Two decades later, a woman explains how game development has changed
AUSTIN, Texas – One of Fisa Castellanos’ first gigs in video game development involved a professional skater and a weasel.
“She wanted to make a game about a girl who owns a weasel. The idea of the story was that if you made good decisions and did good deeds, the [weasel] the avatar would change and be more beautiful. If you decided to do more evil things, the weasel would look evil, ”says Castellanos.
The project was funded by a professional skater at the time, but Castellanos cannot remember his name.
“It wasn’t Kristi Yamaguchi,” she laughs. “He’s the only skater everyone remembers. “
Originally from Texas, Castellanos received his automotive design degree in California. She ended up doing an internship in Detroit, where she says the weather was not ideal.
After doing a few odd jobs in video game development, she decided a career change was in store.
“I decided while doing this work that video games were really fun,” says Castellanos.
The 47-year-old was working on her first major project as a vehicle designer for the massive multiplayer online first-person shooter Planetside, released in 2003.
“In this game, we had 300 versus 300 people,” says Castellanos, pointing to a framed poster in his office. “You could have a tank, you could have a jet, you could be on foot.”
She recalls sitting down with the art director and designer to find out what type of vehicle was wanted, including small details like how many players can sit in it.
Posters for Everquest II and Doom hang on either side of his Planetside poster – two games Castellanos has worked countless hours on.
Castellanos designed vehicles, weapons and possibly characters.
“It was in the 2000s, when we weren’t sculpting characters, we were still modeling them with polygons. The industry went through a huge change when we had a new program called ZBrush, where people were sculpting things. It made things a lot more time consuming and also made some jobs very competitive, ”says Castellanos.
She says the teams responsible for character design were sometimes small, representing only ten people in a studio of 200.
Castellanos moved to a new job and took the opportunity to move on to work as a 3D architect, or what she calls a “world builder”. She is one person in a team of around 30 to 40 people.
“The industry has changed so much because before you were doing the whole world, but thanks to technology we have extended the pipeline and the assembly line,” she says. “So at this point you have people who are just doing textures and materials. You have people who model props. And then you have people who are more like what I do. I take these props and put them together in the environment and create what the player actually sees.
Over the past two decades, Castellanos says game studios have learned to create games effectively.
“Each game company has determined their pipeline for the way you work. It’s more of a working atmosphere because there is such a demand because things are so graphically complicated. But it’s still a fun environment. The competition has gotten a lot greater, ”she says.
Like any career, there are bumps along the way.
“I was here in Austin working on a game for three years that never came out,” she says. “It was one of my very first jobs. I was just learning the industry and getting used to the pipeline, and seeing how fickle the industry can be.
As ruthless as the industry has been to her, Castellanos has found a career for life. As technology advances, she finds she must challenge herself to reach new heights.
“As you do this more and more, the bar gets higher and higher. You’re like ‘Oh, can I do this?’ And then when you get there, you want to move on to the next part, ”says Castellanos.