Inside the Vault: Nathan Purkeypile

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Today’s Inside the Vault explores the exploding mind (see what we did there?) of Artist Nathan Purkeypile. This pic is from Purkey’s desk, where he’s got a huge poster of a bomb test.

What’s your job at Bethesda?
I am a world artist. On Fallout 3, I was tasked with doing passes on most of the major locations in the game to make sure that they were all as polished as possible. I also created some of the cities, such as Little Lamplight and Tenpenny Tower. Besides that, I also created some of the kits for dungeons, such as the cave kit and the neoclassical kit. I also lit about half of the interior cells in the game. After we shipped Fallout 3, I was heavily involved in a lot of the DLC, especially Point Lookout. I was the Lead Artist and Co-Designer on that project, it was a ton of fun to work on and you can blame all of the crazy ideas on Joel Burgess and me.

What other games have you worked on?
I have worked on games pretty much all of my life. I started making games in third grade, programming games on the Apple computer in the back of the class. I pretty much spent all of my time working on games, thankfully most of them don’t exist anymore, they were terrible. In middle school, I had a choir class, but instead of singing, I just programmed a new game every day on the computer in the room. I’m not quite sure why they let me do that, but it worked for me. Later on I got into the Half-Life mod scene and I was the head of my own mod, Desert Crisis, which was shown at Valve’s Mod Expo in San Francisco in 2000. It had nothing to do with either deserts or any crisis, just jumping off of walls, dismemberment, lasers and sledgehammers. Some people still play it to this day.  I also helped out the Action Half-Life team on the side.

When I was an intern in college, I worked on all kinds of small games. The games weren’t that interesting, but I learned a lot working on all of the different kinds of games. After I graduated, I ended up working in Texas with a lot of the people I work with now at Bethesda. We worked on a number of games such as Bloodrayne 2, Aeon Flux and Demonik, also known as “That game in the movie Grandma’s Boy.” After that, I worked on Metroid Prime 3. It was nice, but as an artist, working with the Wii is very limiting.

What is the best part about being a designer/artist/programmer? The worst part?
The best part about being an artist is creating new worlds. This is especially fun at Bethesda, since that is a huge part of what our games are about. It is a lot of fun figuring out every little aspect of what will make a place interesting. In a way, it’s the same kind of fun that I had as a kid building crazy things out of Legos. Only it takes way longer and you get to shoot hundreds of monsters in the face as you work on it. You also get paid to do it, which is a nice perk.

The worst part of being an artist is when you have someone who doesn’t do art forces you to change something. A big part of why I am at Bethesda is because we publish our own games, so this never happens. In the past, I have worked on games where some guy in a suit will fly in and ask for all sorts of random changes. Sometimes, these changes are good ideas. Nine times out of ten though, there is no real reason for the change. I have seen a character being worked on for months on end as the publisher constantly asks for tiny tweaks, “Move the shoulder verts over an inch. Okay now make the neck a little longer.” For months. It never ends up looking all that different after all that time.

How did you get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?
I got into the industry by carpet bombing the entire game industry with resumes and demo reels. I started doing that about 2-3 months before I graduated from DigiPen. Eventually, I managed to get some interviews, and then I had a few offers. I ended up taking my first job in Texas, and I missed out on my graduation ceremony. I was the Valedictorian of my class, so I was supposed to give a speech. I have always found that to be pretty funny.

My main tip for breaking in is to just pour hours and hours into your craft. Lots of people want to make games, but very few people manage to succeed and make a living out of it. The only way you are going to stand out above the crowd is by being completely amazing at what you do. The truth is, almost all game jobs are filled by people hiring their friends, so you have to have a ton of talent to get a job by just blindly sending in a resume and a reel, especially straight out of college.

Another thing is that you can’t always be picky with what your first job is. Everyone wants to make amazing AAA games, but the fact is, you probably can’t get those jobs straight out of school. Once you get a job, any job, you’ll be able to network and move around the industry pretty easily. As a result of my very first job alone, I already know people working at almost every major game company.

The main thing though is to be persistent, and when people go “Oh, stop playing on the computer, go outside and run around in the woods”, just ignore that, work on making games, and then “get a life” later once you’ve actually managed to get a job. Having a job is way easier than getting a job.

What would you say is your personal favorite game of all time?
This is a pretty hard question for me to answer, since I have a few. My big ones are the Monkey Island series, Quake 3, X-Com, Fallout 1/2 and Team Fortress/TF2. I’ll just go with TF2 for this question though and proclaim my undying love for this game. I’ve put way too many hours into this game and I still have a blast every time I play it. I played the crap out of the original back in the Quakeworld days, and when TF2 came out, I got sucked right back into the game.

I ended up running Bethesda’s TF2 team in the country-wide developer tournament, which was a lot of fun. It’s kind of scary, but I’ve put more hours into any single class in that game than I have in most games that I play to completion. I just can’t wait to see what all Valve has in store for the rest of the updates. I’m waiting for the Spy update personally. Blue team sucks by the way. Red team rules. Always.

