Local gaming companies give students taste of design process

Atlanta is notable for being an internationally-connected hub of business, transportation and culture, with companies that span the globe based here such as Turner Broadcasting, Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines, to name a few.

However, what Atlanta is less known for is its expanding video game industry, as the city is home to several growing, well-received companies that have produced many sought-after games in the gaming market.

CCP North America, a branch office of CCP (Crowd Control Production), based in Iceland is perhaps best known for its science-fiction MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) EVE Online.

EVE Online has attracted over 300,000 paid subscribers worldwide and is currently in its eleventh free expansion pack for new content, with the twelfth expansion pack due Dec. 1.

Not only is CCP North America located in the Stone Mountain area, it is a rapidly-growing company that is creating new ties with the Tech community and actively recruiting among Tech students.

CCP originated in Iceland in 1997 and EVE Online was released in 2003, with the North America office being the result of a merger with the local-grown White Wolf Inc., a gaming company that is widely renowned for its ‘World of Darkness’ game setting.

White Wolf continues to produce tabletop and live-action role-playing games since its inception in 1991, though the merger in 2006 has created new avenues of development for both companies.

In addition to the office locations in Atlanta and Iceland, CCP also holds offices in Shanghai and the U.K. Most of these locations work on game development on a number of projects, with the Iceland location devoted primarily to EVE Online, and the Shanghai office having recently announced a first-person shooter game Dust-514 that is tied in with EVE Online. The Atlanta office has not released what the office is focused on producing and is focused on keeping their project very hush-hush.

Possessing an established repertoire of intellectual properties, the staff of roughly 120 employees is eager to expand its horizons. CCP has been working closely with the Tech community by accepting a number of interns from the Computational Media (CM), Digital Media and Computer Science (CS) programs. Several Tech graduates are currently working at the company as well, though CCP is focusing on student outreach and helping to develop the local game industry and talent.

A number of CCP employees and executives were available for comment during a tour of the CCP office, which holds a fully-stocked kitchen, dining area and several recreational facilities including a racquetball court. Each employee’s desk and office holds its own personal décor and look, and the development office area is ordered by faux brick walls and street lamps to resemble city streets. No official mentoring or training programs are available to students who intern at CCP, but the reception of Tech interns seems to be very positive among the employees.

“Interns get a really good taste for how game development happens,” said Rich Thomas, Lead Game Designer, on the subject of the intern experience. “It’s kind of like sticking someone into a Cuisinart [blender] and seeing what comes out,” Thomas said.

“We had a lot of success with the junior guys in the programming department. We have older guys from NASA and Microsoft who work here that have plenty of experience in the theory area, but the interns are fresh out of college and experts with coding,” said Jim Adams, Software Engineering Manager.

“MMOGs present a huge range of issues due to their size, complexity. If we want to figure out how to manage 6000 transactions per second, we’d look to a graduate or PhD student,” said Adams.

Once interns are placed in a department, they are put into teams to work on specific aspects of development in a software development framework called SCRUM.

“Interns aren’t just getting coffee and shadowing people while they’re here, they do regular work,” said Natasha Bryant-Raible, Game Designer, who worked with interns from Tech over this summer. “[One of the interns] who I got to work closely with just learned about the tool we were using for writing content and started working with it immediately. It would be great to keep an open dialogue [with Tech],” Bryant-Raible said.

Michael Tinney, long time game designer for White Wolf and now President of CCP North America, was also on hand for questions. Although Tinney’s responsibilities as president differ from game developers and programmers at CCP, he has been in contact with Professor Celia Pearce of the DM program at Tech. He followed up shortly with a visit to campus with an HR representative in tow, and efforts to create closer ties between CCP and Tech continue still.

“I didn’t get to see the interns very often, but the impression I got around the office was that we were very satisfied to have them. We certainly need to work more with Georgia Tech,” Tinney said.

Professor Celia Pearce has been spearheading efforts to get Tech students more involved with the video game industry and to attract companies to hire students and recent graduates.

“When we heard that CCP and White Wolf were doing this merger with an office based here in Atlanta, I was particularly excited, needless to say. My research group, the EGG (Emergent Game Group) is focused on multi player games, particularly emergent gameplay, which is a big feature of CCP’s EVE Online,” said Pearce. “There were some students in the group working on both tabletop role playing games and MMOGs, so that seemed like it would be a good fit.“

Additionally, CCP and Tech faculty have been highly involved with the revival of the Atlanta chapter of the IGDA (International Game Developers Association), a professional organization that advances the careers and goals of game developers internationally.

The inaugural dinner and panel was held in September at the CCP office with over 200 members, a significant portion of which consisted of Tech students and graduates.

“Georgia Tech has one of the top three graduate programs in the county in gaming, and the CM program is rapidly growing and getting regular recruitment visits from the likes of Electronic Arts and Blizzard. There’s no reason why local companies should not be taking advantage of our bounty, so to speak,” said Pearce, who is also part of the IGDA Atlanta chapter leadership.

An information/recruiting talk from CCP is to be held on campus later in November, the DM program and CCP are finalizing the details on the upcoming recruitment schedule.

Personnel from Tech and CCP can be often found at the IGDA meetings that place every month to discuss ways to help the local video game industry and offer keynote speeches and information sessions.

The October meeting was held at the Waterhaven restaurant in Tech Square, and the November meeting was located at the Savannah College of Design in Atlanta. Further information can be found at , and .