This interview is part of a collection of interviews that explore women’s experiences in the gaming industry.
Riana is an art director working in a mobile game start-up in London called TreesPlease. She entered the gaming industry after working in animation for a year, and now, she has been working in games for 11 years. She has previously worked with King, Rovio & PopCap. Daria interviews Riana about her journey and experiences in the gaming industry.
Could you tell me about your role and what you do?
I am the art director for a start-up in London, but I am originally from Ireland. My role is to define the visual identity for the games we produce in collaboration with the design director. I also hire and manage the art team that creates the art for the game.
I fell in love with gaming because my mom managed the system’s group in the IT department at a local university. She taught me how to use the command interface to load games from floppy disks, and I was hooked from the instance the midi files started playing!
What does an average day look like for you?
Part of why I love the industry is that I don’t have an ‘average day’. It changes so drastically depending on the project. Right now, we’re in pre-production and I’m the only artist, so it’s very hand’s on. Each morning I align with the team on our current objectives, and then I focus on creating concept art and documentation.
Why did you decide to study animation at university?
I have worked on games such as Bejeweled, Candy Crush and Plants vs Zombies
It was tough during secondary school to figure out what I wanted to do. I was very academic, and so was my family. However, we always balanced our love of science with our creativity. Eventually, I realised that I wanted to make art, tell stories and work in a collaborative industry.
I originally worked in animation, but after a redundancy, I was lucky to get a role in a games company in Dublin. And I haven’t looked back. I fell in love with the cross-disciplined nature of games. Since then, I have worked on games such as Bejeweled, Candy Crush and Plants vs Zombies.
What would you consider to be the most rewarding part of your job?
When I am on the tube and see someone playing a game I worked on. It’s an amazing feeling. I want to tell them, ‘I made that!’, but of course I don’t!
Now, later in my career, it’s very rewarding to bring new people into the industry and see them grow and develop.
What would you consider to be the most challenging part of your job?
It’s a challenging industry and there have been things that made me uncomfortable. However, I have been very lucky and I haven’t personally experienced severe misogyny or sexism.
Other than that, a big challenge is that you always need to find a balance between art, tech, design, business and other departments. As an art director, I can become overwhelmed with opinions. It can be tricky to find the right balance between making clear creative decisions and being flexible enough to accept feedback.
Also, once you become a senior your decisions have more weight. As an Art Director, I can suffer from decision fatigue and imposter syndrome. I make decisions all day, from the micro to the macro, and it’s easy to get burnt out.
What is your advice for someone wanting to get into the games industry?
It is not for the faint-hearted
The reality is that it is very difficult. It requires a lot of hard work and perseverance. The best advice I can give is to build a network of people you respect that advise you, especially with art since your portfolio is so important.
As a graduate, apply for as many roles as your feel comfortable with and don’t be affected by rejection. There is lots of competition; try and find a mentor, apply your skills, and get practical experience. I love the industry, but it is not for the faint-hearted.
What is your favourite video game?
Design-wise, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild. When I was playing it, I thought ‘Wow, what an excellently designed game.’ Everything works just the way you want it to as a player. You can climb anywhere and places are slippery after rain. The game is simply a massive playground to explore.
From a visual direction point, I like games where the art is unique and experimental. For example, I love Return of the Obra Dinn. It is an indie detective game made by Lucas Pope. The more I played, the more I appreciate the art style.
And of course, for exceptional narration, I would have to say The Last of Us 1 and 2.
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