What It Takes

What does it take to be a Senior Gameplay Programmer on our team?

Sweeney: I think there are a couple of things that are important. The first is to be passionate about games, passionate about what you do (in other words, love it and live it!). The second important trait is having good communication skills - being able to go out and talk to other team members. You can’t just sit IMing and emailing the team. It’s good to go and see people, talk to them, and sometimes even act out the types of things you’re trying to put into the game to give an idea of what you’re trying to achieve. It also fosters a team mentality where people all feel like there’s a vested interest in what we’re all trying to achieve, so I think that’s a big part of being programmers. In addition, it’s important to have a strong programming and technical background.

Yssef: Especially for the gameplay programming role, you’ll need to enjoy playing games so that you have a sense of what you would like to see in the final product. Gameplay is very close to the God of War games, but in this role, you’ll be part of a three-prong approach to the team, which includes gameplay programming, design and animation. So, you will need to be very open to talking to designers and animators about what the goal is, as we’re all working towards it together. You should be interested in these other disciplines as well, and you should be able to give and take feedback from animators and designers.

How much do we value personality traits in relation to tech skills? 

Sweeney: I think it’s an equal amount. I think being a good programmer means you need to understand data structures, different pathfinding algorithms, how animation ties into the gameplay A.I. and have very strong math skills because anything with animation or A.I. is going to involve understanding a wide spectrum of linear algebra, matrices, vectors and being able to calculate out various things. But at the same time, we don’t want someone who is going to just sit in their cube, program and go home. In the end, it’s a team effort to achieve a specific goal and create the highest quality product available.

Yssef: We look for programmers who can iterate; someone who can work fast and prototype quickly with animators and designers to see if we’re on track. Also, the goals tend to change and evolve as we are working on them, so constant contact with the team is very important. Like James said, having strong individual skills related to your discipline is key too.

How valuable do you think it is to be independent and forward thinking in this position?

Sweeney: You need to be able to have a strong background and also be forward thinking with the tech at hand in relation to our goals because there are going to be a lot of creative people coming in with various tasks. You want to be able to take what others want to visually see and feel in the game and virtually translate that into something playable. A great Sr. Gameplay Programmer should be able to say, “Here’s the tech that we have to create that,” or “Here’s the tech that we have, and here’s what we need to do to modify it,”; or “We don’t have that tech at all, so we’re going to need to make it from the ground-up”. Understanding your field and being passionate about it as well as knowing the directions and the trends that are occurring are important, in addition to having a very strong ownership to help realize that you’re going to iterate on things and that you’re going to keep changing it where it is like a living creature.  After all, it’s a story that people are going to play.

You need a programmer that can iterate. Someone that can work fast and prototype quickly with animators and designers to see if we’re on track rather than just to go one’s cubicle for a month and work one feature while never checking in with the rest of the team. 

Yssef: James, would you also say it’s important to be creative in programming to a certain degree? As far as resolving those problems?

Sweeney: I would say yes. It’s a strong point if you have some creativity, and you see that you tweak something so that it plays better in the game, or working on a better way to make characters move or having the AI act in a certain way. I think a great Sr. Gameplay Programmer should have a level of creativity that transforms a robotic character into a living, breathing character that has personality with regard to the way it interacts with people in the game and where you happen to fight it.

Yssef: There could be a tendency in code to dive into something with a very heavy-handed solution that is very expensive and time-consuming. While it may show prowess in your discipline, it may not be the most desirable solution because of how long it takes to realize and because how inflexible the final result is.

Is it important for a Sr. Gameplay Programmer to understand the current game world/trends?

Sweeney: I think it’s important for Gameplay Programmers to play games and see what’s out there. It gives them an ability to be inspired and see a lot of things and can incorporate into our game (like the A.I.). It’s important that you understand the current game landscape, so you know what other people have done in terms of the competition. These are people that have read GDC white papers and can pinpoint good ideas to start from.

Yssef: Yeah, for programmers, it’s important to see what the competition is doing, especially the other AAA titles. Not only the games they’re making, but the tech they’ve been developing, as it helps us stay relevant both content-wise and technically. The players start expecting a level of quality that is only possible with a strong engine and tools. It’s also important to feel how gameplay is evolving. For example, are people accepting slower paced games with more fidelity, or are they looking forward to more twitch-based games? Twitchiness is fun because when you press a button, you expect a response, but people also want fidelity and better, more realistic animations, which tend to make responsiveness slower.

I think it’s important for Gameplay Programmers to play games and see what’s out there. It gives them an ability to be inspired and see a lot of things and can incorporate into our game like the AI.

Are there any recent games that have impacted your view in terms of gameplay programming?

Sweeney: I’ve been playing a lot of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The game is most interesting in that it may not have the highest fidelity, but they have very polished gameplay features and areas of the game, which give a very vast look to the world. Even if you don’t have the best graphics or animations, if you spend a lot of time iterating and polishing on a feature, you can make something that is really impressive.

Yssef: I’m a huge fan of Zelda and how they can create gameplay out of one mechanic and then make the player discover a new gameplay mechanic to change their world in a lot of different ways with more puzzles. They’re very good at designing compelling gameplay. Another really relevant game is Street Fighter, which is for the combat. In my opinion, it has the best looking animations and the most responsive feel in terms of hitting a button and seeing something happen on screen.

How does AI knowledge incorporate into this particular role?

Sweeney: AI plays a large role in the new God of War. We want to have NPCs and actual characters that you’re going to fight or interact with feel as if they’re alive and actual entities. It goes from the movement of the character to the animation to how they attack as well as their reactions when they respond to hits to blocks. I think the big part of it is tying it into the movement and appearance of the character as well as the combat in terms of how they fight against other characters, as well as reacting and defending. 

Yssef: Our approach to A.I. is to be able to make basic decisions like placement: where to go, where to handle enemies or how to attack an enemy. And a lot of the humanity comes from contextualizing a very basic system with a lot of animations to point at things and react at specific events; to react to characters being introduced; reacting to characters who surprise you. 

Sweeney: I think a Senior Gameplay Programmer will be challenged to work with characters that move with a purpose such as with navigation where they’re going from Point A to Point B and finding the best routes and having fluid movement, which feels great.

Are there unique attributes that would make a potential Senior Gameplay Programmer stand out?

Sweeney: I think it would be having a strong background in having shipped titles and worked at various game studios. Also, a candidate sharing passion projects shows that he or she is really into gameplay programming where someone goes home and programs. I think another strong set of attributes are if they can pick up a code base quickly, as well as having debugging skills.

Yssef: When we interview gameplay programmers on a holistic level, their personality and passion will show. Does this person love doing it in his spare time and show a willingness to work closely with artists and designers? Most importantly, though, this person understands that we are focused as a whole on all three prongs.

topics: Internal
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