Each and every thing we do at Gearbox Software is the work of a team that's comprised of extremely passionate and talented individuals.
With "In the Box" we'll be spotlighting those hard-working individuals to learn more about what they do, how they got to be where they are, and what advice they have for those looking to follow in their footsteps.
Today we talk with Brad Sierzega who, as a Multiplayer Level Designer on Aliens: Colonial Marines, helped create the multiplayer maps previewed at PAX East and E3 2012.
Name: Brad Sierzega
Title: Multiplayer Level Designer
Joined Gearbox: 2010
For those who aren't familiar with game development, what does a Multiplayer Level Designer do?
I design the layouts of your multiplayer maps, and guide their development up through completion.
What tools do you use? What (if anything) do you look at for reference and inspiration?
As a Level Designer, I work in the Unreal Editor, which is the content creation tool for the Unreal Engine. It’s great to be using such a powerful tool because this is the same technology I was using before I began my career, and I’m very comfortable with it.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, at any time. We have some amazing concept artists whose incredible work gives me all kinds of ideas, and quite often makes me want to start up a new map just so I could base it off their art. Studying other video games is also an indispensible source of inspiration. In my case, because I am currently developing levels for multiplayer, I will often look at other games for reference and to see what worked and didn’t work for them.
What have you worked on at Gearbox?
Gearbox Software is the first game company I have ever had the privilege of working for. It’s been quite a journey, and an amazing experience.
In the two years that I’ve been at Gearbox, I have been given many fun, exciting, and challenging tasks. I have done both single player and multiplayer work. Some of my more memorable tasks have involved prototyping unique gameplay scenarios to help make the games interesting and memorable. This has even included prototyping entire new game modes and mechanics that you will see in our games.
Overall, it’s been an amazing experience, and I have been in a great position to try new things and learn a lot. Game development is an amazing thing, where I can honestly say that as much I have positively affected the games I’ve worked on, they themselves have positively affected me.
Can you walk us through an average day-in-the-life of a Multiplayer Level Designer?
The best thing about my job is that every week is different, and I take them as they come. I like to look at the state of the game and what major milestones are coming up, and from there decide what would benefit most from my attention.
I try and have a clear objective for what I will accomplish at the start of each day. I look at feedback we get from weekly playtests and focus testing, find solutions to any problems, fix bugs, and optimize the maps so they run smoothly and look as good as possible.
How often do you interact with other departments and disciplines within Gearbox, and what does that entail?
I interact with people in several different departments. I have a great back and forth working relationship with the artists, in which I will prototype sections of the map in basic geometry (“grayboxing”) and describe how I envision the area, and then a day or so later, the artists blow me away with some amazing art that fits perfectly in the map and functions just like I wanted. When I’m not working with them, I’m either asking programmers questions about how something is intended to work or if we can tweak something to improve gameplay, or bugging the producers about feature requests we would love to see in the game. And lastly, I’m always asking my fellow level designers questions, because it’s great to get another set of eyes on something -- especially after staring at it for too long. We all have each other's backs, and want the game to be the best it possibly can be.
How did you get your start in the video game industry?
Before working in the industry, I attended DeVry University, where I got my degree in Game & Simulation Programming. Yes, I got a degree as a software engineer, with a background in art, and yet decided to pursue Level Design as a career path. You never know where life will take you, but I felt it was important to learn all the different disciplines of game development and discover what I was most passionate about. While in school, I had the opportunity to work on several game mods, and help out with some indie games. When I got the call from Gearbox Software, it was literally on my last day of school, hours before I said farewell once and for all. Boy, was that one of the greatest days of my life!
What do you do for fun, outside of work?
Work is a big part of my life. I think I’ve gotten a reputation of working a bit more than I should, but it’s something I love to do. I even pursue my own game-related projects at home, off and on. Naturally, playing games is something I love to do as well. I always need to get my shooter fix before I go to bed. There is nothing like staying up ‘til all hours of the night with my best friends over Xbox Live. I went to see The Avengers last week, and if you haven’t, you really should. I really enjoy setting certain nights aside to hang out with my friends, see new movies, and sometimes explore the city.
What advice do you have for people that want a job similar to yours? Where should they start?
PASSION PASSION PASSION! I would not be here today if I wasn’t passionate about my work, and didn’t love what I do for a living. Everyone has a unique story about how they got into the gaming industry. Mine was a short one; I started off going to college with no knowledge of game design at all, and through hard work, determination, love of video games (and making them), and long nights with little sleep, I was able to prove to others and myself that I had found what I loved to do, and was good enough to get noticed by a place like Gearbox Software.
I was unfortunate in not knowing where to begin with game development until I got to college. But here’s the thing: anyone can do it, right now! You can download, for free, the very same tools I use on a daily basis, and begin making your own games to see if it’s something you think you might like to pursue. There are tons of free software and tutorials online that can help you learn a great deal on your own, as long as you’re willing to put in the time and effort.