31 Interview Questions
Got a request to cover some interview questions for a student assignment. Questions like this are fun, so I can rarely resist! Thought I might share here on the forum since many of these questions are asked often.
If you aren’t interested in my answers, feel free to tackle the questions you find interesting yourself!
- What software do you use in the day to day?
Not only is Google Chrome always open, but I usually have 3-5 tabs open. For me it’s a browser, task manager, communication tool, and developer environment all wrapped into one. Amazing software.
Regarding code, I’ve been using Vim for my entire professional career, but as a cryptic platform with a steep learning curve I don’t really recommend it to others. Geoff swears by Sublime Text 2, but the great thing about code is that there are dozens of excellent, free/cheap options.
iTerm is always open, where I run a blend of open source programs and hand-made tools throughout any given day. We use git for versioning. Photoshop used to be my go-to paint program, but I’ve migrated to Manga Studio and really enjoy it (even for pixel art!).
- How effective is Asana?
Asana is only as effective as the people using it. This is another category where there are many great, free or inexpensive options. What matters most is that you’re using something (even just a notepad!) to track your tasks and push your project forward.
- Do you think prospective game developers should get experience programming and working in other fields first, or try and find junior gave dev positions if possible?
Game development is such a deep ocean that I think it’s best to jump right into it. Even for new programmers, after learning the ropes I’d suggest starting with copying an incredibly simple game, like Tic Tac Toe or Connect Four.
- Would you recommend becoming a game developer to those with some interest or is it only something die-hards would be good at?
There are many people who work in the industry simply because it’s interesting, easy, and/or lucrative to them, and that’s certainly fine. However, it’s an industry with long hours, lower pay, crunch time, and other stresses. These things are easier to withstand when you’re passionate about your work.
- Other than financial uncertainty are there any pitfalls that people should consider before quitting their day jobs?
Finances are a tremendous concern, but aside from that, many people just aren’t great self-starters. Some of us need help with regards to scheduling, staying on track, and knowing what to work on next. Priority is a big concern, as without the presence of leadership, many projects languish.
- If you could go back in time what language or skills do you think would be the most helpful to have learned for game development?
That’s a tough one, as there are so many disciplines involved with game development (especially independent development). Design, art, code, and promotion are all almost equally important. Personally I would have doubled down more on game design and art, but I think that’s just because those are things that interest me and I feel inherently able to tackle. To others I’d suggest studying what interests them the most.
- Matt as the resident artist do you still find yourself programming? Do you miss coding full time?
For many months I was doing nothing but art, and during that time, yes I did miss programming. These days my time on each discipline is closer to probably a 50/50 split, which is about my speed. The other day Geoff and I were talking about the benefits of having different disciplines to pursue, and how that can lead to one sharpening the other.
- Was there any tweaking necessary for being on steam?
Any new platform will come with its own challenges, especially with regards to promotional assets, localization, quality assurance, and any other platform-specific requirements. Steam offers achievements, trading cards, cloud save, and more, and users expect these features to be integrated into Steam games.
All that aside, we didn’t need to change much about the actual game, we just needed to execute on all the requirements.
- Do you plan to launch AWL2 on steam?
Yes! AWL2 is already approved for Steam launch, and we are targeting early 2015 for a launch on Early Access.
- How long did it take to get LDG up and running after resigning from Raptr?
We started LDG while at Raptr, though at first just to provide a means for us to share our work. From Raptr, we worked on games for about a year at a local startup called Game Closure. After that (February 2012), we went fulltime on LDG. From our industry connections (and the excitement around HTML5 at the time), we were able to begin landing contracts, selling licenses, and making money almost immediately.
- Did you and Geoff work on the same projects at Yahoo or Raptr? If not how did you start working on games together?
Geoff worked on Yahoo! Games and I worked on a few projects including Yahoo! Widgets and Yahoo! Application Platform. We met through mutual friends, but didn’t really become friends until I had already left Yahoo!. When Geoff left Yahoo! for Raptr, we instantly bonded.
- What was the driving force that led you to start an indie game studio?
After making games for another studio for about a year, we started to learn that the industry as a whole was chasing “casual” and “mobile” in a way that didn’t feel innovative to us. The general model was to copy successful titles, reskin them, and compete with them head-to-head, which felt creatively stifling to us. It was largely this feeling that led us to explore independence.
- How important is having a good team to shipping a game?
Even a poor team can ship a game. But making a good game is vastly easier with a good team that works together well.
- Do you use GitHub for calibration or more as a project dump/ backup?
Early on in LDG’s life, we used GitHub exclusively for our private and public repos. These days, we only host public-facing code there, such as the Onslaught! Arena source code, and Geoff’s open source game engines.
- Are there team meetings or predefined work structures like agile that you guys use?
Agile was used at Raptr, but we don’t have any formal system anymore. We do digitally hangout (using Skype or Google Hangouts) almost every single day. Typically we talk about what needs to be done, what we’re working on, and any challenges ahead.
- How are the tasks split up between you?
Geoff is probably happiest working on low-level design and programming tasks, and I mostly enjoy visual flair like particles and animations. That said, there’s all kinds of overlap in coding, solving design problems, and discussing business needs.
- Do you feel that learning new ideas and practicing will always be part of your work or do you think you will you plateau and refine after a time?
The further I get into any discipline the more I understand that deliberate practice is the key to improvement. However, sometimes producing is more important than improving. Like many things in life, it’s all about balance.
- Clearly game making is a passion of yours, are there any other careers that you could see yourself doing instead?
