Interview

Remote Working: "Love the games you want to be hired to make," says Storm8's Amber Okamura

Remote Working: "Love the games you want to be hired to make," says Storm8's Amber Okamura

The games industry plays host to a colourful cast of diverse individuals, from artists and coders to narrative designers and studio heads.

The skills to pull off these roles, however, are complex and differing, with each position requiring mastery in its field – especially in these complex times we are all living through at the minute.

To highlight some of the brilliant work that goes on behind the scenes as well as how employees around the world are adapting to the life of remote work, PocketGamer.biz is reaching out to the individuals who make up the games industry in our Jobs in Games: Remote Working series.

This week we spoke with Stillfront Group-owned studio Storm8 art director Amber Okamura.

PocketGamer.biz: Can you tell us about your current role and what it entails?

Amber Okamura: I'm an art director at Storm8 and I work with an extremely talented team on the Property Brothers Home Design game. I create and manage the content schedule, coordinate with the Property Brothers team, and help produce some of the designs myself.

I grew up playing games and after graduating from college, I applied to every game art job I could find
Amber Okamura

How did you first get into games and how did you progress into this role?

I grew up playing games and after graduating from college, I applied to every game art job I could find. I ended up working across the country on the East Coast for an old-school search engine's game portal.

It wasn't until I joined Storm8 making mobile games that I started really growing as a developer. The founders and my manager gave me opportunities to continuously grow. They believed in me and supported my evolution. I was very lucky.

What did you study (if anything) to get your role? What courses would you advise for aspiring professionals in the area?

I graduated with a BA in Fine Art which, while I don't regret, I wouldn't necessarily recommend for anyone else seeking art roles in games. In my experience, a solid knowledge of art fundamentals (colour, light, anatomy, etcetera) is the most important thing for an aspiring artist.

Do you think there are any misconceptions, public or professional, surrounding your area of expertise?

There is a stereotype of the scatterbrained artist that persists despite some very intelligent and analytical creatives in the industry: treat your artists like the game developers they are and you'll see them infuse their games with charm and creativity.

What advice do you have for someone looking for a job in this profession?

Create as much as you can, ideally in the style of game you'd like to develop. Love the games you want to be hired to make and bring enthusiasm to the simplest task. If you can connect with someone who can code or knows Unity or another game engine, make a game together. There is no school course out there that rivals the actual experience of making a game.

How has the shift from office to remote working impacted your role, if at all?

A huge part of my role is coordinating with my team and other departments. It's jarring to go from walking over to someone's desk and quickly discussing an issue to arranging a time for a call or tracking them down on Slack. That said, it feels like the whole team has found a groove at this point. I think as long as we continue to treat each other with patience and kindness we could work from home indefinitely.

Remember that this isn't a competition: what works for one person isn't going to work for another and find your own flow.
Amber Okamura

What does your typical day look like when working remotely?

I get up with the kids at around 5:30 am and get them ready for the day. By 09:00 am, I'm at my desk armed with the biggest cup of coffee I can brew and I get to work on production art. I like to tackle creative work in the morning before switching gears and starting work on more analytical things like the schedule or coordinating with the Property Brothers team for content approvals.

What do you think are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of remote working?

My commute before Covid-19 could be anywhere from one hour to two hours one way, depending on traffic and weather. Having that time back is wonderful.

The biggest disadvantage is not having the energy and comradery of your team around you. I miss eating lunch with my co-workers and talking about games and shows. Casual socialisation remotely has felt a little forced to me.

Is there anything you wish you had known before moving to remote working?

I would have invested in a more practical workspace. My desk and chair are cute, but by the end of the day my back is killing me and there is no place to put a cup down without knocking it over.

Do you have any advice for others who are struggling to adjust to remote work?

Give yourself grace. Actively design strategies for you to do your best work. Remember that this isn't a competition: what works for one person isn't going to work for another and find your own flow.

Okamura's remote working setup

After the pandemic ends and if you were given the choice, would you prefer to continue working remotely or go back to working in an office?

That's a really hard question. For the first time in my career, I feel like I have some semblance of work/life balance. But I love and miss the collaborative and creative environment of my office and my team. I think ideally there would be a flexible or hybrid arrangement where I could work a couple of days from the office and the rest of the week from home.

Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki Digital is the best of our Pocket Gamer Connects conference in an online form, with an entire week of talks, meetings, and pitch events taking place from September 14th to the 18th. You can read up on all the tracks taking place throughout the week here.

Staff Writer

Matthew Forde is the staff writer for PocketGamer.biz and also a member of the Pocket Gamer Podcast. You can find him on Twitter @Forde999 talking about Smash Bros. and everything pop culture related - particularly superheroes.

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