I’ve never had a career plan or goal. My life has been about grabbing interesting opportunities when they pass nearby. I’ve designed and built games on all sorts of platforms, I’ve choreographed and performed in contemporary dance productions, I’ve created installations in museums and galleries, and I’ve lead a tech project at the United Nations. On the whole it’s been very enjoyable.
Right now I mix creating my own projects with helping others to develop their games. I am writing a film script, a narrative game, and I am developing ideas for a game involving dance and choreography.
Meanwhile, I recently completed my third prototyping project at King, where the game designer and I worked alone to prototype a new mid-core mobile game.
If you want to know about the meandering path that led me here, read on.
How it all began
I first touched a computer when I was twelve years old. This was in 1978 and the computer was a Commodore Pet that was the work computer of friend of my parents. A couple of years later I borrowed a Sinclair ZX80 from a friend and a couple of years after that I persuaded my parents to buy a BBC Micro, which I learnt to program in Basic, Pascal, BCPL, and Assembler. I loved tinkering with it and playing games on it in equal amount.
When I left school I went to study maths at Cambridge University. I didn’t specially want to study maths, but I wanted to go to university and maths was the subject I was best at. At university I started dancing, a lot.
When I arrived to start my first year, almost the first thing I did was join the university dance club. This was a spontaneous action that led to me spending much of my time in Cambridge dancing - first ballroom, then jazz, classical ballet, and contemporary dance. I enjoyed them all, but contemporary dance was my favourite. So after obtaining my maths degree I applied to dance schools.
What followed was another three years and another honours degree, this time at London Contemporary Dance School where I studied contemporary dance and choreography. While there I fell in love with choreography and spent as much time as possible creating my own dances under the watchful eye of some great teachers. I also became interested in dance on screen and wrote my thesis on choreographing for television.
When I graduated I formed my own dance company, Big Room Dance Company, and struck out on my own as a choreographer. In the next few years I created various contemporary dance productions for my own company and also choreographed a couple of operas.
Choreography rarely earns enough money to pay the bills on its own, so when I left dance school I also grabbed the chance to work part-time making video recordings of live dance performances. I started as a camera operator but rapidly moved up to directing and mixing multi-camera shoots and editing promotional videos for dance companies. It was enjoyable work, and I saw lots of dance performances and met many great choreographers.
The video work led, via one of the production companies I was working with, into the developing world of interactive cd-roms where my previous experience in programming was very useful. Soon I was supplementing my dance income through contracts as a programmer for educational games, including projects with the British Museum, the National Gallery and the Science Museum in London.
Dance and Technology
These many strands came crashing together when I got the oportunity to work with a real-time motion capture rig. Unlike todays motion capture equipment, this kit used magnetic fields to track motion and produced results in real-time, which meant we could create a live performance using motion capture. I brought together a number of collaborators and we created a gallery installation where a dancer in the motion capture rig danced, and her movement was interpretted through an AI system we wrote to an alien creature who danced with her. The creature was projected onto the walls around her and this all took place in a gallery space. It was an exciting project and led to my involvement in many other projects exploring dance and technology.
Throughout all this I was still creating theatre dance productions too, but I created my last theatre production in 2001 and my last dance and technology production, a dance game for PC, in 2002. That was when I made the transition into the console games industry.
I took some time out to refine my skills and fell into a job at Criterion Games working on the Burnout games. I started as an engineer and after a couple of months became a lead engineer. I left Criterion after the development of Burnout Revenge and set up on my own again, this time developing web games for various clients. I would help to develop the game ideas and then write all the front-end and back-end code for the games.
But there was also web development work outside of the games industry and I advised and assisted a team creating online 3D tools for architects and another company, BrightTalk, creating a live video streaming platform. After a while the latter project became a full-time job and in 2009 I became the technical architect at BrightTalk.
Two years later I was approached by Stick Sports to become their chief technology officer and I grabbed the chance to get back into game development. Stick Sports had some very successful web games and were looking to move into the mobile games space. During my three and a half years there we successfully developed their existing cricket franchise into a series of popular mobile games and created a whole new and even more successful series of tennis games on mobile.
On my own again
I enjoyed working with the team at Stick Sports but by the end of 2014 I was itching to do more of my own work so in January 2015 I left and set up on my own again to develop my own projects and to provide consulting and development work to other game developers.
My recent consulting work has been prototyping. I have prototyped three games for King, including a new Call of Duty mobile game. I have prototyped other games with indie developers, creating a minimal playable that they can use to raise funding for their game idea.
The prototyping work was again an opportunity that I wasn’t specifically looking for - it came by and I grabbed it. It fits my abilities well because I have such a range of experience and skills - in game development terms I might be called a generalist but I have depth of knowledge in many areas and I communicate well and can work successfully with most individuals and teams. A successful prototype can be developed by me and the game designer alone, which means for King an idea can be developed without having to pull people off existing projects and disrupting existing workflows.
For my own projects, I had expected to stay with games and I released my first game, Freak Factory, in mid 2015, and am part-way through developing another game. But my past has been leaking into my thoughts and I have begun exploring how dance might be used in games, and vice versa. And then earlier this year I started writing a film script about an over-stressed choreographer on the opening night of his dance production. I don’t know where all this will lead, but it’s interesting and exciting and that’s what I want from my work.