Being an artist made me a better designer

Being an artist made me a better designer

By Alex Pass, Outplay Entertainment

February 9th 2016 at 12:01PM

Alex Pass, senior designer at Outplay Entertainment, explains why working outside of your remit and widening your understanding of what’s involved in the entire games development process can help you bring more to your studio

When I was five years old I decided that when I grew up I wanted to be a robot.

I soon realised this wasn’t a viable career so, aged six, I thought I’d be probably an architect instead. At eight, I thought making comics might be fun, but by age ten my mind was made up: I wanted to make games. That was a job, right?

Turned out, ‘game artist’ was actually a thing and after studying computer arts at Abertay University, I got my first job as a pixel artist for a tiny indie start-up in the early days of downloadable mobile games.

The next couple of companies I worked for were small too, and I was again hired as a pixel artist, but due to their size there was opportunity – and sometimes necessity – to try something new: “Perhaps you could learn 3D?”, “Can you write the tutorial?”, “We need extra hands on level design.” Now you’re talking. Limited resources meant that everyone had to muck in where they could.

I was given opportunities to collaborate and influence the design, or given design projects of my own, whilst still creating art assets. It helped me get a greater understanding of how the assets would be used by the other developers and how best to provide them.

Over the next few years I transitioned to become more designer than artist.

This presented some difficulty when applying for jobs. That dual role created confusion over what I was – and perhaps what I wanted to be – and so created doubt as to whether I was suitable. I was applying for a design position, but on paper I had always been employed as an artist and my portfolio certainly had more of an artistic bias. 


During an interview it struck me that I had always been designing. On my path into the industry I hadn’t encountered design as a separate thing, but I felt that this overlap strengthened my primary role. Fortunately, they agreed and I got my first proper design position – although I still would help out with art.

Now a senior designer at Outplay, I find that my previous experience as an artist not only helps in conveying my designs, but also gives me a greater appreciation of the artists’ processes. I can give better feedback than I otherwise could have, offer advice and assist in concepting and problem solving. Similarly, I try to get at least a grasp of how the coders go about things to tailor designs accordingly.

I have to be mindful that I am not an artist anymore and my goal is to support the artists and other developers – I certainly wouldn’t want to tread on anyone’s toes – but I feel it’s important that the team is helping each other out, pushing everyone further and I would hope to receive the same support in return.

Whether a developer is looking to change roles or not, I feel that experience with other disciplines, or even just taking an interest in what’s involved, certainly helps everyone understand each other’s roles and work better as a team.

Whilst Outplay is by far the largest company I’ve worked for – it’s the largest mobile indie studio in Scotland - our project’s team is fairly small so there is still occasional opportunity to assist with minor art tasks and chip in with concept imagery.

Along with tackling the art in our recent game jam, this allows me to scratch that art itch and I’m fortunate and appreciative that I’m allowed to do so.

Maybe in the future I’ll transition back towards art. Maybe I’ll even get to be a robot. ν