Senior World Designer Elijah Houck has been creating open world content since his early teens
Elijah sat down with us to explain what a Senior World Designer does, how he entered the field, and where he gets his inspiration from.
Hi Elijah, please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm Elijah. I have been at Guerrilla for a little over a year and a half now. I started in February of 2020, just a few weeks before the COVID pandemic struck.
Oh wow, what was that like?
It was sort of a strange start! Thankfully I was able to stay in one of Guerrilla’s company apartments while I got my bearings. And of course everyone in Amsterdam speaks English, which made it considerably less daunting.
So what do you do at Guerrilla?
I'm a Senior World Designer working on the World Dressing team for Horizon. We handle a lot of the ambient open world content — anything from placing roads in the world to guide players around, to framing nice views for the player as they round a bend. This also includes things like designing random events and open world combat encounters that aren't part of any quest.
What did you do before you joined Guerrilla?
Previously I was at Rockstar Games for six years. While I was there I worked on Red Dead Redemption II and Red Dead Online as a Senior Game Designer.
How does your current role compare to your position as a Senior Game Designer?
My role at Rockstar Games was more technical and less design-oriented. I handled a lot of the back-end systems that allowed other designers to create content within the Red Dead Online game world. However, I had always wanted to get into world design on a professional level because that's what originally got me interested in game design. And now I'm finally doing that!
How did you become interested in world design in the first place?
I started by creating mods for open world Bethesda titles in my spare time — specifically Fallout 3, where I recreated my hometown of Alton, Illinois in a post-apocalyptic setting. I worked on that for a few years and released it when I was 15 years old. That mod was my first foray into game design and world design, and I loved it. I’ve been working on mods ever since.
Did you have any formal schooling in game design as well?
No. I started on a computer science degree at university, but I quickly became impatient with it. I remember there was an accounting class that I hated, and so I would spend my time there applying to jobs all over the industry. Of course, being a 19 year old at the time, I got a billion rejection emails. But eventually one company emailed back, and that was Rockstar Games. Of all the companies I wrote to, they were the last I’d expected to email me back. But they did, and it worked out great. I dropped out after my second semester and moved to Massachusetts to work for Rockstar New England as a junior game designer.
When did you realize you wanted to be in games professionally?
As a 15 year old I didn't even think of it as a potential career — I just thought it was something fun and cool to do. The technical frustrations I experienced with the mod tools available to me were off-putting as well, because I imagined that’s what I would constantly have to deal with as a game designer.
But because I was spending so much time doing it, my dad asked me to consider if this was something that I wanted to pursue as a career. And after some time to reflect I realized that it was. From then on, my focus shifted from tinkering for my own enjoyment to expanding my skill set and improving the skills that I thought would be useful in a professional context.
As a Senior World Designer, where do you get your inspiration from?
I've always really, really loved the outdoors, and the way that flora and fauna interact. I try to spend as much time outside as I can — preferably on hiking trips. On my hikes I take tons of photographs, which I then put in a folder on my phone for reference, so that I can look back at them when I’m placing assets. Obviously the Netherlands doesn’t have mountain ranges like Horizon does, but it is very cheap and quick to travel to European countries with vastly different geographies from here.
Thank you for your time, Elijah!