Harvey Parker, Head of Art
Harvey joined MPG in November 2019, having been in the industry for over 20 years. His superpower is Empathic Trend Prediction* combined with traditional art training, his kryptonite is Jira, and his favourite colour is pink.
* Empathic Trend Prediction - basically means I have a good antennae for all types of trends, which I use through the lens of player personas. So, whatever the game genre, I can predict trends for appealing visual styles, that will be relevant at the time of game release.
What attracted you to working in games?
Well I joined the industry 21 years ago, and I'm old enough to have had a career before doing that. The decision to join the games industry was also a decision to leave my old career as an illustrator. So they’re very much connected.
I was painting book covers and adverts for seven years - with an agent in London, NY and Tokyo, but it was before we were all connected online, so it was a very solitary profession, especially if you were busy. Seven years in I felt I needed a break, to take a year out and then join the games or movie industry for a year, I really didn’t mind which at the time - I was a fan of both.
Video games had turned a corner visually and I was hearing some illustrators and artists in the movie industry had started to work in games as artists - the technology had reached a point where I saw it being a creative output for someone with my skills.
How did you get into the industry?
A studio called Climax Racing had opened up in my home town of Brighton UK, I contacted them and I took my portfolio of oil paintings along for an interview. They offered me a job and I accepted. I didn’t think too hard about it, as it was only going to be for a year - but that clearly all changed!
Winding back a bit, I was always interested in computers. We got a Sinclair ZX81 when I was ten, then we upgraded to a Spectrum, C64, Amiga - you had to do some programming to get the best out of these machines - or free games, so while I was very much a traditional artist, having gone to a couple of art schools and worked in oil paints, I did have this early interest.
Later as an illustrator I bought a Mac clone Power PC and a scanner - they cost a fortune at the time! Not that I used it professionally, but I messed about online as an early adopter and got somewhat familiar with Photoshop and a few of the other graphics tools back in the late 90s. It was a hobby, but I could see it changing the way commercial artists would work in the future - working online and with computers becoming the norm. This did give me some concerns about being an illustrator I shared with my London agent, they didn’t see it having an impact in the way I did…which concerned me further! :-)
So I joined the industry at an interesting time - where having good traditional art skills and experience as a commercial artist and in particular an illustrator provided me with a great skill set to bring. I was just turning 30, so I felt old within the industry then - I’m glad the workforce has aged with me, now I’m in my 50s I still feel energised and with my most creative years ahead of me!
How is it different now from when you joined?
When I joined, the skills I brought needed transitioning to digital - so I spent some time learning a lot more Photoshop and how materials, lighting and 3D worked for games and this was the new frontier for me. We were developing a release title - MotoGP - for the original XBOX, so a lot of the tech was brand new and we had new ways to make textures, materials and lighting etc - so it levelled the playing field somewhat for a newbie. I found it fascinating and I had joined a team that was happy to teach me the ropes. Within a year the studio offered me a Lead Artist role - I thought it was too soon, but I knew I would stay on in the games industry - so after another year I accepted a Lead Artist role - the equivalent to an Art Director role nowadays.
I wanted to highlight my early years, as nowadays there’s more formal routes in. The roles have specialised, the functions broadened and the business has become more serious in some ways. Also the teams are far more diverse, that first studio I joined was entirely young men apart from one female receptionist, it wasn’t healthy and there was a problem with the culture - there’s still a lot of work to do on this front, but progress has been made, just not as fast as I’d like.
I hold onto the fact - when making games - no matter who you are or what role or experience you have - if you have an idea, it can be brought to the team and there’s the possibility it’ll make it into the final game.
Another difference is the culture, as mentioned, it was pretty toxic ‘back in the day’ and while some studios still struggle with this, or even resist change, I’m very happy that it's improved on the whole. At MPG we’re proud that we have so many Mental Health First Aiders for example - ready to assist staff, something that was unthinkable 20+ years ago!
What's your proudest achievement?
I’ll focus on my gaming career. There’s nothing like getting that first game out. Those first few projects are so informative - I had a great game team and learnt a lot, made mistakes, which you learn more from and evolve for the better. That continual evolution, getting better at your job, nurturing teams and engaging with academia is probably my proudest achievement…and it’s a WIP!
What led you to join MPG?
That first interview for a job in the games industry introduced me to Rik Alexander (Co-founder of MPG), as he was the Producer on the team I was to join. Rik and I have worked together a few times over the years and I’ve always enjoyed it and we remained friends. When he called me to ask if I'd join MPG, I was just coming to the end of a period working in Belgrade, so it was the right time, with the right people and the right role. It often comes down to timing.
What game do you wish you'd worked on and why?
I look at (what appear to be) highly creative projects and wish to have worked on the team - Journey, Monument Valley, Limbo, etc..
Even within an industry like games - there often isn’t enough space for creativity. If anything, success in a studio seems to drive down creativity - which is a big problem.
Maybe I'll get to lead an entire game one day to prove my point, make a tonne of money and rather than letting that success stifle creativity through fear of failure - I'll do it all over again! :-D
Do you have any heroes in the industry, or someone who’s influenced your career to date?
If you’re lucky, there’s a few people who have a lasting positive impact on your career. Rik is one of them, Andy Norman another, Jay Green, Daryl Clewlow, Phil Warner, Henry LaBounta are a few more. Heroes I call on for inspiration are 100% outside the games industry. This industry looks inward too much already for me to find that appealing or inspirational.
What changes would you like to see in the industry?
A bolder industry would be good. There’s a trend for consumer insights to drive games - while they are a very VERY useful tool..I have seen good ideas being thrown away and bad ideas given credence off the back of the interpretation of consumer insights. I would like to see the balance of debate return as a creative endeavour in those situations, rather than the proclamation of “the data is in, this is what we’re doing” - I think the structure of the game teams needs to change to properly integrate these new data driven ways of working :-D
I want to see more diversity in senior, managerial and director roles - we’ve still got a long way to go there. I think of myself as a feminist - the issues women face are far from being female only issues, the problem is with men and the patriarchy. The same goes for any disenfranchised group in a workplace - the issues should be owned most by those in power.
What are you looking forward to?
The next game, always.
Developing the team I have and growing it.
How has the pandemic changed the way you work?
I spend more time working from home, even after the office opened up again. MPG has always been a remote friendly company and now, when a lot of studios are requesting staff return to the office, I’m enjoying the flexibility MPG offers.
We have new tools to use, to collaborate on - it’s different, some better, some worse - but the pandemic has shown this is a sustainable way of working for the whole industry, as long as companies offer the right support and it suits the individuals.
Rock / Paper / Scissors?
A rock, on fire, hurtling towards the planet.