Sometimes I accidentally… push a button and get a great visual effect – Matti Hämäläinen

Masa

WHO?

Matti Hämäläinen

WHAT?

Remedy, Senior Technical Artist, for 4 months;
Recoil, Visual artist, for 4 years;
Frozenbyte, Artist, for 5 years;
AND Subcontractor for Bugbear & Grand Cru;
Before that: Automation mechanic.

QUICK! WHAT DO THESE BRING TO YOUR MIND?

Demoskene – Thumbs up
Angry Birds – Ari Pulkkinen! He’s a musician and at Frozenbyte we used to sit next to each other, I was sitting at this school desk and Ari sat in his little corner where he made music. And he has done the Angry Birds sounds.
Daily bread or a hobby? – Hobby it sure is, heh.
Tekes funding – Without them there would probably be no games industry. Back in the day it was living hand-to-mouth. Really good thing.
Game I play now – Bioshock Infinite.

Official_cover_art_for_Bioshock_Infinite

HOW DID YOU END UP IN GAMES BUSINESS?

In 2004 our game won the Assembly Combo and that was why I dared to apply for my first games industry job. And in a week I moved to Helsinki! We had done games for years, and this game idea had been brewing for years, and then we just did it. In work hours we programmed perhaps, in total nine months three of us, at our free time perhaps for around a year. At first I did it while I was working, and when the job ended I had the free time to finish it. Then I just went for the interview, the guys were totally unfamiliar to me, but they were like, “welcome”, so I joined.

HOW DID YOU BECOME A SPECIAL EFFECTS GUY?

I’m not very good in drawing, though I try to develop myself somewhat. I was in principle a normal artist originally, and I was doing like all the odd jobs. There was a particle system in our game, but nobody had really used it. So I asked around, “can’t anyone do anything better with it”? Everyone said, “it’s really hard”. So I tested, and I got it working instantly, and after that I got to do all the visual effects. I was familiar with that, the particles and such because I had used 3ds Max already, as I used to make these kind of videos with my friend. We shot something, then we added the effects. It is no magic, you just use a bit of imagination and your brain! But I think there’s just a few of us in Finland making games effects, I know of only one.

I get to affect the game design too, but mostly it is about, someone says, create a blow, and that is what I love the most. For example a bullet hit effect in the sand, for that I need sand and debris texture, suddenly it is done and becomes good! Usually it is straightforward, but then I sometimes just accidentally, or very often, put in some other value and test it. It’s DARN good, then I use it elsewhere, and improve the stratagem. And then end up tweaking and tweaking. But these accidents even happen like, you push the button really fast, you try to work really fast and then it’s like “oops!”

The toughest stuff is the totally new effects; something you haven’t done earlier. Smoke or water, they are the basic ones and you have them in your kit already. But for something totally new, you need to think, “how should this be done”… but even they are effortless eventually. Like the last issue I had with a water effect, I tried out different things and picked the one that was the lightest and worked the best. All platforms have their limitations and you have to optimise, walk the tight rope between things looking good and the game flowing well.

WHAT KEEPS YOU IN THE ZONE AND IMPROVING?

You can always learn new things. In my previous company I took big leaps in special effects design, using new tools, new tech and what not. When I joined my previous company, I was like, “am I good enough?”. I had so much pressure. Whatever I do, something is visible in the game, like a puff of smoke. But there, people gave me feedback, they were looking behind my back when I tested things, and were like, “YESS!” and thumbs up. And, when you do something well, then your friend next to you wants to do something well too. It becomes like a friendly competition. You create that visual effect, then someone else creates something else. So when you have skilful people around you, you want to improve yourself too. And then of course you end up doing like, work at home, well not really work, but work-related stuff. Because you like what you do and you want to learn more, and you can only train by trying to create some cool stuff using different software where you can calculate how particles and gravity works, how smoke works, how surfaces work.

I like it best when things are done carefully, and they get done. You can spend some time on it and the outcome is smooth, all the controls, all the graphics, sounds, the whole package is done well. And everyone is responsible for that, though of course there is someone who makes the decisions. But you get to use your time better. Like if I have five hours to use, I can use it better if there is this relaxedness. You trust that things get done in any case, you can use some time for the smoothing, though of course there are always schedules. It requires everyone knows what the others are doing, not that everyone does just something and you don’t know where you are going.

* Note: interviews are done in Finnish and translated directly to English, so some minor edits get done after the publishing now and then *

* EDITED 26 April 2013 for links and consistent outlook *

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