It’s time for another Playable Profile – I interviewed Patrick, who is on our engineering team! We chatted about how he got into programming and what he’s learned during his career in games.
If you’re looking to get into the gaming industry, he shared some great advice on how to make it happen. Read on for the full interview!
VioletLight: Okay, why don’t we do a simple question first? Tell me a little bit about yourself and your role at Playable Worlds!
Patrick: Sure! I’m a 20+ year software veteran, and here at Playable Worlds, I’m the Director of Engineering. I’ve spent the last maybe 15 years on and off in video games and games-related work.
As Director of Engineering, I manage the engineering team, and try to help everyone do the work that moves the company forward. At the same time, I try to focus on everyones’ careers and make sure that they’re growing in the areas that they want to.
V: Awesome! Helping people grow is really important and definitely something we strive to do here at Playable Worlds, so that’s great!
I’m really curious about how you originally got into coding or programming? How did it end up being your career?
P: I got interested in code at a really young age. I couldn’t even tell you when I started…I was maybe 5? And it was because I was terrible at games and I kept losing. And this was in the days when you were running your games in a programming environment when you turned your computer on.
So I figured, okay, I have 3 lives; where is the number 3 in this program and can I change it to 100? That kind of started me down the whole path. From there, you think, oh this is neat, I’m going to try to write my own game! And you know, all the games I wrote when I was a kid were awful, but they were still an onramp to doing that professionally. Over time, I just really gravitated towards computing.
V: That’s super cool – what kind of games did you create?
P: I tried to write text adventures, so games like Zork. I tried to do a lot of RPGs, since I really enjoyed them. There was this slow, first-person perspective RPG that was popular during that time, and I tried to write a couple of those in spite of my complete lack of artistic skill. I think I got some game mechanics that were fun, and some art that was horrendous.
V: That’s great – I’m not much of an artist myself, so I get the struggle.
What do you think the biggest misconception is when it comes to game engineering and programming?
P: Oh, that’s a fun one. I think the difficulties of building a game are really poorly understood. But it’s not just games; it’s also the difficulties of building software. Most people think games just happen to be very complicated software, right?
But even in a fairly simple game you probably have some kind of engine, some kind of service layer, and some type of game logic layer. That’s already 3 components that you’re balancing. You’re saying “Yes, I can log in and play this game”, at the same time you’re also saying “Yo, this is how my game works”, and also, “I’m putting pretty graphics on-screen”. A change to any one of those can break all three, and it’s never simple to figure out what’s going on.
As a player, I got frustrated a lot before I joined the video game industry. I’d say “Why don’t they just do X to fix it?” But I’ve built a rule over the years: if your question is “Why don’t you just do X”, the answer is No. You can do it, but you can’t just do it.
V: Yeah, it’s a huge process to go through. It seems simple, but there’s a lot involved in making a game, right?
P: Yeah. There’s an excellent article, “The Door Problem” by Liz England, and I think that summarizes why even a simple, easy feature like, “I’m going to add doors to my game” turns out to have implications all over the team.
V: What excites you most about being an engineer and working in games?
P: For me, the most exciting part of being an engineer is bringing functional and cool stuff out of absolutely nothing. When you start writing a piece of software you have a blank page, and in fairly short order you have an interactive thing on your screen. I’ve never gotten over the magic of that.
As for games, it was that video games have been a huge part of my upbringing and my entertainment. They’re definitely my single go-to, I prefer video games over watching tv. So when I got the opportunity to join that industry, it was really exciting and it turned out that I love writing gameplay code. If I were left to my own devices, I’d do nothing but code games. It turned out to be a sweet spot.
V: Yeah, that’s awesome. What companies have you worked at before, and on which games?
P: Let’s see, so I spent a long time doing totally non-game-related stuff, so we’ll gloss over that. I worked for Raph’s prior start-up, Metaplace, where I ran the content development team. That was the designers/scripters that implemented all the little bits that you could play within Metaplace.
We got acquired by Playdom / Disney Social, so I worked on a series of social games back in the Facebook Farmville era. Sadly, none of those have credits so I can’t prove it.
V: [laughs] I believe you!
P: The most notable is that I helped out on a bunch of Disney’s mobile titles. I worked on Disney Infinity 3.0, but again doing things you’ll never know are there or were only developer-side tools, things like that.
I also got the opportunity to work on Disney’s Playmation Marvel line of toys. They were smart toys, you could buy Iron Man’s Repulser Glove and use that to play an audio game.
V: That’s really cool – out of all your projects, do you have a favorite that you’ve worked on?
