Hailing from a small town in Spain, David Moreno knew he wanted to work in games. A chance encounter at school set him on the path to game development, from indie development to his role now at Guerrilla!
David Moreno shares his story of how he got into game development, the games that inspired him, and how he finds life in Amsterdam.
Hi Dav – can you introduce yourself to our readers? Tell us about your background and where you’re from.
Hola gente! I was born in a tiny town called Doña Mencía in the south of Spain. Nothing overly exciting happens there, but it has a lot of charm.
What was it like growing up in Doña Mencía?
It was – and still is – pretty chill. Everyone knows each other; generally speaking, the town just brings this sense of being a big family that works towards having a nice place we all share. Without a doubt, the best part of growing up there was the friends I made.
Waking up in the morning and being able to see mountains above the town feels energizing, and I’m re-invigorated every time I visit family and friends. Since the town is so small, kids spend all day out in the streets with other kids and it’s easier to create strong bonds since you’re little. We didn’t need cars to see our friends. We could just walk to each other’s houses right after school to start playing until late in the night.
During summertime, we’d end up having water balloon wars until midnight! You might have a random person in the street telling you, “David, your mom is looking for you – you better go home now!”
What were some of your hobbies growing up?
I’ve always been passionate about video games. My first memory goes back to when I was a toddler: I didn’t really want to eat anything. To get me to eat, my dad would connect the NES to the TV – and then I’d eat anything while playing the original Contra!
Apart from games, I’ve always been into drawing, playing football, listening to rock/punk/metal music (I remember asking my mom for a mohawk haircut when I was barely 4 years old). I have a fair bit of interest in anime and horror movies, and anything tech-related, really!
What were you doing before you came to Guerrilla?
I was studying for an IT degree, but I felt it wasn’t for me. I ended up getting my Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and New Media and a Master’s Degree in Game Design.
After I finished my Master’s Degree, I tried to put together an indie studio with some friends. Even though it didn’t turn out the way we wanted, I consider it a great experience for the most part. More than anything, we got to experience a lot of things that I consider useful today. We even won a couple of national and international awards with our small game, Disembodied, an homage to Medievil and similar titles from that era.
I then joined a Spanish studio that had a really good game in the works – but unfortunately, it didn’t impress the publishers and we couldn't carry on with its development.
Finally, I decided to look outside of Spain. I joined Dambuster Studios in Nottingham in the UK, where I worked on Dead Island 2; I have really good memories from that period! After Dead Island 2 was released, Guerrilla appeared on my horizon – no pun intended – and it was a dream come true.
What made you decide to move to Amsterdam?
I moved to Amsterdam for Guerrilla. I’ve been following the studio since Killzone and I loved Horizon Zero Dawn from the first time I played it. Having the opportunity to work with so many talented people and being able to help on something as unique as Horizon is, has been amazing so far!
You always hear about the amazing quality of life that the Netherlands has to offer and how beautiful Amsterdam is – and yes, I found it myself to be true!
How do you find life in Amsterdam?
Amsterdam has so many events going on almost every day. The music scene here is pretty cool. I also love the green spaces and parks to have picnics, as well as the great variety of food choices (bitterballen reminds me of croquetas – it helps me feel closer to Spain). I love biking around the city; I like being active as much as eating, so I think Amsterdam offers the perfect balance!
What sparked your interest in game development as a career?
Being in game development was always on my mind growing up, but I never believed I could make it. As a kid, I didn’t know what I needed to do to get into the industry and never had anyone to guide me. It was one of the downsides of growing up in a small town: the opportunities were limited.
But the opportunity appeared just before I completed my Bachelor’s Degree. During that time, I was looking for what to study next as I wasn’t sure what to do with my life. Coincidentally, my university hosted a video game writing talk where a Narrative Designer talked about his job and the opportunities in the industry.
