The beginning of something new
Coming fresh out of school as a 3D artist, my main goal was to get a job as soon as possible and get the experience needed to take on further and more requiring jobs in the future. In the movies/commercial business, where I started, jobs were very often based on temporary contracts that could last for a couple of weeks/months at the time. Jobs were also hard to come by if you lacked working experience and/or connections. To make it even worse, the global economy wasn’t looking good at all in 2010 which forced alot of companies to stop hiring all together. I ended up not getting what or where I wanted during the first couple of years, doing 2D prints and lots of free work to get attention from possible employers. Meanwhile a friend from school was hired to work on Battlefield 3, which made me consider going into the games industry. So I started getting into how to make 3D for games rather than movies, and a couple of months later he informed me that DICE was about to hire people for an upcoming project. I sent in my application along with a personal letter, and within a week I have had an interview and the recruiter had called me, telling me I was going to work on Battlefield 4 as a Technical Artist. Achievement Unlocked!
A couple of days earlier I was working on a newspaper advertisement, thinking “this is it?”, then all of a sudden I was going to work for one of the biggest gaming companies in the world, let alone developing a sequel to Battlefield 3, which I’d spent ~650 hours playing. Life was good!
I started in August of 2012 and the first person I see in the reception is an old teammate from playing hockey. We hadn’t seen each other in 10 years so it came as quite the shock to us both, and we even ended up on the same project as well! I thought that I was the only one that was into art and 3D from the area we grew up in. So we were a group of 5 new people that was guided around by our Development Director where we got to see all of the office, including its’ fantastic view of Stockholm. We ended the tour of the office and said hello to the people we were going to work with for the next ~16 months or so. I had been placed in the Multiplayer group, which I stayed in for the entire time. Production had already started and we had to get up to speed with the tools and how we were supposed to build this massive game. We did introduction tasks for the first couple of weeks to get used to everything before we knuckled down and started contributing to the production ourselves.
I had never worked at a company this big before, not even when doing freelance work. At that time we were about 250 people at the office, but I quite quickly established who I was in the team. Considering I am not a shy person, people seemed to know who “Cambrand” was after a matter of weeks. I like to think a part of that has to do with the fact that I was a complete menace during the Battlefield 4 Playtests, topping the scoreboards most of the times. Lots of fun nicknames were made for me when we played 🙂
Quite early on, my Art Director (AD) gave people very specific tasks to really be in charge of during production. Some did props, another one did vegetation, and one guy was in charge of building every piece of road and sidewalk in the game. I was assigned to building skyscrapers. This I thought was not going to be the challenge it actually was, and I spent quite a lot of time experimenting with shapes and styles. We also needed to see how much we could push them before memory and performance became an issue. Especially since we were launching the game on 5 platforms. The Battlefield games, especially Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4, are known for their fidelity and the amount of objects in the levels. Knowing that, I had to learn a lot about how to be cautious when making them. It was surely a struggle I had not anticipated. Not just in terms of making sure the game ran fine even though we had ~10 different, huge [close up] skyscrapers in the levels, but also in terms of art style and making something so big look interesting.
I find it really important when taking credit for something you have worked on, to not leave out the help you got on the way. Most of what you see in a game, at least Battlefield 4, is not made by 1 person, but a collaboration between multiple people to get to the finish line. That is why it’s almost always impossible to say “I made that” and point to an image. I more or less built the foundation and shape of most buildings you see in the game, and chose how they looked in terms of materials, windows, scale and such. But apart from having lots of input along the way, a Senior Artist helped me with shaders which can, especially for a new employee, be quite exotic. There is much knowledge that can only be gained through experience, which I didn’t have at that point. Gustav Embretsen, who is an incredibly talented artist, made the final window-shader of the buildings for example, to appear as if they contain multiple layers of office equipment behind them, done by using parallax. Before he stepped in, I had managed to make all the glass (and there’s a lot of it) look like simple reflective surfaces, which was not very appealing to look at. We are very attentive to detail at DICE, and some artists can spend a long time in discussions how to make things even look better. That is one of the most fantastic things about this company; people always strive to make everything perform better and look prettier. Being surrounded by pure talent is the best inspiration I could ever ask for, and this office is filled with it.
After some months, we needed to shift focus elsewhere, considering we were not only making city-maps with skyscrapers and sidewalks. This time I was assigned to step in and help a Level Artist (we call them World Builders) to make what ended up being Operation Locker, a visually pleasing level. At the time I came in, the level was constructed out of grey primitives to prove that the design worked. Christian Plogfors had already made the building blocks for it and the layout was being tested by Designers. My job was to come in and make the level look the way it does today, which would mean populating it with props, textures and setting the mood. Unlike doing skyscrapers, I now took the task as an Environment Artist rather than a Technical Artist. This involves not just making 3D as before, but “designing” an area or level already in place. This would include making all the architectural pieces such as walls, floors, ceilings etc, texturing them and making shaders for them. I also made the architectural destruction you see in the level. Props and objects were fetched from our database where we upload all the content we create so that everyone can use it. Again, this is why it becomes hard to show screenshots and rightfully claim that “I did all this”, considering it is a group effort to make everything you see in the game. A majority of the pipes, cardboard- and electric boxes you can see scattered around the level, were made by other artists at DICE, whereas I was the one placing them in the level, making them fulfill a planned purpose, both in terms of visual effect but also gameplay.
