Today - Friday, March 8th - is International Women's Day and to mark the occasion, we have decided to highlight some of the incredible women working in the games industry.
Jodie Azhar, formerly of Creative Assembly and now working at Teazelcat - the indie studio she founded - tells us about her journey into games and what her role involves
Can you tell us about your current role and what it entails?
I’m the CEO of Teazelcat Games and directing our first unannounced game. Since the studio is only a few months old we’re still a very small team. This means I’m currently managing the business side and also defining a lot of what our first game will be. Since my background is in technical art I can handle a lot of the game set up myself, however, I still need to be finding the right people to join the project to cover areas we don’t have the right skills in yet and to help create all the content. It can be a bit of a juggling act making sure I’m spending enough time communicating to the team, making sure our business needs are met and working on the game myself, but it’s really exciting to be working on such a creative project.
What did you study (if anything) that helped you get into games? What courses would you advise for aspiring professionals interested in your areas of expertise?
I studied a course at Bournemouth University that’s now called Computer Animation Technical Arts. For anyone like myself who’s interested in combining both the creative and technical areas of computer graphics and game development, it’s one of the few courses in the world that teaches programming, maths and 3D art & animation.
Where did you get your start in games and how did you progress into what you're doing now? Is this something you ever imagined yourself doing?
I got my first job in games by attending the Careers Fair at EGX. I took my CV and showreel along and talked to several developers. They gave me great feedback on my work and one of the studios I spoke to was looking for a junior animator and I was offered the role not long after.
Once I started working as a developer I realised that there was a job role for my specific interest in both the technical and artistic side of development and changed role to technical artist after a year.
Now a decade after joining the industry it’s exciting to be working on my own game ideas and something I never imagined back before I went to University and hadn’t even considered that making videogames was a valid career.
What part of your role do you find most fulfilling?
I love problem-solving. There are so many interesting challenges in videogame development with creating mechanics to suit different genres, utilising ever-evolving technology, making your game look amazing whilst ensuring it runs smoothly, or finding the best way to convey your story and ideas to the player. It’s never a boring a job and each time you solve something new there’s a huge sense of achievement.
Do you think there are any misconceptions, public or professional, surrounding your area of expertise?
As a technical artist most people, including those I’ve worked with, don’t know exactly what my job involved. Technical art covers a broad area including writing scripted tools, creating shaders, building character rigs and optimising art assets. Because your daily tasks are dependant on the needs of the project and the art team, it can be difficult to succinctly describe what we do and sometimes people think we just do anything art related that isn’t making the art itself.
The responsibility of a technical artist tends to be summed up as being problem solvers. They’re the people who are happy to jump into the unknown and communicate with different departments to ensure that a functional and visually correct solution is found. This hybrid skill set is invaluable in an industry where job roles evolve alongside technological advancements.
Is there anything about the job/industry you wish you would have known when first joining?
I would have benefited a lot from being taught to be more self-assured when I know I’m right about something. Many people, especially women in our industry, don’t want to come off as arrogant or confrontational, and will often give others the benefit of the doubt. However, it’s often the case that people treat you by how confident you are, so a less experienced but more confident developer can often steer a decision more easily.
The more confident I became during my career the more I was trusted with building and leading teams, giving me more opportunities to use my expertise to improve games and how we develop them.
What other advice do you have for someone looking for a job in this profession?
Put yourself out there, get feedback on your work from professionals and network. Taking your portfolio to events where you can get your work reviewed is invaluable, even if you’re not ready to apply for jobs yet. Feedback from people already doing the job you want will help you grow so much faster, and often people will remember you if they meet you more than once. This is great if you later apply for a job with them and they already know you’re enthusiastic and have seen you grow in your abilities.
There are also great game developer communities online, including Twitter, and there are many developers who are happy to help polite, aspiring creatives. You never know who might see your work or when someone might post a job advert for a role that would be great for you.
Is there anyone in the games industry (or anyone else in general) who inspires you?
Brie Code, CEO and creative director of Tru Luv Media who has created #Selfcare for mobile devices, has been a big inspiration to me especially with me starting my own company.
Similarly, she has previously worked in triple-A development before founding Tru Luv Media to create games and experiences that are more calm and caring. Her exploration of how people engage with games and respond to different mechanics led to her bringing attention to “tend and befriend”, an alternative response to “fight or flight” where humans respond to stress by wanting to take care and protect others through the release of oxytocin instead of adrenaline.
It’s these different ways of thinking about game experiences that will help create a more diverse landscape of games, where everyone can find a videogame that they love and be introduced to new ideas, culture and entertainment.