P: Oh, that’s always hard. I honestly think one of my favorites is a surprising one, which was the second social game we released in Metaplace called “My Vineyard”. I got to do a role that I always tell people doesn’t actually exist (because it usually doesn’t), but I got to drive the game design and also the game implementation. The reason it became one of my favorites is, first of all, I love wine so I was very happy to be building out fun game mechanics and bringing in a bunch of wine trivia and things like that.
But it was also eye-opening for me. I’m a core gamer that played hard-core games at the time, you know, raids in World of Warcraft and all that. And most core gamers see these social games and they’re like “that’s not a real game!” But then we’d learn fascinating things. Things like, we didn’t have to teach people how to play a farming game. We actually removed that from the tutorial entirely. It turns out that everyone who showed up just knew how to do that, and that led us to realizations like “hey, do you realize that more people have played Farmville at this point than Tetris?”
To me that was really fascinating. This audience that we’ve never tapped before is having just as much fun with this game as I was with World of Warcraft. And yet people weren’t considering them serious. They are serious, they’re games!
V: Yeah, I’ve experienced that, too, because I’m more of a casual gamer, so sometimes I’ll play mobile or a solo game I can hop on every now and then. But some people don’t really see that as being a gamer. Games are games! We all like different things and don’t fit into one box of “what is a gamer”.
P: Yeah, absolutely.
V: Okay, let’s do some fun questions! What are some of your favorite games that you’ve ever played?
P: I’ve always loved the 4X genre, so Civilization, Alpha Centauri, the whole Civilization series really – I manage to have fun every time there’s a new one. I’m also a big fan of RPGs and JRPGs, so if there’s a Final Fantasy game I’m going to play it.
V: And there’s a lot of them!
P: Yeah, and regardless of reviews, I’ll try it anyway. Depending on the time, I love MMOs. Over time though, I’ve found it’s harder to play MMOs at the level I like because it’s quite a time commitment, but you know, it’s always fun to see some of the new ones. There’s always something coming out that’s surprising in some way, right, like EVE Online, seeing what hardcore PVP was like, and living in a game that’s dangerous all the time was fascinating. And at the same time, a game like City of Heroes was very approachable, and you could live out a superhero fantasy and create a cool-looking character and feel really happy about how your character looked. And it was equally as fun as EVE, just in a totally different way because it’s much easier to hop in and play that game and not get punished by difficult mechanics.
V: What hobbies or interests do you have besides gaming?
P: One of my hobbies, and again it’s one of those fun timesinks, has been dabbling on and off with music and composition. I did get to do music for one of Metaplace’s social games. That was exciting. I’ve made a couple of “albums”, in heavy quotes, you know, and circulated them around friends.
V: That’s so cool, what kind of music do you play?
P: Mostly very strange. If progressive rock and Uematsu from Final Fantasy formed a band, it’d probably sound like some of the weird stuff I’ve done.
Other than that, I actually teach group fitness mixed martial arts, which is probably an unexpected hobby for an engineer. So not a fighting class, but an exercise class doing fighting moves, which feels pretty fun.
V: Awesome! Ok, only one more question for you. What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into game development?
P: TONS! The key advice is that we live in a day and age now where there are high-quality, professional-ready game engines available for free to anyone who wants to dabble. There’s Godot Engine if you’re serious about the open-source kind of aspect, and there’s Unity 3D and Unreal Engine. All of them are free to just download and play with and dabble.
The best thing you could ever do if you want to break into the game industry is make a couple of games. They don’t have to be spectacular, they don’t have to be the next giant indie hit on Steam. Picking a small puzzle game that you like and cloning it will teach you so much about the pieces and the process of getting a game running and it puts you head and shoulders above other applicants who are interested in making games because they love playing them. Making games is not quite like playing them, there’s a lot of work and tedium that you have to do.
It’s always really interesting to me to see when someone makes a fun side project. How far did they get before they hit the tedious parts? Can you finish something and play it? And then can you look at it critically and say is this fun or not? Even if it’s not fun, that’s great, because you say, I got it working, but I don’t like all these things about it.
V: I love that, it’s so detailed! I think since we are definitely hiring, we want to help and guide people that maybe haven’t been in the industry before.
P: Yeah, I’ll admit to some bias here. I entered the gaming industry from outside and definitely faced headwinds on that. The way I like to tell my story is I was told no, straight up, the first time I applied, and then I just kept sending in demos until I annoyed them into an interview with me. I can’t say that’s always the right approach, but there’s definitely some hurdles if you’re not from the industry. And like I said, the ability to have your own demo now is so accessible.
V: Yeah, absolutely! Okay, that’s it for my questions. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today, Patrick!
I hope you enjoyed this interview with Patrick and gained some cool insight into what it’s like being an engineer.
Next month, I’ll be talking with one of our game designers, so stay tuned for more!