By: Ryan Littleton, Game Design ’21
A few days ago, I was sitting down for lunch with a friend of mine when I had a bit of a realization. We’d both just finished up some work on Soul Reaper, the game that we’re working on for our internship, and decided to take our lunch breaks and grab a quick bite at one of the nearby fast food places. When we sat down, we started to talk about a variety of interesting problems we were each facing in our respective areas of focus for our internship. He was having to figure out how to create tons of story cutscenes in a short amount of time, while I was trying to contend with a variety of technical issues in some old code. Right around that moment, it hit me that both he and I were both working on things we wanted to work on in an industry that we both hope to end up in. We were no longer aspiring game designers — sometime over the last two months, we had come to think of ourselves as proper indie developers.
When I look back to the end of August, it’s crazy to realize that at that time I had no idea where, or even if, I would have an internship. Luckily, I got the chance to interview with a small indie studio called Power Level Studios, a studio led by a man named Danny Forest. They were based out of a local Montreal coworking space called the GamePlay Space, and were working on a game called Soul Reaper, an RPG with elements of monster collection, that had been in on/off development for roughly six years and was just now beginning to enter the final phase of development before a release in February. I knew pretty much instantly that this would be my dream internship, and a day or two after my interview it was official. I was a Technical Design Intern at Power Level Studios.
After my first few days of work, it was clear that I wouldn’t just be a technical designer. Power Level Studios is made up of roughly eight people, four of whom are part time interns. After my first week, Danny and I decided that in addition to doing bugfixing and other technical tasks, I would also be in charge of redesigning all of Soul Reaper’s UI, from combat to menus. UI design is not something I thought I would be doing, but it turned out to be very interesting and extremely necessary for the game. Some of the old menus were draconian in design, with tons of nested submenus and numerous design flaws. After my second week, another important issue surfaced that I would have to address. All of Soul Reaper’s menus needed to be compatible with controller input, something that I had no clue how to approach initially. Now, two months later, Soul Reaper’s menus and combat UI have been completely redesigned and are fully compatible with controller input in addition to mouse and keyboard. Surprisingly, doing those redesigns involved quite a lot of technical work and scripting, which I hadn’t originally expected.
With just under a month left in my internship at Power Level Studios, I know that when I leave, I’ll miss the rest of the team and working on Soul Reaper. I also know that the work I’ve done over the course of my time at Power Level has put Soul Reaper in a much better position to release from. The numerous scripts I’ve written for various menu elements and UI functionality will be incredibly useful for the team moving forward, and easily adjustable in the future to fit the changing needs of the game. As a designer and as a programmer, I’ve learned the importance of documenting changes and including explanations so that team members who use my code once I’ve left the team will easily be able to understand the purpose of all of my scripts as well as how to adjust and use them for other purposes. I’ve also learned much more about how to utilize the many different data structures that Unity and C# can use in ways that I had never considered before.
Perhaps what I’ll miss most about leaving Montreal is working from the GamePlay Space where Power Level Studios is located. The GPS is a community of local indie developers who work from the same space, and I will definitely miss seeing all of the incredible projects that the teams are working on and being able to talk to them about their work. One of the best experiences I had with the GPS was one of their playtesting events, where I got to help run the setup for Soul Reaper and get feedback from both developers and the public about the game. Being able to help run a public playtest was an incredible experience that I’ll never forget, and it helped me learn many tactics for getting good feedback in a playtest environment. In roughly a week, I’ll also have the chance to be at the MIGS Afterparty hosted by the GamePlay Space, which is an event that I’m eagerly looking forward to. Despite my limited time at the GPS, I’ll sorely miss the environment and culture there when I leave.
Interning at Power Level Studios has been an incredibly valuable experience. I got the chance to work on a game in the final stages of development, experiencing first-hand what it is like to do rapid iteration and bug fixing before release. I’ve expanded my horizons as a designer and programmer, learning what it takes to make a well-functioning UI and menu system feel good to use and easy to understand. I’ve been able to work with an incredible group of people, some of whom will likely become lifelong friends. Soon, I’ll be able to help run a booth at MIGS and see what it is like to be an exhibitor at a conference. But in the end, the most important takeaway I have from this experience is that I have what it takes to be a developer. Though my time in Montreal is coming to an end, my journey as a developer is only just beginning.