Last week we kicked off our Fireside Chat question and answer series with Matt Woelk, one of the Team Leads at Ubisoft Winnipeg. Matt’s been with Ubisoft for almost 2 years now, and continues to be extremely active within Winnipeg’s local game community. Check out some of his answers:
Q: What does a Team Lead do?
A: A Team Lead runs a small piece of a production. So, that could be something like the editor, the engine, simulations, or tech art. Their job is to make sure that their team has stuff to work on — that they can do those things and to communicate with the rest of the production as things get done and solve technical problems with the other leads in the production.
Q: What development work is done at the Winnipeg office?
A: At the Winnipeg office we do three categories of things: We do research and development (which spawned out of our innovation jams), we do tools development for other teams, and sometimes we do work directly on productions when they need some support.
Q: What kind of diverse education/experience does the Ubisoft Winnipeg team have?
A: Our studio has people from all over the world, and from lots of different educational backgrounds as well. We have people who have been educated locally, so at U of M (University of Manitoba), Red River (College), U of W (University of Winnipeg), and we have people who have been educated overseas or in different provinces. We have lots of people with computer science degrees or computer engineering (degrees), as well as mathematics and physics, and all sorts of other things that help us look at problems in new ways.
Q: Can you get into the industry without any education just enthusiasm for creating/gaming?
A: Enthusiasm alone won’t get you into the industry, but your enthusiasm CAN — now more than ever — build into experiences that can get you into the industry. For example, if your’re keen to make games, you can go make games. Unity is free, Unreal is free, Blender is free— you can dive in and go to game jams and start making games.
So, if you can turn that enthusiasm into experience with side projects or even enough enthusiasm that it gets you a computer science degree or a 3D art degree or something, that can lead to getting you in the industry.
Q: In your opinion, what’s the most important quality a game developer should have?
A: I think the most important things a game developer needs is empathy and creativity, and I’ll explain both of those.
Empathy because the game only exists in the player’s mind. You can make a perfect game, but if they (the player) can’t figure it out, it’s not a perfect game. You need empathy to feel what they’re feeling, and to understand something from another person’s perspective — in this case the player.
Creativity, which isn’t some magic thing that some people have, and some people don’t. Creativity is just building a set of tools you can use to solve problems and then having some random input that makes you use tools you didn’t use before.
Q: What skills/technologies can (Computer Science) students work on to better prepare them for the industry?
A: C++ is a big one. Our engines are all backed by C++. The ability to dip into a large codebase that you didn’t write and find your bearings and solve problems is a huge skill. So, try that — contribute to an open source project. Also, 3D vector mathematics is wonderful. Trigonometry will get you part way there, but 3D vector math will get you the rest of the way there. Finally, the ability to debug, and step through code that’s really complex is really important.
Q: What do you do to unwind when video games are work?
A: Well, I play video games! Or — I got an electric unicycle this summer, and so I’ll just go wheel around on a single wheel. It’s such a joy. You don’t know the freedom of walking until you don’t have to do it and you’re on a wheel instead!