As if focus-testing Max Payne 3 wouldn’t be enough to satisfy many a technical wizard’s career aspirations, Darren also had a coordinator role on Red Dead Redemption 2, developed cut scenes on Grand Theft Auto (GTA) V and GTA Online, and helped established the Rockstar North team in India. The team he now manages is responsible for the assets used by the animation and motion-capture teams across the company’s global studios, as well as maintaining and optimising those animation scenes.
Explaining his career highlights so far, senior lead asset specialist at Rockstar North, Darren says: “Two moments really stand out. The launch of GTA V felt like I’d ‘made it’ at the time, because I’d made a real contribution to such a huge game. I don’t think any of us expected it to be the phenomenon it is and still be working on it 9 years later.
“Travelling to India to set up the department, to then receive heartfelt messages of thanks for doing so from the team there, is something I will always look back fondly upon.”
Landing a role with one of the best-known video game companies in the world didn’t come easily – it took hard work, dedication, and a sturdy education with plenty of experience. Darren says that his course in Animation at the University of Wolverhampton let him develop his knowledge of the subject while discovering his strengths and where he wanted to specialise.
Darren says: “I hadn’t animated a thing when I started my animation course except for playing with flip books and a zoetrope in primary school, so the first year was extremely important in terms of developing core transferable skills. It was great that the course covered all aspects of animation, from the principles, to all aspects of independent film production, as this helped me identify where my skills and interests lay.
My one piece of advice would be to plan out your career and not lose sight of your goals.
“I look back very fondly on an experimental module that had us try a new approach weekly and present our results. This really helped prepare me for the professional world, where your work is constantly reviewed by others.”
Darren says his course memories are full of support, help, and feedback. “I’m still in touch with quite a few of the graduates from the course, and we check in with each other from time to time. I met my best man on the course, and he also works with me at Rockstar!
"We had plenty of great times brainstorming in the pub and working collaboratively in the old basement. There were always so many supportive voices around to help out, give feedback and critiques, it felt like we were in a studio working on a project together.”
While he was studying at the University, Darren took a career planning module, during which he laid out a career route with a range of possible paths to take him to his preferred career, which was to become a character technical director at an established game development studio.
One of these routes was to begin as a quality assurance (QA) tester, but getting to work for Rockstar North, a company that Darren was already a fan of, took time and dedication.
Darren says: “I’ve seen a few twists and turns since graduating from university. I was recommended by a former lecturer for an animation position at a Manchester-based media company, where I worked on educational material for a couple of years.
“Once the project there was complete I jumped between working as a waiter, restaurant manager, telesales rep, and mortgage customer service advisor in an 18-month period, whilst I worked on my own animation and game development to improve my knowledge and skills. Then I came upon the QA position at Rockstar.”
Video games remain a part of Darren’s life outside of work as well as within his day-to-day professional responsibilities. He enjoys story-driven single-player games best, such as Uncharted, The Last of Us, God of War, and the core Resident Evil series, as well as platformers such as Crash Bandicoot, the Mario franchise, and Limbo.
For anyone who is keen to make their hobby part of their career too, Darren has a clear and helpful pointer: “My one piece of advice would be to plan out your career and not lose sight of your goals.”
Having successfully weaved his pastime into his profession, Darren’s guidance is surely worth listening to.