Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Writing the best application for a Frictional Games job

Written by Kira, who goes through and replies to all your Frictional applications.


So, you have decided to apply for a job here at Frictional Games? Great, we would love to hear from you!

…But before you hit that “send” button, you want to make sure that you are showing yourself and your talent in the best light possible. We have already written a blog post on how the recruitment process works, so you can mentally prepare for that.

In this blog we will help you construct a good application, consisting of a CV, a cover letter and the portfolio, and even get down the nitty-gritty of the email. While we hope you apply for our positions, you are obviously welcome to use the tips when applying for other jobs too.

Just remember the most important thing: Always customise your application for the position you’re applying to.

A job application is like a love letter. You have to show interest in the recipient, and tell them why the two of you could be a good match specifically. You can write a letter about how great you are and send the same version to different recipients, but be warned – that’s pretty transparent, and will not likely land you a (business) relationship, no matter how good you are.

In this economic situation it might be tempting to say fuck it and cast a net as wide as possible (yes, we have moved on to fishing metaphors now). But the best fish will slip through the loose holes of a haphazardly set net. Instead, try finding one good spot and throwing in a hook with a juicy bait – the juicy bait being your best application. If you are good enough, a fish will definitely bite, and a love letter recipient will definitely swoon.

Frictional is a small company with little turnover. We’re not looking to burn through talent, but to find the right applicants who will stay with us for a long time. That’s why we want the applicants to be interested in and motivated to work with us specifically.

Do you love us? We love you too! Now let’s go write that application!


1. Read the job posting

This might sound obvious, but start by reading the job posting. Then read it again.


If you’re exactly what the posting is looking for, then great. You can use your previous work as examples of why you’re a good match. Are you a generalist? Pick your strong points that you would use in this job.

Feel like you don’t quite fit the criteria? Do not despair. Especially women tend to not apply for jobs they don’t feel 100% qualified for. Think about your best qualities. Think about the hobby projects that you’ve done. Those count too.

(But be realistic about it. If your skillset is wildly different from what the job would be, you might want to wait for another opening. Otherwise you are mostly wasting your own time.)

Now compare your skills to the job’s requirements and get ready to use those points in the next steps.


2. CV

The CV is all about you, dearest. It’s your dating profile where you can show your best angles, or that really big fish you caught once.

When the perfect job comes along, you don’t want to spend hours digging out when exactly you interned at that one place. Keep a meta-CV of all your experience, skills and achievements. This can be a document, or it can be a website or LinkedIn page you can link in the CV. An accessible online CV especially good if you have gaps in your relevant experience because you were helping out at your cousin’s ice cream business or similar.

Remember the previous step where we looked at the job requirements? You can now cherrypick the most relevant points from your meta-CV and put them in your tailored CV. Quality over quantity and all that. Start from the most recent relevant one.


A good CV is 1–2 pages long. If you only picked the most relevant experience, you should be able to keep it tight. But do write in detail about the relevant experience. If you only gloss over your experience in big strokes, the employer will not be able to tell what you have actually done and achieved. Share specific tasks and examples, list your best achievements.

If you have skills outside your field, such as multiple languages or software, you can list those too. Just keep them tight. But, despite being your so-called dating profile, listing hobbies might not be very relevant. But if you’ve done game jams or similar, go ahead! They are relevant and they count.

Do:
  • Keep a meta-CV.
  • Always customise your CV based on the position.
  • Start with the latest relevant experience.
  • Write in detail about your relevant experience.
Don’t:
  • Send the same CV to every position.
  • List every job you’ve ever held.
  • Start your CV with the first job you ever had.
  • Start with education instead of work experience (unless you’re a recent graduate).


3. Cover Letter

If the CV was your dating profile, the cover letter is your love letter. And a love letter cannot just be a glorified dating profile.

Picking relevant experience for the CV already shows that you put thought into your application. But the cover letter gives you an opportunity to show that you truly care about the company, their games and the position – or at least have knowledge about them. It’s incredibly easy to spot if someone sends the same cover letter to everyone, because they only talk about themselves. You can reuse lines you’ve written for similar positions, but make sure to keep them relevant.

The cover letter is also a great opportunity to talk more about why the skills you have acquired would translate well into the position advertised – especially if your experience is moreso from hobby projects. Convince the company why you would be a good match for them.

It’s easy to get lost in profound expressions of love, but a good cover letter is half a page to 1 page long. Being concise is also a skill.

If the job posting mentions expected salary, this is a good place to mention it.

Do:
  • Talk about why you want to work with this company specifically.
  • Talk about your skills in relation to the job’s requirements.
  • Tell the company why they should hire you. Be bold.
Don’t:
  • Send the same cover letter to every company. It’s easy to spot.
  • Only change the name of the company in the letter. Generic wording is also easy to spot.
  • Only talk about yourself with no relevance to the company or the position.


4. Portfolio

For better or worse, looks are important. In this case your dating profile pictures are your portfolio. The portfolio is a way to back up the claim that you’re as good as you say you are, for both artists, programmers and other folks.

While a good portfolio looks different depending on whether you’re an artist, a designer or perhaps a communications person, there are still good general practices when it comes to putting one together. In this segment we will use artists as an example, but you can use your imagination to apply the tips to other fields.

Just like with a CV, keep a master portfolio. For artists it can be sites like Artstation or Behance, or perhaps your own site. Pick the pieces you are most proud of, but are varied enough to show off your versatility.

