Q&A with Bryce

Q&A with Bryce, Zhurosoft’s Game Development Engineer 

Q: What do you do at Zhurosoft?

A: I transmute caffeine into code. I invoke mysterious incantations to create substance from nothing. I’m a magician – or at least that’s how I choose to see it. Since Zhurosoft is a small studio, being a programmer here means I get to play with a lot of different aspects of code. I get to work on front-end menus and features, and I also get to play with the back-end code (e.g. make buttons do interesting “stuff” server-side).

Q: When did you realize you wanted to be a developer?

A: I’ve known that I wanted to make games the moment I realized people make games. As best as I can recall, I was playing Kirby’s Dream Course for the Super Nintendo some random summer when the thought occurred. Eventually, I found a programming book for the QBASIC language in my elementary school library. I determined coding was difficult, so I should become a game designer instead – a position that doesn’t actually exist as people imagine it (there is no “idea guy” in the industry). It wasn’t until after high school that I tried programming again. It was my Roman numeral interpreter that acted as my eureka moment – that slick program that really sold me on code. The internal struggle between design and code didn’t end there, however. Halfway through my time at DigiPen, the Game Design degree became available. I very thoroughly considering switching over, but chose to stick with programming because code is hard – I would learn more getting the programming degree.

Q: What advice would you give to those who want to work in the gaming industry?

A: TL;DR – Start making games using free tools. Communication is vital to all roles in the game industry. Focus on mastering the fundamentals of whichever aspect of game development you want to work in. Watch Extra Credits on Youtube.

I considered trying to keep this answer short, but I’d rather do this question justice. I used to teach summer workshops at DigiPen, which makes me quite partial to the subject of education, particularly for future developers.

The best thing you can do to get into the game industry is start making games. It sounds hokey, but it really is the best way to get in. Every completed project is something you can put on a resume (note the importance of completion – half finished games don’t mean much). There are plenty of free tools available, including Unity, Game Maker (PC), Game Salad (Mac), and Visual Studio Express (you may have to pay fees if you’re releasing games for sale – read the terms of use). Modding is another great place to start, and there are some really great tools for existing games (Left 4 Dead, Skyrim, Civilization V, etc.). Just search for “<topic> tutorial” to start learning about anything you’re interested in.

The most important skill you need to learn is communication. No game is made in a vacuum. There are many different roles in the industry, and you need to know how to speak with other disciplines (e.g. When you ask an artist to give you a 1000 polygon model, do you mean triangles or quadrilaterals?). There’s also the matter of getting a job; knowing how to interview well is key. If you want to go indie, you still need to know how to communicate with the press and your players.

No matter what discipline you’re interested in, it all boils down to mastery of the fundamentals. Professional sports players will always stress the importance of practicing the basics, and that’s how it is with everything else in life – practice makes perfect. Artists need to study anatomy, life drawing, animation, and 3D modeling. If you want to be a programmer, you need to understand code, math, physics, and logic. I recommend learning C++ – it’s a powerful language that doesn’t hold your hand (much), forcing you to learn about pointer arithmetic and memory management (which are usually the key topics in interviews), and it’s a great springboard into other languages as well.

If you’re looking for specific elective courses to take, focus on your fundamentals and communication. As a summer workshop instructor, I would always say that I was paid to advertise math and science – of course those are important to programmers. Artists should of course focus on their art skills. I’m going to cover the less obvious here. Programmers, take an art class even if “you can only draw stick figures” – you won’t get any better if you don’t try. Pictures are worth a thousand words, and a simple diagram can really help get your point across. Artists, learn some about code and math. It really helps bridge the gap between disciplines. Aside from your fundamentals, you should focus on communication – public speaking, writing skills, and professionalism. You can learn a great deal in Drama/Theatre, Debate, Creative Writing, and English courses (especially those that focus on grammar). Psychology is fascinating and surprisingly useful – it’s quite nice understanding the importance of sleep and how best to sleep.

One last thing: You should be watching Extra Credits on Youtube. Without a doubt, you should watch the episode “Fail Faster.” This is a vital lesson in game development and life in general.

Q: Question from royal_may: What is your favorite part about working at Zhurosoft?

A: Since Zhurosoft is a smaller studio, I get to play with a lot of code and really feel ownership over what I’m working on. I get to reach into all the cookie jars, so to speak, playing with several aspects of programming.

Q: Question from Josephine A: What’s the most important thing you learned in school that you actually use at work?

A: The most important thing DigiPen teaches is how to educate yourself. You’re constantly having to learn new skills in the game industry, and finding out how you best learn these skills is crucial. At every job since graduation, I’ve needed to figure out new tools, techniques, and programming languages. There is no “max level” in life, so getting over the idea of “finishing with school” is important. You are always learning new things – and you should be.

Q: Question from _Lucky_Duck_: What’s your favorite game?

A: There’s too many great games to just pick one, but I’ll try to keep this list short (Spoiler: I failed).

Final Fantasy VI was the height of that particular franchise. It’s available on the Wii eShop (listed as it was originally released in America as Final Fantasy III), so do yourself a favor and go get it. It’s sheer excellence throughout, and the Active Time Battle system brought an urgency to the turn-based battles.

BIT.TRIP RUNNER is exceptional and available on a variety of platforms, but was originally on the Wii eShop. This game is pure fun with some rather intense challenges. Runner 2 is also just fantastic.

Super Mario 64 was so far ahead of its time, a treasure trove of polish and graphics trickery. I’m not sure how well it plays in its eShop form, but the original N64 controls are perfection.

Metroid Prime was hauntingly beautiful, perfectly blending gameplay and storytelling.

999 for the Nintendo DS is one of the most unique experiences out there, but that’s about all I can say. This game is absolutely brilliant and mysterious.

For more mature audiences, Silent Hill Shattered Memories (Wii version, particularly), Dark Souls, Slender, Resident Evil 2, and Catherine are all incredible experiences.

For tabletop games, I’m a fan of DnD 3.5e, Settlers of Catan, Escape: Curse of the Temple, Shadowrift, and Space Cadets. Legend of the Five Rings is the most excellent collectible card game, and Ivory edition coming out later this month is meant to help introduce new players – might be a good time to get into it.