Meet Gnomon alum Devon Fay, a lead artist at Riot Games Studios, where he’s been secretly working for the past four years on the forthcoming first-person shooter, Valorant. Boasting stunning graphics, Valorant serves up the action in at least 30 frames-per-second on most min-spec computers, even those dating back a decade! Currently in closed beta with the full release planned for later this summer, the 5v5 character-based tactical shooter launched on Twitch at #1 in early April, garnering more than 900,000 viewers during its closed beta announcement event.
Devon developed his skills as a digital artist at Gnomon, graduating in Spring 2009. Following graduation he joined Blizzard, before going on to work at a number of other top-rated game makers including Neversoft and Infinity Ward Studios. Ahead of the full release of Valorant, we had a chance to catch up with Devon to ask about the making of the game, as well as his journey on the road to Riot. Read the full Q&A below:
Congratulations on the success of Valorant — it’s certainly poised to become a blockbuster. What was it like keeping a project like this under wraps for such a long time, and what are you most excited to finally be able to talk about?
Thank you! As far as keeping it under wraps, it really wasn’t that hard. It’s pretty common to work on projects for a long time and to not be able to talk about. It definitely helped to have an awesome team, and even all of Riot at a certain point, to share it with during the wait. That said, it really is nice for players to see it finally!
As far as what I am most excited to talk about, even though I am on the art team, the game as a whole is just so fun to play. You can go really deep into tactics, strategies and interactions. I am excited to just nerd out with other players about all that stuff.
Describe for us the aspects of development you’re responsible for at Riot Games. For instance, what are some of your typical day-to-day tasks?
As an Environment Art Lead I am both a contributor to the art of the game, but also a manager. My day-to-day will range a lot, but common things include meetings with art direction, creative direction, design, and engineering to make decisions on all things related to the maps, both new and in-progress. I feel like a large amount of value I add is keeping everyone on the same page. When a decision is made I can offer my opinion on how to improve it, and then I take it to the broader team to actually execute on it. Other things consist of helping with optimization, outsourcing, hiring and managing the individuals on the team. And if everything is going smooth, I will even jump in the maps and do some art where I can.
Which skills tend to be most valued by the people on your team, and what’s most important to you when you’re considering new talent?
I am SUPER lucky to work with an insanely talented team. Over the years I have noticed that the people who think of themself as game developers first, not just artists on a game tend to be the most successful.
Game development is hard and complex. There are a lot of shifting priorities and complex collaborative problems to solve. Being able to see yourself as someone who is able to contribute and collaborate to the greatness of the “game” and not just the art of the game is huge.
How did graduating from Gnomon prepare you for your career path and your journey making Valorant?
Gnomon taught me a lot of useful things! One of the biggest was the importance of making quality work on a deadline. When you are taking a lot of classes, and each class has a high expectation, you learn really fast how to juggle priorities. What’s the fastest way to do something? When are you wasting time on something that doesn’t matter or no one will see? When is something “good enough?” Those kinds of lessons translate almost 1-to-1 to the kinds of decisions you will be making at a game studio.
What advice would you give to those just starting out in the industry?
I think it’s hugely important to have understanding WHY you are making something, all the time, but especially when you are starting out. The reason might be as simple as “we need a cool statue to fill in that space over there” Even that level of understanding will help you make all the decisions you need.
So when you are working on a portfolio piece, a test for a company, or your first prop on your new job, take the time to slow down and really think about what the purpose of that particular thing you are working on is. It might seem obvious, but you would be surprised how easy it is for many of us to “lose the plot,” so to speak.
Finally, do you have any quick tips for an aspiring artist trying to develop a Valorant-focused portfolio?
On Valorant we have a few pillars on how we approach art, but the most important is that we are able to maintain visual clarity and competitive experience for players. That often means we have to make smart decisions on where we put detail, what technology we use and things like that. Because of that, we focus HEAVILY on the fundamentals. Color, value, shape, composition, and read hierarchy; things like that. When looking at new artists we always tend to look for someone who shows and understands those principles first and foremost. Good news is, we are not special here — if you focus on those principles you have a good chance of doing amazingly well anywhere you apply.
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