From the master portfolio, you should again pick the pieces most relevant to the position and create a tailored portfolio. If the company is looking for a props and environment artist, those are the things you should be concentrating on. Also look at the stuff the company has previously done. Have they only done high-poly? Their next product will probably not be low-poly.

There is no rule to how long the portfolio should be. The key is making it easy for the recruitment team to immediately see if you are a good or potential match. For an open position you can choose some pieces relevant to the position and put them in a PDF, or link them from the master portfolio. For an open job query, pick a few pieces that are most in line with what the company is doing.


It is also a good practice to mention what you actually did for your works. Here at Frictional we wear all of the hats. The artists do everything from whiteboxing to textures. We need to know if you know how to do those and didn’t just make others’ textures and assets look good.

Do:
  • Keep a master portfolio of all your work.
  • Send a portfolio or links to a few relevant pieces.
  • Mention what you worked on for the pieces.
Don’t:
  • Send the same top picks to every company and every position.
  • Send all the portfolio pieces as separate files (links are ok).


5. Email

Chances are, there are also other jobs you have or will apply for. It’s good practice to have a professional email account for official business. Something with a neutral email handle and your real name as the sender. It makes it easier to find your application later. Having a signature with your contact information and links to your master CV and portfolio is also handy.

Some email platforms will show your profile picture, so make sure you at least know what it is. You might want to think twice before using a topless beach pic or a dank meme. The recruiter will probably have a chuckle, but might not be left with the best impression.


Make sure you include some sort of cover text in the email. It can be pretty generic, informing of your interest in the position and the attachments you have provided. This is also a good place to mention your master CV and master portfolio. Even better if you get a short elevator pitch in.

Do:
  • Use your real name in the email.
  • Have a signature with contact info and links.
  • Write a short cover text, like an elevator pitch for your application.
Don’t:
  • Have a shirtless profile picture. No, seriously.


6. Personal Information

Getting a feel of a person is important, but not all information you provide will help us with that. There are some things the employer is not even allowed to ask (family relations, religion…), and being upfront about them puts the potential employer in an uncomfortable position. Emphasis on the potential part. If you get hired, we will ask you for the details we need.

What a potential employer DOES need to know:
  • Real name
  • Email address
  • Country of residence
  • Links to your master portfolio and CV
  • Phone number (we don’t need it but most companies do)
What a potential employer DOES NOT need to know:
  • ID number
  • Birthday
  • Home address
  • Marital status and/or children
  • Ethnicity or nationality, gender, religion. disabilities or similar


7. Think of the recruiter

The recruitment team might get hundreds of applications every day. Sometimes the recruitment team is just one human being, who also does other things.

Just like with life in general, the key word is empathy. So send the kind of application that you would like to receive.



Make sure the application easy to go through, and that the attachments are easily accessible and in proper file formats. Be sure the relevant links are easy to find, and that they work. If you want to make a recruiter happy, include your own name in the attachment names (so it doesn't become CV(69).pdf on the recruiter's computer).

Do:
  • Save your CV, cover letter and any other files in PDF format
  • Make everything easy to find
Don’t:
  • Save your text files as doc/x, rtf or txt, or especially png or jpg.
  • Send your portfolio pieces as multiple separate files.


8. Afterword

There is no sure-fire way to make the perfect application. But the more tailored your application is, the better your chances are.

And lastly: even in an application, feel free to let your personality show. If the company doesn’t like your genuine application, you wouldn’t be happy working with them anyway. If they do… they will remember you.

Good luck!


Monday, 14 January 2019

Thoughts on Detroit: Become Human

By Thomas Grip

Quantic Dream learns with each game, and adresses their issues with new features. But with new features come new issues, and lots of juicy design lessons. In this blog post I will talk at length about affordance, then touch upon branching and themes.

Intro

It has been a while since my last design blog, and I felt it was finally time to write one again. And since I just played through Detroit: Become Human, that’s what I decided to write about.

First off, let me say that I quite liked the game. I had issues with how they tackled some of the themes (especially in regards to robots), and felt they could have taken some aspects of the world they created more seriously.

What made up for the so-so narrative bits were the production value (such as some very cool environments), and the myriad of exciting scenarios. It’s not an easy feat to create scenes that are not just narratively compelling, but also engaging play-wise – especially not in the sort of story that Detroit tells.


On top of this, the branching and the choice possibilities in Detroit are insane. It is a lengthy game, taking well over 10 hours to complete, and yet as the story unfolds there is a constant stream of differences that all depend on your previous choices. Everything to how crime scenes change to how characters make remarks depending on how you played some previous scene is amazingly well done. The scenes are constantly constructed from a wide array of options, but everything flows together into a coherent whole. Other branching games, such as Hidden Agenda, have a much more jarring presentation where the inserted lines and cuts in the flow are obvious. In Detroit, flow flaws are basically nonexistent.

So, it is fair to say that production-wise Detroit is quite a achievement. However, the game starts to stumble as it tries to be just that – a game.

Just like with previous titles from Quantic Dream, Detroit tries to be what is essentially a playable movie. Mixing film and games gives rise to all sorts of interesting design decisions and issues – issues that are hard to see in other games. It is clear that Quantic Dream are aware of the flaws they have had in their previous games, and there are a bunch of new feature that try to address the issues.

But with new features come new issues, and lots of juicy design lessons. In this blog post I will talk at length about affordance, then touch upon branching and themes.


