#CareerTalks: Shadi Mallak on How to Kickstart Your Career in a AAA Game Studio
In the latest #CareerTalks, a new series that provides insider intel on how to break into the tech and game industry, we talk to Shadi Mallak, Visual Design Director at TiMi Studio Group. Shadi shares a wealth of information about how he got into game design, current job opportunities, how to stand out in an interview, what it’s like to work at a global AAA game studio, the value of diversity, and more. Below is an edited version of his talk.
Click to watch the replay of Shadi Mallak's interview livestreamed on July 28th.
My Pathway to AAA Game Design
I’m based in Montreal, my home city. When I was young, I got a copy of a video game called the first Final Fantasy. This has fictional settings and let you create characters and interact with the world. It made me realize: “Someday, I can make games too!”
After studying Arts and Literature, I worked as a UI visual designer for websites, mobile apps, a bit of print, honed my graphic design skills in those industries, before becoming a visual designer in the games industry. In my 20-year career, I’ve spent 12 of those making AAA games such as Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, Star Wars and Dead Space. I joined TiMi Studio Group about a year and a half ago.
What I Do and How I Do It
I am a part of a Creative Art Team (CAT). We offer high-quality art support to all our game teams across different art specialties. It involves working on multiple games at once, establishing our visual style guides, setting development guidelines and advising teams on their design process, technical pipelines and production process.
In addition to regular video calls, my days are spent either producing and reviewing art, or researching and preparing content for knowledge-sharing. It could be anything from my design process to best practices for UI production and tutorials.
Industry Transformation and More Opportunities
Games used to be a physical product with extremely limited multi-player ability. Now games are digital products that can be played anywhere on countless platforms, online, in groups, and on the go on mobile devices. Big games need a lot of skilled developers to run quality systems, develop tools, and support artists with the best graphics features.
With the boom in games as a service (GaaS), games are part of a larger experience that demands more and higher-quality UI to service players. There is great demand for any of the professions related to UI. And UX keeps getting more mature, so that's another field to watch for.
Strong Design Portfolio Creates Trust
Your design portfolio is everything. It shows what a designer can do in terms of style, clarity, etc. During an interview, I’ll want to know the context of a design. What was the goal? What were the constraints? Why were certain decisions made?
This shows me, regardless of the style, how a designer thinks, and how they apply their craft to create an engaging solution for the users. Design is a team sport, so in an interview, I'll be observing the person's communication skills and attitude.
For beginners or designers wanting to make the switch to games, develop a mini design brief and create your designs for them. Maybe take an existing game and try to solve a problem differently, or propose an improvement to a specific UI feature. Or, try game jams that apply your craft to a small project.
Diversity Matters at TiMi
Diversity is highly valued at TiMi. We have designers of different ages, experience and backgrounds, and our production planning allows everyone, whether graduate or manager, to contribute and learn from each other.
The designers on the team come from a variety of backgrounds. We also have a designer who used to work in fashion design!
From Designer to Mentor and Leader
You’re always learning, applying what you learn and teaching others at the same time. Mentors are important. I’ve had many over my career – designers who looked out for me, lent me books, explained their processes or just worked closely with me on design and let me learn on the job.
As a leader, I want to teach through facilitating and coaching, by listening and observing and asking the right questions so people can come up with their own solutions.
Supportive Environment for the Best Output
Never in my career have I had the amount of respect, openness and flexibility that TiMi provides me. This has freed me to do my best work. The teams here can really challenge me in terms of visual design and surprise me with ideas and design considerations. It motivates me to come up with new ideas to surprise them too.
If you show genuine interest in people and the work, and you leverage your experience while displaying curiosity as if it was still your first time, then maybe anything is possible.