Story #12 Freek

When I think about my most influential teachers, I think there were two

  • 19.09.16

Freek Hoekstra (alumnus) is a procedural technical artist at EA Sports Vancouver and this is his #NHTVStory:

The game virus, I think it started when I was about six or seven years old. A buddy of mine had this game: Command & Conquer, and Red Alert. We were awful at this game and we got beat all the time, until we figured out that there is a level editor. We were giving ourselves advantages and beating the computer this way. It taught me a lot about balance, because I found out that making too many advantages by myself was too easy. We started drawing these custom scenarios/maps at school and doing less schoolwork. I started a modding team when I was sixteen or seventeen years old and we made our own projects and eventually I got accepted as student at NHTV.

I think what I learned mostly of being at school at that period is a lot of fundamental “hard” skills. I learned the technical skills to make it into the profession. I was really forced to learn things that I didn’t learn much before. For example rigging, where we had really complicated skeleton rigs, where you used to control your characters. That was not something that I had looked into. Or scripting, that was not something that I had looked in to before. I thought it was hard so I stayed away from it. NHTV focused attention on these really hard subjects, because most of the other things you can learn yourself, but you can’t just learn that. I have learned a lot and as it turns out, it’s what’s daunting that will eventually end up landing you a job, if you think something is hard, do it, because the chances are others think it’s hard too.

When I think about my most influential teachers, I think there were two: Andrew Paquette, he taught me that it is never good enough. No matter what you do it is never good enough and no excuse is ever valid for anything, which is ‘subpar’. ‘It doesn’t matter that you have dyslexia, I don’t care. You have to deliver the same amount of work as everybody else; you have to deliver the same quality of work as everybody else just delivers’. And at first it was a harsh lesson, but he was right instead of getting a cushy advantage we were all held to the same quality bar, as we would in a real company forcing us all to strive for the best and overcome our weaknesses. The other influential teacher has been Kim Goossens. Kim Goossens is a visionary; he really invented this field of Game Art Proceduralism, which has become my job. And he shunted me, shoved me and forced me into this path. I disliked it a first and sometimes we butted heads but in the end it has been incredibly good for my career and my personal development, He is a very hard worker, very clever, very inspirational; a very forceful man. He is a very good person and I have the greatest respect for what he did.

So, what’s really started of my career? I used to a level designer starting with Command & Conquer to Unreal, Quake, Halflife,Unreal 2003/2004 etcetera. That was kind of where I came from I did some modeling to add custom assets to my levels, and I fiddled a bit with animation but not in depth.

And then NHTV made me do way more art, texturing and animation but other rarer skills as well. Kim taught high quality rigging (the skeleton for animation), scripting, and procedural modeling. With Proceduralism basically the idea is, instead of making everything by hand, you can write a system that takes an input which generates something. For example, I draw a line; it can make it into a road. If you draw two lines that cross each other, it will make two roads with an intersection in the middle. And by making it easy, it means that you can make a city very quickly. Sure, to make the first road, it takes longer as you have to make the system, but if you have to make a hundred roads, it is much more efficient to make a system for it. And this was original new. People were all about handcrafting everything and Kim saw that with the games getting bigger, it was going to be impossible to do everything by hand. So he pushed for procedural content and it is absolutely exploding all across the game industry.

So it was great having had a leg up on the competition. And Now I work with my great colleagues at EA, Caleb Howard has been an inspiration in his low resistance approach (basically say yes to everything, we’ll figure out how to make it work), and Ivan de Wolf has taught me so much about code/algorithm structure, and have diversified to do more traditional Tech art also, I have become a more well-rounded individual in the process over the last few years. All-in all I could not have been better positioned for my professional life, NHTV taught me well.”

And again for anyone who reads this, I was bad with math all my life, I feared programming and now it’s my job, just because it is hard doesn’t mean it can’t be done.