Alumni Stories - Grant Bolton

Grant Bolton Name: Grant Bolton
Job: Games Programmer
Employer: EA Games
Degree: BEng Computer Science and Software Engineering 2004

Grant Bolton has one of those dream jobs - developing computer games for handheld systems, such as PlayStation Portable, and Nintendo DS.

If you have skidded off a wet track in Burn Out, it was probably due to Grant’s weather effects. Right now he's working on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that is being turned into a PSP game.

Grant has a degree in Computer Science and Software Engineering from the University of Birmingham, with his final year project focussing on AI in games.

After graduating, Grant spent six months working as a Games Tester at Lionhead Studios on the game ‘Black & White 2’ before joining the graduate programme at EA Games, the leading entertainment software company.

Burn Out Legends Screeshot Courtesy EA Games Burn Out Legends Screeshot Courtesy EA Games

“My degree course helped me develop some of the core skills needed to be a Games Programmer. At Birmingham you learn a lot of maths, physics and AI that is the foundation for Computer Science and a good platform for a career in games development”.

Games programmers are software engineers who plan and write game software. They turn the ideas into a game that works. Games development involves a lot of complex programming. In Burn Out, algorithms describe how the car turns corners, how quickly they accelerate, decelerate and the cars react to crashes.

“Working on handhelds is a good way to learn to be a careful programmer. With hand held games, speed of the game is critical. The code you write has to be efficient as you only have a small amount of memory. You have to write software that accomplishes as much as possible with the fewest possible instructions, allowing room for more features.”

Burn Out Legends Screeshot Courtesy EA Games Burn Out Legends Screeshot Courtesy EA Games

In any development team there are usually eight programmers who work under a lead programmer. Each programmer has a responsibility for a particular aspect of the game, including engine, AI, graphics, sound and tool programmers.
Grant’s main responsibility is for the AI part of a game and game mechanics. “I write code to make computer controlled characters act realistically. “I write a set of rules to dictate how characters react to the player. It is an exciting area of games development. The quality of the AI can determine the quality of the game. The smarter the bad guys, the harder they are to kill!”

For those looking for entry into games development, Grant says, “Testing is a good way into the industry. It is a common misconception that games is difficult to get into. I Worked on Black & White 2, where I was involved in improving the design rather than just bug hunting. I also recommend bring gaming into your university projects, where you can get experience in building demos.”

With the introduction of next generation video-game console such as Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii, programmers will be able to develop even more sophisticated and intelligent games. “At the end of the project, seeing the game in the shops and your name on the credits is very exciting. Seeing your friends enjoying the game is also great.”