By: Griffin Carlson, Game Design ’21
Over the past months, I’ve had the privilege to get my first real taste of what it’s like to work in the game industry. This opportunity has all been because of Power Level Studios, a small team of freelancing developers overseen by Danny Forest, the company’s owner, and my boss. Our project: Soul Reaper, a classic JRPG-inspired game where you travel around a fantastical world known as The Vault battling powerful creatures and assembling a team comprised of harvested souls of fearsome monsters. The thing that has really made this experience impactful is that I’ve not only been treated within this company as a full-fledged designer but I’m actually getting to work on the aspect of game development that I am passionate about, writing and narrative.
While members of Power Level Studios are based out of different parts of Canada, the team of interns from my college, myself, and our boss Danny all currently operate out of an amazing co-working space in Montreal called Gameplay Space. I think honestly another one of the most amazing parts of my internship experience has been simply getting to work in a professional game development space for the first time in my life. Gameplay Space has really been an environment I feel like I’ve thrived in. This has been true to such an extent that I’ll even go to work there on other projects simply because the environment is so conducive to focusing on work!
Soul Reaper has been the brain-child of Danny for many years now but the game’s development has been an interesting journey. Basically, Power Level Studios, at it’s core, is only my boss Danny but throughout Soul Reaper’s development has consisted of different teams of freelancers. After these freelancers finish their work, Danny takes over again as the project’s sole developer until another team is brought in for the next stage of development. At the point I got hired as an intern, Soul Reaper had a problem I needed to solve: Danny had hired a narrative designer before to develop the plot of the game but the script they had produced required a lot of assets that just weren’t in the game’s budget. Because of this, the game’s old plot had been scrapped and I had pretty much a blank canvas to develop whatever kind of story I wanted with the caveat of one major constraint:
The budget only allowed me to use the assets and animations that were already in the game.
At the start, I was surprised at how little my internship required me to use my technical training I had from my college classes. My job mostly consisted of naming the game’s different creatures, writing characters, developing the world and story, and doing short pitches to get this work approved by Danny. The week before our first time running a playtest I also began to start writing scripts for the game’s dialogue. I was really enjoying my work but it made me really wish that I had taken more creative writing courses!
After about a month of these kind of tasks, my job really shifted. I started learning how to use a program called Fungus that allowed for dialogue and narrative control pre-built for Unity. It was at this point I really began to get my hands dirty working in the engine by making cutscenes while also still writing copious numbers of scripts for all the in-game interactions. This was some of my favorite work I got to do because it allowed me to mix my passion for game-narrative writing with the technical training I had gained throughout my college career. I circumvented the issue of the game’s limited assets and animations by writing a basic script that allowed you to change the character’s color palette in the inspector. This gave me huge creative freedom because I was able to do things like take the game’s final boss asset and turn him into four different colored bosses each with their own personality and narrative importance.
Another aspect of my time at Power Level Studios that I really enjoyed was the number of hats I got to wear. While my work definitely focused on game writing and narrative development, I also got the opportunity to help run many of the game’s playtests and publicity events. One of the most unforgettable of these was an event called Momentum where, while running playtests of the game, I encountered a number of streamers who expressed their excitement about the project. Getting to communicate with people and get them excited about a project I was working on was extremely rewarding and my time running playtests with my fellow interns will be something I’ll definitely take with me from my time with the company.
I feel like I’ve taken a lot away from my time at Power Level Studios. On the practical side, I feel like I’ve learned about what it’s like to be an indie developer trying to fund your project, working with freelancers, and trying to market your work. On the other hand, I think this experience has been great because it has proven to me that the dream job I’ve always wanted is actually out there. I always feared that starting into the game’s industry meant being another cog in the machine of development but the amount that both me and my ideas feel respected by my team and my boss is amazing. It has really been the first time in my life I feel like I’ve gone from “game design student” to “game designer”. I found myself working overtime hours not because I was being forced to but because I genuinely wanted this project to be something I was proud of.
At the time of writing this, I have about a month left that I’ll be working with my friends at Power Level Studios. The program this internship was affiliated with was through my college so my internship officially ends at the same time as my fall semester. I think I just want to end this post by saying thank you to everyone who I’ve gotten to work with and thank you to Danny for giving me this amazing opportunity that has filled me with passion that this career is what I truly want to be doing with my life. I’ll be lucky if I get the opportunity to work with any of you again in the future!