What games are you looking forward to?
I’m still trying to catch up on all the games from last year, and some that are even older than that actually. Still, there are a few that I am keeping my eye on, for instance, I just picked up a PS3, mostly because of the fact that I really want to play God of War 3. I’m a big fan of the series and I can’t wait to play this one.

But someone needs to do a faithful update of X-Com. Not an “interpretation” of X-Com, or “re-imagining” of it, just X-Com. Only prettier. I still play that game to this day, and it’s about as close to perfect as it could get. Besides TF (The original and TF2), X-Com is the game I’ve put the most hours into by far. I probably could have another degree or a spaceship if I actually did something productive with that time, but hot dang do I love killin’ me some aliens.

What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
I would say, “to make awesome games,” but the truth is, I hate mornings. I would much rather work later than get up early. I love making games, but that doesn’t change the fact that mornings suck. So the real answer is “because I have to.” By the time I get to work I’m completely good to go, but getting up is never easy. I should probably move my alarm across the room or something.

Worst  job you’ve ever had?

The worst job that I have ever had was working at a grocery store in rural Oregon. This store was about an hour from the nearest city. The clientele of this store was truly frightening.

On my last day at that job, right as I was about to leave for good, one of the charming locals staggered up to the front door and then proceeded to throw up all over it. Since the store was in the middle of nowhere, there were usually only a couple people working there at any given time. Because of this, I had to stay late on my last day, cleaning up some good ol’ vomit. If that isn’t good incentive to do well in college, I don’t know what is.

Those experiences were the inspiration for the vibe of Point Lookout in a lot of ways.

Any other hobbies and interests? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
In my free time I do tons of stuff, and I rarely have downtime where I am trying to decide what to do to occupy myself. First off, I am part of a band with some of the other guys here at work. It’s a metal band, and I play guitar in that. On the side, I also play piano, though not as much as I’d like to.

I also climb at least twice a week, climbing seems to be the one type of exercise that doesn’t bore me out of my mind. It’s not just running fast or doing something over and over, there’s actually something to figure out. Plus, I’m 6’3″ and people always claim I’m cheating. Finally, a sport where being tall and lanky pays off.

I also do all sorts of random things around DC with my friends and my scientist girlfriend. Besides all of that, when I have a chance, I squeeze in gaming where I can. I try to stay on top of all of the major games, even if I don’t think they are really that great, I consider it to be part of the job.  I’m currently playing through about four games right now, I’m still trying to catch up on my backlog from the last game season. Oh, and I still read a lot.

Reader Comments

  1. “…getting up is never easy. I should probably move my alarm across the room or something…”

    My simpathy for this one.
    There are some people, including me, for whom the best part of the day is anything but morning.

    I’m glad I have a job that starts at 3:30 P.M. 2 times a week :)

  2. Nice interview, one of the best here.If there is one thing Bethesda games excel at, it is the design of their worlds.Now if only the programmers could excel as well and fix those bugs, and animators would add some diagonal walking animations : ).

    I totally understand the morning hate.I love slowly going to sleep, I love dreaming, I am neutral towards the sleep itself (since it is basically temporary death) but I HATE getting up with passion : ).

  3. Me am a drifter when it comes to sleep gradually going from a night pattern to a day pattern then back to night. As long as i get my seven hours am a-o-KAY! Really :)

    Thanks for the insanity of the new Point Lookout DLC. Love the trailer and great to hear that master craftsman of the story telling strange Joel Burgess was involved in the DLC :D

  4. Another true X-Com fan, glad to see them working at Bethesda. Now you guys resurrected and reinvented the Fallout series you should move on to X-Com. Now that would be the greatest game ever, haha.

  5. Thank you for the info :) I’m really hoping and working towards getting a job in the gaming industry, namely concept art and design. Reading this sort of thing opens my eyes a bit, it won’t be easy but damnit I’ll try!

  6. Hey Nathan, I can relate to playing X-Com. I have logged many hours on that game. Unfortunately, not many new machines can run it. If I had the skill, I’d do a remake. But I don’t. So I pose the question to you. Since you’re a subject matter expert, what is wrong with you remaking it? Do you think Bethesda would be game for it? Just a thought.

  7. i have an awesome idea for fallout 3 that me and some of my friends on xboxlive were talking about. You need to come out with a dlc to make your own city ANYWHERE in the wastes and make it so you can upgrade stuff like make your water clean and add sentry bots for protection and to confiscate weapons from the people that live there. Also make it so you can make your own rules. I would pay like 1200-1800 TOPS for it and im sure other people would to. Email me because I have many other ideas for this DLC.

  8. Post your metal band’s url. I also give a thumbs up to justin bartly’s post. I’m glad you’re working for bethesda