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From gamer to games design

Ben Marrinan is making a name for himself in the games industry. The boy who used to play video games after school is now a successful games designer, creating games for the next generation to enjoy.

By TAFE Queensland

Despite what most people tell you, doing well in school isn't a great indication of future success. Like many high school students, Ben Marrinan didn't take much of an interest in his studies. It wasn't until he found his true passion in games design that he really started to apply himself. Now the boy who used to spend his free time playing video games after school is a successful games designer, creating new and innovative games for the next generation to enjoy.

"In Year 12 and the years coming up to it I didn't do that well at school because I didn't find it very motivating — and I played more games than I should have," Ben admitted.

"It wasn't until I came to TAFE Queensland that my true passions really came out of me. I just kind of had that switch where all of a sudden I'm working a lot harder because I'm really enjoying the work," he said. 

Ben always had an interest in games and knew from a young age that he wanted a career in the games industry, but admits that making games is very different to playing them. 

"The secret about design that you discover is that learning is actually really fun. Making games really is just about teaching people things," he said.

"In the context of games it's teaching you; this is how you jump, this is how you run — you don't just throw people in the deep end. And it's very much the same with teachers, making learning fun is really what a good teacher is all about. And being at TAFE was pretty fun."

It was that fun, hands-on learning environment that Ben credits for allowing him to hit the ground running once he graduated. 

"At TAFE Queensland they teach everything you need to know, they cover all the basics — programming, art, design, as well as some audio — you kind of dabble in everything so when you leave you're able to fully make a game. A lot of my job is talking to and working with other people and you really need a good base understanding of everything to be able to do that," he said. 

One of the things that Ben loves about his current role, and gaming in general, is the rapid pace of change in the industry. 

"A few months ago a game came out of nowhere and now it's the biggest game in the world, so you've really got to be on the ball all the time. I have to stay up-to-date, looking at all the games coming out because what you're working on right now isn't necessarily going to be relevant by the time you finish it. That's really what the whole industry's trying to do — trying to predict the future," he said. 

It was that connection to what was happening in the industry that initially drew Ben to TAFE Queensland. 

"When I was studying here, back in 2009-2010, that was the rise of iPhone and phone games in general. TAFE Queensland was the only place that I know of actually getting you to make phone games. They've continued that trend and are still ahead of the curve," said Ben.

"Coming back here now I can't believe the amount of stuff that's here — motion capture, all these different games, and the games labs have these incredible PCs that I wish I had — I'm really quite impressed and jealous of what everyone has here," he said. 

Just seven years since graduating, Ben has already made a name for himself in the gaming world. His first job in the industry was as lead designer on Fruit Ninja, the wildly successful mobile game from one of the world's most well known indie developers, Halfbrick. The game has had over 1 billion downloads since its release during the mobile games boom in 2010.

Since then, Ben has gone on to start his own games company and released the critically acclaimed Nintendo Switch game Mr. Shifty, which was nominated for best debut indie game at the 2017 Game Awards. The awards recognise and uphold creative and technical excellence in the global video games industry.

"For me, running my own company has been an incredibly great experience. It is stressful but it's been extremely rewarding at the same time — it's been a really exciting adventure," he said.

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