“The little cockroach who cannot be killed.
Hey! Glad you could make time today!
“Hi Marcus . How are you?”
I’m good. Thanks for asking! Could you please tell me your job title and where do you currently work?
That’s a pretty popular game. It isn’t the first game you’ve worked on. Can you tell me some other titles you’ve worked on?
“Thank you. No. Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes wasn’t the first game I’ve worked on. I’ve been working in the game industry for about…10-11 years? I’ve worked on a lot of console titles, mostly for Xbox, PS2, Wii and DS. Guitar Hero series 3-5. Guitar Hero: Metallica, Aerosmith and Band Hero as game artist. After 2010, I started focusing on mainly UI task in the golden era of facebook game such as Rango, Mission Impossible, Battle Pirates and Tome: Immortal Arena. The whole industry trends shifted again to mobile, I went to EA working on Minions Paradise and Star Wars CCG title.”
That’s an impressive list of games. You’ve seem to have worked on quite a few titles. How would you describe your typical workday as a User Interface Designer? Do you usually get direction from a game designer or producer on what sort of screen is needed? Do you create wireframes? What was your work day like at most of the companies you’ve worked for?
“Since Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes already shipped, we are mostly working on new features and improving the consistency of the games. Right now I’m working on a wireframe for a feature which is going out for the next big release. Other times I crack on bugs, fixing stuff. I’m taking on wireframes with the other UI designer since our UX designer left EA.”
“In general, I usually get a wireframe from a UX designer. There will be a meeting after with engineers, designers, project managers who are working on the same feature. According to design, I’ll suggest to move around some contents or change the flow if it’s needed. Once we are all agreed with the wire, then I’ll start working on mockups. The mockup has to be approved by the top management then I can implement in the engine. Depends on whatever the company is using.”
What are some typical programs you use in your work? Photoshop? Illustrator?
“I use Photoshop for visual mockup. Illustrator is for designing vector based graphic like icons framing that kinda stuff. I use Flash for simple sketch or prototype. When I was on Tome, I use Photoshop for making fantasy painted style icons and framing.”
Do you have any particular plugins or special tools you use? Something that you like to use in your core work?
“Depends on the studios. Right now EA Capital Games likes to use Illustrator for mockup and invision for wireframe prototype. Engine wise, EA and KIXEYE are using Unity. I really like to use Flash to make quick vector shape icons.”
“I usually use Flash’s brush tool for quick sketches. I can take a part of sketches to scale them big or small. Since its vector base, it won’t lose the quality. When it’s time to polish, I’ll bring the sketch to other software to finish it. It’s kinda like my secret weapon. I wasn’t using it for producing final products.”
How did you get your first break in the game industry?
“Interesting enough, I was hired as a 3d animator for a project called YetiSports Arctic Adventure back in 2004 at a company called Pirate Games. I originally interviewed with an Art Director from another company, TKO Software, which was interested in hiring me. TKO’s Art Director couldn’t hired me for that role so he referred me to Pirate Games LLC. I did a test of yeti throwing a snowball. Then a week later, Pirate Games called me in for an interview then I got my foot into the game industry.”
So, was the place that couldn’t hire you a game company?
“That company was called TKO software. They developed early mobile games. Like…the nokia or motorola.. At the time called pixel pusher.”
You were referred by the TKO Art Director to another company who gave you a job. This is really a “who you know” experience. That worked out well for you.
“Talking about ‘who you know’ experience… It was a pretty crazy journey. The animator, Victor who referred me to TKO, he used to work in an animation studio in San Francisco called Wild Brain. I used to intern there when I was in college. The animator director, Roger, who brought me into Wild Brain, we met in Taiwan on his supervising trip. The connection went all the way back to Taiwan when I was a traditional animator oversea.”
It helps to know people, but your work is what got you into the job. Where did you learn your craft? Did you go to school or are you self taught?
“I learned all of traditional art skill – watercolor, oil painting, sculpting, etc. from a specialized art and craft high school. After I graduated from high school , I started working in traditional animation industry right away as an intern. I stayed in traditional animation industry for 8 years. I learned all of computer software in college and digitize my traditional art and animation skill into the game world.”
“I love old adventure platformer games, Ratchet and Clank!… The characters have really cartoony designs and it was just fun to play.”
Right out of high school you were doing professional animation? That’s amazing!
“The skills I learned from that art high school were enough for me to pass the first test to become an intern in Wang Film Productions. I learned how to animate in the animation studio. All of the artists in different departments had to go through the interning system. Usually it lasts about 4-12 months, it depends on the difficulty of the position.”
What animation projects did you work on?
“My first animation tv series was Darkwing Duck and Bonkers. I worked on Little Mermaid, The Pink Panther, The Flintstones, Timon and Pumbaa, Garfield, Aladdin, The Mask, Gargoyles, Mighty Ducks, the film/DVD of All Dogs Go to Heaven 2, and King and I. Some interesting project like a German animation film called Warner and canadian animation tv series Norman Normal, and my very last tv series before I left Taiwan, was Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”
Wow, you worked on a lot of Disney titles. I loved Darkwing Duck. Classic show! And Gargoyles is a favorite of so many people.
“Yep. We had a Disney department in Wang Film. 80% of cartoon are made in Taiwan at the time. Now they all went to China. [Frowns]”
When did you decide to make the leap into games? What drove you to make that change?
“Working in animation is fun but I wasn’t able to join the full production since making animation is a such big task. Think about this, 1 sec is 16 frames. I’ve drawn 16 frames just for a second. I only get to make few minutes if I’m in the animation production pipeline. With games, I get to join the production from the very rough stage till the final product. I just think there’s a lot more things I can learn and develop.”
That’s a good choice. You do have a large impact in game creation. Everyone has to pull their weight. What professional accomplishment in video games are you most proud of?
“I really like a couple secret characters I did for the Guitar Hero series. I had to figure out how to not overlap the same style with their main guitarists. I got to be very creative to design the secret characters. Some of them are based on my coworkers or friends. I also really enjoy the domain feature I did for Tome: Immortal Arena. The rolling UI display was a really creative way to engage the players.”
What trait or skill is most important as a UI Designer? What advice would you give someone trying to pursue a career as a UI Designer?
“Hierarchy and consistency are really important for UI design. I would suggest people who are interested in being a UI designer to do more job qualification research. Also, networking with the people who are already in the industry. Doing informational interviews could be really helpful.”
What is one game that influenced you the most?
“I love old adventure platformer games, Ratchet and Clank! I played 3 of them on PS2. The characters have really cartoony designs and it was just fun to play. It’s a well-done game. I dream about one day making something like it.”
How do you like to spend your free time?
“I like to cook and travel. [Laughs] I used to do a lot of salsa dancing and fishing. Right now, I’m kind of addicted to playing Hearthstone. [Laughs]”
I love salsa dancing. Used to go all the time to burn of some game dev stress. If you had to describe yourself in one sentence, what would you say? What is your tagline?
“My sister describes me as ‘the little cockroach who cannot be killed’ 打不死的小強 in chinese? [Laugh], because people can never kill all of the cockroaches. I came to the United States alone and made it into this industry. I moved from Taiwan to the United States, California to the midwest, city to city, I survived many layoffs, after 15 years and I am still here.”
“The only way to get rid of me will be – Donald Trump is elected as president and he cancels all of the H1B work visa.”
That is hilarious. Well, you have done some amazing work in your career. I’m proud to have given you a chance to share your story. Thanks for your time!
“It’s an honor to be here to share my story. I just want to encourage people that, nobody can stop your career except you. With a lot of hard work, patience,and networking, anyone can do it!”