GAB Member Spotlight - October 2019 - Jacqueline Fazekas
Welcome to the GAB Member Spotlight, where you can learn more about the audio developers working right in your own back yard. This month, we’re chatting with GAB member and local audio game developer, Jacqueline Fazekas.
GAB: So how is it that you came to call Boston home?
JF: I'm from San Diego! I moved to Boston about a year ago, when I got my current job at Harmonix. Last winter was the first "real winter" I've ever experienced, and by that I mean the first time I have ever lived somewhere with snow. Its been wild.
GAB: And what got you interested in audio and game developement?
JF: I went to Arizona State University and dual majored in Computer Science and Music because I love audio tech. Somehow I went through college not realizing that working in games was a career possibility for me even though I played video games all the time. I had previously done programming internships (not in games) and in 2018 I was a counselor/instructor for a Girls Make Games Summer program here in Boston. Doing that really helped me meet people in the industry and helped me build up some confidence to start applying to games jobs. I applied to Harmonix and ended up getting an engineering position! Officially, I'm a gameplay engineer but I get to do a lot of work with audio. Being a gameplay engineer means that I write different mechanics systems for our games, and since I work at Harmonix, there's often an audio or musical element to these that I have to implement.
GAB: Not realizing that games could be a career path is a familiar story. What is it that prepared you for making that jump?
JF: I think my college experience prepared me for my current job a lot. One of my favorite ensembles that I performed in, and later directed, was the ASU Laptop Orchestra (LOrkAS). Ensemble members and composers would write computer programs that made sound (sometimes more musical sounds than others) and then we would play them as instruments together as an ensemble. We got to perform at a lot of interesting spaces, like contemporary music festivals, community events, student recitals, and other events. We even got asked to perform on local news once - they had no idea how to react to our performance, I guess they were expecting music more like EDM than noise, and it was incredibly awkward and now is hilarious to look back at. This ensemble was a really great outlet for creative coding with a supportive group of friends, and helped me gain a lot of skills and confidence in that respect.
GAB: Wow, that's wild! And you also play a musical instrument?
JF: I play french horn! I've played for about 13 years now, and play regularly. I've been taking some recording session gigs at Berklee when they come up, but I'm looking to find more fun groups to play with here in Boston. I love playing pop and jazz music, so maybe I'll join a honk band or something. I've been a musician most of my life because my parents made me take piano lessons starting when I was 6. I can still play piano, but I haven't been practicing because I have no idea where to find a piano in Boston and I live in a tiny apartment. The closest I've gotten to playing a real piano in the last year is just using my midi keyboard for writing music and that's about it. Oh, also I've been trying to learn guitar and play some rock, but I'm still a beginner.
GAB: What's the most challenging part of your job?
JF: Since I work as a gameplay engineer, a lot of my job is writing systems with the goal to make the game I'm working on actually be a game. "Is this fun?" is a question that my team has to ask ourselves all the time and sometimes its really hard to answer! Fortunately, we have lots of coworkers and external play-testers who are ready to answer that question for us, but sometimes if we made something that isn't as fun as we thought it would be, its really hard to figure out what exactly is the reason why. If a game is fun or not is very subjective so there's no magic formula for making something that players will love, so there's a lot of trial and error and hard work.
GAB: Do you have any advice for anyone interested in getting into games?
JF: This is a hard question because I feel like almost everyone I know working in games has a completely unique story about how they actually got there. I think my best advice would be to build your portfolio while practicing your development skills, and have a collection in one place that shows off everything you've done - whether its small games you made on your own, soundtracks you wrote, game jam projects you did with a team, or a mix of everything. Keeping an updated portfolio and being able to show someone who's interested in what you've done some real projects is much more valuable than just saying you know how to use different programs. Anyone can do online tutorials and learn Unity or UE4 or FMod or WWise, making something of your own is much cooler and more interesting. This is probably a little ironic coming from me because everything I've done for the past year has been under NDA so my own website is not quite as up to date as it should be.
GAB: That's really great advice. What are you plaing right now?
JF: I just got Borderlands 3! It's been fun!
GAB: Awesome. And do you have a favorite game soundtrack?
JF: I think I would have to say the Witcher 3. I love the orchestral folk music vibes (I'm also a Bartok fan) and I think the vocals from the metal singers in a lot of the tracks are awesome.
GAB: A what’s your game audio “hot take”?
JF: I'm actually not really a fan of a lot of classic game soundtracks. I do think its amazing how composers for games on old systems worked around constraints like very small memory and limited sound chips and were still able to write cool music, but I never really listen to it for my own enjoyment. I've even been starting to get into chiptunes because I appreciate it as a style of music, but I don't think you'll ever find me jamming to the Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Bros themes on Spotify.