22 Jul 2015
Ben Marrinan is one of the creative geniuses behind the game Fruit Ninja, which has just reached over one billion downloads. When he’s not masterminding how to steadfastly chop fruit with a samurai sword, he’s busy working on the next big thing as lead games designer at Halfbrick Studio in Kelvin Grove. We caught up with Ben to find out what an average day in the life of a games designer is like, some of his favourite projects, and where he sees the future of the games industry.
A day in the life of a Games Designer
An average day involves tackling a task with a programmer or artist (or maybe both). We sit down, discuss what needs to get done and come up with a plan of action that we’re all happy with and excited about. We execute the task as quickly as possible, see how it looks, judge it, iterate on it, and repeat the process until we’re all happy. Making games is an extremely collaborative process and I’m just one piece of the puzzle that makes everything work smoothly.
Every game I’ve worked on has been dramatically different, and they each come with unique challenges. I think that’s the greatest thing about working in a creative field. Every day is different and I’m constantly learning.
I’m always faced with new challenges to solve, which keeps things very fresh and interesting. It also keeps you very busy, and I like it that way. The biggest perk however is hearing stories from fans who play your games. Nothing’s more satisfying than seeing people enjoying the game that you created. I got into the industry for my love of games growing up, and nothing pleases me more than making other people happy.
The best project Ben has worked on?
I often take for granted how privileged I am to have worked on Fruit Ninja. People almost everywhere know the name. That’s something that’s always going to stick with me.
Another project that comes to mind is my most recent one. It’s getting released mid-Julyish. It’s a party game, which is a different genre to anything I’ve worked on. One of the biggest challenges has been explaining the rules to players. Normally inside of a video game, you’re able to guide players through instructions until you can be reasonably certain that they understand how to play. For a party game however, you have to assume that anyone at any time could pick up the game, having absolutely no context as to what’s going on and expect them to know what to do. It’s been tough, but a fun challenge to tackle.
There seems to be a big push towards VR (virtual reality) and while I think the tech is cool, I can’t see it taking off. There was also a big push for motion games (with the Xbox Kinect and Play Station move) in recent years, but things have gone quiet on those fronts. Trends change often and there’s a much bigger focus on hard-core console players lately than there has been for a while.
In the mobile/tablet space, things have also changed rapidly. Five years ago paid apps were all the rage. Fruit Ninja and Angry birds were all anyone was talking about. You could buy great games for 99c and it totally changed the market. In recent years however, free-to-play games have been everyone’s focus. Games like Candy Crush and Clash of Clans have been making stupid amounts of money with ingenious free-to-play models and it seems everyone is trying to get in on that action. The paid charts have gone by relatively unnoticed as of late but I think paid games are going to come back in a big way.
The next big thing we’re going to see is improvements in searchability in the app stores. You’re able to see what’s hot this week, and the most bought apps, but that’s it. Apple and Google are very aware of this, and to my knowledge, are working hard to improve their stores to be better at recommending apps and games based on what you like. This technology is done well on PC with the steam platform and also with other mediums, such as Spotify and Facebook. The app stores are a bit behind, but it’s on their radar.
I’m originally from South Australia. After graduating high school I knew I wanted to make games so I looked at my options. I found TAFE Queensland and the games course was exactly what I was looking for.
I may be a little biased, but I think the TAFE games course is the best of its kind in Queensland. The guys behind the course did their research, and they run the final semester as if they were running a games studio, which is exactly how it should be done. Days at TAFE felt exactly like days at my now current job. You had a team, and you would come into “work”, meet up with your team, and make a game. It was so much fun, and so practical.
I got a job straight out of TAFE Queensland (formerly Southbank Institute of Technology) four and half years ago. I had originally planned to get a degree afterwards; but I was offered a job instead! It’s been a crazy journey so far, and definitely involved a lot of luck, but if I could go back in time, I wouldn’t want to do anything differently.
Is games design on your radar for a future career? TAFE Queensland Brisbane offers a Diploma of Interactive Digital Media (Games Design) as well as a Bachelor of Games and Interactive Design in partnership with the University of Canberra.