Sponsored: Sony Bend Studio - Benefits, Brews, and a Really Big Game
Bend Studio is aggressively hiring senior talent for a big new project. You might know them for Uncharted: Golden Abyss, which raised expectations for the Vita's performance ceiling. Or maybe you know them as the studio that created Syphon Filter. Now though, after over a year of preproduction, they're rolling into full production on a big next-gen PlayStation 4 title using Unreal Engine 4, and are looking for console-ready veterans to fill out the team. But maybe you'd like to know a bit more about who these folks are! And why you might want to work there! And where the heck is Bend, anyway? We spoke to co-directors Christopher Reese (Technical Director) and John Garvin (Creative Director) to find out why Bend Studio may be one of the more appealing places to work in triple-A right now.
Chris and John have been working together since 1997, when John was brought on to Syphon Filter as art director -- the studio doesn't have much turnover, they say. People who come to work there seem to enjoy it enough to stay. "We've got a core staff of folks who have been here for a long time," says John, adding that the company handed out six ten-year awards in 2014 alone.
But it's not some insular club -- the company is actively seeking out new blood and new ideas. They're not looking for someone who will just show up and do the work. "We're looking for people who are passionate about games, who have ideas, and opinions," John adds. "At the last company meeting, we had people from all disciplines talking about the game, how it can be made better. We need people like that." Everyone on the team actively plays games, and having unique critical opinions is a must, in order to push the game into new territory.
"We're looking for badass coders to help push the PS4 somewhere it's never been before."
The company tries to find people with this mindset, with complementary skills, and keep them together. "We're kind of like an old married couple," John jokes of his relationship with Chris. The duo have been making games together for almost 20 years, and play on each others' strengths. "That's a pretty great thing about the studio," Chris adds. "Not only have John and I worked together a long time, that follows through with the core of the team, as well. We don't get a lot of people who are career hopping. The people we work with, we work with for a long time. I've got a lot of people here who helped develop Syphon Filter back in 1997."
The company is fully owned by Sony, but has fewer than 50 people working there full time. "We're not like one of those megastudios where you're kind of a cog in a wheel," says John. "Everyone does something important, and that's really one of the big things about it. Everyone thinks about the studio, and what's best for the game, and I think that's partially because Chris and I sort of have that dynamic between each other."
The team also tends to bond together outside the studio. "The team does just as many activities outside work together as they do inside work," Chris says. "We have a lot of team events as well. We have a small team environment, and that expands beyond the workday."
This might lead you to wonder what sort of life one leads in Bend, Oregon, a town of around 80,000, located in the Pacific Northwest. Funny you should ask!
Let's talk about Bend, Oregon
"The studio itself is in an awesome location," says John. "If you do a search for Bend, there's a place called the Old Mill district, and we're right in the middle of it. We can see the Deschutes River out of our window. There's literally a walking trail 5 minutes outside our office, and suddenly it doesn't look like a town anymore, it looks like the wilderness. But if you turn right instead, we've got an IMAX theater 100 feet away."
Bend is a resort area, in large part, with a fair amount of tourism and new faces coming in and out. No matter where you are, you're a 20 minute drive from mountain climbing or hiking, skiing, snowboarding, white water rafting, rock climbing, and all manner of winter and summer sports. Every first Friday of the month, there's an art walk with free wine and beer, and there are festivals year round. The town also boasts some of the best beer in the nation. "The big brewery is Deschutes, but we've probably got about 20 breweries within the area, for a town that only has 80,000 people," says Chris.
"The great part about being with Sony is that compensation-wise, we're competitive worldwide and locally in the United States. But in Bend, cost of living is not quite the same as living in San Francisco or LA, so there are nice benefits to that."
"So it's an outdoorsman's mecca," says John. "And for a lot of game developers that means nothing. I don't ski, I don't whitewater raft, none of that stuff. But I still love it here. The low commute times, that's what's really important to me. I go to LA all the time, because we've got studios down there where we do our performance capture, and trying to get from anywhere in Santa Monica to the Valley, it takes an hour."
"But our number one draw is that Bend is such a family-friendly town," he adds. "It's growing like crazy, we've got a four year school that's coming in in the next couple of years, and the existing schools are awesome here. We're pretty kid-friendly as well - if your husband or wife has an errand to run, the kids can come hang out."
The fellows find that a lot of their newer hires come to Bend because they're looking to raise their kids in somewhere that's a little calmer than the megalopolises. Chris adds, "We do a bunch of yearly events that are family oriented. We do a trick or treat on Halloween, and a costume contest, and this year we had dozens of kids in here."
Maybe some of this appeals to you - the variety of activity, the easy commute, the family-friendliness. Who, then, are they looking for? Are you right for this studio? If you're senior talent with experience with the current generation of tools and consoles and some new ideas, the answer may be yes.
Right around the bend
The company has around five high level positions its looking to fill. "We're looking for a lot of different talent, but we're working on a PS4 title," says Chris, so console experience is important. "We're looking for some more senior staff people, who want to move to Bend and be part of this team. Animation programmers, graphics programmers, character riggers, concept artists... We're making a big push into next gen, and we need the best."
The company is also working heavily with Epic on Unreal Engine 4 -- in fact, Chris is on the advisory board for the technology. "That's been a huge boon for us," he says. "Because we're working with Epic in a similar capacity to how we've worked with our own studios. We've worked with a lot of the tech teams pretty closely. We're just extending that same kind of velocity with Epic at this point."
"We know that when people see this they're going to be blown away," says John. "We can boast that this came from our studio. There's a certain amount of innovation that's coming from the technology side, that just keeps us really buzzing."
"Just knowing we're not going to be pushed to rush something out the door before it's ready, that's super awesome."
But even if you're not in their immediate list of must-haves, the studio still wants to hear from you. "We're always looking for triple-A talent," says John. "So anybody in any position, if they're interested they should just contact us. We can always make room for someone awesome, no matter what they do."
And it could be very worth your while. "The great part about being with Sony is that compensation-wise, we're competitive worldwide and locally in the United States, says Chris. "But in Bend, cost of living is not quite the same as living in San Francisco or LA, so there are nice benefits to that. They can concentrate more on the project. It makes the job that much more enjoyable, especially during the times when there are longer hours."
That aim for quality and lack of pressure is what John says makes this the perfect place for him. "I think the thing I'm most excited about is the fact we're doing a PS4 game, and it's next gen, and to me that means we face the challenges of reaching a quality bar that's going to make for an awesome experience for the player," he says. "Being able to do that, as a small studio in central Oregon, but as a fully-owned studio with PlayStation's full support, means we can reach a quality bar that's really really high. We're looking for badass coders to help us push the PS4 somewhere it's never been before."
So if you're ready to make a big leap to a new place, with nice benefits, in a stable environment, surrounded by nature, without the pressure of insane deadlines, maybe Bend Studio is right for you! Check out Bend Studio jobs on Gamasutra's job board.