Conor Canavan, software engineer at Warp Digital, talks about shifting from mobile to console games, the challenges of triple-A development and his FIFA ambitions
How did you break into games?
I started relatively late. Nobody in my immediate family was computer-literate growing up, but I knew that I liked GTA: Vice City enough to pursue “something to do with games” in tertiary education. I joined a tiny games development course in Letterkenny IT. My lecturers chose me to represent LYIT at MassDiGI – an American summer internship course that allows students to release their first titles on mobile.
Within a few months of graduating I got a job at London-based Kuju. Unfortunately, six months later the project was discontinued, and I suddenly lost my job. My executive producer at Kuju kindly recommended me to Warp Digital where I’ve been working for three years.
What has been your proudest achievement so far?
It’s a tie: Releasing Takeover Trail with MassDiGI was such a great feeling. The public playtest after months of sheltered work legitimised how rewarding game development can be. Post-release we found out it had been featured in one of the UK App Store categories – so cool!
At Warp it’s definitely my contribution to Pumped BMX Pro (Xbox, Switch). That signified a shift for me from mobile to console games. I always wanted to release a console game!
What has been your biggest challenge to date?
The move to triple-A development. Warp began co-development with Funcom in 2019. For me this meant working with Unreal Engine and C++ professionally for the first time. I also had much more responsibility to provide solid code because a broken build could block a lot more colleagues. My skillset had to expand quickly to keep-up, but I feel a lot more comfortable over a year later. It’s thrilling to be able to confidently work on much larger projects now!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Well, it’s never boring! I love making things work. It’s what attracted me to programming while in Letterkenny IT. Finishing a project to the point where people can play it is so satisfying. Then the coronavirus pandemic showed how meaningful games are to people and their ability to stay connected – so, the day-to-day satisfaction is now bolstered with the idea that games can have a positive effect on people.
What’s your biggest ambition in games?
When playing Pro Clubs with my friend Kevin I always said I’d work on FIFA one day, and I meant it! However, joining Warp allowed me to get a lot more projects under my belt quickly than at a big company. The experience I’m building here is more diverse, and I’m aiming to be a project lead on a port in the not-too-distant future. Long-term, I’d like to somehow use my skills and know-how to provide more opportunity back home, in Ireland. Brenda and John Romero are doing inspiring things by sharing their wealth of knowledge at universities, and I’d like to emulate that. I would be elated to be in their position someday.
What advice would you give to an aspiring software engineer?
There is no magic answer but the best advice that I received (a lot) was “make things”. Don’t expect to make The Last of Us right away. You’ll encounter challenges that you can’t anticipate. It will help you identify weaknesses in your skillset and provide you with opportunities to improve. It also gives you something to talk about with your peers, or in a job interview. And it’s fun! You’ll quickly find out what you enjoy doing.