Creating a video game requires the expertise of several trades. However, even if video games are very popular and probably the reason that pushes many to study computer science (for me, it was Neopets!), the career opportunities are still unknown.
This article aims to make job opportunities more accessible and to learn more about these professions in great demand in the exciting world of video games. To do so, I am interviewing Jean-Michel Tannous, Lead Programmer, and Simon Dalpé, Senior AI Programmer, at Eidos-Montreal.
Eidos-Montréal is sponsoring this blog post. When they reached out to me to collaborate, I immediately accepted. I was happy to use this as an occasion to learn more about careers in the video games industry!
Eidos-Montréal: A growing video game studio
Eidos-Montreal has been in Quebec since 2007 and has created games like Deus Ex and Tomb Raider. Eidos’ mission is to create memorable worlds and experiences for video game players. In 2020, Eidos opened a new expert studio in Sherbrooke dedicated to accelerating technological innovation (R&D).
Of course, the studio comprises game designers and artists, programmers, and different departments like finance, accessibility, marketing, communications, etc. If you are interested in video games, but you’re not in computer science, you can still have a career in the field!
Interview with Jean-Michel Tannous, Lead Programmer, and Simon Dalpé, Senior AI programmer
What are the responsibilities of a lead programmer at Eidos-Montreal?
Jean-Michel: It is both a technical expert and a managerial role. Depending on the size of the project, there may be one or more lead programmer positions, which vary (lead for AI, gameplay, interface, 3D, etc.).
The position’s responsibilities vary depending on the strengths of the individual and the interests of the project. On the other hand, the lead programmer is responsible for programming the functionalities related to their discipline that will make it possible to produce the video game. This involves identifying and planning the functionalities to develop, managing priorities, ensuring the training and retention of talent, constant communication, collaboration with the different departments of the project, etc.
What is your educational and professional background to become a Lead Programmer today?
Jean-Michel: I graduated in computer engineering at Polytechnique Montreal. Although there are training courses that orient towards management, such as an MBA, there is no qualification required to become a Lead. The desire to take on responsibility and leadership, seniority in one’s discipline, and self-training in management are good ways to progress to a Lead position. I started my career as a Build Specialist / Tools Programmer, then UI Programmer, then Gameplay Programmer, then Online / Multiplayer Programmer for years, and then moved on to Lead Programmer Online / Gameplay.
You must first be a programmer before becoming a Lead. Often, we assign the role to someone who, after several years of experience, decides to move towards management their discipline.
What do you like most about your job as a Lead Programmer?
Jean-Michel: The teamwork. We are working with great people who become allies, a team, a family—we’re solving problems together, getting our hands dirty, accomplishing more significant work than we could ever have achieved on our own. The role of Lead is unifying and constructive. You have to enjoy interacting with the people on your team and representing them proudly to the rest of the company.
Why did you choose to work at Eidos-Montreal?
Jean-Michel: After almost 12 years in video games in Montreal, I wanted to stay in the industry and work in a human-scale studio. I wanted to have a more substantial impact strategically and stay connected with the technical side that I want to continue developing. Also, I like the quality of Eidos-Montreal franchises like Tomb Raider. The project that I’m currently working on was also suggested to me at the time of my interview, and I fell in love with it (but I can’t say more ;-))!
What is the primary programming language used?
Simon: This can vary greatly depending on the position. Some games are created on the Unity engine, which uses C#. Other games, like Unreal Engine, are in C++. Different programming positions on the tool’s side may also require programming in C# or Python.
On the other hand, for a position in playability programming on a game that requires the use of C++, it is strongly preferable to know the basics of the language. Otherwise, there will be a lot to learn when starting (a new engine, AI / Gameplay concepts, etc.)
Small anecdote: I know someone who went from tester to programmer when I worked for another company. He had learned C++ on his own outside of working hours and was coached by a senior programmer.
Do you have any resources to suggest for someone who would like to learn C++?
Simon: There are many free tutorials online, like this LearnCpp.
In addition, several exciting development platforms are free for personal use, like Unity or Unreal Engine. There are also many tutorials on these two platforms, so it can be an interesting entry point into the field.
