• CGSociety :: Artist Profile
    13 May 2011, by Paul Hellard

     


    Des Hinkson is, as he puts it, from "all over". He was born in Barbados in the West Indies but his parents emigrated to Toronto, Canada when he was young. He was convinced that he'd be a starving artist and took a chance on moving to the UK in his early twenties.

    After a few years in banking, he ran fast enough away from that vocation to make it into the video game business there. "I helped some friends out with a project and worked for a start-up at night for free before finally making the leap into my new career as a game designer."

    "Making games allowed me to be creative again," says Hinkson. "I'd always loved playing them but they seemed like something done on the other side of the world. There weren't any training programs for game designers, artists, or engineers back then and almost everyone was self taught."

    Working in games pulled together everything Hinkson had learned from marketing and graphic arts, to physics and set design. There was a fresh challenge and opportunity to leverage all that learning and curiosity.


    Donkey Kong Country© Nintendo

    Rare
    "I started working for Rare then, which was partly owned by Nintendo at that time," says Hinkson. "The studio was located in the middle of the English countryside, and the isolation enabled me to really learn the craft. It was demanding work that sometimes needed incredible endurance to last through the more intensive periods.

    At the end though, all the sacrifices were worth it when we could bring out games that were enjoyed by people the world over. While there, I got to work with great teams on amazing titles like 'GoldenEye 007', 'Conker's Bad Fur Day', 'Donkey Kong Country', and 'Banjo-Kazooie'."


    Radical Entertainment
    After Rare, Des Hinkson headed for the west coast of North America and Vancouver. While there, he joined Radical Entertainment and got his first taste of Western game design philosophy.

    The industry was changing too and had moved through the creative and technically driven phases he'd experienced in the UK, to a more production-driven environment. "While working on 'The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction' and helping to restore the 'Crash Bandicoot' franchise, I learnt more skills important to a lead designer -- project planning, agile development, franchise planning, and publisher relationships," explains Hinkson.

    "These were just as important to our success as the creative and technical knowledge we'd depended on in the past if we were to make great games on time and within budget. Maintaining good relationships with our business divisions, publishers, third party developers and the press were equally essential."

    'The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction'


    Des Hinkson was contacted about an opening in Singapore when he was based in Vancouver. "It was one of those enviable moments, and I was curious about three things," he says. "One, I was curious about the collaborative environment at the Lucasfilm Singapore studio since the games division shares the same space as the television animation and film effects departments.

    I think that's pretty unique. Two, I hadn't been to Southeast Asia before and the opportunity to explore this part of the world was something I didn't want to pass up on.

    Lastly, I felt my experience could be useful to the then recently started games division. Of course, being a Star Wars fan when I was a kid helped as well, since there was some magic there, too."

    « The Sandcrawler Building is named to honor the famous vehicle seen in STAR WARS: Episode IV. The building will house Singapore divisions for Industrial Light & Magic, LucasArts and Lucasfilm Animation.

    Singapore
    Hinkson says going to work at LucasArts in Singapore has given him a great opportunity to apply everything he's learnt so far. To learn from the great work done by Lucasfilm Animation and Industrial Light & Magic.

    "The guest speakers, visiting trainers, and industry interviews that we have access to are unbelievable," he says. "Here, we are creating a strong studio with the ability, creativity and flexibility to work on any platform for gaming available now and into the future."

    © LucasArts

    Lead Designer
    The lead designer job that Des Hinkson has at LucasArts in Singapore varies from project-to-project in detail. He makes sure a fun game is created that audiences will appreciate. "As the design team lead, I own and drive the creative vision and I have to balance that vision with the needs of the publisher, the goals of the other leads and the resource constraints of the project," Hinkson describes.

    "I do this by planning, organizing and directing the game's development in coordination with art director, tech director, project manager, and producer."
    In setting this vision, Hinkson has to visualise the goals of the product as well as the details of the game play and mechanics. His direction has to include detailed plans for every system and part of the game in design direction documents, tables, graphs, and illustrations.

    "I need to use every means available," he continues, "to ensure that the diverse partners that are involved in game development not only understand what we are making and how we are going to do it, but more importantly, have the belief and enthusiasm needed to rally behind that direction and make a game that is greater than one person could ever dream up on their own."


    © LucasArts

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    There are many technical constraints for generating that city on the fly on the games machine. What is the player's purpose in the city? How do they know where to go and what to do?

    How does the design of the buildings, the traffic, the city dwellers, and the objects in the city create a living world? More importantly, how do they shape the play experience?
    Designers need to work out the details that create places for players to lose themselves in. They need to create playthings that allow users to explore the possibilities of imaginary realms.

    Those play spaces are constructed with visible and invisible rules that create challenges and define boundaries without players feeling constrained.


    © LucasArts

    "Throughout the project, I get hands-on with various parts of the games creation, problem solving, balancing, and tuning to shape the play space. Then once the end is in sight, I get involved in the marketing and promoting the game as well.

    I attend press junkets and do interviews to help merchants, so the public know about the game we've all been working so hard on," explains Hinkson. Before the last game is on the shelf, I'm usually already planning out the next project we'll be pouring our creative energy into."

    Training
    There are three categories of training at the LucasArts studio in Singapore:

    • Internal Training or Skills Enhancement: this is ongoing for all the artists within the studio, if they are not in production, they will be training. It can be technical training — when trainers come out from the US and teach a certain skill for example from LucasArts we had Amy Beth Christenson of LEC (award winning artist) for Concept Art. In addition some of the lucky ones on the team get to go to the US and embed with our colleagues in San Francisco to quickly get up to speed on how LucasArts defines production.

    • External Training: this is for apprentices who join the Jedi Master's Program for six months. It is a way we can bring in junior talent that have little or no production experience and fast track them to work in the studio. The tracks are based on different disciplines such as VFX, digimatte painting, creature development, etc. If the apprentices show the right skills they are offered positions at the studio. Last year with the animation graduates, they were offered jobs in both TV animation and at LucasArts.

    • Enrichment Training: this is for soft skills such as acrylic painting, life drawing, sculpting — it is open to anyone in the studio so a real perk for working here!

    © LucasArts


    © LucasArts


    © LucasArts

    Game Direction
    "Games have changed so much since I first started making them and even more since I first started playing them," says Hinkson.

    "The industry has moved from a purely creative force, through the challenges of advancing technology, and past a production centric business - to become a stronger and more creative force than ever before.

    I feel that games are opening up and becoming more varied and ubiquitous than ever. What's exciting for me is how games are reaching out to people and places that they have never touched before and exploring those new territories for games is just what I signed up for!"
    Switching off
    Des Hinkson feels that to remain fresh it's important to have other interests outside of games. Outside activities gives him a more balanced life and a balanced outlook on who he is making games for. Perhaps he matches his interests with his assorted culture, having lived in so many places. "Apart from travelling, I enjoy going to contemporary art galleries, and practicing Capoeira," he says.

    "Each of these activities completely takes me away from my normal circles and gives me the opportunity for a fresh prospective on what I do and why I do it. I'm only a beginner in Capoeira. I've got so much to learn and that's exciting for me. Singapore provides ample opportunity for me to experience all three."
    Related Links:

    LucasArts Singapore

    Des Hinkson
    Donkey Kong Country
    The Force Unleashed 2
    Jedi Master program
    Capoeira


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