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Game designer takes career to the next level

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Creative hub: Blizzard Entertainment senior game designer Harrison Pink with an Orc statue outside his office (Photograph supplied)

If you’re a gamer then you might be impressed to learn that Bermudian Harrison Pink has helped design games such as Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Tales from the Borderlands series, and Hangar 13’s Mafia III.

If you’re not a gamer, suffice it to say that Mafia III shipped five million copies worldwide during the game’s first week of release in October 2016.

For the last two years, the 34-year old has been a senior game designer at Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine, California, one of the top game design companies in the world. Their game Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft was the third most popular in the United States last year.

But don’t ask Mr Pink what he’s working on right now; it’s all very hush-hush.

“Game companies have very specific timelines for when they want to reveal information to the public and their fans,” Mr Pink explained. “The PR teams works really hard to make sure the announcement (whenever it happens) for their projects land with a big splash, and timing is a bit part of that.”

But he can say, in a general sense, that his speciality is content. He designs things like the dialogue between characters.

Mr Pink said if someone had told him ten years ago that he’d one day be working for Blizzard, he wouldn’t have believed them.

“I have always loved their games,” he said. “Working for Blizzard is the goal for a lot of people in my field.”

He said a lot of game designers burn out after three years, and move on to other firms, but at Blizzard, people are very loyal, staying on for five, ten or even 15 years.

“Right now, I am just focused on trying to learn and evolve as a designer and storyteller,” he said. “I want to add my own value.”

Earlier this year, his alma mater, the Savannah School of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia, awarded him the Scad 40 prize, one of their highest alumni honours.

“I was contacted many months ago about speaking at Scad,” he said. “I really value giving back. I had a lot of support from them when I was trying to get into the industry. I thought I’d be talking about the game design industry.”

But a couple of days before he flew out to Atlanta in April, the school e-mailed to say he’d won the Scad 40 prize.

“I was very surprised,” he said. “Being the first game design major to receive the award was an unbelievable honour. They said it was recognition for my accomplishments and career, so far. There were so many talented people that I went to college with, who were just as deserving.”

His career path has not always been an easy one. He graduated from Scad with a degree in interactive design and game development in 2008, just as the American economic crisis was hitting.

While his American classmates could take a job at a coffee shop while they looked for work in their field, his visa only gave permission for work in his field for a year. Luckily, he said, his field wasn’t nearly as competitive then as it is today.

“Gaming as a career was not new, but game design degrees were somewhat new,” he said.

His first job was resizing banner ads, which fell within his visa remit.

Then after a few months, Lukas Bradley owner of gaming company Thrust Interactive, spotted his LinkedIn profile and offered him a job.

“It was three guys working out of someone’s garage,” Mr Pink said.

But the move helped to launch his career, and he is for ever grateful to Mr Bradley for the opportunity.

From there he leapt from Telltale Games to Hangar 13 to Blizzard in 2017.

As a 14-year-old student at Warwick Academy, he was inspired to go into gaming after playing games like 1997 Cyan Inc’s Riven: The Sequel to Myst, a game renowned for its graphics and puzzles in its day.

Ironically, he says he doesn’t get much chance to play games.

“As a game designer it is necessary so that you can keep up with current trends,” he said. “But after spending seven to ten hours a day staring at a screen sometimes it’s nice to read a book, go for a walk or ride a bike. Inspiration can come from different places.”

College honour: Harrison Pink receiving the SCAD 40 prize from Savannah School of Art and Design president Paula Wallace (Photograph supplied)