Meet John Cooper: Games developer

A Bit About Me (The Road To Totem)

It wasn't until I was searching through university prospectuses that I had even considered programming, or anything to do with making games. I thought to myself whilst skimming through hopeful paragraphs, trying to convince me to learn business, or psychology; wait a minute, somebody makes games? I love games, I could make them too. I took stock of my capabilities and decided perhaps programming would be good for me, my best grades had been in maths and apparently that was essential. 4 years at the University of Wolverhampton followed; during which I studied varying things under the guise of “Computer Science” some great, like Artificial Intelligence, and some not so great, like Database Management (yuck!). I completed a year's placement at a software company which produced systems used exclusively in insurance brokers (yawn...).

On  being given the piece of paper proving my ability to do “Computer Science” I felt I needed to learn more. I had caught glimpses into the world of video game development and it definitely involved more math than I was comfortable with. Luckily I had discovered Abertay University, a Holy Grail for Game Development education, it hosted annually the Dare to be Digital game development competition, which is a big deal (you get nominated for a BAFTA if you win!). Abertay also provided courses focused on game development at a post-graduate level (not common at the time). So I applied for their Computer Games Technology MSc. Through some twist of fate I ended up on a different course altogether. This one however was newer and more experimental. Rather than follow the traditional formula of academia and grade students by their ability to produce theses, this game development course pulled the multi discipline students (artists, programmers, producers et al)  into groups to actually produce games under different circumstances, the intent (and in my experience the result) was to offer extremely relevant experience and skills to the aspiring game developer.

During my time at Abertay not only did I learn what it was like to properly work on games, I also met some wonderful people with similar aspirations. Once we completed our courses I found myself alongside some of my fellow graduates founding a company to work upon a game called Tick Tock Toys. The game was a characterful puzzler, aimed at young children, and set in a toybox. Whilst working upon it I sharpened a keen appreciation for inclusive design for games, with regards to age and gender.

It was exhilarating when we finally submitted our game to Apple to be published on the iPad and iPhone, what was even more amazing was seeing our little game featured and topping download charts around the world. Sadly our situations meant that sustaining the company was impossible, we parted ways, each moving back to our respective ends of the UK and I turned to Freelance work.

Whilst freelancing I worked on a number of mobile Apps for clients and a racing game project (with interesting hover physics!) but with a taste for what it is like to develop games I found it impossible to work on something like a simple mobile app without yearning for much more. After a few months a friend made during university contacted me, asking if I was interested in a job at some place called Totem Learning. I was dubious, my experience of any kind of e-learning or educational software had been underwhelming at best. When I arrived though I discovered people much more fun and interesting than I expected. I bribed my way through the interview with the promise of cake, and found myself as a new Unity Games Developer at Totem Learning. My first project? A game!(yay).

My Job At Totem

I develop the more simulation-oriented products totem offers, ranging from training environments with added gamification, to full-on games. This encompasses programming systems, graphics, physics and more.

What Inspires Me

Knowledge! I crave it, I devour it at every opportunity. When given opportunities between projects at Totem I love to spend my time learning something new, or perfecting an old technique.

My Hobbies/ Interests

I enjoy reading good books, computer games(this might be a bit obvious), cooking, and watching the e-Sport League of Legends (TSM! TSM! TSM!)

My Favourite Game Of All Time

Asking to pick one is too cruel! I would say it is a toss up between Crusader Kings II, Dwarf Fortress, and X-COM(the 1994 original). I like all of them for a similar reason. Rather than presenting a prescribed narrative, each of these games provides a simulation, with enough narrative elements for infinite, amusing, heart wrenching, or downright disturbing storylines, created half by the game and half by the player's imagination.