This week we bring you another post on one of Hammer & Ravens team members, Alessandro, affectionately AKA Galandil! The oldest pirate on our ship, gives us a take on his decisions in life and how they ended up making him Ale Abbey's Lead Programmer and Game Designer.
Possibly our longest post yet (if not - potentially - ever), but well worth the read. A very transparent take on game development, design, and everything!
-- Care to share a few things about yourself? What do games mean to you?
Let me start by saying that, even if I'm not "green" anymore (almost hitting the 50-year-old milestone), I'm still a kid at heart. And, as any proper kid, I just love games, in any form or shape. It's not that I don't have any other interests or hobbies (music, movies, books, science), but games remain the thing that, at this age, still excites me like no other.
Mostly it's because they include an aspect that's absent from most of the other stuff: direct interaction as the final user. Yes, you can enjoy music as a listener (passive) or play an instrument (active, which I've done for years too as a bass player, playing genres from rock to jazz/fusion), you can read a novel or write it, basically, they require direct interaction when you create something, but only games ask the user for direct interaction, without the need of being a creator/game developer.
I love to play any kind of game, from board games to tabletop RPGs, to video games. They all offer something different, but at their core, they all still keep that magic spark of "my actions can change the course of the match/session".
My first brush with videogames was back in the 80s when I got my first videogame console, the Intellivision.
Yes, it's an "old fart" of a console, but definitely shaped my newly-found passion, due to how deep some of the games on that platform were, even with such harsh hardware limitations. It was on that console that the first RTS-like game was developed (Utopia), a tactical/action 1vs1 game (Sea Battle), or a very early implementation of a twin-stick shooter mixed with roguelike elements (AD&D Cloudy Mountain), or a first-person 3D dungeon crawler (AD&D Treasure of Tarmin). And this is without mentioning the Imagic games which were creatively incredible, like Microsurgeon, Swords & Serpents (the first game that gave a 2 players option, but each player would play with a different character and set of abilities), Dracula, Truckin', White Waters, etc.
It was even on this console that I moved my first steps towards programming (they sold an additional component with a keyboard that let you write programs, in a BASIC-style language).
Then came the time of the Commodore 64, on which I discovered the Text Adventures genre (now called Interactive Fiction) - for the first time I understood that a videogame could offer more than just "shoot this or that," and that deep and complex narrative could be intertwined with actual gameplay. And while I wasn't playing videogames, I started playing tabletop RPGs and boardgames, that offered deeper mental/narrative challenges than videogames at that time, with the RPGs removing the idea of the "winner" and focusing on the story/characters development (with a pinch of theater improv mixed in), and the boardgames offering a wider range of strategic/tactical thought processes.
So, yes, in the end, even after all these years, the most defining thing about myself is that I'm a player, and this shaped a lot of the life choices I made, not just becoming, at 45 years old, a game developer, but even having been a professional poker player for around 8 years of my life. Games? I'm in. No questions asked.
-- What was the turning point when you decided to work in gaming/games?
Well, this is somewhat of a good and bad topic for me. Good, because in the end I finally managed to enter the world of game development, with a proper job, after a couple of years of intense study; bad, because it was after a rather dark period in my life.
During my last year as a professional Poker player, my performance and results at the tables were constantly declining, due to a mix of factors. I was basically in burn-out mode, I couldn't stand the idea of sitting at my PC, doing the same thing over and over (bet, raise, fold, etc.). The opponents became continuously more challenging and the popularity of Hold'Em was fading. But, since it was my job, I had to play. And this is a recipe for disaster, which invariably happened: the last month was the worst of my entire career, by a very very long margin.
I took a week away from all of it, then came back to analyze the hands played in that month, and I clearly understood one thing: it was the time to quit, no matter what. I had to admit to myself, by looking at that month's hands history, that almost 70% of the losses weren't due to bad luck, but just to an indiscriminate amount of bad choices I made while playing: it was my fault, plain and simple. I then decided to cut my losses and say goodbye to Poker; when you can't beat the competition, for whatever reason, it's better to quit.
To be clear, I don't regret having spent all that time playing Poker and making a living out of it: it taught me how to be the harshest critic of myself and every decision I made. To try and discount all possible biases I had and base all my conclusions and decisions only on rationality and facts.
So, at that moment, without a clue about to where go next in life, I thought "what about game development?". Even though I had quit programming some two and a half decades before that (my last programs were all written in C, and I basically skipped the OOP revolution in software development), I noticed that it wasn't that hard to make a game anymore: there were free engines (notably only Unity at that time, but then even Epic decided to make Unreal Engine available for free when not publishing/selling a game) to study and use, I just had to learn my way around them and teach myself the OOP that I missed in those "hiatus" years. Luckily, C# is a great language to use, so the entry barrier wasn't that high. I spent my next couple of years dedicating myself to learning all those things, while at the same time applying all my previous knowledge of games from a creator's (i.e. game design) perspective.
In the end, everything went well, and I admit I love solving problems (them coming from game design or software engineering). In the end, it really feels like playing a game, so what's not to love?
-- What is your main source of inspiration?
It depends on which hat I'm wearing. If it's the Game Design side, I basically draw inspiration from, well... everything. The first step is usually an idea like "oh look, this thing is interesting: can it be turned into a game?". Then you go and write down a bunch of basic ideas of how to do that. But then you're faced with the hard part of game design, how to make a game interesting for the players. Since it's preposterous to think you can make a game for everyone, I find that the best way to design a game is to think about which group of players could be interested in it, and then try to mold the experience for them to enjoy it the most. This is easier said than done, but if you manage to give enough players a good time you can keep working as a game developer; everyone's happy.
This is what made Ale Abbey interesting to me. Emiliano told me he was thinking of making a tycoon game set in a medieval monastery and gave me a description of the game's realistic brewing design which comes from his real-life experience in brewing beer. I was so sold on the idea; not on the game mechanics per se (built on the shoulders of giants etc.), but because it sounded very novel.
If we are talking about the Programming hat, that's a different story. Programming is way stricter than Game Design. You need to develop a codebase and general architecture that is solid, fast, and at the same time malleable enough so that changes along the way won't be a disaster or take too long. The inspiration here comes from "studying and reading a lot about how other people in the past solved this kind of problem."
I believe game development is one of the hardest forms of software engineering because in a game there're a LOT of interconnected parts: you move one, and MANY others will react to that. It's... complicated :) It's an exercise of equilibrium: don't just write code without thinking about what changes might be necessary in the future, but at the same time don't waste too much time building the architecture for every tiny and improbable future use-case/possibility.
-- Do you like beer? Do you brew?
I've been a beer lover for almost 10 years of my life, in my late teens and into my twenties. Then, I must admit, I switched to the competition, and started my journey into whiskies. Luckily, in my more recent and "old" days, I enjoy both of them in equal measure. I'm more of a slow sipper, I like to drink in short sips, so as to enjoy the aroma and flavor; it's great to make a glass last while relaxing on the couch while listening to music or outdoors during a warm evening.
And, of course, I look forward to trying some of Emiliano's artisanal brews (that's not a suggestion, mate, send me some ASAP!).
If you have any questions for Galandil or his take on programming or game design, you can always try to poke him in our Discord server where he usually dwells in ungodly hours. We pretend he does it to keep the server safe at all times...
Thank you for your time and enjoy your weekend responsibly! See you next week ;)
-- Hammer & Ravens
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