Developer Spotlight: Scott Walters, Lead Combat Designer
We sat down (virtually) with Lead Combat Designer Scott Walters, who is currently working on Marvel’s Avengers.
Can you do a quick introduction into who you are and what you do on the team?
Hello, my name is Scott Walters and I’m a senior designer on our combat team. I primarily work on the heroes for Marvel’s Avengers, creating interesting combat abilities, unique skills, and fun traversal mechanics. I take our heroes from concept to completion and work with the rest of the team to make sure players have a blast with each and every hero.
What other games have you worked on?
I started out in QA on Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris, the worked on Rise of the Tomb Raider. My first design work was actually for the Cold Darkness DLC for Rise of the Tomb Raider. That mode had randomized elements so you could replay it and it would be slightly different each time. I created the player progression mechanics in that mode, randomizing weapon pickups, weapon upgrades, and skill unlocks.
What got you in your field?
Prior to joining the games industry I worked in IT and consumer electronics. Both of those jobs required strong problem solving abilities which challenged me but didn’t really inspire passion in my career. Wanting something more I revisited the idea of getting into game design and jumped head first into pursuing that career path. I started at Crystal Dynamics with a temp IT position which turned into a full time QA position, and eventually lead me to my path as a designer. I had production experience, but I really wanted to get hands on with the tools and help create the systems that keep me engaged with games that I enjoy. Because I’m a big fan of games with robust combat systems, the combat team was a perfect fit for me.
What’s one thing you can talk about that you helped implement into Marvel’s Avengers?
I’ve been on Marvel’s Avengers since early pre-production so there’s lots of stuff I could go into, but I think the thing I’m most happy about is how we expanded on our melee combat system.
Early on, our melee combat was very simple. Outside of the heroics, you only had a basic melee combo and a single “special attack”. This didn’t really lend itself to pulling off interesting combos because you were primarily just mashing a single button most of the time and occasionally triggering one of your unique moves. We had a lot of action and fighting game fans on the team, and a lot of us knew that what we had wasn’t going to be engaging for players who were coming to this title for fun combat. Black Widow became the first test case for our revamped melee combat, and we ended up turning that single special attack into a heavy combo that you could branch in and out of with your light combo. We added air juggling, unique traversal attacks, and a larger suite of enemy hit reactions so players could create interesting combo chains. I think it’s one of the best decisions we made and why a lot of players really enjoy our combat.
What do you wish everyone knew about game development?
It takes a lot of work. A game with as many moving pieces and systems as Marvel’s Avengers isn’t a simple thing to make and requires a huge collaboration amongst of lot of people. Something like creating a new hero isn’t a super quick and simple process. We have to come up with a narrative reason to add them, designers need to create the combat and abilities that make the character feel different from the existing roster, and our animators need to create a unique suite of animations that capture their character. The VFX artists need to go in and make everything look awesome, our audio team comes in and adds that extra layer to make everything feel more present and real, and engineering is there to make the systems and tools we all use. Our producers work to keep us on track and our QA department helps us iron out the flaws and make sure the fun is there. There’s a whole host of other roles that work to support and bring the character to life: concept artists, voice actors, motion capture actors, cinematics teams, studio administration, and IT.
Amazing games can be made by an incredibly talented and small group of individuals – we have plenty of proof of that with the games that are out there. But just as many games require a large, concentrated effort to make it to market. No matter how big or small your team is, if you managed to ship a game you should be proud of that accomplishment because it’s no small feat.
What is your favorite thing about working at Crystal Dynamics?
The people. I love the Tomb Raider and Avengers IP, but it’s the people that truly make working here special. We have amazing, talented individuals that I get to work alongside and learn from while creating incredible games. There are groups of us that play games together daily on our lunch breaks. Back when we were in the office we would all get together to socialize and catch up Friday evenings, we’d have company parties to celebrate our wins and enjoy some much needed relaxation. The people I work with aren’t just my co-workers, they’re my friends.
Can you give our community a hint at what you’re currently working on?
We teased our upcoming War for Wakanda expansion. Right now, I’m working on finalizing Black Panther’s combat abilities and skills to ensure they feel unique and authentic to the character. That means going through a lot of comic references, looking at a lot of past iterations of Black Panther, and constantly refining our combat to make sure he’s amazing to play.
If you could give a prospective future Crystal Dynamics employee one bit of advice, what would it be?
Be curious. If you want to be an expert in one particular field that’s fine, but don’t stay in the dark about other aspects of game development. The more you know about how a game is made, what each discipline needs to do, and how things work, the more successful you’ll be as a game developer. It’s the people that can communicate and work cross-discipline that really stand out as expert game developers and tend to be more highly valued in the long term.
Who are your heroes?
It’s a bit of a clichéd answer, but my mom is my hero. She taught me the value of hard work, and that when things don’t always go your way to never give up and keep pursuing your dreams. To be kind and considerate of others and do your best to help folks out.
What are the characteristics/qualifications you look for in teammates (or if you’re a hiring manager)?
There are a couple of things that I value highly amongst my teammates. Strong problem solving skills are key. Being able to take a problem, break it down, and find a solution is essential to getting work done. The people that really excel at it are thorough and methodical which often leads to well documented implementation and fewer bugs down the road.
Another thing I appreciate is being open about something. Giving honest feedback about things that we’re working on and being able to receive feedback is important for the iterative design process. If you get too boxed into thinking one way, the team and product can suffer in the long run. When we all communicate and work together, we can all learn new things and improve.
Anything you want to say to our community?
I really appreciate all the kind words and awesome videos and screenshots everyone takes for our games. We put a lot of hard work and long hours into making something special and are so happy you all are enjoying it. We are listening too! We hear your feedback – there’s plenty of similar sentiments amongst the team too – and we are constantly looking at ways to improve and expand our game to deliver even more enjoyment to our players. Thanks for being here and travelling down this path with us.