Breaking Into The Industry is a weekly interview series that speaks with video game professionals from all across EA. We hope that by sharing how some of the industry's biggest (and smallest) players got their start, you can learn how to do the same.
What’s your name and job title?
Louis Gascoigne, Senior Software Engineer III.
What games have you worked on at EA as a Software Engineer?
007: Agent Under Fire, 007: Everything or Nothing, 007: From Russia With Love, The Godfather, The Simpsons Game, Dead Space, and Dead Space 2.
So, I’m not 100% sure what a Software Engineer does. Especially a level three Software Engineer. Can you explain it for me?
I work on the actual game program code in C++, but exactly what I work on tends to vary a lot week to week and project to project. I’m currently working on online features, as well as artificial intelligence for enemies. SSE IIIs are expected to be able to lead a project, manage all of the engineering work, and be able to work on any part of the game, from graphics to low-level system code and game content.
So basically you have to be really good. Good enough that you can handle anything thrown your way. And be able to manage teams at the same time.
Yes, that’s pretty much it. A big part of the job is being able to deliver under pressure. Often, the question of whether a game will make the final release date deadline comes down to engineers being able to fix issues as soon as they’re discovered. The more senior the engineer, the higher the expectations.
How do you deal with that?
A lot of it is experience. When you work at a place like EA with a lot of smart people, you pick up techniques that you can use to fix tough problems. Over time you gradually start to categorize these problems and you become more comfortable; you get to a point where you’re not biting your nails off.
I’m making it sound bad, but I love my job and wouldn’t trade it for anything. There is a certain kind of person who thrives under pressure and wants to have a lot of control over the final results. My job allows for both.
How early in the game development process do you get involved?
I’m very fortunate to have been involved from Day One on most of the projects I’ve worked on at EA. I got into this business because I have always loved electronic games, going back to when my dad had to lift me and hold me in the air to reach the arcade joysticks. I really appreciate being able to contribute to the concepts that we work on in addition to working on programming.
Can you talk a little bit about how you got into the industry, starting from college?
I didn’t major in Computer Science because I already felt comfortable programming computers and I wanted to study something that I felt was less vocational. I studied Physical Science at the University of California at Irvine. I was awarded a B.S. in Chemistry with Honors, and I also received a minor in Mathematics. I ended up taking probably enough Physics classes to get a minor in Physics, but I don’t think they offered one. During that time I learned to program assembly language on the PC, and ended up re-creating some famous demos that I thought were particularly cool.
After that I went to graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley, where I basically did Physics for a year. Towards the end of that time I learned that I would never be able to do Physics at a world-class level, so I decided to work on recreating one of my favorite games at the time, called Subspace. After I had a basic demo of that working, where you could connect to a server and fly ships around, I went to the GDC in Santa Clara and talked to every company that would listen to me, trying to get an entry level programming job. Eventually I got a call from Engage Games Online and I dropped out of graduate school.
How did you get from Engage Games Online to EA?
I started there in 1997, which was the pre-Dot Com era. Unfortunately the world wasn’t ready for online gaming back then, so I looked for a job for a while and ended up working at Radical Entertainment in San Francisco on a baseball game. I also worked on shared tech for a Castlevania game for the Dreamcast at Konami Computer Entertainment in Redwood City.
Eventually, I heard about a project at EA to port Quake 3 from the PC to the PlayStation 2. The idea was that EA would manufacture a USB modem so that players could play online. Quake is one of my favorite games of all time and I love online gaming, so it wasn’t hard for them to convince me to jump ship. That project didn’t pan out, so I ended up working on 007: Agent Under Fire. EA later released Quake 3 for the PlayStation 2 without the modem.
So what games are you playing now?
This year has been crazy with the new releases. I’m mostly playing Skyrim right now, but I’ve also played quite a bit of Battlefield 3, with a little bit of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 thrown in for good measure. I have about three quarters of the ribbons in Battlefield 3 now; I want to go back to it and get all of the ribbons. Battlefield 3 is a really great achievement for the company. It’s really fun.
Do you have any advice for college kids who want to pursue a career like yours?
Absolutely! People often ask me about what they should do or study if they’re interested in working on games as a programmer. I tell them that, ultimately, if you’re going to be really good at it, you have to love doing it. In my opinion, the best way to find out if you have what it takes is to work on a game yourself. These days I point people at tools like the Unreal Development Kit from Epic Games, which comes with a professional game-ready pipeline. I was able to get up and running with these tools myself for free.
One of my physics professors told me something that ended up being really good general advice for life. It was “I hear, I forget. I read, I remember. I do, I understand.” So that is my advice. If you’re interested in making games, make a game, and then you’ll understand.
Is there a specific video game job you'd like to know more about? Let us know in the comments! Plus, check out last week's interview with EA Games Community Manager, Daniel Lingen, for more insight into the industry.