Senior Game Designer at Ubisoft RedLynx game development studio in Helsinki, Finland.

From Bangalore to Helsinki

Introducing our Associate Lead Game Designer
Sampath Velumani.

Soheila Mikkonen

Writer: Soheila Mikkonen
Title: Freelance writer

Fresh Redlynxian Sampath Velumani relocated from Bangalore, India to Helsinki, Finland, in the midst of the past winter. The Associate Lead Game Designer currently works with the real-time collectible card game South Park: Phone Destroyer.
As an international applicant, how did the application process go for you?

Before I got this job I was actually considering joining another company. Ubisoft RedLynx called me back saying: “Hey, listen. We like you. Would you be interested in joining?” I said yes but that I had only a week before I was going to join this other company. So, they said fine, let’s have some interviews this week. I ended up having numerous rounds of interviews in one week! RedLynx was able to make time for me and I really, really appreciated that. It was intense but I got to know the team and the team got to know me.

How was your relocation to Helsinki like?

I’ve obviously talked with other game designers since I moved to Helsinki. RedLynx is by far one of the best in terms of relocating people. It’s really encouraging that you can focus on your work, since the team at RedLynx help you take care of the rest.

The HR department supported me all the way, getting all of my and my wife’s documents sorted out, as well as helping with our luggage and finding a temporary apartment. Even after that they helped me search for a permanent home. HR hired a local agent to assist me with all of the paperwork and that agent was kickass! I left our four family dogs, many friends and relatives behind in India. Change is rough but beautiful. And eventually, I’ll get my dogs to Finland.

How familiar were you with the company when you joined?

Ubisoft has a huge brand attached to it, and I knew that RedLynx has worked with Ubisoft Pune in India. When you ask around, you get nothing but good feedback. That’s when you know you’re going to be in a safe spot. Then you come to Finland and see the company cares about you and your family.

What has been the most positively surprising thing about working at RedLynx?

The office is filled with expats as well as Finns. If you check on the internet, it says Finns are introverts. But you can’t stereotype. Sure, some of them are but basically they just mind their own business. If you ask, they will help, no matter who they are.

“Everyone works together, making life better in and outside of our studio. You don’t feel like a foreigner.”

What’s the work culture like?

Everyone is focused on getting the task done. If we set a goal for a task in two weeks, very often it’s done ahead of time. People here actually play the games. I can’t tell you how many game companies I’ve heard of that don’t play their own games!

Everybody brings something to the discussion from their point of view, whether they’re an artist or in quality control. To be honest, I’ve been playing South Park: Phone Destroyer for two months now, but there are some folks here who’ve played it for three years. They know it way better but they respect you and ask for your opinion. People here are talented, passionate and focused.

You’re an Associate Lead Game Designer. How would you explain to others what game designers do?

Think of game designers as directors of a movie. If you play digital chess, the artist will come up with five different pawns. The pawn could look like this or like that. The programmer will bring it to life in terms of moving the pawn around. Game designers generally set the rules for the game. For example, the game is going to happen in an eight by eight grid. The game includes these pieces, this is the win-loss condition, this is how you kill another unit, and so forth. Making it all work and at the same time having a strategy for what sort of experience you want to give to the player – telling that story through a game, is what we do.

What does your typical day look like?

Every day throws a different curveball. South Park: Phone Destroyer is a live online game. If we release something new today, we get feedback in half an hour to an hour. We can pretty quickly see what the data says, what our game community feels about it and then respond accordingly. I personally do a lot of analyzing, that’s just my professional background. The data is a guide, it’s not the Bible.

Card design is very important in the South Park project. We release a new card every month. Each one of them is unique and with each, we face a different scenario. Running this process through various disciplines is among the key things I do.

“One of the most important things is to be brave and ask questions.”

If you’re presenting an idea and nobody asks any questions, that’s a problem. We want everyone to contribute. Communication is central. Everything can’t be fine and dandy all the time.

Sampath’s tips for aspiring game designers
  • Cultivate an in-depth understanding for games. Do a lot of deconstructs – play a game and write down what was great and bad about it. Figure out why you got hooked on it and why you enjoyed it.
  • Understand the trends. Explore the market, go to the Play Store and see what are the top 100 trending games. Play them. Also play games that are not so popular. Figure out why they didn’t do so well and what you could do to make them better.
  • Become excellent at documenting your ideas and communicating them clearly to others. There are many disciplines within game design: system designers, narrative designers, level designers, designers who come up with the rules and the game play loop. Whatever you specialize in, articulating your ideas is key.

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