Intern Day in the Life: Gaming Edition

Name: Benjamin Dring

Role: Software Engineer

Department: Tools

Location: Lionheads Studios

Hello! I am Benjamin Dring, a Software Tools Engineer at Lionhead Studios in Guildford. At Lionhead (a part of the Microsoft Studios family) we’re currently developing asymmetric multiplayer role playing game: Fable Legends.

Department/Role Breakdown

At Lionhead we are divided into teams based on our varied different roles in the creation of the game. These include artists, animators, writers, audio engineers, services programmers, technical designers, gameplay programmers, build engineers and more. Each team will have workflows for adding additional content or fixing issues for the game.
That’s where I, and the other members of the Tools team, come in. We maintain, fix, create and expand the software tools that the other teams use to get what they need to do into the game. We’re all about making other’s tasks easier, faster and less error prone.
Lionhead operates on a fortnightly development cycle so I don’t really have a typical day but I’d really like to give you an idea on what a day for a tools engineer at Lionhead looks like.

My typical work day at Lionheads Studios

8:30 Getting Up

Quite possibly the worst part of the day, but luckily work starts at 10am and I live pretty close to the office so I can easily get up at half 8 every day and still have plenty of time for getting ready and eating my morning meal.

9:30 Daily Commute

It only takes me 15 mins to bike to the Lionhead offices at the Surrey Research Park, and the roads aren’t as busy being after 9. I get in and grab a morning drink from the kitchen. Quite a few people get a cooked breakfast at the canteen but I quite like eating before I leave the house.

10:00 Scrums

10am signifies the start of the day. I’m sure some of you have heard of the Agile Methodology technique known as Scrum, but in case you haven’t, it’s a short daily meeting which each team in the office has. We have a producer per scrum to listen to yesterday’s progress and what you plan to do today, each team will have somewhere in the office filled with post-it notes (we have 7 scrum rooms each is covered from the walls to the windows with post-it notes). The post-it notes represent stories and their sub-tasks (in my case this will be creating or modifying a tool to do something specific), as we make progress with our stories we move them across the board at every morning scrum.

11:00 Story Time

After my scrums I crack on tackling my current stories, this involves programming of course but depending on what I’m working on depends on what I do. One of the biggest tools used in the studio is the game editor, although not created in house, we’ve made lots of modifications on top of it. The game editor is written in C++ but the majority of the other tools are written in either C# or python. During this part of the day I get a solid amount of heads down time which really helps me get in the zone to implement a new feature. Other things that can be often be done during this time is testing within the game, we all have Windows 10 Machines and most of us have Xbox Ones at our desks so we can easily test our changes have worked. We also after write up documentation for code we’ve written and for big stories I organise whiteboard design sessions held between me and a couple of others to consider the pros and cons of each approach.

Me and the other three interns at Lionhead Studios

The First Tea Break

It’s very useful to take breaks throughout the day and me and my team often have our first tea (or coffee, or water, or juice, or soft drink) in the kitchen during the morning. This gives us a chance to reset our brains when dealing with difficult problems. As we are all working on different tools we get a chance to chat about the stuff we’re working on and the problems we’re dealing with. Explaining stuff to other programmers is a very useful exercise and we give each other advice all the time.

13:00 Lunch Time

At 1pm we have our lunch, I bring in my own lunch but most others take advantage of the canteen which serves a range of different lunches (both big and small) at pretty decent prices too. I sometimes spend some of my lunch relaxing with a nice walk around the lakes at the research park and spend the remaining playing some games. I’m by far not the only one playing games at lunch (we are game developers after all) and it’s absolutely fine to use the workstation’s computers and Xbox Ones for your personal gaming.

14:00 Bug Time

After lunch, I sometimes look to another type of work which is Bugs. Unlike stories, which are planned in advance, bugs are problems with one of the tools that can crop up at any point, these problems can be major ones to be seen to immediately, or minor ones to be sorted out when you have time. It isn’t strictly true that I spend the morning on stories and afternoon on bugs, some days become bug days and others become story days, it’s a mixture of what you want to work on and what is really important to be done.

15:00 Sprint Planning

Once a fortnight we spend the afternoon planning our sprint which is the name we give for our 2-week development cycle. At this stage we sign off stories we completed to last sprint, and carry ones we didn’t manage to finish over to the next sprint. We then work out what stories to commit to finish for the next 2 weeks and we write up the post-its to track in our daily scrums.

17:00 All-hands

A couple of times a month we have full company meetings, we look further than the next 2 weeks and look at the progress of the company and a summary of what teams have been doing. These are quite exciting meetings as you get a good idea on what features in the game are currently being worked on. We also hear about choices being considered for the game, such as new features, new tactics and even workflow changes. It’s really good to feel included in these decisions and we’re always encouraged to voice our own opinions on these matters.

17:00 Friday Play Days

On many Fridays we organise play days, which means we quite simply play the game. The most up to date version of the game is prepared and we all get to spend the last hour of work playing the game. This is an awesome idea, I don’t get a lot of chance to play the game at work and when I do I tend to be testing it, but on play days I play as I would any other game, it really highlights the progress we’re making and is a good way for people to test each other’s features.

18:00 End of the day

6pm indicates the end of the day because we start the day at 10am. This normally involves me packing up and cycling back home to have a relaxing evening. Sometimes, not always and not often, but sometimes I will work beyond the end of the day. During my time at Lionhead Studios we’ve entered a little phenomenon known as “the crunch” which is common in most game studios and refers to an increase in work at the milestones toward the release date. The crunch means that a handful of times a month I continue working in the evenings (though others choose earlier starts or a few hours at the weekend). If you’re looking at a similar role at Microsoft Studios yourself and you’re worried about crunch (I know I was), I can honestly say it’s not that bad and if you have plans, or you don’t have the energy to keep going through the evening, or you just don’t want to work longer for whatever reason, that’s completely fine, don’t worry about it.

So in a nut-shell my typical day at Lionhead Studios is not a boring one, there’s always something going on. There’s a ton of support if ever you need it and the people there are the most interesting and passionate I’ve ever met. Almost everyone at Lionhead does what they do because they really want to be here, and since I’ve started I can definitely say I’m one of them.

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