This article is part of Virtuos Insider, a series of interviews where Virtuosi share about their careers and experiences in the company and video game industry at large. In this installment, we chat with Shen, a technical director at Virtuos Shanghai, who has been with Virtuos since 2005, one year after the company’s inauguration.
Since our founding in 2004, Virtuos has seen countless evolutions and transformations in both itself and the video game industry. A select few have witnessed this together with the company – one of them being Shen, a technical director at Virtuos Shanghai, who has been with us since 2005.
Shen started her career at Virtuos as a junior programmer, after graduating with a Computer Science (CS) degree from university. Being one of our first recruits on board, she proudly shared with us that her company ID is 024, as the 24th person to ever join Virtuos. To find out more about her 17-year journey from a junior programmer to a technical director at Virtuos Shanghai, we sat down with Shen to listen to her story.
Tell us more about your career history in Virtuos, and how you came to join us back in 2005.
Like many others in the industry, I’ve enjoyed playing games from a young age. In university, I took up CS as my major and found my interest in C and C++ programming. There wasn’t as much work out there for C++ programmers at the time compared to today, and game development was one of the few jobs that I could see myself enjoying while putting my skills to use. While I was job-hunting after completing my studies in 2005, I chanced upon Virtuos and looked up the company’s history. While researching about Virtuos, I learned more about Gilles and his history in the video game industry, which gave me confidence that Virtuos would be a good company to work for.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of working on a variety of AAA game projects for PC and consoles, and it’s definitely one of the many reasons that motivate me to keep working at Virtuos. Working on AAA game projects is always a great learning opportunity!
Could you tell us more about what you do as a Technical Director?
As a technical director, my job is to plan and craft the technical strategy for projects undertaken by Virtuos. I identify project risks and challenges, come up with ways to mitigate them, monitor the progress of programming tasks in projects and support our technical teams. I also work closely with our producers to create backlog tasks, cooperate with other departments and advise them on technical decision-making.
Describe to us what a day at work in Virtuos Shanghai is like.
Every day at work is a unique day, but I usually start the day with a short stand-up meeting with my team to get everyone started in the morning. During our stand-up meeting, we share and discuss daily progress updates on projects and issues that have been identified, before proceeding with work as usual. During lunch, some of us take a nap to rest up before we return to our tasks, if needed! Besides my tasks, I take a bit of time throughout the day to work on the issues identified in the morning with my team members and give them advice on how to resolve them.
Shen with the Virtuos Shanghai team
What was your most memorable moment working at Virtuos in the last 15 years?
Many years ago, I worked on a project porting a Final Fantasy game from PlayStation 2 (PS2) to PlayStation 3 (PS3) and PlayStation Vita (PSVita). It was my first time working on such a famous franchise and a JRPG, which is my favorite game genre.
The project was very technically challenging and being a smaller team (at that time), we were less experienced working with PS2 and its assembly code. The game’s engine was completely different from other game engines, along with several other factors that posed a considerable challenge to us. Our team put in a lot of effort learning about PS2 game programming from scratch and collaborated with many different teams.
We eventually managed to overcome the challenges together as a team to successfully port the game, learning many lessons and skills from the project along the way. I learned a lot about what I need to do as a team leader, and what types of problems and issues to prioritize.
I remember being very happy when I learned that the sales volume of the game port on the PS3 and PSVita did very well too!
Shen and her colleagues celebrating the project’s completion with a team photo
As a senior colleague in the Shanghai studio, many young Virtuosi in the technical teams look to you for guidance. So what’s one tip or advice that you often share with them?
If you’re working on a task and still can’t get any ideas after 1-2 hours, it’s good to ask your team leader or senior teammates for help and advice. It’s a good habit to communicate with others during work to share knowledge and bounce ideas off each other; you never know what you may get out of it!
Let’s get to know you better. Do you like playing games, and do you have a favorite game? What do you normally do on weekends and in your free time?
I mostly play JRPGs in my free time, but I’ve also been playing Horizon Zero Dawn, which is my favorite game at the moment. Another game that I really enjoy is Xuan-Yuan Sword 3: Beyond the Clouds and Mountains.
Shen cycling and participating in outdoor activities
Besides games, I also enjoy watching videos, reading, exercising, and checking out game programming resources on weekends and in my free time.
You’ve been working in the game industry since you graduated from college, and at Virtuos all this time. What keeps you going?
I enjoy learning new things from the wide array of projects I get to work on at Virtuos. With new technology, platforms, C++ features – game programming is evolving, and new features come up all the time. Learning new skills by working on a wide variety of projects keeps my job interesting for me.
As someone who loves playing games, I want to make good games for players out there as well. I want to do my best to provide players with the best user experience and make them excited to play the games made by us.
Of course, things do get difficult and tiring sometimes – we are only human and it’s essential to maintain work-life balance and get enough rest. After working on large, challenging projects, I spend some time “recovering” by working on more manageable projects before taking on a bigger challenge.
If you could share one piece of advice to yourself back in 2005, or another fresh graduate planning to join the video game industry, what would you say?
Never stop learning throughout your career. It’s essential to step out of your comfort zone, constantly improve your skills and spend time on your personal development and growth. You never know what you can achieve when you put in the effort and seek proper support.
Thank you Shen for sharing your insights with us. Best of luck on the rest of your journey with us at Virtuos!