Jameson Durall knew early on that video games could take him anywhere he wanted to go – a calling he’s followed into a decade-long career as a game designer. Like many of his generation, his journey started with the Nintendo Entertainment System, and the possibilities for creative storytelling packed inside that stocky grey box.
“The Legend of Zelda turned me into a game designer,” he says. “It felt like a true interactive story was being told for the first time, something I could get into and really experience this evolving storyline. I was like, ‘I want to know how to do that.’ It was always a dream.”
Years later Jameson has done just that, building a successful career creating the stories and gameplay for a string of massive franchises at the industry’s top studios. He landed his first major break as game designer at Oddworld Inhabitants after graduating from Full Sail’s Game Development program in 2001. Filled with twisted humor and creative gameplay, the Oddworld titles are some of the most renowned of their time, and Jameson was fortunate to contribute to the studio’s critically acclaimed finale Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath.
“There, designers did everything – dialogue, scripting, the levels, we even did basic animations if we needed to,” he says. “For me it was the first time that I went in and used every bit of the knowledge I had and then learned tons of new things at the same time. We did such great stuff together and made something that was so awesome. I have people to this day tell me that they really loved that game.”
Following that inspiring debut, Jameson accepted a role as level designer at Electronic Arts’ Redwood Shores studio – a transition that saw him go from a small company of few dozen people to a corporate headquarters with around 2000 on site. The move brought new responsibilities, and allowed him to take the reins on the mission and story structure for The Godfather: The Game and The Simpsons: The Game, two licenses with very devoted fans to contend with.
“It’s really good because you get that fan base, but it’s really difficult because you have to make sure that you’re adhering to what they expect, but also making things fresh,” he says. “The thing for me is I always want to tell a story in a way where the player is constantly moving through it and getting the impactful moments at the right time. I think we did a really great job with that on The Simpsons, people told us it was just like playing an episode, which was exactly what we were going for.”
Following his success at EA, Jameson continued shaping his own story by moving to his current home at Volition, Inc. The Illinois studio is known for their innovations in game engine technology, which has afforded him the opportunity to completely redefine his approach to design with the Red Faction series. Until joining Volition he’d been focusing on building levels, which his first project Red Faction: Armageddon would completely reverse by allowing players to destroy nearly everything in the game.
“I think the best professional moment for me was the completion of Red Faction: Armageddon,” he says. “I didn’t inherit anything, I came in and molded and formed what we wanted with my design team. We built the game around our geo-mod engine, which is a truly destructible environment. It’s an experience that you can’t get from other games, and I had a huge impact on the project, and was really able to guide that area. That experience was awesome.”
As a fan turned industry vet Jameson is helping to not only shape new gaming trends, but has also left behind iconic gameplay experiences for players who have grown up on the titles he’s worked on. It’s not every career that continues to offer that kind of inspiration after more than ten years, and he’s grateful for the new adventures he still gets from video games.
“When I look back at the path that I’ve taken, I feel like I’ve achieved what I always dreamt that I would be able to,” he says. “It’s a lot of hard work, but there’s times where you’ll read a review about a level that you did and someone will be like ‘This part is awesome, I really had fun doing this,’ and there’s no greater compliment than that. Seeing consumers love what you do is really special.”