What It Takes

What are some of the integral duties that the Senior Systems Designer will have in this role? 

Nick: As a Senior Systems Designer, the primary role will be designing every aspect of a system and working with the associated parties to deliver to a polished completion. The person in this role needs to understand every nuance of how his or her system will work, as there’s a multitude of support teams that need details.  In addition to good documentation and communication, the person in this role should be capable of mocking up designs to illustrate the needs of the system.

Anthony: Like Nick said, one of the integral things for a Systems Designer is working with all the departments. It’s one of the things I like most about my job, working with level and combat designers to artists and animators. We naturally have to have a holistic view of the entire game rather than focus on one level or one thing for the entire project. I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping people and that’s a big part of being a Systems Designer...and why I became a Systems Designer in the first place.

For this role in particular, we’re looking for help with progression and how your character grows, but like any Systems Designer, you’ll probably end up working on a bunch of different systems.

Could you walk us through how this candidate will interact with the team? How important will teamwork and communication be for this role?

Nick: It’s really key to have these qualities because the process requires lots of teamwork. We’ll get a game need—say a player character ability—from a director or a level designer, and we’ll decide the parameters and functions required to fill that need. Once we have the rough guidelines of the ability we’re shooting for, we’ll write up a quick one-sheet summary of what's needed from art, design and programming to bring this ability to life. From there, we’ll have a kick-off meeting with the art and animation teams and walk them through the design plan. It’s very important for a potential Senior Systems Design candidate to understand how the design plan works at every level, as well as how much time and resources are needed to get it done. 

Anthony: I agree that teamwork is super important for a systems designer. A lot of the things we build are going to be used by other departments to highlight their content, so there can be a little bit of “customer service” in our work. When you’re making something that other designers or departments will use in their levels, you have to think about how they’ll want to use it and how it can help their stuff shine. In the same vein, we need to establish constraints for the systems we are creating so that we can maintain a degree of control while giving other designers the freedom to do the things they want to do. A lot of times, the ideas for what we’re building will come directly from another department, and it’s a great feeling when you deliver them something that is going to help make their job easier.

One of the integral things for a Systems Designer is working with all the departments. It’s one of the things I like most about my job, working with level or combat designers to art and animation.

Why is this an important position for the studio? What key impact will this candidate have on our games? 

Anthony: I think a lot of what our group is doing is completely new to this studio and the God of War franchise. When so much of what you’re doing is completely new, it can be a little scary, but in a really good, exciting way.

Nick: Like Anthony said, we’re in new territory as a company, and it’s great to be on the ground floor of establishing best practices and workflows for all systems; large and small. Previous God of War titles didn’t have the need for our type of team before.  It’s an exciting time to be here.

Anthony: One of the things that brought me here was the challenge of bringing all of these new ideas to the franchise. God of War is different than anything the studio has ever come out with in many ways. We’re laying a lot of foundation for the future with the work we’re doing today. I think that’s something that would get any designer excited.  

What other technical/non-technical skills should a great Sr. Systems Designer have coming into the role?

Nick: For me, a great candidate should have two main things. First, they should be able to fully document/spec out all the needs of a system, which includes how the system works alone and when combined with other systems. Second, they should also have the ability to create mock-ups of their ideas. That means a good grasp of Maya, Photoshop, and scripting, as well as understanding of effects and animation. That might seem like a lot, but when it comes to proving an idea out, working prototypes are far better than verbal descriptions, which isn't to say verbal skills aren't important. They're essential when it comes to passing information off to coders and design architects.

It’s very important for a potential candidate to understand all the variations of how the plan works at every level and knowing the nuances of how it functions on a fundamental level.

Anthony: I think the word that best describes this is "scrappiness", which is a quality that is incredibly valuable in a Systems Designer. The ability to do more than just put something on paper and share an idea; being able to prototype it and put it on screen is crucial. On any given day, I’ll be scripting with Lua, making UI mocks in Photoshop, digging through the depot for art assets for a prototype; whatever it takes to get your idea on screen. Being able to show people what you want to do is way more valuable than being able to just put it out there verbally. Beyond prototyping, we have to be versatile enough to take things from concept to a shippable state on our own with minimal oversight; this is especially true for a Senior Systems Designer. For me, a great candidate has a broad range of skills. Neither Nick nor I have a CS degree, but I think we’re both pretty savvy from a technical standpoint. Just having a big toolbox of things that can get your ideas across is helpful.

What are some of the unique characteristics of working at SMS that may be different from other studios, especially for a Sr. Systems Designer?

Anthony: What I like about this place is that we really put our creatives first and really try to nurture that creativity with designers. So, if you have a cool idea and can prototype it, we’re always really supportive of that. Other places I’ve been have had a lot of micromanagers and were much more direct with what they want you to make. Our studio gives you a lot more freedom to try the things you want to do, and I believe that results in better work. When you’re really passionate with what you’re working on and really believe in it, your excitement gets others excited, and you get momentum behind what you’re doing. So that freedom of creativity is one of the best parts about this studio.

Nick: I agree. This studio is passionate about creativity. Historically, its people—regardless of discipline—have poured their hearts into their work, and the games show it.  We’re surrounded by peers who are doing amazing things, this inspires us  to do the same.

How important is understanding the current landscape of games, especially those in the action/action RPG genre?

Nick: It's important to have a lot of knowledge about other games. Games have changed so much in terms of what information is given the player and how it's presented. This directly impacts what players expect their game experiences to be. We look at other games to stay up with trends in general, and more particularly, to validate or reject ideas that might be similar to ones we're working on. Along with ensuring players understand how the system works, we have to make sure the system is really enjoyable to use. We want to create satisfying gameplay loops so players are excited about playing the game.

Anthony: Agreed! I think it’s super important. Even when I started eight years ago, we were just starting to see mainstream games start to implement light RPG systems. When you look at the landscape now, it’s almost a requirement. I’m playing Injustice 2, a fighting game, which has super deep RPG mechanics and level progressions. If you’re not playing current games, you don’t know the state of the industry. We’re always trying to push the envelope in terms of innovation and creativity, so if you’re not playing the latest and greatest thing, you’re going to naturally be behind. Like Nick was saying, whatever that new, hot game is, you’ll hear it come up a hundred times internally as people reference it. It just helps being able to bounce ideas off of fellow designers and understand what works and what doesn’t work from other games and how it might fit into our own games.

Any other tips that you would like to give for a potential candidate for this position?

Nick: I think one of the great things for someone new coming in is that we have a nice mix of new hires and long-time employees who are part of the studio's legacy. That means a wide range of opinions and philosophies. The variety creates a great work dynamic that enriches the collaborative experience. 

Anthony: Nick and I care a lot about what we do. Work is a big part of our lives, so a potential candidate being able to match that passion is always a huge plus. Nick and I have been working together a lot of years at two different studios, and I like the vibe we have with the Systems team. We’re a small group that can really rely on each other. We’re all working together with the goal of making an industry defining game that millions of people are going to enjoy. I don’t know what can be more exciting than that. 

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