Affordance

The first topic of this blog is how Detroit: Become Human handles affordance. The game takes place in one of the most challenging environments there is design-wise: inhabited real-life spaces. Spaces that contain a bunch of everyday items, such as drawers, pictures, tools, televisions, coffee cups, keyboards, clothes and so on and so forth. These are all objects we are not just accustomed to interact with – we also have expectations of their usage. As a player, you need to be able to figure out what objects you can interact with and in doing so you are constantly battling your ingrained notion of how these objects ought to work.


In Heavy Rain (2010), Quantic Dream’s earlier game, the only way to figure what you can and cannot interact with is to carefully check your surroundings and see if an interaction icon pops up. There are some objects that signal pretty clearly that you can interact with them, such as a corpse at a crime scene that you are able to examine. A design goal for a game should be to be able to use your intuition to figure out what sort of items you ought to be able to interact with – but the Heavy Rain never lets you train that intuition. Obvious objects are more an exception than a rule, and thus the player’s optimal strategy ends up being doing a brute force search of the room to try and locate all the hotspots.

So why is this bad?

There are two main issues with not being to identify points interaction. The first one is that it lessens the game’s sense of immersion. The second is that it doesn’t allow you to properly “play” the game. Detroit has some tricks up its sleeve to reduce both of these, but before we get into that it is worth to discuss just what is so problematic with these issues.

Immersion

Let us first go over the issue of immersion.

In order for a player to feel immersed in an environment, they need to internalize the surroundings. This is something I have covered in other posts, but basically it means that players need to actively take a part in the fantasy. And in order for a player to feel present inside a virtual world, they need to have what is called internal representation.

While it may not seem like it, real life also operates on internal representation. You don’t simply “see a chair”. The act of seeing a chair triggers all sorts of data about chairs: what their physical properties are, what you can do with them, what are your available actions and so forth. All of these combine into the actual sensation that there is a chair in front of you.

Here comes the issue. If you play a game where looking at a chair lacks any situational data, the player’s mental representation is empty. They fail to build any vivid fantasy for the virtual scene that the game tries to build. In turn the player is unable to place themselves, as in their actual selves, inside the game world. When games fail to take this into account it results in a world that doesn’t feel very immersive.

Play

Secondly, the gameplay issue with affordances is that the player lacks the ability to plan. I have gone over player planning and why it is so important for good gameplay in a previous post, but let’s do a quick recap: we don’t play games by just reacting to stimuli that the games send our way – instead, most of the gameplay takes place inside our heads. We survey our environments, go over long- and short-term goals, and decide what set of actions are the most optimal to reach said goals. The longer and more accurate plans a game allows the player to make, the better it will feel to play.

As a clear example, let’s compare a moment playing Dragon’s Lair (1983) to a moment in Civilization (1991). Civilization is filled with possibilities and room for planning. Dragon’s Lair on the other hand is just a linear path where you can only get good by memorizing a specific sequence. This is not the most fair example, but should illustrate the primal differences.


Games like Heavy Rain and Detroit, as well as classic adventure games, rely on putting the player in a real-life situation and making that the core of planning one’s actions. Taken at face value, it’s somewhat easy to understand what your options are when trying to find shelter for the night, because it is all based around elements that we know from real life. It’s much harder to know what to do during a laser-wielding vampire bat robot attack.

The issue is that the real world is incredibly complex, and a game cannot possibly recreate all the alternatives that a person could think of. This means that even though you might intuitively make up a certain plan, you can’t be sure whether the game will actually support it or not.

Solutions?

The main trick of Detroit, and Heavy Rain before it, is to simply make each scene feel like a movie scene. It gives the player a feeling for how the scene ought to evolve next, and how the character(s) ought to react. So the player gains their affordances not from how they view the scene, but how they imagine the characters (and to some extend the director) doing it. On top of that, the very cinematic structure pushes a narrative that makes up for the lack of immersion.

The player’s feelings here depend a lot on how they play the game. If they play as if they are the protagonist, these problems can become quite severe. It is a lot less damaging if the player views their role as a director. Then they are distancing themselves from the game and viewing the whole experience differently. Most of the discussions I bring up in this post are mainly centered around the former playstyle where you actively take on the role of a certain character.

Therefore, imagining yourself as the character in Quantic Dream games doesn’t really hold up – especially when the player is supposed to have a more lengthy interaction. In Heavy Rain it is easy to fall into optimizing behaviour and do brute force search to see what you can interact with. This sort of searching turns what is supposed to be a realistic environment into an abstract play field. Heavy Rain also has real trouble giving you a sense of your options. So, most of the game is played based on moment-to-moment reactions rather than deliberate planning. More Dragon’s Lair than Civilization.

It is clear that Quantic Dream know about these issues, as Detroit does quite a lot of things to try and fix this. The two major ones are explicit hotspots, and quest lists. The hotspots that pop up make it feel like a “batman mode”, where the time stops and the environment gets a line-mesh overlay. When in this mode, all nearby possible interactions display glowing icons. On top of this, all of the character’s short term goals are displayed as well, including those that haven’t been unlocked yet. Detroit also shows various goals, and even characters’ feelings, as big in-world text throughout the game. This gives the player a better idea of what they are supposed to do, and what are the available tools to achieve their goals.

Problems

The problem is that these new features don’t really try to fix the underlying problems of affordance. They are more like crutches, propping a flawed system. In a perfect world, these systems should be used as a sort of tutorial for the player. Once they get a better sense of how the game works, they should be able to stop relying on them, and instead rely on their intuitive understanding.

