This summer, I had the pleasure of working as the Design Intern at Insomniac Games in Burbank, California. During my internship, Insomniac’s Burbank Studio was working really hard on Marvel’s Spider-Man for PlayStation 4, and I was lucky enough to participate in the development process. Working at a triple-A studio on a game as big and highly-anticipated as Spider-Man was a milestone in my life that I will never forget.
You may notice this blog post is lacking in images compared to some of my other posts. As much as I would love to show screenshots of the work that I did at Insomniac, that will have to wait for the moment.
I was feeling really intimidated when I walked into Insomniac on my first day. At school, the largest team I worked with consisted of 10 people, including myself. I was about to step onto a team consisting of over 200 people and the thought of that was both exhilarating and terrifying. However, after meeting a few of the other interns, going on a quick tour of the studio, and getting to my desk I was already feeling a little less nervous. Shortly after sitting at my desk, I met Joel Goodsell, Lead Designer, and Cameron Christian, the Lead Designer for Spider-Man. Joel took me out to lunch that day with another Insomniac Designer, Josh Leman, and I had the opportunity to ask them about Insomniac and what I’ll be working on over the course of the summer. It didn’t take me long to realize how friendly everyone at Insomniac is. I left my first day already feeling welcomed and on-task.
The first couple weeks of my internship involved a brief on-boarding process where I learned how to navigate and use Insomniac’s custom level editor and visual scripting language. Joel had me build a test level to help me get a sense of the movement and combat metrics that Spider-Man uses and to become familiar with the more popular scripting nodes. After I finished exploring Spider-Man’s abilities and the possibilities of Insomniac’s engine in my test level, I moved on to creating real content for the game.
Swinging into Spider-Man
For the first half of the summer, I worked closely with Joel on white-boxing gameplay spaces. He provided me with instructions on what these environments would be used for, when the player would have access to them, and what they needed to look like in the world we were creating. Using this information, I began to find references for these spaces, plan them out on paper, and build a few iterations of these spaces in engine. I received a lot of feedback from Joel, Cameron, and the Lead Environment Artist, Jason Hickey, which helped me go back and make edits to each area until they were both optimal for gameplay and visually interesting. Once the geometry for these areas was approved, I moved on to scripting the gameplay events that would happen in them.
When scripting, I worked with another Designer, Shane McCloskey, who was working on a similar part of Spider-Man. He showed me how he scripted the gameplay events so I could follow his model. After I messed around with the values and had everything working properly, Shane helped me balance things like the number of enemies, spawn locations, and enemy types in order to make the experience challenging, but not impossible.
The Halfway Mark
After scripting was complete for each of the gameplay spaces, my tasks began running low. From time to time I would take on tasks from other designers who had too much on their plate. I would fix a few bugs here and there or help place gameplay elements in the open-world. But eventually, Joel had me switch to a new assignment. I began working with Josh Leman and another Designer, Chris Toczauer, on a much different part of the game that involved working in the open world.
Making the switch from building and scripting independent gameplay spaces to scripting and making new open world gameplay elements was a little awkward. Fortunately, everyone at Insomniac is always willing to lend a hand. Whenever I had a question, I didn’t feel afraid to ask anyone. Josh and Chris were really helpful during this transition. They showed me the basics of what they were working on and how they were doing it so I could pick up this new project quickly. With this new assignment, I mostly handled altering pre-existing open-world gameplay to create new experiences. This involved a lot more scripting than my previous set of tasks which was really exciting. I liked experimenting with different player mechanics, some that were still early in their development, and different features of the scripting language to create unique interactions for the player without asking for too much from other departments. Unfortunately, my internship ended while I was still working on this assignment so I threw together a lot of detailed documentation for Josh and Chris to reference when they eventually pick-up what I had started.
In addition to being able to create real content for Spider-Man, working at Insomniac had some other great perks. Every Wednesday, all of the interns had the opportunity to get lunch with a few department heads. These were a lot of fun because I always asked about how they got into the industry which usually led to an interesting story that somehow ended with them finding their way into Insomniac. In addition to Wednesday lunches, every Friday was Food Truck Friday. Insomniac would get a different food truck to come every week and provide a free lunch for everyone in the studio. Insomniac even organized some really fun events like paying for everyone in the Burbank studio to leave work one afternoon and see Spider-Man: Homecoming. Events like these made me feel like part of the Insomniac family. But the most exciting part of the summer, by far, was the Sony E3 Conference.
Even though I couldn’t attend E3, I was still able to watch the Sony Conference livestream with everyone else who couldn’t attend that day. We set up the livestream in the biggest conference room and everyone piled in, to eat snacks and watch the show together. When it came time for the Spider-Man gameplay trailer to close the conference, I felt a rush of excitement over me. Everyone in the room was cheering and I was right in the middle of it. I couldn’t believe that a game I was working on was being streamed to people all across the globe.
I had an amazing experience working at Insomniac over the summer. I made so many connections with people working there in all different departments. I even went to a bar-b-que at Cameron’s house! I also met up with a Champlain Alumn, Zach Bohn, who is working at Insomniac as a UI Designer. I became good friends with the other interns and the designers that I worked with most of the time. Honestly, now that I’m back at school, I miss going into work every day. Hopefully, after senior year is over, it won’t be long before I see those Insomniacs again.