Every veteran developer has to start at the bottom. You don't get Cory Barlog, creative director of God of War, without Cory Barlog, animator on Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots Arena. In a Twitter thread started by Ryan Benno, senior environment artist on Marvel's Spider-Man, developers were asked to share their first steps in the industry.
Hey game devs: what's the first task you every got working professionally? 11.5 years ago I was asked to UV a character's clothing as an atlas and make an example texture. It was heavily inspired bg Hulk Hogan Hulkamania outfit and colors.— Ryan Benno (@BryanRenno) January 23, 2020
Some developers got their start doing what could be considered busy work, but is actually the background color that underpins many games. Mothergunship director Joe Mirabello's first job involved creating basic weapons for Titan Quest. "Hundreds of rather-forgettable "generic weapons" in Titan Quest, followed by tons and tons of more unique ones later. I spent months being a weapon factory," he tweeted. Hardsuit Labs lighting artist Adam Alexander has a similar start, making icons for a small indie MMO.
Lots and lots of UI icons for an indie MMO, almost 7 years ago pic.twitter.com/lXz0Wu3otB— Adam Alexander (@atomander) January 23, 2020
Watch Dogs Legion team lead game designer Liz England said that "the first thing they had me do was spend a week writing barks for Saints Row 2 NPCs." Radial Games animator Aura Triolo got her start animating eyelids due to missing motion capture. There are hundreds of small bits that comprise the games we play that most players don't notice unless they're not there or done wrong.
A number of developers also saw their entry in other studio departments, like quality assurance. Arkane Studios associate environment artist Sadie Boyd was one of them. "When I was in QA, my first task was to create the smallest character possible in ESO and see what happened when I tried to get into places I shouldn't be in," she explained. Life is Strange: Before the Storm game director Chris Floyd also started in QA, testing a title from another studio.
"The year was 1999. I was in QA. We newbies were supposed to test Towers of Fallow, an MMO 3D artillery clone made by our Russian studio. There was no documentation, so our first task was to figure out how to play. The game was... not great," he admitted.
Not every developer sees their work end up in a game they can brag about, or even end up in a game at all. Take Industrial Light & Magic lead animator Kiel Figgins, who previously worked at NCSoft and began his career working on Leisure Suit Larry: Pocket Party. His first day had him working on Larry's walk cycle, while his second day involved the character's masturbation animation.
"Created all the quests for the first prototype zone in Wildstar, 7 yrs before it launched. The only thing that still exists from that zone is the name — Northern Wilds," said Bungie senior game designer Brendan Thorne, not noting the fact that Wildstar itself no longer exists.
Still others were thrown in the deep end, doing tasks that were far beyond their experience at the time. Freelancer composer Andrew Hulshult noted that his first industry job was redoing the Rise of the Triad soundtrack for the release of the 2013 remake. Former Obsidian Entertainment and Blizzard Entertainment Nathaniel Chapman made a similar contribution to the big leagues during his time at Obsidian. "When I was a QA Tester at Obsidian in 2005, I made a demo level for Neverwinter Nights 2 that showed off how the toolset worked and improvements we were making for a press event," he said.
The original tweet had leads to hundreds of developers sharing their stories. They're worth reading, if only to truly understand how much work goes in making video games. It's never been easy, and they've only grown in scale and scope over the years.