Finding New Suns With...
Twin Suns Corp is a new world-class global video game studio developing action games for console and PC.
We believe that great people make great games.
In our "Finding New Suns with..." series, we showcase some of our Trailblazers whose journeys, passion and energy bring our games to life and into the hands of gamers all around the globe.
Harley Baldwin, Design Director, Twin Suns Trailblazer
Tell us a little about your journey in Design
When I was little, there was very little technology in my house - No TV, no Video Games. I was of course smitten by games from the first time I saw them -- and a little scared as well. They seemed mysterious and powerful to me.
Early on in my career, I lucked into a temp gig cutting out images from a bad greenscreen shoot. I got interested in the tools and pipeline, which led me into Technical Art. As a Technical Artist, I worked with locomotion systems, both player and AI. I'd also sit behind the Level Designers and watch them work. They were very generous with their time and hard-won knowledge. I learned an enormous amount of fundamental game dev and design stuff in that role.
This led me to Mission Design on Star Wars Starfighter, where we were doing layout, rulesets and feedback, though no one at LucasArts called that second part Systems Design - at that point at LucasArts, all designers were Level Designers, so I threw myself into that, and got to do Level Design for Republic Commando, as well as some maneuver systems work that was informed by my TA background.
Then I was the Lead Systems Designer on Crystal Dynamics's first Tomb Raider reboot. Huge upgrades to my locomotion systems skillset there, obviously. I stayed at Crystal for two Tomb Raiders, was the Lead Designer on the second and got the chance to integrate my level and systems backgrounds for the first time.
Then I explored the flow mastery genre with Rock Band at Demiurge, which was super fun, and also was able to put all my pipeline background to use as the team authored real-time 3D music videos for a huge playlist. After that, I got to work with the PlayStation Move & the Vita at Nihilistic, as their Design Director - Resistance, Call of Duty, drilling down on shooter basics while pushing those machines to their limits.
When the opportunity to join Schell Games as VP of Design came up, it felt like a place where I could simultaneously mentor top talent in the industry and grow a whole new business skillset of my own. I stayed for 7 years, got to build up the Design department for a world-class studio while incubating and releasing original IP. And then... on to Twin Suns as Design Director.
So what exactly do you do at Twin Suns Corp?
My job is to advocate for the player, and to support every other dev as they advocate for the player. In concrete daily terms, that can look very different some days than others.
It starts with the vision. As Design Director, I am ultimately responsible for ensuring that the high level vision that Tim (Longo) sets is infused into every aspect of the gameplay, just as other directors do for their disciplines. One of the reasons I was so excited to work at Twin Suns is how good Tim is at communicating that vision and then giving the team carte blanche to make it so on their terms. The ease with which Tim moves from pointing the way to supporting a team member’s initiative is something I aspire to achieve in my leadership. He is really good at crafting the right environment to encourage brilliance in his team.
I lead brainstorms and start conversations to get the team to expose and examine their ideas about what we could do. I use that to make proposals about how we can best solve the player’s problems. I analyze playtest data and try to boil it down for others. I craft hypotheses about what’s fun and what’s not and test them. I help others on the team get their hypotheses formalized and tested.
I also get to work in engine, acting as support for level and systems design - some days I'm adjusting the rules of the game, some days I'm oonching and scoonching items around, some days propping out new areas. Some days I’m just wiring in sounds. It’s all the most fun things!
I act as a nexus for the department's communications -- not as a gatekeeper, but always keeping an eye out for who else might have a contribution or a need to know. If I can highlight a conversation that needs to be had between two specialists, I can skip hours or days of work for people sometimes. That’s very satisfying, even if I don’t always understand the nuances of the specialties they bring together.
Probably the most important thing I do is play the game every day. That’s not just me though - we have a strong culture of playtesting our own game at Twin Suns, and everyone plays often. Seeing how our work expresses for the player, being able to bring our experience to bear and iterate in realtime is our not-so-secret-weapon.
What gets you the most excited about Twin Suns Corp?
It's the people. The respect, kindness, experience, expertise, frankness, willingness to be vulnerable, and sense of humor this team brings to the endeavor is inspiring every day. I am always striving to be better for them. Just, yeah. The people.
If you could pick a super power, what would it be?
I would not need to sleep. Imagine what I could accomplish! That’s a very game dev parent answer, I know. I’m very lucky to be working on a game that excites me so much. I initially had a hard time resting on evenings and weekends.
Working at Twin Suns has given me an opportunity to explore working hard but not overworking, which is pretty new to me.
I’ve been able to reflect on how overwork tends to lead to mistakes and wasted time, for example. So I’m learning to rest and recharge and tackle things in the morning, but it’s not always comfortable for me to walk away from the screen when I should.
Any advice to others looking to break into Design and also traits you look for in a Designer?
I look for a portfolio that shows me the design process a person uses. Show me a game you made, tell me what your hypothesis was when you started out, what happened in playtesting, and what change(s) you made or would make as a result. Don't just show me a video fly-through, tell me why you made what you made, what problems you solved along the way, who helped, and what new problems you have.
Curiosity about all the different kinds of players we serve. We can't make games they love until we understand what drives them.
Reflecting & celebrating the work of others on the team - both onscreen and on the team.
Listening well, and being able to communicate crisply.
An understanding that designers don't generate all the ideas - we also elicit, organize, combine, refine, and use them to solve problems.
Flexibility - there are a lot of tasks in game design. Some days it's just doing a bunch of collisions or ensuring data is set up correctly. That's the real work of making the game better every day. You gotta love all the weirdo things we do. We don’t all have to love spreadsheets, but we all have to be willing to press them into service to understand the data the game is giving us.
Self-awareness - are you able to be honest with yourself when your biases as a player are weighting decisions for you? That includes playing games outside of one’s ideal genre to explore what’s happening in the art and craft of game design.
Obviously, I love it when a person who exhibits the above also comes pre-loaded with deep engine experience and know-how. But I didn’t know game engines when I started, and I don’t expect others to either. The above attributes are a good indication that someone will be able to learn to press an engine into service and work well on a team. As a team we are always still learning, and part of that is being eager to welcome new perspectives and support others as they learn new skills that will let them accomplish great things.