So Stephen go ahead and introduce yourself as if we have no idea who you are.
I’ve been working with Unreal Engine since 1999, when I started making crap maps for Unreal Tournament. Just after I finished secondary school, I started looking into games programming and found C# and XNA, so I started with that. Taught myself how to program for 3 years before heading off to University for a Games Software Development course. Just recently graduated, and now I’m here!
What’s your job at Frontwire Studios?
Started in October of last year as just a programmer, then I was made the Lead Programmer in December.
What kinds of tasks do you undertake as a lead programmer?
A lot of talking with Jordan to try and figure out how best to implement some functionality, and occasionally handing out assignments and talking with the other programmers.
Is there anything you’ve implemented or overseen the implementation of that you’re particularly proud of?
I recently worked on implementing the ship weaponry. Aivis went ahead and did a lot of amazing work on the vehicles, while I took a little bit of work off of his hands and did the weapons. It was done in such a way that we could work completely independent of each other, but at the end of the day, the two components would fit together quite nicely.
And from what I’ve seen, it was quite successful! So I’m quite happy with that.
Would you say you have a particular area of expertise or are you more of a jack of all trades?
I’ve currently been doing a lot of gameplay programming as opposed to anything else, so that’s definitely my strong point. Though, I’m up for branching out into any and every discipline, like AI or engine development if we need it. If there’s something I don’t know, I want to learn it.
Is there any game you have particular admiration for mechanics-wise? Or perhaps a developer that you have a lot of respect for?
I think I’d have to go with Metroid Prime 2, or the Metroid Prime Trilogy in general. Retro Studios so successfully took the concepts that worked in 2D and made most of them work in 3D incredibly well, with Prime 2 easily being the best of the lot.
As for a developer I look up to, it’d probably have to be Tom Happ, the creator of Axiom Verge. He took my favourite style of game and did something quite unique with it, and managed it by himself, for the most part. I think that’s quite a feat in itself.
Segueing off of that question, how open are you to taking inspiration from other games for the mechanics & gameplay of Galaxy in Turmoil?
I’m open to that. I quite enjoy giving the player lots of movement options and different ways to get around the area, so I think I’d enjoy implementing something like that. Or perhaps, a way that a player could scope out the environment, like a remote drone. I’ve been playing a lot of Watch_Dogs 2 recently, so the remote drone concept is pretty stuck in my head right now. It’s so useful!
Having had the privilege of observing how game development has evolved over the last two decades, what would you say has been the biggest change?
I was going to say the recent shift to physically-based rendering, but I’d argue the likes of Steam and itch.io have much bigger impacts. Game providers like those have enabled a lot of indie developers to rise up and get into a market that probably would’ve been far more difficult in the absence of them.
Would you like to quickly run us through what physically based rendering is?
When we deal with graphics in games, we deal almost entirely with how light reacts to a surface. Initially, a lot of assumptions were made about how light should react, which got us some pretty good graphics, but with it, a few setbacks. With these assumptions, textures that look good in one area, might look absolutely awful in an area with different lighting, so a texture artist would need to go back and tweak it. With physically-based rendering, most, if not all of these assumptions were removed, and materials react more properly towards light. As a result, we end up with textures that can work in any lighting situation, and end up looking far more realistic than we could manage before. I am a HUGE fan of it.
What has posed the biggest challenge during your work on Galaxy in Turmoil thus far?
Definitely network replication. Prior to Galaxy in Turmoil, I hadn’t done much work with networking, so going from almost nothing, to this, was quite a challenge. I’m still having a little trouble with it even now. Got a weird bug where a mechanic works perfectly on a client, but not on the server. I usually have the opposite problem, so it’s weird. But, It’s giving me plenty of opportunity to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, so I’m sure I’ll have it solved soon.
What is the best part of working on Galaxy in Turmoil for you?
I think it’s knowing that eventually, people are going to be doing stuff that I wrote, like jetpacking, or flinging grenades around. Seeing my work out there and (hopefully) being enjoyed by a lot of people is a great drive for me.
Also, Alvaro. He’s absolutely mental. It’s brilliant.
Are there any features that you’ll be implementing in the future that you’re excited about?
I’m currently working on an overheating mechanism for weapons that don’t consume ammo, which should be pretty good when it’s all finished and tweaked. After that, I’ll be waiting for whatever my next task is, but I’m pretty excited for basically anything!
What would you cite as a common mistake in mainstream games these days that you want to go out of your way to avoid repeating in GiT?
Anything in which the player is forced to slow down, or stop. I’m not big on having control taken away from me, or being forced to drop down to a walking pace. Or worse still, having to follow somebody who is faster than your walking speed, and slower than your running speed.
When and how did you initially begin to radiate towards coding for games?
That was fairly early on. I’m not particularly artistic – though I’d like to be – and I thought programming in general is just a good skill to have. I knew that if I can’t draw or model, but I want to make games and work with engines, that’s going to require knowing how to program. C# is a pretty easy language to start off with, and uses a lot of the same syntax that C++ does, so it’s a good place to start.
Do you have any particularly amusing or notable stories from your time working with Frontwire Studios?
Yeah, there was a recent issue with the jetpack that’s funny in retrospect. The jetpack is supposed to cut off if you get close enough to the ground, but for the life of me, I could not figure out why it wasn’t triggering. I placed a box at the feet of the character, and whenever it overlaps with something, it would cut the jetpack, but it just wouldn’t trigger. I had no idea what was going on and it was starting to irritate me. So, I asked Alvaro & Aivis if they can lend a hand. We spent some time going over it, and none of us could figure out what’s going on, until Aivis said “Is the floor set to generate overlap events?” And of course, I check the floor, and immediately plough my face through my desk because no, they were not. Once I set the floor to generate overlap events, the jetpack worked perfectly. I lost about an hour because I forgot about the simplest solution.
What is your favorite fish and why is it cod?
Because it’s codlike.
Do you have any particularly embarrassing stories?
I received an award at school for something. Went back to my seat and sat down only to immediately drop it. It was loud and everybody stared. But other than that, nothing really embarrassing off the top of my head.
Probably lasagna. Though really, anything with minced beef is a good one.
What’s the thing that you would most like to see fans mod into Galaxy in Turmoil?
This is fairly predictable, but Metroid stuff. I’d play the hell out of that.
And on that morph ball bombshell, our interview comes to an end. Thank you very much for your time, Stephen.Thanks for reading! Be sure to keep an eye on the Frontwire blog for our next developer interview!
-The Frontwire Community Team
<3 EvoSteven, BuBir, Alf & Lex