The sequel to 2K Games' critically acclaimed smash-hit BioShock is bubbling ever-closer to the surface. In just a few short weeks, gamers will be able to fulfil all their Big Daddy fantasies as they take to the watery bowels of Rapture once again. With improved combat mechanics, deeper moral choices and a fresh exploration of the fascinating BioShock mythos, the game is set to be one of the biggest hits of the year.
Last week, we caught up with Alex Vancomerback and Anthony Lawrence of 2K Australia, who are the Level Designer and Studio General Manager, respectively. We quizzed them about working for 2K Games, tips on how to get into the games industry, and the improvements gamers can expect to find in BioShock 2. We also gleaned some fresh insights about the game, including the role of the ocean (there will be no underwater combat) and the enhanced AI (Big Sisters — be very afraid!) So without further ado, let's dive right in...
GamePro: G'day, guys. First up, can you tell us a little about your roles at 2K Australia?
Alex: I'm Level Designer on BioShock 2 — which means I take care of the player experience within a level. I need to think everything a player might think while exploring each level. I look after elements of the gameplay, like what enemies the player is going to encounter and what the main goal of the mission is. I also help with the scripting of the AI, and try to get [the enemies] to do something a little bit different.
Anthony: I essentially run the studio so the guys can do good things. Some of my other day-to-day tasks include making scheduling decisions and outsourcing artwork. I also try to lend my hand as a sound engineer. [Anthony was previously a sound designer at the Sydney Opera House.]
GP: How did you first get involved in the games industry?
Alex: I started off with user mods on games like Duke Nukem and Quake back in '96. Pretty much by accident, I found out about someone looking for a level designer for a project in the UK. I applied for it, and, to my shock and surprise, I actually got the job. When I received my first pay cheque it was a great day: I was doing what I loved and getting paid for it! A few years later, I moved to Australia and worked for a few different companies, before joining 2K Games two years ago.
Anthony: I have a long background in the creative industry and I guess you could say that's my passion. After 12 years working at the Sydney Opera House, I moved into the business world, but I hated it. When I saw the role for studio general manager at 2K Games, I thought 'perfect!' So now here I am, back doing what I love.
GP: Alex, what kind of skills does your job require? Got any tips for gamers trying to break into the industry?
Alex: Well first of all, you need to be passionate about what you do. You don't need hardcore programming skills or anything like that. A good artistic sense is very important though. This is especially true at companies that don't have level artists. This means that the level designer has to fulfil both roles. You also probably need to know some kind of scripting language. Kismet from Unreal Engine is a good starting point, because it's super popular with games companies. If you want to get into the industry, start off by creating stuff for free using mapping modes and modding tools.
Anthony: Yes, if you want me to employ you, I need to see what you can do. It could be an Apple app; anything. That's a lot more important than a degree or diploma in video games. So the short answer is: build a portfolio!