Guerrilla Spotlight: Alexis Russell
Senior Producer Alexis Russell traded the hustle and bustle of New York City for a better work-life balance in Amsterdam
We sat down with Alexis to talk about her path into game development, her role as a producer, and what it was like to join Guerrilla shortly before the pandemic.
Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?
I’m Alexis Russell. I'm a Senior Producer with the Environment Art teams at Guerrilla, and recently I picked up some of the Design teams as well. I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee in the United States, but I went to the West Coast for college and then to the East Coast to live there for a bit.
I've been working in videogames since 2015, when I had my first job as an art producer at a contractor studio. I worked on the BioShock remaster that came out in 2016 and then moved to New York to work with Avalanche Studios, creators of the Just Cause series. I joined Guerrilla at the very beginning of 2020, just before the pandemic hit! I've been in Amsterdam together with my husband for a little bit over two years now.
Was it always your ambition to go into videogames or did it happen by chance?
I wouldn’t say that it was always my ambition. I decided on it when I was 19 or 20 years old, during university. I did grow up playing a lot of games — I think that’s true for many Guerrillas — but I never thought anything of it. I wasn’t even aware I played more than other people until one of my college friends pointed it out to me!
Was that sort of an “a-ha moment” for you?
Not at all, actually. I thought, “This is a great opportunity and I’m just going to do it.” I packed two suitcases with my PlayStation 3 and my laptop, and I just moved. I didn’t think about it too much.
That actually came later. One of my early internships was at a company that did movie productions, and one of the products we worked on was a mobile game for a movie they were licensing. That was the first time I thought “Oh, I like”.
Before then it hadn’t occurred to me that you can work in videogames. I was pretty lucky that the university I went to actually has one of the biggest game development programs in the United States. I was able to join in on student projects and get a better sense of what the work is like. I also got to meet key figures from the industry because the founders for League of Legends, for example, were alumni.
How did you make the jump all the way from New York to Amsterdam?
Someone I know from a previous job linked a post from Guerrilla mentioning that they were hiring for producers. And I was like, “Oh, I loved Horizon Zero Dawn, I should apply for this!” I didn't think I would get the job, but I figured I’d give it a try anyway. And here I am!
So what does a producer at Guerrilla do?
Basically, my job is to organize people. I determine how long a team can work on something so it will be ready for the next team when they need it. I also keep a lookout for potential bottlenecks and blockers, so they don’t jam up our production pipeline.
In practice it means coming up with a schedule that ensures people are working on the most important thing for them at all times, but also communicating our progress and priorities clearly so everyone knows when to expect something to be ready.
Does your role change over the course of a project?
In the final stages of the production process it does feel a bit more like firefighting sometimes, because even when everything is on track, you can feel time slipping away. If there’s only three weeks left, you want to make sure those three weeks are spent on the most important stuff — and that can require a lot of small course corrections. So it's still about ensuring that everyone is working on the most important things, except that what is ‘most important’ can shift on a daily basis.
How does your role at Guerrilla compare to what you did at previous companies?
I'd say the core of the job is the same, but there are some nuances that are different. For instance, when I worked for independent studios in the US, I’d spent a good deal of time communicating to the publisher what the project status was, and that meant I didn't get to spend as much time with the team itself. As Guerrilla is part of PlayStation Studios, we have a very trusting relationship with our publisher (PlayStation), so that frees me up to focus on people more.
You joined Guerrilla shortly before the pandemic hit — what was that like?
It was super weird, but I also felt very lucky with my colleagues. The day before the first lockdown went into effect, I was actually supposed to fly back to California to visit my then-fiancé’s family, and I’d planned to go shopping for a wedding dress with my friends while I was there. Obviously I had to cancel the flight, the plans, everything.
And I remember asking Guerrillas that I had only recently started talking to if they’d be interested in going wedding dress shopping with me once the lockdown was lifted, because it didn’t seem like I’d get a chance to do it with my friends in the US. And they were like “Yes, totally!” Sweet little things like that really helped sustain me during the lockdown.
Pandemic aside, how does Amsterdam stack up against the cities you’ve lived in so far?
What I really, really like about Amsterdam is the work-life balance. I love biking to work, and I love that my commute is really short. When I lived in Los Angeles, I drove an hour each way every day and it just took away a lot of my free time. New York was better in that regard, but it was so incredibly crowded and hectic all the time. Amsterdam has a much more relaxed vibe — it’s still a city, but it’s not that big. It feels like you can bike across the city in half an hour.