Interview with Ryan Klaverweide
Visual Design and UI lead at Firewalk studios
Hey, there I am currently the Visual Design/UI lead at Firewalk studios, a new start up under the ProbablyMonsters umbrella creating an original multiplayer IP. We’re hiring! Check us out: https://www.probablymonsters.com/careers/
How did you start in the industry?
I joined Bungie back in 2010 as a graphic designer on their Marketing team helping wrap-up some bits on Halo: Reach. Originally, joining the industry, I actually had no real understanding of game dev as a career or pull towards User Interface specifically – Truthfully, there was no clear route into those jobs for a traditional graphic designer who also didn’t live in a state where those jobs existed (South Florida). The original UI Art Lead on Destiny, Kevin Mcginnis, posted the need for someone who could do 2d art for the UI team – I did some stuff, it was good enough (??) for them to bring me on, and I suppose you could say the rest is history…even though a lot of stuff happened after that to get me here today answering these questions. Graphic Design got my foot in the door and looking at the general landscape of UI design as it has evolved in the last decade, it is also what keeps me here.
What are your responsibilities at Probably Monsters?
Currently I lead a very small UI team on a new multiplayer IP – We are in pre-production so my day to day currently looks like a mix of team building/planning, art style development and implementing temp UIs, working with outsourced artists on said art style dev, and trying to not look dumb in front our engineers who make any of this work in-engine.
‘Split’ – Personal Work
What is the favorite part of your job and what is the hardest part of your job?
What brought me to doing this work is co-joined universes of graphic design and video games. When I realized not only was this a job but a viable one you could have a real career in, I started to make strides to immerse myself in the dev process and understand the needs of a UI team in relation to the greater whole. In a studio as large as Bungie this wasn’t always easy and did take me poking my nose in places where perhaps it wasn’t expected to be. The hardest part of the role is staying coordinated across teams and juggling your personal goals and wants over the needs of partner teams and the game itself. 2nd to that is the constant realization that UI and graphic design in games is still fairly behind other visual design industries – both in tools and schools of thought – the rapid strides in engine tech and studios hiring the right people to push things forwards is exciting however.
Where do you get your motivation and inspiration?
You know the answer here is always “inspiration comes from everywhere!” and sure, it’s not entirely untrue but I feel the art and life experiences that deeply resonate to a person are ultimately where they will always pull their motivations and creativity from. Living in this ungodly year of 2020 it is very hard for me to say “inspiration comes from everywhere!” with a straight face.
That said, the “everywhere” we all cite does exist in obtuse things like deeply entrenched embarrassment from some dumb thing that happened in high school that you randomly decide to remember as an adult; Then contrasted with discovering the Wu-Tang Clan for the first time and having my 14 year old mind blown wide open! What I mean to say is – I think, find the things that really hit and stick with you and dive deep on that and understand why those things are actually good – The interconnected, data saturated world we are in can very easily give you “infinite scroll paralysis” rather than inspire, so being your own content curator is important.
Production iteration of the Destiny 2 Avatar screen – Creating high fidelity mock-ups help hone in on final visual design, player UX, art asset needs, and how supporting systems feed into a screen.
What does the workflow look like for a UI designer in a large studio?
This definitely varies on the stage of the project. For me right now on a new IP we’re in pre-production so you’re looking at understanding the all up work required to finish the title, developing the IP art style, helping scope out engineering work, wireframing out flows, and helping create interim/prototype UI in-game.
What do you do when you get stuck?
Step away from the computer (I actually play very few games on the PC/Mac because of this), hopefully have hobbies that aren’t entirely the same as your day job…Now, I say that with my 2 of my main hobbies being…video games and graphic design. Specifically with these – I think it is being able to play games with your work brain shut off and just enjoying the craft is key for staying excited about the work. Second, I don’t think engaging in graphic work outside of your day is overkill as long as you are doing interesting work that either expands your skillset or allows for self-expression in a way that being an in-house artist doesn’t allow. Apart from that I’d say to try and engage with your circle and get a broad view of the world around you. I think with any facet of life, but certainly I can say for doing design work, having perspective and being open to a wider set of opinions and ideas can only make you a better artist/designer.
Of all the projects you/your company have produced, which one are you the most proud of?
So with the current project i’m on under heavy NDA and still early i’d of course have to go with Destiny. It has been amazing to have people from around the world say that the Destiny UI is the reason they chose UI design as a focus or that it is one of their favorite elements of the game. I absolutely think the Destiny 1-era UI design is a special moment in time that had a ripple effect and many have now taken bits and pieces, and in cases improved on, concepts in there so I hold that time close and still look back on it as a guiding vector for my future work.
Early and near final mock-ups for the Destiny 2 Subclass screen – At this point we hadn’t nailed down exactly how this screen would function or how we needed to build it for future expansions, so again we used high fidelity mocks to drive us to a clear solution space and art bar.
Do you want to highlight something from the project? any anecdotes/story behind?
I’d say this about any job really but – listen more than talk – i’m reminded every day that what you think you know someone may know better or look at it so differently than you that it can completely realign your own thinking on that topic. I find in games dev there are a lot of intelligent folks who also happen to want to flex that intelligence by being the loudest voice in the room and I can’t say I always see this working out in the end (often that person is trying to convince themselves as much as the rest of the room). If you find yourself being the one doing all the talking I feel it’s valid to realize that and step back to allow alternate points of view in and similarly if you are the listening type try to be aware when it is your time to chime in and use it.
Do you have any advice you wish you’d received when getting started?
Learn how game engines work – There is schooling for this now so many younger applicants have this knowledge but me coming in from this total side door meant I knew very little about how games actually get built. Now with free to use commercial engines like Unity and Unreal anyone has the ability to get started on this path. I think it is vital for someone wanting to work in UI to at least have an understanding of intermediate engine functionality and how game content is implemented.
A more functional answer that is worth throwing out there is to remember to stay loose in pre-pro or during early stages of a new assignment – This is when the most creative stuff usually happens and if you attack the problem too rigidly (which can be a natural move for something like UI, which is by its nature, very structured) you may just fall back on your known bag of tricks and not take the time to experiment and come up with something novel/different.
‘Automata’ – Personal work
What’s your point of view on the future of gaming?
Here’s a wild question…Man, I dunno – For sure I think interconnectivity is only going to grow. Smarter/faster matchmaking, party management, and ways to play games with either your IRL friends or getting matched up with the right random folks based on preferences is an area I can only see getting better. Building off that realm – it seems like data collection and machine learning are only so far away from being used in generating truly living game content – Devs have long chased the “game that never ends” and leveraging data and A.I. seem like an actual in-road there? Which as a caveman artist who already doesn’t have enough hours in the day is actually quite terrifying!
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