What happens instead is the opposite. The further you get into Detroit, the more prone you get to use these systems. In my playthrough of Detroit I used the “batman mode” quite sparingly for the first few hours – but as time went on I used it more, to the point where I almost stopped trying to intuitively parse the environment at all. Why? Because if I didn’t use it, I was more likely to miss hotspots and tasks, and therefore not get everything I wanted from the scene.

In the end, this style of play actually made me plan more. But all of this planning was happening in an abstract realm. I was playing a game of “choose from explicit options given to me by the game’s designer”, rather than actually making decisions based on the world that was presented to me. This often lead to weird situations where I did tasks that I didn’t know existed (eg. go look for a bag I didn’t even know was there).


Worse still, it made me act less like the characters I was supposed to be playing as. Detroit features a fair bit of detailed crime scenes that I was supposed to search, but because of the crutches I never tried to analyze the scenes as an actual detective. Instead I was simply searching for abstract hotspots. To make matters worse, the game often told me just how many hotspots there were to find, making me feel and thing even less like a detective.

The important takeaway here is just how important it is to find a way to create a game that actually makes the player engage in the game as it is. Detroit is not the only game that uses this kind of crutch, it’s quite common. And it is not always bad, either. For instance in Metal Gear Solid you have exclamation points pop up over soldiers’ heads when they spot you. However, they key difference here is that it adds information to the scene that is already in front of you. There are actual character models, sounds and so forth that play into the scene.

When you try to design crutches, you need to make sure that they supply something extra to the fantasy. They shouldn’t act as a substitute for the game’s actual world.

The magic of narrative

It might seem like I didn’t like the gameplay in Detroit – but the fact is that I found it quite engaging. I think this is really interesting. Despite all of the apparent flaws in the system, it still felt like I was part of the narrative. This was especially true for the detective work. The same was also true in the 2018 Call of Cthulhu game. There the detective scenes were even more simplistic, almost like playing a basic “hidden object” game, and yet I found them strangely compelling.

How is this possible? I think a lot of this is in line with the 4-layer approach that I’ve written about before. The foundational thinking with the 4-layer approach is that when you put any gameplay in the context of story, doing that gameplay feels like playing a story. Detroit does a lot of things right when creating this sort of merger between systems and narrative.

First of all, Detroit is very good at setting up the context. A scene always starts with some sort of cutscene (“cutscene” feeling like a weird word in an interactive film game, but working as a distinction in this context), that lays out the story reasons as to why you are doing the investigation. So when you are essentially searching for hotspots, the whole setup makes it feel as if you are doing detective work, even if you are not mentally embracing the detective role.


Secondly, when you find a hotspot, you always get information that has something to do with the narrative. The actual value of the information varies a lot: sometimes it’s useful and sometimes it’s just techno babble. But in all cases it feels like narrative feedback. When this is combined with the explicit – and very gamey – feedback that says you just found one of the three clues, it feels more like progressing a case than fulfilling abstract game requirements.

Finally, when you manage to find all the clues, the abstract (game-y) accomplishment always comes with some sort of narrative reward. For instance when searching a corpse, you get to view a reconstruction of what happened to this person. In many other cases you may unlock a new dialog option. And in every case you feel like completing the tasks makes you progress the narrative. So, even though the gameplay is abstracted, you still feel like you are inside a story.

The power of holism

On the surface all of this feels a bit like cheating. But I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. Instead it’s something to be embraced.

In fact, on our journey to progress the storytelling potential of games as a medium, I am of the position that trying to do it without any form of “cheating” is a dead end. All entertainment is based on fooling your audience. Illusion is an essential part of the craft. The trick is just to cheat in such a way that it goes unnoticed.

What feeds into this illusion is the fact that humans tend to be bad at understanding why they’re feeling something. As an example: one tends to find a potential partner more attractive when drinking something hot while around the person. That is because hot drinks activate responses similar to arousal, eg. increasing the blood flow. The brain just tends to attribute these responses not to coffee, but to the potential partner, tricking you into thinking you are feeling aroused.

In a similar manner, when you feel accomplished for finding one of the three abstract hotspots, that feeling gets entwined with the detective narrative. These two parts get mixed into a single whole, and that whole becomes a compelling experience. It is worth to note that both sides can help the other. The narrative makes simple gameplay feel exciting, and the feedback on the other hand can make flawed narrative feel compelling. It is larger than the sum of its parts in the purest sense.

You can get an especially good sense of how this two-way feedback works when the system starts breaking down. I find that this can happen quite a lot in Detroit’s action sequences. There the narrative stops being the focal point, there are less narrative rewards upon success, and the input gets less clear (as it is merely about split second reactions). As long as the goals and actions are easily identifiable, eg. hiding and closing a door, the narrative-system symbiosis remains in place. But once it turns into blocking and returning punches, the player (or at least I) get distanced from the action. It becomes more of an abstract challenge than a piece of interactive storytelling.


So in a way, the increased abstraction actually works for Detroit’s benefit. By showing some numbers going up, and clear objective pointers, the game manages to add a more concrete feedback loop. As explained above, it also comes with issues, but also gives the game more opportunities for narrative-system symbiosis.

Detroit uses the symbiosis to simulate all sorts of situations, often with quite pleasing results. What stood out for me was an interrogation scene with a stressed-out android, and a scene where I had to make sure a police officer didn’t become too suspicious of my character. The success of those scenes came from mixing simple, gamey systems together with narrative in a holistic manner.

If you want to dig deeper into various ways to achieve this sort of merging of elements, Detroit is an excellent case study. Since the scenes featured are quite diverse, the ways of combining systems an narrative vary, and the results vary along with that.

