Inside the Vault: Rafael Vargas

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After a long summer hiatus, Inside the Vault is back with artist, Rafael Vargas.

What’s your job at Bethesda?
I get to do what I love the most, which is building and designing environments. In my previous work experience, as well as much of my free time, I am devoted to creating spaces and architecture. So I guess that makes me by now a World Artist.

What other games have you worked on?
I worked on Battlespire, Redguard and The 10th Planet as an animator for the cutscene movies. As part of the development team, I’ve worked on Bloodmoon, Oblivion, and Fallout 3 — pushing, pulling, cutting, inserting, and all of the good things you can do to geometries to make it look good and work correctly.

What is the best part about working as a artist? The worst part?
The best part for me is the creative freedom. In Bloodmoon, I pretty much had an open canvas to do what I wanted; I was told to do a Nord city on an icy landscape. I created it from early concept work all the way to the final product. It was quite a challenge, since at the time I had recently moved from the sister division of ZeniMax to Bethesda. The creative freedom continued in the development of Oblivion and much into Fallout 3. In Oblivion, besides making the interior and exteriors buildings, I played “master planner” in some cities. I got the chance to create a few cities: a destroyed one, a very poor one, and a nice, well-kept city. In the making, I would place myself in each city to try to get the right feeling and contrast. We have quite the amazing team of leads who not only allow us to grow in what we do best, but also make the entire development process transparent. Also, from the growth of new hires, we have some amazing new artists that make the team even more competitive. I think the challenge ahead is how to integrate the team better to keep pushing the quality bar even higher. I also enjoy our awesome theater (for movies and presentations), our game room, but the “crème de la crème” is our chef Kenny, who is not only a great cook, but he is also a character. He has some stories to tell.

The worst part is the fact that we need to walk outside of the building to get natural light.

How did you get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?
Be at the right place at the right moment. Let me elaborate, when I was 14-years-old, my brother started programming games and I remember being amazed not only by the moving figures on the screen, but also at the amount of paper he would go through each time he needed to print the code to clean the bugs. I was his full-time tester, however it was difficult since we only had one TV and one keyboard. One day he tried to teach me basic programming, and I realized that I was better off playing with my Legos. Soon after I was introduced to SunDog –an adventure and trading game where you get to travel around planets and to trade goods, keep the pirates away, repair your ship, keep trading more goods, and so on. After playing this, I had a great desire to create and design buildings and place them in the computer.

As I pursued my passion of building, I got a degree in Architecture and a great deal of my work was done with a program called 3D Studio in DOS, which didn’t even have an “undo” command yet. Soon after school, a group of friends and I started doing animations for a company called Bethesda Softworks, then we were acquired by Bethesda into a new division. After countless prototypes that never saw the light of day during the internet boom, a bunch of us were ask to join the Bethesda team. And that is how I got into the industry.

I feel that my architecture background gives me an edge when it comes to designing and creating environments. As far as tips go, I will say it’s the passion, drive, and dedication of your work that makes you standout from the rest. Hopefully that’ll help.

What would you say is your personal favorite game of all time?
I tend to get obsessed with games that I really like, and after a month or two I have to give the games away to keep them out of my reach. To think of my personal favorite, I’d rather think of the game that made the biggest impression on me. It has to be SunDog on the Atari, it was the first time I played a game that was very open, and it was the first UI that had a scalable interface. The sense of freedom in the game created countless opportunities for fun. Very much like our games.

What games are you looking forward to?
I am big fan of RTS games, and I am anxiously waiting Tom Clancy’s EndWar, since it was built from the ground up with the consoles in mind. I also love war-based tactical shooters.

What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
I am actually an early riser so what gets me out of my bed early is the desire to create. With developing games, the challenge is to build something that is visually accurate in-game vs. real life. We have an awesome concept artist for Fallout 3, but there are so many gaps to fill in creating an entire set or environment. I usually use the concepts as a reference of look and feel. I feel fortunate that at work we have room for creative freedom in our tasks allowing each artist to contribute. This not only makes me get out of bed early, but keeps me awake late at night.

Worst job you’ve ever had?
McDonalds. It was my first job and it was across from my townhouse in Rockville. It lasted three days.

Any other hobbies and interests? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I used to spend a great deal of time taking pictures with my digital SLR, but that has slowed down lately. I hope that the second wind comes soon. I usually take the last week of December to create a building with Legos. I also love to do architectural conceptual designs in 3D Max and try different rendering engines, different lighting schemes, and materials to set the right mood for the environment. Last but not least, I love football — the one that you play with your feet.

Reader Comments

  1. I believe during gamespots QuakeCon coverage someone had a computer case of lego’s. Just thought that might be of interest…

  2. Great work! Kinda nice seeing a face behind the game. Playing Oblivion at the moment, kinda rushing to beat it before fallout 3.

  3. Great read. Huge fan of the series and can’t wait for this latest installment.

    Also, it’s great to see somebody from America use the proper term for Football, and not Soccer. :P

  4. LoL! I just passed all my Lego’s down to my son. He loves them. I had a trunk full of those things. Best toy ever! Can’t wait to see the great job you did on the buildings. The Screen Shots look great! Thank You Bethesda for keeping this wonderful game alive!!

    Thank You
    Melly

  5. I’m a Junior in high school beginning to look at colleges. I’m interested in a career as a World Artist or maybe Level Designer. What majors should I be looking at to best prepare me for a career in this? Thanks for the help.