Today we talk with Grant Struthers, the artist responsible for my favorite location in Oblivion – Cloud Ruler Temple. And, of course, these days, he is hard at work on Fallout 3. If I could pick any cubicle to visit on the team, I would pick Grant’s. He always has the most crazy looking stuff on his monitors — his test areas are always fun to look at. (Grant and his wife, Clara – who also works here – just adopted a new kitten who had been abandoned at Craig “Claff” Lafferty’s – a producer here – doorstep. Leaving a kitten at someone’s doorstep and running away – who does that? Anyhoo…)
What’s your job at Bethesda?
I’m a member of the art team and I’m currently responsible for the various special effects in the game. My job covers things like animating explosions, dust, water, fire and the like.
What prior projects have you worked on?
I started my career in game development right here at Bethesda. That was about three and a half years ago, right in the middle of Oblivion’s development. I was primarily a world artist then, working on cities and such. I was given a chance to design a couple of the special effects towards the end of the project and folks seemed to like them. I got the job permanently when I figured out a way to turn a room into butterflies for Shivering Isles. I also contributed a few effects to Knights of the Nine.
Todd spoke, and it was so… much like how a lot of ridiculously hard to do stuff gets put into our games. He really wanted a moment in the beginning of the expansion where the player’s expectations were tossed on end, and then the world of Sheogorath was revealed.
What is the best part about being an artist? The worst part?
As a game artist, I get to build worlds that I can then explore and interact with. There is a certain amount of instant gratification with building an object or space, dropping it into the world, and checking it out in game, as long as everything is working.
As for the bad, sometimes nothing is working. Our job requires us to be creative every day; deadlines count on it. But, sometimes an idea just doesn’t work out as you hoped and a day’s work is wasted. That can be very frustrating and can really set you back when it’s crunch time.
How did you get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?
For the artist, a strong portfolio is everything. Try to include work that you are really proud of and enjoy explaining how you came up with it. The portfolio is, in general, the excusive thing people look at to determine if you can do the job.
Another thing to try is collaborative work, ideally face to face with other artists. Being able to work closely with other people is very important. Art school is a good place for this kind of interaction. Also, game companies are, at the end of the day, just a bunch of geeks trying to get some work done. When they are hiring, they are looking for people to lend a hand. If you are seriously looking to get a job in games, then your real objective is to prove that you will be helpful.
What is it like working there?
No, seriously, we are completely underground and we have no windows. We all look like cave salamanders. As for the company itself, Bethesda is composed of an excellent team with a terrible habit of building insanely huge games. Everyone works very hard and very well together, but we also tend to get spread quite thin, so it is sometime difficult to keep track of who is doing what. Regardless, everyone is always open and available. Anyone can go directly to anyone else (even Todd) and get the answers they need when they need them. Idea sharing is also encouraged. Just about anyone in the company can bring something to the table and have it at least considered. I think this kind of openness is one of the things I like most about working here.
We are also our own publisher, so while we still occasionally have insane deadlines, they are self inflicted, which makes them better… sort of.
What have you drawn on for inspiration in developing Fallout 3?
For the effects work, more than anything I think I get inspiration from observing real life. Obviously I don’t get to see very many explosions in my usual day to day, but I do find myself staring at things like camp fires or snowdrifts or the exhaust from the car in front of me. I like to try to imagine how these fluid shapes can be believably re-created using our tools.
If I had to pick a single tangible resource that I have used I think it would be the film Trinity and Beyond: the Atomic Bomb Movie. This is the definitive film for anyone who is looking for nuclear explosion reference. It’s also a disturbing look at how close we could have been to something like the world of Fallout becoming a reality.
What is your favorite type of game to play?
I used to see myself as something of a hardcore gamer, but there are many people here who put me to shame. I have also slowed down a bit since college. That said, I’ll play nearly anything other than sports games. I don’t usually select a game because of its genre. I usually try games out that have piqued my interest such as Shadow of the Colossus. Or play games that are recommended by my friends or family, such as Guitar Hero 2 or Burnout. My all time favorite series would be the Myst games and I have a special place in my heart for Starcraft and anything that begins with Half-life.
What is your favorite game from the past year?
Almost certainly Guitar Hero 2. My wife and I haven’t been addicted to a game this way in a long time.
What games are you looking forward to on the horizon?
Let’s see, in the order they pop into my mind: Half-life Episode 2, Assassin’s Creed, Rock Band, Bioshock, Metal Gear Solid 4, Heavenly Sword looks interesting, Crysis, Spore, Starcraft 2 and the new Ratchet and Clank. I know there is more, but these are what I remember at the moment.
Other than videogames, what are your interests?
I have always had a fascination with computers, art, and videogames. For as long as I can remember, these were always the things I did for enjoyment. The great thing about my job is I have combined these all into my work day. So now what to do with my free time? Well, at the moment I’m trying to get use to the prospect of home ownership. Our Thursday night “game nights” have opened my limited understanding of board games up to the greats like Settlers of Catan, and the like. I enjoy spending time with my wife, Clara (another avid game geek/artist/employee of Bethesda.) I still try to fit time in for animating, reading, painting and such. Life has gotten so busy lately; it’s amazing that there is any time left for gaming.