Computer Science Brings Video Games to Life!

Name: Jack Ip

Field of Work: Video Games

Place of Birth: Hong Kong

Age: 39

Your job title: Level Artist

Meet Jack Ip, a level artist in the video game industry. After contemplating careers as a chef or an entomologist (bugs are pretty cool), he finally decided to make a living creating something he loves, video games! With a focus on the art aspect, he uses complex 3D computer software to bring video games to life.

What is a Level Artist?

You can think of a level artist as the Martha Stewart of the video game industry. I am given a playable level of the game which is void of any visual elements except for collision boxes. These 3D boxes were added by the Level Designer who is responsible for putting the “fun” into the level. Imagine playing a game with only square boxes as graphical elements. These boxes are used for collision detection in the gaming engine. My responsibility is to replace those boxes with visual props (i.e. cars, desks, boulders, garbage bins, etc…) that are relevant to the level and make it aesthetic to play with. This is called “dressing up” a level.

What is a typical day like for you?

I read all my emails first thing in the morning for announcements, meeting requests, and new tools used for the production.

A quick discussion with the Level Designer to make sure there has not been any major modification to the level.

While I work on my map, I try to play it as much as possible to make sure that the FPS is acceptable.

I make sure that my work is reviewed by the Artistic Director who has the responsibility to verify that all the maps follow a uniform direction.

Did you always want to be a Level Artist?

No. I wanted to be a chef. The idea of an entomologist crossed my mind too. But had I known I could possibly work in the field of video games earlier, I might have better orientated my education that way. The first video game that I was addicted to: Pong. It shows my age.

What courses in high school prepared you for this field?

All the artistic courses will help you in the field of graphic. Basic computer programming does not hurt either as some tools allow the user to create little programs called scripts.

Where did you go to university/college?

I went to a private college in Montreal called Icari. It offers a 2D-3D Graphic program.

How did you decide where to go?

I live in Montreal and it was the closest school.

What is the coolest part of your job?

To be able to participate in a highly anticipated projects such as Avatar or Splinter Cell.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Towards the end of a project, there is often a need to optimize your level because there is just too much information (i.e. computer memory, FPS, etc.). I sometimes need to reduce polygon counts (number of polygons) on a 3D model. Another technique is sector optimization (subdividing your map into smaller sectors where sectors that are not relevant to the player at that point in time are not loaded into memory). It’s very tedious, time consuming and a lot of trial and error. You may fix one sector, only to realize that you broke another one.

What’s the salary range for this particular job and field?

Depending on experience, it may vary from 35K-60K a year.

Ooooops! Everyone makes mistakes so what was the dumbest thing you've ever done at work?

I have my share of mistakes but nothing to truly brag about. However, I have a colleague who submitted a silly video clip (the kind you send each other to have a cheap laugh) to the daily build. The daily build is the most up to date playable version of the game. The computer server took it as relevant information to the game and tried to compile it. A programmer was called in just to debug it. It was during a weekend.

Any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?

Take as many artistic classes as you can. Drawing, painting and sculpting will help your sense of observation. Don’t worry about learning a specific 3D software. The software is only a tool. If your parents tell you that you’re “wasting your time playing video games,” tell them it’s no longer true. You can find very rewarding careers in the video game industry.

What are some great web links or references for someone interesting in reading up more about this career?

What do you think’s really at the end of a rainbow?

A bowl of Lucky Charms.

What’s one thing nobody knows about you?

I have an insect collection.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

After a snow storm, you spend half an hour digging your car out of the snow bank only to find out at the end of the day that someone else took your “hole.”

What was your favorite thing about high school?

Those salty pretzels at the cafeteria, I think pretzel price went up in the stock market during those years.

Allyson Tighe

I completed my BSc and MSc at The University of Western Ontario, and am now a scientific writer and editorial assistant in Toronto. I am an expert risotto maker, a decidedly non-expert runner, and a WeatherNetwork junkie.

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