He mentioned a university in Madrid offering Master’s programs in game design and other game-related disciplines, so I decided to go for it – the kid within me always wanted to do this. And it worked out in the end!
Are there any specific games that inspired you to pursue this as a career?
There are a lot of games that left an impression on me, but the two that come to mind right away are Final Fantasy IX and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, both for different reasons. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t get to play these games.
Final Fantasy IX was the first RPG game I played on PlayStation. I was blown away by the cinematics, the graphics, the dialogues, the music, the story, the depth of the topics that were covered in the game, the world itself… It was like entering a whole new world. With Majora’s Mask, the atmosphere and the game’s themes blew me away. I actually didn’t play the original as a kid, but played the remake on my Nintendo 3DS. I had played it during a time in my life where I was going through some hardships, so it had a big impact on me emotionally.
Remembering how these games made me feel, I knew I wanted to contribute to something that would evoke these feelings that I had felt.
And here you are, in the gaming industry as a Technical Designer! Can you tell us about technical design: what it is and what you do?
Technical design is a relatively new discipline, and so a Technical Designer’s role can vary across studios. In general, technical design is a role that sits between design and the rest of the departments.
Typically, a Technical Designer will prototype, implement and help shape up systems and tools. These will then be used by designers and other departments to craft the content that the players will play in a modular, efficient and scalable way. For example, if game design wanted to prototype a crafting system similar to the one in Horizon, it would be on technical design to see how this system could be implemented.
During this process, we would talk to other departments to figure out how they would also use the system. Some of these questions could be:
- How would design create recipes to craft new items?
- How would UI get the information that they need from each crafting item?
- Does Aloy have to play animations whilst she crafts? How can animation make them work?
- How would we make a sound play once an item has been crafted?
- Do we need support from engineering to implement this system or do we have all the tools we need to do it cleanly and efficiently?
These questions will have different answers or be completely different depending on the stage of development of the game, so constant communication, feedback and iteration between teams are key!
It sounds like there are a lot of moving pieces in this role. What are some challenging things about it?
Some challenges of the role depend on the nature of what you want to do. One of them is coming up with something completely new.
The first challenge you face is if what you want to implement is possible. You need to check your toolkit and if it cannot be done at that moment, you need to start poking all the departments that need to be involved on it, investigating how it can be done, and solve all the problems that appear on the way. So, again, constant communication is the main tool during this process.
This is an incredibly rewarding process because you get to learn a lot about how other disciplines work or their needs in certain scenarios, for instance.
And what do you enjoy most about being a Technical Designer?
Definitely all the things you get to learn from others and the friends you make working together! That feeling of teaming up to make something that players will enjoy and love is unique and that’s a big part of why I enjoy my job.
Is there anything interesting you’d like to share that fans might love to hear about?
I’ve always been a fan of Horizon, so I bought my PlayStation 5 when Horizon Forbidden West came out. I posted a screenshot on Twitter of Aloy after she defeats the Slitherfang at the beginning of the game, showing how much I was loving the game. That was exactly one year before I knew I was going to work at Guerrilla.
When I started at Guerrilla, I referenced that same tweet to announce that I was joining the team! It was a great feeling as a fan to be able to say that I was part of the team now.
Do you have any advice or tips you’d like to share for those interested in technical design for games?
Make games and make games with people! This is a collaborative industry and one of the most important parts of it is how you work with your colleagues. A game is better when the people who made it had fun and learned from each other during the process.
For technical design specifically, apart from the above, I’d recommend trying to think more about systems and less about features. Learning to architect and build systems that allow designers to iterate content quickly should be one of your main focuses. Understand how things work within the engine you’re working with, and try to come up with solutions that are scalable, generic and modular. That will save you and your team a lot of headaches down the line!
I’d also recommend to everyone interested in designing for games: don’t just play what’s popular, but also play games that are not as popular or mainstream. There’s always something to learn from all kinds of games. Identify what you feel works or doesn’t work, and that can help you in the games you work on!