We sat down and looked at what kind of bases/capture points that would go into the level, such as the Mess Hall, base spawns, Machine Room, Hospital area etc. We then looked at tons of reference material from similar places to try to catch the feel of it. For any artist, reference material is probably the most important piece of help you can have. Spend your time finding the perfect picture, either by photographing yourself or by simply using Google images, and you have a lot of problems solved right away.
If someone was to tell you to model and texture an object, let’s say a chair, you would make it from your own perception of what a chair looks like, and in most (but not all) situations, it wouldn’t look or feel realistic. If the person then gave you a reference image of that chair, preferably from multiple angles, you would find that you’ve made a bunch of mistakes in terms of scale, shape and detail. The exact same thing applies when trying to catch a specific mood you’re out for. It might sound trivial but even how dirt or debris is naturally scattered on the ground, or how a broken wall actually looks like, will become much clearer once you dare “sacrifice” time to look at photographs. In games you can come across some “gamey” areas, where someone has placed objects that either are too perfectly aligned or stacked for example. It is often the result of not looking at real-life images to see how things tend to be placed, or how they decay/break into position.
My AD really drilled me when it came to this, and he pointed out how important it was to make use of references. In development I had such an area on Operation Locker, where I had skipped using references and just designed an area and prop-dressed it as I saw it in my head. This was then fixed after getting a review of the level, which basicly took place on a daily basis, when my AD immediately pointed out how “man made” it looked rather than having an actual history or reason for looking like that. Even though that was hard to hear, it was a very valuable lesson for me, and it made me understand how careful you need to be in all regards, to make a place look and feel believable. I have my AD, Mattias Kylén to thank for alot. Probably even for my continued career here at DICE after Battlefield 4. He was always helping out and trying to educate me rather than saying that I should redo something without explaining why. I started out working on a time based contract, and apart from how hard I worked and my personal achievements, I know that his help and that he recommended me for full time employment helped along way.
When my work on Battlefield 4 was officially completed, I moved on to work on the DLC called Naval Strike which included 4 new levels. I was the Environment Artist on Wave Breaker which featured a submarine base that had a submarine under construction, falling to the ground, changing the way the map played and treated people. The World Builder on the level, Tim Mcleod had created something really nice to work on and it was nothing but a blast to contribute to it. I even got to fulfill an old dream, heavily inspired by Metal Gear Solid, to put breakable ventilation shafts in the design, creating a cool getaway route if you got hunted down or wanted to sneak up on someone. This production only lasted for a couple of months, and in January of 2014 I began working on Star Wars Battlefront.
This is the project I am currently working on and considering we are working on multiple projects here at DICE, I am thrilled to have been chosen to work on Battlefront. I am, just like on Operation Locker, working as an Environment Artist, and if you have seen the video we showed on E3 which features behind the scenes clips, you can see parts of my work from the ingame footage:
Considering where we are in the project, I won’t share any details that haven’t been officially released by EA or DICE, and as much as we love your enthusiasm, refrain from emailing me about questions you might have 😉 All in all, DICE has some killer titles to be released and we are being very careful in creating the Star Wars game that fans want. Everyone on the team is a fan of the franchise and that is a good foundation for making this game.
Life at DICE
Apart from being a really good workplace, offering alot of perks and opportunities, DICE arranges and participates in events all around the world, which doesn’t just bring coworkers closer together, but us closer to the fans. My favourite event so far was when we participated in the Stockholm Pride Festival of 2013, as we usually do, but this time I had the opportunity to join in. There is a really friendly culture at the office and naturally that leads to comradery among people. I never find shortage of things to do after work or during weekends with my co-workers, and it’s really easy to make friends here.
This isn’t intended to serve as a recruiting attempt even though it may sound like it. We are growing and will need more people down the line to deliver these amazing titles ahead of us. If you can identify yourself with how I was struggling and where I was at the time before joining DICE, you could definitely take the same journey as I have. We are always looking for new talent, so check out our jobs section and have a go.
To sum up this long post, I want to thank some people who have helped me make my career into what it is today, and emphasize how it has impacted me; Pontus Ryman, Mattias Kylén, Gustav Embretsen, Christian Plogfors and more. Without your support and helpfulness, I would not be where I am.
Thanks for reading this, and I hope you found it interesting.