Tools Engineer

  • Tools Engineer

Tools, in the game development world, are specialized software applications that are designed to facilitate the work of designers, artists, and programmers. A tools engineer is the individual responsible for creating and maintaining that software for the studio. Game development studios use a number of third-party systems like Maya, Houdini, and the Unreal engine to bring characters and environments to life, but many studios also rely on in-house engineers to develop and maintain proprietary systems that are specifically designed to meet the needs of a particular game.


Duties

A tools engineer who is hired on the ground level of development for a new software system will be deeply involved in the system’s initial design and build. The engineer who is brought on board after an existing proprietary application is in place is responsible for adapting that system to the changing needs of the studio by contributing new code programming and continuing to evolve the software, whether it be a game engine, porting pipeline, or 3-D art suite. The tools engineer is also tasked with teaching other in-house programmers the finer points of the system and working closely with animators, character riggers, and other development staff to understand the application’s capabilities. Similarly, when a member of the game design staff insists on new features to be implemented within the tools systems, it is the engineer’s job to make those changes happen quickly, with reliable results. Similar positions also exist within software companies that service the game, visual effects, and animation industries. The goal is to create functional and robust software tools that allow animators, programmers, and designers to work faster, thus speeding the game into the waiting hands of the consumer.

Skills & Education

A formal education in computer programming, software engineering, or game design is recommended, and a college degree in some related field is required. Courses in advanced mathematics are especially valuable. The tools engineer must be proficient in C/C++ scripting languages and additional languages based on the systems used at the specific game development studio. Employers look for engineers and programmers who can write strong, well-commented code that is portable and adaptable. Just as you must have excellent written and verbal communication skills to interact with other members of the staff, your code must communicate effectively and be easily understood by fellow code jockeys. Some 3-D graphic or other game art experience is beneficial.

What to Expect

A position as a tools engineer in the game industry typically requires at least two years of prior programming or software engineering experience, preferably at a game development studio. Also, this leadership role demands an individual capable of monitoring and mentoring subordinate employees and evaluating their performance. Deadlines are a reality in any sector of game development, and the tools engineer must be married to a strict schedule in the development and update of systems. You will be expected to submit regular reports on productivity, benchmarks met, and areas of the tools you and your team have identified for improvement. Studios prefer candidates with well-rounded skills who are imaginative, innovative, and passionate about the next generation of video games.

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