Do you think you need to play video games regularly to have a career in this field?
Simon: In theory, no, but in practice, it helps a lot. I would say more specifically as a Gameplay Programmer because designers will often come up with references and ideas from playing other games. But you don’t have to play 8 hours a day every day!
Today there is a wide variety of games on the market (PC, consoles, mobile). So having a team made up of several people with different tastes will help a project attract a more significant number of players. It is a real asset.
For someone who would like to have a career in video games, do you recommend a particular college program?
Simon: I think any degree in computer science, whether computer engineering or software engineering, can lead to a job in the field. A program that is more focused on learning C++ is interesting if you are aiming for a job at Eidos. For example, software engineering at Polytechnique Montreal, even though I am biased!
Students who can work on a school video game project or do projects themselves should do so to demonstrate an interest in the field. It makes a real difference during interviews!
Learn more about promising careers in video games
Eidos-Montreal and Eidos-Sherbrooke currently have several open positions (in Montreal and Sherbrooke), not only in programming but in other departments such as AI, Gameplay, animation, graphics. I don’t know this area at all, so this was an opportunity to learn more!
What are the tasks and responsibilities of someone who works in AI, Gameplay, and Animation?
AI programmer: responsible for implementing the behaviors and reactions of characters that are not controlled by the player. For example, a detection system so that a character can react if they see a player or hear them.
Gameplay Programmer: responsible for implementing game systems in collaboration with several other departments, such as design, animation, level design, etc. He or she ensures the quality of the game while respecting the technical constraints and the designers’ requests.
Animation Programmer: works with the animators to build the animation system that transfers the motion captures we take on someone into the game to animate our characters.
Diversity and Culture
What are your efforts to have more diversity at Eidos?
Jean-Michel: I would say that Eidos is really committed to promoting inclusion and diversity within the studio! There is a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which is at the origin of many internal and external initiatives. In the last few months, we have had virtual dinner conferences with experts to raise awareness. They gave us tips to dealing with important topics like systemic racism, unconscious bias towards women, the impostor syndrome, or autism in the workplace. We can also see that in new hires, there are more and more women joining the studio. Our recruiting teams participate in events like “HackerXdition Diversity”.
We also created an Accessibility department. Its manager, Améliane Chiasson, organizes a lot of meetings with people with disabilities. This always creates very enriching discussions that allow us to improve the way we work on our games. In the same vein, the studio now communicates using inclusive writing and encourages us to use pronouns we identify with.
Working from home has become very popular with the pandemic. So what will be the post-pandemic policy of Eidos?
Jean-Michel: Eidos-Montreal implemented working from home at the start of the pandemic. They also added measures to make life easier for employees, such as offering a half-day of rest per week.
We also have great flexibility in how we organize our working time. For parents of young children like me, I appreciate this a lot. These measures will become permanent. Eidos-Montreal will implement a flexibility policy, where employees will work from home or the studio according to their needs.
What does the corporate culture look like at Eidos, and how do you apply it to your team?
Jean-Michel: When I joined Eidos-Montreal, I quickly felt that it is a studio that puts the well-being of its employees at the heart of its concerns. It is a critical point for me. The studio is magnificent, the architecture is beautiful, free coffee, subsidized healthy lunches, reimbursement for physical activities. We feel that this is a place where everyone feels like they belong. Our Studio Manager, David Anfossi, often talks about family when speaking to Eidossians in Montreal and Sherbrooke.
Since we started working from home, we have a virtual 5 @ 7 every Thursday. Nearly 400 people attend! It’s an opportunity to meet colleagues, learn more about studio & personal initiatives of Eidossians, and ask questions of the Head of the Studio! In addition, it’s an excellent opportunity to get together and have a beer or kombucha while waiting to meet at the studio.
In conclusion, I hope you enjoyed this interview and that it allowed you to learn more about the amazing careers in video games.
If you want to know about job openings at Eidos-Montreal or Eidos-Sherbrooke, check their career website for Montreal and Sherbrooke offices. If you are a student – Eidos is very often looking for interns in different departments. Make sure to keep an eye on their career page!