The Internship Chronicles: Charlie & Wes

By Charlie Grabber (GPROD ’20) and Wes Weitzman (GDES ’20)

During the Fall 2018 semester, Charlie and Wes both interned at Back to the Game.

Wes (far left) and Charlie (far right) with partners from Back to the Game.

Charlie

During my time in Montreal, I worked as a Production Intern at Back to the Game. The company was founded by Richard Rispoli, an industry veteran who worked at EA Interactive and Ubisoft during his 15+ years working as a producer and project lead. I learned a lot about managing a team of 8-10 people, organizing schedules and keeping the project running smoothly via Trello, and how to organize and prioritize multiple clients for a service-based product.

For the first part of the internship, from the beginning of September to the beginning of October, I worked with my friend Wes (the other Champlain intern at B2tGame) to create documentation detailing the process of creating a sequel to the mobile game Reach; this was B2tGame’s first project, and while it was met with some success, Richard wanted us to take it to the next level and design a sequel that incorporated a “freemium” system. I spent a lot of time creating potential mechanics and systems, and even more time piecing together a project plan and a product plan to create a uniform vision and theme. I ended up creating a “one-pager” document that illustrated the key factors of the game on a single page that Richard could present to potential investors and publishers, and after spending a ton of time in Adobe Illustrator, I ended up with a document I felt really proud of, and I feel like I’m fully prepared to make similar documents going forward.

After finishing up the “one-pager”, Wes and I were moved on to the main project that the other employees of the company were working on. This is Rob0, a service that provides capsules of gameplay and user input for a wide variety of purposes; it’s an incredibly powerful tool for bugtesting, QA, playtesting, customer service, etc. As mentioned earlier, I’ve done a ton of work getting schedules together and ensuring that the taskboards were as up-to-date as possible, as well as considering various use-cases and investigating potential clients. The first few weeks focused on getting everything set up for the team, after which I transitioned into maintaining the boards and assisting various team members with business-related tasks. This included researching playtesting methods, reviewing the companies making an appearance at the MIGS, and creating various spreadsheets of contacts and other information. I’ve spent the majority of the past few weeks doing this kind of work, and while it’s not directly related to game development, it’s incredibly applicable to any other technology-development field.

Charlie (left) and Wes (right) helping present their project at MIGS ’18.

Probably the biggest obstacle to overcome early on in the project was communication. Richard was often quite busy speaking with potential investors and clients, and it was often up to me to figure out what I needed to do. On top of that, towards the beginning peoples’ schedules were somewhat erratic, and no one was really sure who would be in the office and when. It was up to me to make sure that the team had a place to see who would be working every day, and whether they would be in the office or off-site. Through our project communication tool, Slack, we were able to keep a consistent stream of information every day that allowed me to continually and accurately update the “Team” board on Trello to ensure that the information there was up to date. Another issue we had was our lack of a dedicated work space; for the first half of the internship we worked out of the office of another developer called Spoken Adventures, which had nice people but an incredibly quiet atmosphere. It was almost like to have any sort of lively conversation would be disruptive, and it caused members of our team (who sat mere feet from each other) to have full conversations over Slack rather than speak to each other like real humans. After moving to an official Back to the Game office in Spaces (similar to GamePlaySpace), this issue was largely solved since we had our own space to communicate, and since any conversation would be related to the company or the project, it never felt disruptive. The new office also allowed us to run more consistent weekly meetings, which kept everyone up to date on the status of the project and how each team member was dealing with their workload. The move to Spaces was probably the biggest, most helpful event in my time working with Richard, since it provided the most sizable increase to communication and productivity while also providing more legitimacy for the company as a whole.

I think my favorite part of the internship was having the opportunity to represent the company at the MIGS, and at the afterparty hosted at GamePlaySpace. I spent a ton of time manning the Rob0 booth and wandering the expo floor, speaking with a number of indie devs, publishers, service companies, and AAA studios including Ubisoft, Epic, and Beenox. I didn’t have access to the conferences since I’d gotten an Expo Pass through my internship, but I don’t feel like I really missed out; so much was happening on the expo floor that it felt like a complete experience. The big event was afterwards of course, when I helped set up and run the MIGS Unofficially Official Afterparty at GamePlaySpace. As mentioned to our class by Kyle Netherland, a Champlain grad working at Rogue Factor, the afterparty is one of the most important parts of the MIGS experience – in fact, it’s how Kyle landed his current job. Anyone who wants to hang out and talk with devs from hundreds of different companies in a very friendly, casual, not-work-related setting should absolutely go for the volunteer signup that Hannah sends you with as the MIGS approaches in November 2019.

