The co-founder of the Frozen Synapse and Frozen Endzone developer on how he got into the game industry, and how you can too
Paul Taylor founded UK studio Mode 7 Games in 2005 with Ian Hardingham, and went on to make the Develop Award-winning Frozen Synapse.
A popular industry personality on Twitter, you can catch him at @mode7games, Taylor is currently hard at work on Frozen Endzone, which has just gone live on Steam Early Access.
In our new regular series of interviews on breaking into games, we speak to Taylor on how he got into the industry, and what advice he has to help you get that job in games.
How did you first get into the game industry?
I got in via music and audio. My business partner and Mode 7's original founder Ian Hardingham was working on our first game and asked me to do the sound side of things; from there I got interested in the business and worked with him to build things up.
What did you study before getting into games (If anything), and how did this help you?
I did an English degree. I think the main thing I learned from it was the ability to just jump in and research new things without having a crisis of confidence. Modern English degrees cover a huge variety of subject matter and critical approaches; I guess I'd characterise it as "not being scared of new ideas".
Also, when you're writing an English essay, you're effectively selling a "message" to the reader: that's very useful when it comes to things like PR. I also got to read a ridiculous amount for three years which has certainly helped me when it comes to creative writing work.
What was the most important lesson you learned early on?
That games are massively unpredictable and the most important thing is persistence. Our first title was a failure in every way - critically and commercially - I think it would have been easy to give up at that point. Instead we refocused on making a game we really wanted to make that was feasible with the resources at hand: that turned out to be Frozen Synapse.
Are there any mistakes you made early on in your career that you can now advise people against?
Personally I think that I pushed us to try and do too many things at once; I would say be aware of the motivations of the people that you're working with. It's much more important to do a single thing well as a company these days, certainly early on.
Have you ended up where you intended to be when you first entered the game industry?
I'd say yes: we've been very lucky in a lot of ways. We wanted to be able to spend 100 per cent of our time developing original games, and that's where we are now. Also, with Frozen Synapse, we wanted to make something that would get mentioned years after its release, we wanted to try and define a particular sub-genre of tactical game. This does actually happen and I can hardly believe it when I see someone comparing a new game to it, or tells me that it inspired them in some way.
What would you say are the key skills aspiring developers need to get a job in games and get noticed? And how can they acquire these?
This really depends on your goals. If you want to get a job with an existing company, I'd recommend doing one thing really well.
The only way to get good at something is to spend a vast amount of your time doing it, so figure out how to make that possible. Persistence and hard work can actually be learned even if you think you're a lazy person, you just have to work out how to properly motivate yourself.
Being able to take direction and work well in a team is also vital, so if you don't have the ability to start your own project I'd recommend working on something like a mod or just getting a couple of friends involved with what you're doing.
If you want to make your own games, I would say don't get a job with an existing company - just figure out how to do it on your own. Look at developers like Positech's Cliff Harris, who still does a huge number of things himself and makes games that are very popular on Steam, even in the new competitive climate.
I'd give almost the opposite advice to this kind of person - you need to be a great designer and a reasonable programmer, but other than that you just need to be basically competent at a whole range of other things. Don't be afraid of learning new skills and pushing yourself, devoting a bit of time to each new thing.
Is there anything you'd like to add about getting a job in games?
The most important thing is to identify what you love doing within the context of games. I have talked to a lot of people who are like "I'm an artist but I like doing a bit of writing and design" - if you're not going to run an entire project yourself and base it around that mix of skills, you won't find a job to suit you. Spend real time getting to know yourself properly. That's why it can be a good idea to go to university or work for another company initially just to really understand where your passions lie.