Developers Insight is a new feature for Bitscreed where I ask the developers of some of the latest and greatest games how they go into the industry, and get tips for the “wannabe” developer. In this article I had a chat with Klei Entertainment‘s Nels Anderson about how he got into the industry, what skills are crucial to a game developer and what he would advise potential game developers to do.
Q) How did you get into game development?
A) The programming route, actually. I have a BS and MS in Computer Science and my first proper industry job was gameplay programming at Hothead Games on DeathSpank. “Gameplay Programmer” is a pretty amorphous title though; all the stuff I did was in script and very player-facing. In other studios, it’s quite possible that would be designated as a design position. And so from there, I headed over here to Klei to lead design on Mark of the Ninja.
Q) How did you come up with the basic idea for Mark Of The Ninja?
A) The basic idea I believe fell out of a lack of really good ninja games. Tenchu was basically the last game that featured a ninja that was actually about embodying ninja-like qualities: being agile, sneaky, clever, etc. We wanted to create an experience that evoked the popular notions of being a ninja, which meant we had to make a stealth game.
Q) What engine did you use for Mark Of The Ninja?
A) It’s our own in-house engine. In general, as advise against folks writing their own engines unless they have some really specific reasons for doing so. And we did, specifically support for really robust, fluid 2D animation isn’t something you can get off the shelf. And given that modern, stylized 2D animation is kind of our wheelhouse, we had to build the tech to support that.
Q) What are the limitations to using your own engine?
Well, the main one is we don’t get anything for free. Off the shelf, using Unreal or Unity or whatever, if you want a basic feature, it’s probably already there. If we want a particle system or a lighting model, we have to write it all ourselves. There’s a lot of freedom there, we aren’t locked into anything, but it all has a cost.
Q) How did you combat those limitations?
A) Being really judicious about what kind of things we really need and having some absolutely insanely talented programmers. Being a small team, it helps in that we can be really focused and there isn’t a lot of overhead. Also making 2D games allows us to be more unique. We aren’t competing with Call of Duty or Skyrim for realistic visual fidelity.
Q) How long did it take you to make Mark Of The Ninja?
A) Just under a year and a half. We started in March 2011 and wrapped late July/early August 2012.
Q) What engine would you recommend someone starting out to use?
A) Whatever is easiest. Unless you’re a bloody savant, don’t bother writing your own. Grab Unity, Gamemaker, Flixel, whatever is easier that will get you to making the game as quickly as possible.
Q) What would you say is the most essential skill for a game developer?
A) The ability to look at some aspect of the game, figure out what’s working (i.e. is it getting you closer to the intended experience) and what isn’t working, and then changing it to get it closer to where you want to be. The ability to show someone something, take criticism on it and continually iterate is absolutely vital.