When Shaun McCabe joined Insomniac Games near the end of 2003, shortly after he earned a degree from Full Sail University, he jumped into a game that the company hoped would recapture the magic it had discovered with its popular “Spyro the Dragon” series.
McCabe became the sound programmer on the adventure game “Ratchet & Clank,” the story of a Lombax named Ratchet who traveled around with a robot companion named Clank.
Several “Ratchet & Clank” titles later, McCabe continues to build video games for the studio as its head of technology.
“On the technical side, our good friends at Naughty Dog offered to let us use components of the ‘Jak & Daxter’ engine as a foundation for a demo,” he said. “The rest, as they say, is history. It speaks to the true nature of creativity. Great products are often the result of constraints and culture rather than resources and strategy.”
McCabe was recently named to Full Sail University’s Hall of Fame and granted The OVG an interview to talk about his career and his time in Orlando.
The OVG: What is it like to work on AAA titles like ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Ratchet & Clank?’
Shaun McCabe: It’s like any worthy opportunity – both incredible and terrifying.
I came to Insomniac Games because of Ratchet & Clank and several years later, got to co-direct four of them. It was exciting, for sure.
But it also came with a profound sense of responsibility.
When you have a chance to work with a character like Spider-Man – one of the most recognizable and beloved in the world – it the same experience on steroids.
And as challenging as it may be, this experience is what draws folks to Insomniac, the chance to explore amazing worlds and amazing characters.
OVG: How did Full Sail University play into your success at Insomniac?
SM: In every possible way.
I became interested in game development because of Final Fantasy VII; that was the initial spark. But it was Full Sail that provided me with the opportunity to actually make it happen.
I often tell people that Full Sail is in the “dream realization” industry; that’s certainly what they did for me.
OVG: Full Sail recently opened its Fortress, the esports arena. What are your thoughts on esports’ growth?
SM: It’s perfect for Full Sail, building on its strengths in gaming, show production, film/tv, sportscasting and more.
The growth in esports blows my mind. I had no idea how big of a thing it was until I went to (the esports competition) IEM Oakland a couple of years ago.
Had you told my younger self that someday,15,000 people would pack into a sports arena to watch games – I wouldn’t have believed it.
Nor that highlights from League tournaments would be on SportsCenter. It really speaks to how games have effectively become mainstream in recent years.
OVG: Can you tell me the difference between working in a AAA studio and an indie studio like those around Orlando?
SM: I think the biggest difference is the impact you can have on a product and a company.
At a larger, well-established studio, you have a robust support structure in place, both in terms of resource and culture. You can trust that if you come to work every day and do outstanding work, you’ll likely end up with a product that connects with an audience.
You’ll get to see your game on the shelves and enjoy that moment of “I helped make that”.
At a smaller, and newer studio, it’s more like working without a net; in a sense, you are the support structure.
At the same time, by virtue of numbers, your contributions will naturally have a greater impact on the end-product. And you’ll know that everything you do could one day become an integral part of the origin story for a successful venture.
OVG: How has Orlando changed in the years since you attended Full Sail?
SM: It’s grown a lot.
When I was a student, there were really only a couple of developers in town: Tiburon and N-Space. If you wanted a job, odds were you’d wind up in California, which I did.
And while we haven’t seen big growth in AAA development, there’s a lot more activity on the startup and indie side. These days, students are as excited about starting a small, local studio as pursuing positions in larger, out-of-town developers.