Improvements?

While there are many interesting aspects about the game, it does have lot of room for improvement. I want to discuss that a bit.

Detroit relies heavily on increased abstractions (such as the aforementioned hotspots and objectives), and I don’t think that’s the right way. I find it better to try and achieve the same kind of affordance by using a story-like world. It is not the abstraction per se that allows to combine systems and narrative, but the player’s understanding of cause and effect.

Using abstractions also comes with a lot of issues. In my opinion, the biggest issue is the negative effect on immersion. If the world the player navigates is just filled with simple, systems-specific abstractions, the player can never transport themselves into the world.

At best, the actual rendered world (environments, characters etc.) just becomes narrative background. Instead as a designer, you want the world’s elements to be what the player uses in order to be an active part of the game. The aim should be for the player to gaze at a rendered scene, and have a mental model of all the interaction points and how these can be used for various plans, as I have written earlier.

Just compare a scene from Detroit…


...to a scene in Super Mario Bros.


In Detroit, I am not sure what things I can interact with, nor how they would affect me. From just looking at the world as-is, it is impossible to make any sort of concrete action plan. On the other hand Mario is very accessible, at least to anyone who has ever played the game. You can easily see every object, imagine how you can interact with it, and plan your progress accordingly.

The sort of readability that a Super Mario game has is what you want as a game designer. The thing to learn from Detroit is that you don’t need incredibly complex actions in scenes to create an engaging narrative. In fact, the actual gameplay can be simple and “dull” – as long as you are able to combine it with a narrative. However, there would be a huge difference if the interactions you partake in are grounded in the game’s world, instead of just being abstractions.

There are obviously other things to improve, especially the player’s ability to plan. But as a first step, I think having Super Mario level of affordance in the game’s world would be a huge improvement.


Branching

Now before I end this article, there are two more topics I want to cover. The first of these is branching.

Before making Detroit: Become Human, Quantic Dream made Beyond: Two Souls (2013). This game took a slightly different approach to the idea of a game as an interactive movie – especially when it came to branching. The game’s story had a ton of different ways to play out, but as recounted in this article by Press X to Story, it went mostly unnoticed by players.

It feels like Quantic Dream really reacted to this because damn, they are now really pushing the branching angle. There is a node tree at the end of each scene, there’s visual cues when conversation subjects unlock, there are lists of things you could do, the latter scenes obviously change, and so on.

And it really does feel like the open story and the branching matters. Especially interesting are the node maps. In the maps, all the choices you could have made are laid out, but the ones you didn’t make in your current or previous game are blanked out. At first I really didn’t like it, but the more I played the more it grew on me. It seems like it had a certain ad-hoc effect, and I can still sort of feel it. Remembering a scene often feels cooler than actually playing it. To me, the Detroit showing you potential paths I could have taken make my choices seem more compelling, when viewed in retrospect.


This might feel a bit like a cheat. But as discussed before, cheating is how entertainment works. Still, a part of me wonders if Detroit could have handled it in a more subtle way. Sometimes it felt like too much to get all the possible courses of events shoved in my face. I would have liked it if the would have treated the overall branching as it did the special dialog and changes in scenes. But at the same time, I wonder if that would have given across the feeling that the story was indeed open-ended and had tons of options – as Beyond: Two Souls failed to convey.

The best way to get away from the trap of being overly explicit is to, as explained above, up the level of affordance. In a perfect scenario, the player should know about the ways the scene could have gone simply by having mentally analyzed the scene. For instance, Civilization doesn’t need a node map at the end of a round for the player to know that there are many other ways things could have gone. This is not the most fair comparison, as I don’t think it’s possible to make a storytelling game that is as systemically driven. But it does give you a sense of what sort of feeling games could strive for.


Themes

Given that Detroit deals with a few themes similar to SOMA, it feels like I need to say something about Detroit’s themes to close this off. It would be too much to go over all aspects of the game, so I will just focus on one: robot and human similarities.

I think the game would have been a lot more thematically interesting if the robots didn’t look so human. Instead I think it would have been much better if they looked like the robots from the movie I, Robot (2004), or perhaps something out of the Boston Dynamics lab.


Right now it’s just too easy to sympathise with the robots. It would be much more fun if the player started the game thinking the robots did not deserve any rights, and the thinking would evolve throughout the game.

The robots’ thinking is also too human. Again, it would be much cooler if they felt more alien in how they handled their emotions and so forth. There is actually less neurodiversity between humans and robots in Detroit than there is among real humans overall.

For example, right now it doesn’t make much sense for a player to want for Connor to stay an obedient robot. The story pretty clearly pushes the player to want Connor to become a deviant (a robot free from human masters). If the Connor had looked a bit more spooky, or had weirder ways of thinking, it would have made the choice less obvious and forced me to think more about my alternatives.

It would also seem weird that people would want to buy servants that look so human. People can already feel bad for a Roomba, let alone something that looks like a fellow human. It would make more sense for the robots to actually look like robots.

I know that Quantic Dream wanted to show off their facial animation tech, and make sure it was easy to relate to the protagonists. But the point stands: a version of Detroit with robots that are clearly not human would be damn interesting to play.


Thursday, 8 November 2018

People of Frictional: Miguel Nogueira

Hi. My name is Miguel Nogueira and I am a concept artist and designer at Frictional Games. My job is to create art for concepts that we might or might not add to the game. The point of concept art and design is planting creative seeds in others through the means of art, to spark debate on the suggestions, and to bring the concepts to life from sketch to product.