Absolutely. My appreciation for and desire to participate in other industries is extremely distracting. I often get ideas about paintings, stories to write, or movies to create. Sometimes I’ll write down notes and hide them away somewhere. The nice thing about game development is that it’s extremely diverse, and able to cater to many creative outlets, but sometimes I wish I could split into multiple people and pursue diverse careers.
- Is having a strong social presence online important from an indie studio perspective?
For indie studios I believe a social presence is absolutely mandatory. The stronger the presence the better, but each studio will need to decide for themselves how much time should be dedicated to social media.
- In your opinion why do so many games fail?
Exhaustion. Software (games especially) always takes longer than expected to ship. Most indies probably severely over-scope their games, which results in giving up when the game really needs several more big pushes to succeed.
- What is the number one thing that makes yours an effective team?
It’s taken us a long time to get here, but these days we pride ourselves in our ability to pivot, and adapt to new situations. Games is a constantly-evolving industry, and games can take a long time to make. Because of how these factors work together, it’s important for a studio to be agile, and able to adapt to the changing environment.
- Other than time, coffee and computers are there any costs to running a game studio like yours?
Taxes are a big factor, as well as legal scenarios, and platform fees. There are many unexpected expenses that just pop up, often sidelining us. Simply being aware that this will happen is a significant advantage.
- In the event of a runaway success are there plans to hire employees and expand or will it always be a two man operation?
For most of LDG’s life, we haven’t even been able to pay ourselves competitive salaries, so the idea of hiring is very distant to us. However, we have discussed how nice it would be to hire someone to handle promotional and marketing tasks for us. If we’re ever able to afford it, that would be one of the first areas we’d be anxious to outsource.
- Do you ever get burnt out on a game or task that you are working on? If so how do you handle it?
Yes, a least weekly for sure. To me, the best thing to do is to get away from the task that your brain is telling you that you’re not ready for. Often times, this can lead us to take a break, relax, play some games … but I like to have so many interesting thing to work on that if I’m feeling burnt out in one area, I can pursue the other until my brain comes around.
- About what percentage of your time goes into marketing?
Hard to say, but I’d guess ~20%. The podcast can be considered marketing (or just promotional) and it alone takes about 4 hours/week.
- How much of game development is playing games?
Surprisingly little. Playtesting and tweaking your own changes is of course mandatory, but this is not a complete way of playing a game. I do think that there’s value in knowing what the current landscape of the industry looks like, and a great way to do that is by playing current games.
- When you first started LDG did you have support from friends and family or were/are there people that didn’t think this was a good idea? If so how did you deal with that?
There was no support aside from our significant others. Except for some raised eyebrows from friends/family, there wasn’t much concern either.
- If you had to do it all over again, what would you change?
I would have focused on rapidly releasing games. Sometimes Geoff and I get lost in our disciplines. I’ll study art too long or Geoff will get lost in a systems refactor, and we end up not really bringing much value to gamers for too long. Our new focus is that we want to launch more games more often, because we need to expand our portfolio to survive. Also, you learn the most from actually shipping.
- Do you think it will be harder to have a successful game now or in the future?
It’s hard now, and will only continue to get harder as games become easier and easier to make.
- In your opinion is having a better game or better marketing more important in terms of sales?
In terms of sales alone, unfortunately better marketing is more important. Even a big turd, in front of enough people, can sell like hotcakes. Indies are in a unique place in that they can more often afford to work on games that try to be better quality instead of focusing on marketing.
- What is the hardest part of seeing a game through to the end?
When a game feels like it’s about halfway done, it’s really probably about an order of magnitude away from where it needs to be. It’s this constant state of uncertainty that makes the finish line feel like a mirage. I guess I’d say the hardest part is being aware of how much work is left to do, but not being overwhelmed by it.
Yes! AWL2 is already approved for Steam launch, and we are targeting early 2015 for a launch on Early Access.
Man, that deadline whooshed by didn’t it?
I’m curious as to why you’ve dropped GitHub for closed source projects? Are you using an external repo at all, or are you relying on the distributed nature as your backup … which repo do you consider the ‘source of truth’.
Also, you guys should check out Atom.io, it’s like Sublime Text, only it’s opensource, and actively being developed (Sublime Text 3 has been in beta for 3 years now).
Oops, 2016 …
GitHub just doesn’t have a good pricing scheme, as last time we used them they charged per private repo. That doesn’t scale well, as we make repos like crazy, but we don’t end up using most of them. We’re on GitLab now.
I’m not interested in other editors – there’s pretty much nothing that can compete with Vim’s command mode. I think last time Geoff tried Atom, it had performance issues – darn you, HTML5!
@richtaur You are such a nice indie dev to answer 31 student questions.
I think last time Geoff tried Atom, it had performance issues
Still does, but it has improved a lot with version 1.0. It’s worth a second look if @geoffb hasn’t touched it since June.
I’m not interested in other editors – there’s pretty much nothing that can compete with Vim’s command mode.
Both Sublime and Atom have a modal Vim mode if you insist on being stuck in the 80’s :)
Personally it’s the mini-map that sells me, I have very strong spatial awareness, and recognise my code better by its shape than function names, it’s like the Mini-Map was designed for me.
@dannagle They’re pretty nice guys regardless.
I like Atom and even VS Code (also electron). They do however not compare to the speed of Sublime Text. Lately I’ve been mixing it up and using different editors for different projects. VS Code has intellisense which is quite nice, and if you’re doing anything TypeScript it’s prolly one of the better supported ones. Then if you’re on something like a Chromebook or a tablet with a keyboard, cloud9 is fantastic.
Even though ST3 hasn’t been updated in a while / in beta, it’s fully functional and super fast, and still (for now) my favorite. Oh and multi-select oh how I love multi-select. :)