Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got into development
Like every kid growing up, I played a lot of video games and thought I wanted to be a game developer. My parents weren’t too thrilled and tried to talk me out of it. In college, I didn’t really know what it meant to be a game developer. After reading about how volatile the industry was, I decided my parents were probably right and I would pursue something else.
I ended up going to school for fine arts, doing a lot of web based stuff. I liked making fun, interactive stuff. Not games really, but I enjoyed web development. After working as a web designer and developer in Texas, I took a job teaching web to art students out in the midwest.
Part of being a professor on a tenure track is teaching, but also doing research. I decided to look into games as an educational tool. I wanted to create small games to help elementary age student learn more effectively (education can be boring).
Impact++ came as a result of my creating these games. I was using the Impact framework but adding a lot of my own code to it for the games I created. I decided I wanted to get involved in the web gaming community and so I decided to open source all of my additions to the framework, which ironically is closed source.
That’s when I was approached by Keith, a former Blizzard employee who was interested in using Impact++ to prototype a game they were working on. I kind of brushed him off initially by saying, “Sounds good, let me know if you have any questions”. Later they approached me again because they wanted help with basic graphics programming.
I told them I knew nothing about GPU programming and had no actual experience doing game development. All he said was, “don’t worry you’ll learn as you go”. From there I’ve really had a chance to learn a lot as I’ve worked on numerous different lighting and rendering engines.
I was the first person on the team after the founders. They brought me on when the entire game was still just placeholder art. Both founders have been fantastic for allowing me to grow. I never wanted to be a game developer, and have only take one CS class, but here I am now.
How long have you been working at Duelyst?
Probably about 3 years now. I knew I wanted to do game programming on the side, but never thought it would end up being a career. Like I mentioned before, Keith, a former Blizzard employee who has worked on games like World of Warcraft and Diablo, found me through Impact++ and started me as a part time dev.
What technologies do you use for development?
Duelyst started as a web based project. So Keith was testing Duelyst with Impact and Impact++, but evaluating a number of different game engines on web platform. Since Impact was canvas based it never really was a contender, because without WebGL it’s not really realistic to create a game with polished visuals. Canvas is just to slow (especially on mobile).
How is Duelyst doing, is it growing?
Right now we have between 12 - 15 developers. We still have the original development team of 5 full-time engineers. We’re pretty picky about how we bring on. We’ve worked out a partnership with Bandi-Namco to help grow the game so things are going really well.
Now that you’re a game dev who never really wanted to be a game dev, would you recommend it?
Haha, thats a tough question Steve.
Programming in general, I would absolutely recommend. It’s a difficult thing to do, but worth the time. It’s an amazing skill that you can really do anything with. As far as game development… judgement has to wait on that one. I’ve been working with an incredible team and incredible mentors. So much of my experience is based on that, and my own growth has skyrocketed. It’s fun, but perhaps more so than other jobs it can be very stressful.
As a team we crunch, but not often due to good planning and we work hard. The Duelyst team is mostly remote with our lead pixel artist based in Brazil and lead environment artist in Russia. I lived on the east coast and then the west coast for awhile and even in Europe. Our team dynamic is really fun.
You mentioned that you prefer making games more than playing them?
Yea, I love to play game whenever I have the time for them. I love Dark Souls and always try and make time to play every game in the Humble Monthly Bundle. But, making games presents much more interesting problems than playing them. Plus, I’m terrible at Duelyst. I find these days that I enjoy watching people play games and enjoy the time they’ve invested in getting good at a game so I don’t have to.
If you could impart one piece of advice, what would it be?
For people wanting to get into development generally, from being a Jr. now a lead engineer, the biggest thing I look for is consistency. The ability to make estimations that tend to work out because you’re able to produce consistently. In general I tend to prefer consistent developers over genius developers.
For anyone interested in getting into games. Make your own games, go to conferences, and get involved. Make your code open source and available to the world.