Overall my internship went very well, allowing me to interact with a lot of really cool folks from all across the industry while also building my professional experience and improve my skillset. I would recommend that anyone able to take an internship in Montreal do so, especially producers. While the artists, designers, and programmers have their major classes taught by game industry professionals (usually by ones currently working at game studios), the producers have business classes that are more related to business in general rather than being specific to the game industry. I think it would be a huge missed opportunity for a producer to come to Montreal, a huge game industry hub, without furthering their professional experience by pursuing an internship, especially considering that they wouldn’t be doing anything game-related otherwise. So as a final summary, internships in Montreal are incredibly good across the board, and any game studio student planning to study here (producers in particular) ought to seek one.

Wes

Charlie (left) and Wes (right) in a meeting at Back to the Game.

My internship is at a small company called Back to the Game. Back to the Game is a newer company, having only released one game (Reach Classic) before our time with them started. When I first got there, me and my fellow intern, Charlie Grabber, were working on pre production planning and conceptualization for a mobile game. We spent a few weeks preparing documents and designing the game from the ideas Richard Rispoli, our mentor, gave us. Early on it was a little hard, as Richard was away for the first weeks I was there, which made communicating much more difficult. Communication is super important in software development due to the continuously shifting developments in the project, leading Richard’s absence to cause Charlie and myself to struggle with initial project direction. After those first weeks however, things really started coming together. Charlie and I worked on a document to send to publishers for the game we were working on.

After we finished that, we were given a choice: we could start planning for a new game as a team of two, or we could work on the studio’s main project: Rob0. Rob0 is a developer tool that gives visual and easy to digest analytic data for games. When we first presented with this choice, I was worried as to what sort of things I could contribute to Rob0, as I’m a game designer, and it not being a game. Luckily that wasn’t an issue! Rob0 needed UI/UX a designer (user interface / user experience) and that is my focus as a designer. Even though it isn’t a game, I could apply my skills and contribute to the project! This made me more confident in my skills ability to translate to other software development. This was a nice reassurance as it means in the future I will be able to use my experience working on Rob0 to displace how my skills translate if need be.

Choosing to work on Rob0 was an awesome choice for us. We got to integrate with and meet the rest of the team for Rob0, something we hadn’t been doing much of before. That along with Charlie’s organization of the team improved communication to a great level, and now working with everyone else is a breeze. Not only were we able to help the team but we also made great connections that will hopefully last and potentially aid our careers in the future!

Shortly after we joined the Rob0 team, another member also joined our team: Gerson. He was brought on to be a full time UI/UX developer, and to make a website for Rob0 (rob0.io). From around this point on, I buckled down to work on all sorts of user flow charts, for various features and the program as a whole. Each of these involves thinking of the exact steps, and everything the user must do to navigate to, or use any feature of the program. These can easily become huge and unruly, so I have to carefully plan out the layout and organization. I’ve also been working on how to structure new or upcoming features, as well as planning possible features or changes that will improve the user’s experience. This experience let me greatly improve my skills in documentation and to have a better understanding of the relating softwares.

Our company also recently moved to a new office in the Mile End District. It is in a shared office space aptly named Spaces. Spaces offers us a bunch of really great benefits. We can easily get rooms just for meetings, so there aren’t any distractions, there is plenty of open space and tables in the lobby of the area so we never have to worry about it being too crowded, and it also close to a bunch of great restaurants. This work environment was ideal to me, as it allowed both open discussion and provided areas for seclusion as well, which can be very important depending to meeting size and importance. Additionally, sitting on top each of other makes working very difficult.

Charlie and I also got to help out with MIGS (Montreal International Game Summit) in early November. Helping a run booth at MIGS was a super cool and unique experience that I am so grateful to have been able to have. We would talk about Rob0 to people who stopped by (who were usually developers of some sort) and explain all the cool things our program does to entice potential future users. Other than that we had some free time to go to any of the conference talks, hour long talks focused on a specific industry related field, or just wander around the expo floor and talk to other people. Throughout the entire two day stretch at MIGS, I went to four different talks, and met countless other developers and publishers. These talks gave me a plethora of insight in into the current industry. After MIGS I was able to attend the “Unofficial Official Afterparty” where I continued to network with the developers I met at MIGS and meet other developers! Most of which I followed up with and are hoping to hear back from them. These connections will go to help foster my career in the future.

The experience and general industry knowledge I’ve gotten through my internship goes far past what I had expected. Before coming here, I only had a loose idea of how a studio would work and function, just the small amount I learned in Production 1. Even though communication was a struggle early on, overcoming that helped tremendously and helped me learn the skills I need to communicate effectively in a team, helping bring the communication level of the whole team up. I also learned a lot about UX design. I learned about all the different things I need to think about when designing, and a few different angles I can approach it from. Overall, this has helped me improve drastically as a developer.