I love horror and fiction, so when the opportunity to join Frictional as a freelancer game in August of 2017, I was too flattered to say anything but yes. And in October of 2018, I joined the company as a full member.




As a video games maker, I naturally played a lot of games when I was younger – almost to an unhealthy point. As a 7-year-old kid, this box that I could play on without going outside, or without touching physical toys, was like black magic or voodoo to me. The first game I played was the very first Wolfenstein 3D, released back in 1992.

I wanted to reverse engineer the game. While trying to do so, I broke the computer and got grounded so many times that it wasn’t even funny. Fixing a computer or operating system error was not only hard in the early 90’s, it was also expensive… But I was fascinated by it. The 7-year-old me had a plan to one day master video games.

Besides that, like any true 90’s kid, I owned many cheap consoles that ran Super Mario, Bomberman, Duck Hunt and all that other fun stuff. But they weren’t that inspirational – I thought of them as merely a hobby or a fun way to pass time. It was only when I got back into computer games that the immersion really kicked in. Eventually, I got the desire to be a part of the vanguardist front of the current game making age.

While in college, I was still playing a lot of games. I was studying graphic design and multimedia arts, so video games actually inspired me to come up with shapes, colors and designs. Around that time Dark Messiah and the Metal Gear Solid series were what glued me to the screen. There was something about Dark Messiah specifically, its environments, ambience and designs, that was so magical, but at the same time so haunting. It really drew me into the tales of primordial myth – the ones that make you ask what if?

I got into horror way late. I was just looking for ways to relax with films or, so didn’t get the hype of media that would scare me or stress me out instead. But later on, I realized that there was also good horror out there, like there is in any other genre, full of mystery that unveils slowly. And then there’s, you know, the cheap stuff.



Getting into concept art

Ever since I was that 7-year-old, a part of me had subconsciously wanted to break into the creative field of concept art. I first found out about it when I was 15, and it was thanks to DeviantArt. Back then, around 2005, the site was at its prime, and the only good place to discover and share art. All the art there was mind-blowing, but there was something about concept art that I really loved.

Then in and after college I experimented a lot with fine art, graphic design, graffiti, typography, and other design fields. But it wasn’t until I saw some robot designs by Darren Bartley and Nivanh Chanthara that I stopped and thought: “This is what I want. These people look like they’re having a lot of fun doing those. I want in.”

College itself was tricky for me. When people ask me if it helped me to get a career in games, I’m still on the fence. There was a love-hate relationship going on. On one hand, college provided me with inspirations that I will keep my whole life. It taught me about the European vanguardist artists and how their approach changed the art world, about the importance of the industrial revolution in arts and crafts. I learned about how public installation artists draw attention to their work, and so on. There were classes on graffiti and expression, typography, fine art… and those lessons are priceless. They were a nudge in the right direction. Without someone to teach me about them, I would not have found out about these topics for years.

On the other hand, to get any jobs, I had to lock myself in a room and put hours upon hours into practicing art. It’s something you just have to do to get to the next level of art, and it’s something college just doesn’t quite nurture.

So I cannot give a definitive answer on college. I was either fascinated by the subjects presented at classes or hated myself for being there instead of sitting at home and practicing drawing.



After college, I took a year off to work on and perfect my craft: drawing, painting, designing… After that I took on whatever freelance job I could find, then found work at indie studios, and gradually ended up at more known studios. This was a turning point in my career, because I realized I was playing in the big league now. One day you’re someone’s groupie and the next day you’re working with them.

Every time I connect with a studio or professional I’ve respected for a long time, my energy meter is filled for a long time. I feel the burst of stamina and will to work out of nowhere, like an energy blast. It’s my muse, really. It is the reason I’m fortunate to say that every day may turn out better than yesterday.

And then one day Frictional contacted me because of an email I had sent a long time ago, saying they wanted me for a work test. I passed, and so the journey in Secret Project #1 began. I didn’t know it yet, but it was about to be a wild ride!



My life at Frictional

I started at Frictional as a full-time concept artist. All the briefings were cool, interesting and creatively demanding. Working full-time meant I could work on what I liked all day. There was never a day where I thought gee, I wish I could work on something else instead. Soon I was working on props for pretty much all the levels on the project, then moved to characters, then environments – and now I do pretty much anything that comes my way.




When it comes to my work, I try to bring my sense of graphic design into the aesthetics and my experiences into storytelling. I also like to think in analogies, metaphors and jokes, which I like to sneak into the designs. I feel like every concept has capacity to be something more than just itself or what it looks like at first glance. So I try to add some substance, work on aspects of what the concepts stand for, and make sure they’re not too literal or easy.

Besides that, I love studying and getting all into different subjects, as there is more chance of finding valuable things the deeper you dive. I draw diagrams, study anomalies of human DNA that can be used in monster designs, consume culture and subculture, capture accidents to use in a different context, experiment and drift, love my experiments as I would an ugly child, delay criticism and judgement.



I do a lot of work where I’m focused on details and injecting story elements into the props, environments and other bits of the world. While working, I have recalled some of my memories related to Dark Messiah. In the game there was a statue in a haunted necropolis that you could choose to interact with. It read something like: “Here likes cursed so and so. For his crimes against the king, let his torment be eternal.” It is a really trivial detail and I am probably among the 1% of players that noticed it, but it just added a lot of believability to the world.

