandi

      That’s a tough one – it’s been seven years! Let’s see – experience is the best teacher. If you haven’t made a game, make one. Make as many as you can, however small or incomplete – just start to get the experience. If your field isn’t such that you can make a game yourself (like art, audio, fx, writing, etc) or it’s just too big of a task to do yourself, do what you would do for a game, and if possible find people making a game and do your thing with them. Don’t be satisfied with whatever exercises/projects you are making for school – what’s important is that you get a lot of varied experience. Get an internship, more than one if you can – being in a real studio will be the best source of knowledge on how game development works and something your school, even with its studio-emulating projects, will never fully be able to teach you. Also – although related – don’t be afraid of failure. Game development studios prototype stuff to see what works and what doesn’t, and they cut things that end up not working too. It’s okay to try something and it not work! It’s important that you tried, without trying you won’t make the best game you can!

  • Angela

    HI Everyone –
    Thanks for joining us! Brandi will get to your questions – no worries… but we are going to wrap it up for new questions.

    Thanks to Brandi for answering so thoughtfully on the questions below, and we’ll be back next month with another insight into Insomniac Games

    Have a good one!
    Thanks!
    Angela

    • Brandi

      Apologies on the slow responses! It takes me awhile to think on questions and write up replies! A big thanks to Angela and Kerri for having me over! And a bigger thanks to Anni, Mahreen, and Lauren for your thoughtful questions! Good luck with all your endeavors!