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Meet A Game Designer: Catherine Woolley from The Chinese Room

BAFTA Breakthrough Brits 2015 LaunchBAFTA/Jamie Simonds
Meet Catherine Woolley, a Senior Game Designer (and BAFTA Breakthrough Brit) at The Chinese Room.

What is your job role and what does it entail?

I’m a Senior Game Designer, generally the aim of my job is to create engaging experiences for the player but the role does differ depending on the project you’re working on, or the company you’re working at. I like to work on levels and add content to them this can include; creating mechanics and objects the player will interact with; creating exciting moments for the player to see; and working on A.I, creating paths for them to follow if it’s a scripted experience; or giving them a variety of nodes to follow if it’s a more fluid experience.

How did you start working in the game industry?

I did a Computer Games Design degree at university and whilst studying I started taking part in game jams which helped boost my portfolio. This is something I always recommend to anyone wanting to do a games degree at university because the things you do outside your degree stand out a bit more over the work you’re asked to do.

After university I like to think I was lucky and I went straight into a job at Electronic Arts, where I starting working on the Flips series for the Nintendo DS.

What/who was your inspiration at school?

Games wasn’t really thought of as a job when I went to school and there weren’t any subjects that leant towards games. So I think my twin sister Charlotte was always a good inspiration for me at school. She wanted to study film and while she was researching her courses she stumbled across my Games Design course and, as we always played games and were captivated by each new game we played, she suggested I apply to see what it’s like.

Did you have a mentor? Do you have a mentor now?

I don’t have a dedicated mentor at the moment but if I ever want to get an opinion on something I’ll talk to my peers or people that I’ve worked with in the past for advice.

When I started at EA, Gary Napper was sort of like a mentor to me, he gave a lot of advice and helped guide me. After my contract working on Flips was ending he helped guide me towards working on the Harry Potter team and without him I may not have continued at EA. He’s been a great inspiration ever since and I was very happy to work with him again on Alien: Isolation

Did you study anything at school/college that you think helps you in your job now?

My degree helped, I got to create games with people and it taught me a lot of different skills. That said I don’t think anyone can really be trained for a career in games, the best way to see what it’s like in the industry, and what a job might be like, is to have a go at making games yourself. Especially as a team because that’s what it’s like in the games industry, it’s all about working together and communicating.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

Watching a game come together over the course of it’s development, because if you’re a good designer you can imagine where the game is going, even in the early stages. Everything might be a place holder but you can see past those things, imagine what it will be like and know if it stands a chance of being good. Then that moment when it all comes together with the hard work of everyone else is the best feeling.

What is the hardest thing about your job?

Knowing when to stop is hard as a designer because when you’re so passionate about something you’re working on it can be hard to tear yourself away, or give it space so you can come back and look at it objectively. You can keep working on something continuously and you could make it better, but you could also make it worse.

Can you describe what your average working day is like?

You’ll have parts of the game you’re scheduled to work on but alongside that you have to keep in contact with everyone else too. One day I could be scripting a part of the game and the next I could be reviewing work, writing documentation or having a day of meetings. There’s a lot of variation because there’s a lot to keep an eye on and look after.

Name one mistake you’ve made whilst designing the playable elements of a game that you’ll never make again?

I think the best way to answer this is with regards to game jams, where you have to design a game in a very short space of time; so silly mistakes can happen. One of the worst ones is forgetting to save, not just because there might be a power cut but because sometimes the game engines we work with can have issues, so always save regularly.

What three tips would you give to Young Game Designers thinking about their game systems for their application?

Be original but don’t get obsessed with coming up with new innovative ways to play. Games have been around for some time now and someone may have thought of your amazing idea. That said, don’t just copy either. There’s a nice middle ground where you can create a game that has its own spark to it.

What is your games unique selling point? It could be something you, or someone you know, wants to play but hasn’t found yet. Or it could be a unique mechanic. Use your USP as a goal so you have something to work towards and refer back to throughout the design process.

Enjoy what you’re making. If you’re not passionate about the idea you won’t put your all into it and spot problems with it. So have fun!