A lot of these romantic ideas and memories I have about games are blurry at best and inaccurate at worst. But they are something I gravitate towards when making my art. I study what other games have done well, find out why these things work, then adapt the formula to my own work.

I could go on about my favorite comics, films and games. But to be honest, every time I pick up a new book, game or film, there is a possibility that it will leave me with a long-lasting memory. And for me, that is very exciting.



Like most people at Frictional, I work from home – and in my case it happens to be the sunny Porto in Portugal. Here I have my work sanctuary, aka my office, where all the art making process happens.

My desk and setup are something I’m proud of. It’s just tech, but because I built it myself, there’s another level of affection I have for the tools. It must be a nerdy thing. Besides the obvious hardware my setup sometimes has a book or a magazine on graphic design, a ball or a fidget spinner to play with while I’m analyzing references or trying to focus mid-brainstorming. Simply reading a couple of paragraphs between drawings or throwing the ball at a wall for a few minutes is enough to get all the parts of my brain working again.

Which leads me to my last point: I want to close this with advice to aspiring video game artists. Sometimes us industry people are too serious and forget to have fun. We forget we’re making games. A lot of times artists tend to copy what is popular in the industry, which is fine, but there is also a whole world out there to get influence from. Following in line with the entertainment industry will only get you so far. I find that the art that I actually stop to look at for more than three seconds is the kind of art where the artist is communicating something unique to them, something only they can say – not a copy of a copy of a copy.

The bandwidth of the world is much broader than what you can get through your internet connection or TV set. Get some inspiration from unlikely places: graffiti, typography, furniture design and fashion, nature, travel… Everything has the power to amplify what knowledge you already have and show you entirely new avenues of exploration.

That's it! Thanks for reading!

If you’re interested in following my work, you can find me here:

insta: https://www.instagram.com/miguelnogueira.art/
twitter: https://twitter.com/ignitionchemist
site: www.miguel-nogueira.com
artstation: https://www.artstation.com/migno


Monday, 15 October 2018

Hiring: Project-based 3D Artist



Title: 3D artist
Focus: Polishing environments and props
Type: Full-time, project-based (approx. 1 year)
Last day to apply: 4th of November 2018


After 3 years of hard work, we are now close to finishing one of our new games. We want it to look amazing, and to accomplish that we need more (hu)manpower.

This is where you come in.

We are now looking for an experienced 3D artist, who will focus on environments and props for our upcoming horror game. Our ideal person loves horror, and is able to convey atmospheric environments and terrifying scenes through 3D art. The position is full-time and project-based, lasting for about a year until the new game is ready to be shipped.


What will you work on?

We are quite a small team, but we consider that our strength. As an environment artist you will get to work on every level of the game, ranging from small props to whole levels. This means your contribution will greatly influence how the final game looks, plays, and evokes emotions.

Here are some of the things you will be working on:
  • Creating basic models that make up the levels, such as walls and floors
  • Modelling props of various complexity, both with and without the help of concept art, and often having to take gameplay concerns into account
  • Constructing particle systems, both by drawing textures and using parameters in our editor
  • Combining various techniques to create special effects, such as flowing water or fire.

If you want to know more about Frictional work practices, you can check out the introduction post of Rasmus, who will be your closest teammate.


What are we looking for?

You have to be a EU/EEA resident to apply.

The person we’re looking for is creative, driven and most importantly self-sufficient.

Since the position is project-based, we are looking for a person who can start as soon as possible, end of November the latest.

Here are some essential skills we require:
  • Excellent skills at adapting to a style and taking it to a finished state
  • Strong self-drive and ability to organise your own work
  • Interest in and ability to do research for interesting prop and environment solutions
  • Love for working on a variety of tasks
  • Fluency in English
  • Team communication skills
  • Knowledge of game design
  • A Windows PC that runs recent games (such as SOMA) that you can use for work (unless you live in Malmö and will work from the office)
  • A fast and stable internet connection.
And here are some more techie skills:
  • Excellent skills in 3D software. Modo preferred
  • Familiarity with Zbrush/Mudbox/similar
  • Excellent skills in Substance
  • Excellent skills in Photoshop or similar software
  • Familiarity with issue-tracking software
  • Experience in classic/non-PBR workflow.
If you want to impress us:
  • Love for horror and narrative games
  • A major role in completing at least one game
  • Great free-drawing skills
  • Experience in level design
  • Strong game design skills
  • Experience kitbashing/working with modular sets.
For this position you can work from home. We have a central hub in Malmö, Sweden, which you can use if you wish.


What we offer:
  • Flexible working hours, a no-crunch approach
  • Opportunities to influence your work flow
  • Variety in your work tasks, and ability to influence your work load
  • Participation in Show & Tell of games, having a say in all aspects of the game making
  • An inclusive work environment
  • A possibility to become a permanent employee.

How to apply?

If all of the above piqued your interest, we would love to hear from you! Send us your application 4th of November the latest - but the sooner, the better.

Please attach all the following:
  • Cover letter (why you should work with us, what do you bring to the table)
  • CV
  • Portfolio (link or PDF)
  • Examples of works that have inspired you or blown you away.
Please notice that you need to send all of the applications to be considered.

Send your application to apply@frictionalgames.com!


Privacy Policy

By sending us your application, you give us permission to store your personal information and attachments.

We store all applications in a secure system. The applications are stored for two years, after which they are deleted. If you want your your information removed earlier, please contact us through our Contact form. Read more in our Privacy Policy.


Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Hiring: Tools Programmer




Title: Tools programmer
Focus: Engine
Type: Full-time, permanent
Last day to apply: 30th of October 2018


Tired of the constraints of Unity, Unreal and other big engines? Want to be in control and get down into the nitty gritty of engine coding? Come join us at Frictional Games, one of the few companies that still makes their own tech, and get all up in our HPL engine!

We are now expanding our tech team and looking for a tools programmer who will help make the HPL engine better, prettier, and more intuitive. Your work on the engine will be crucial to the rest of the team, but it will also be seen by our modding community.

The position is full-time and permanent. Ideally we would help you relocate to Malmö, Sweden to be close to our core team, but this is not a necessity.


What will you work on?

As a tools programmer, you will be working together with a small tech team that is mainly responsible for our HPL engine, but also tech support for the games.

Here are some of the things you will find yourself working on:
  • Creating and maintaining the level editor for our proprietary engine
  • Making intuitive user interfaces
  • Creating small specialised tools
  • Working with low-level systems such as IO, AI, rendering, sound, and physics
  • Working with Xbox and PlayStation versions, as well as possible future platforms
  • Internal support for a team of developers
  • Post-launch support.
We also encourage working outside of your area of expertise, and always learning new things. The more areas of development you are willing and able take part in, the better!

If you want to know more about Frictional work practices, you can check out the introduction posts of Peter and Luis, who will be your closest teammates.


What are we looking for?

You have to be a EU/EEA resident to apply.

The person we’re looking for is creative, driven and self-sufficient.

Here are some essential skills we require:
  • Well-versed in C++, C#, Java, or similar
  • Knowledge in AngelScript, Python, Lua, or similar
  • You have created an engine or tools for development for at least one game
  • Strong low-level programming skills
  • Familiar with linear algebra
  • Knowledge in working with Widgets / Custom GUI
  • Fluency in English
  • Skills in team communication and support
  • A Windows PC that runs recent games (such as SOMA) that you can use for work (unless you live in Malmö and will work from the office)
  • A fast and stable internet connection.

These will be considered a plus:
  • Experience in engine development
  • Skills in 3D modelling or texture applications
  • Knowledge in UX design
  • Lover for tech and messing with the low level parts of the engine
  • Excitement for creating fast pipelines and making it easy to create awesome art
  • You live in Sweden.

What do we offer?

We are a small team, which means you will be able to work on a wide variety of things and contribute to our future games in a meaningful way.

We also believe a healthy balance between work and life reflects positively on your work. We offer a variety of perks for our full-time employees, especially who live in or relocate to Sweden. We also don’t encourage crunch.

Here’s what we offer:
  • Flexible working hours
  • Opportunities to influence your workflow
  • Variety in your work tasks, and ability to influence your workload
  • Participation in our internal game Show & Tell sessions, so you’ll have input into all aspects of the game
  • Social security and holidays that are up to the Swedish standards
  • An inclusive and respectful work environment
  • An office in central Malmö you can use as much as you please
  • Fun workmates, game and movie nights, and other outings!

How to apply?

Did the position pique your interest? Are you the person we’re looking for? Then we would love you hear from you!

We will be looking at applications until 30th of October 2018.

Please send us your:
  • Cover letter (why you should work with us, what do you bring to the table)
  • CV
  • Portfolio (or links to your works)
Send your application to apply@frictionalgames.com!



Privacy Policy

By sending us your application, you give us permission to store your personal information and attachments.

We store all applications in a secure system. The applications are stored for two years, after which they are deleted. If you want your your information removed earlier, please contact us through our Contact form. Read more in our Privacy Policy.


Friday, 21 September 2018

What is Amnesia’s Hard Mode?



A year ago we brought SOMA to the Xbox One, and along with it the Safe Mode. The optional mode removed the hostility of enemies and let players explore Pathos-II in relative peace. Most  players were pleased with it, and at best it meant that players that hadn’t dared to traverse the Atlantic ocean floor before now had a chance to experience it.

Now finally releasing the Amnesia: Collection on Xbox One, and decided to also spice it up with a little treat. We bring you the polar opposite of the Safe Mode: the Hard Mode!

Amnesia: Collection will be released on Xbox One on the 28th of September, after which the mode will be available on Xbox and PC.


What is the Hard Mode?

It is really just as the title suggests: a mode that makes it harder to beat the game. You know, in case The Dark Descent wasn’t stressful enough for you.
The Hard Mode has the following features:

- Autosaves are disabled, and manual saving costs 4 tinderboxes
- Sanity dropping to zero results in death
- Less oil and tinderboxes throughout the levels
- Monsters are faster, spot the player more easily, deal more damage and stay around for longer
- There is no danger music when the monsters are near.

So in summary: the environments are harsher, the monsters more unforgiving, insanity is deadly, and death is final – unless you pay a toll.

You can pick between normal mode and Hard Mode when starting a new game of Amnesia: The Dark Descent. The mode changes some fundamental elements of the game, and therefore can’t be changed halfway through.

A Machine for Pigs and Justine do not feature this mode.


How does this affect achievements/trophies?

Beating the game on Hard Mode will earn you a new trophy called Masochist. Because, you know, you pretty much have to be one to complete the mode.

The mode affects the Illuminatus achievement, which you can’t get during playing in Hard Mode as it reduces the amount of tinderboxes throughout the level.

The Masochist achievement.

Will it be on all platforms?

Yes! The Hard Mode will launch on Xbox and PC versions (Steam, GOG, Humble Bundle) simultaneously. We have started working on the PS4 version with our porting partner, and hope to have it out by the end of 2018.