This edition of Inside the Vault features programmer, Orin Tresnjak. Orin is one of the awesome programmers who work on multiple systems. He’s worked on a variety of interfaces and shaders, and even made tools for creating DLC and PC installers (Orin even pitched in and made the installer for Star Trek: Legacy). In short, we drop Orin in and cool stuff results.
What’s your job at Bethesda?
I’m a graphics programmer (also known as one of Scott Franke’s background threads). My main responsibilities at the moment are LOD rendering and the various old-computer and old-TV effects associated with the Pipboy, other displays, and VATS mode in Fallout. Additionally, I’ve done lots of miscellaneous graphics stuff and occasionally get roped into doing installers, because I’m in the unfortunate position of being the only person around here who knows Installshield inside out.
What other games have you worked on?
Just Oblivion so far.
What is the best part about bring a programmer? The worst part?
The ABSOLUTE best part for me as a graphics guy is when I get some effect or other complex system I’ve been working on finally showing up on screen. Then I can commence the real fun–tweaking and perfecting it. It can also be very rewarding tracking down obscure, difficult bugs. Maddening, but rewarding. You feel like a million bucks once you’ve figured it out.
On the other hand, the worst part is when I spend ten hours tracking down some hard-to-find bug, only to discover that it’s traceable to some minor typo I made a year ago.
How did you get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?
I got lucky–this was the first game industry job I applied for. I had a friend get hired in the QA department a year or so before, so he kindly put in a good word for me. (He’s now a QA Lead and the famed Ninja Tester, who won a pie for beating Todd at his own game.)
The best advice I can give is to have a good portfolio. Show that you can do cool stuff, and that you love making games so much that you’d do it in your spare time even if you didn’t work in the industry.
What would you say is your personal favorite game of all time?
There are so, so many games I love that it’s really hard to choose. The first to come to mind is Out of This World (known outside the US as Another World), an odd, hyper-stylized little platformer from Delphine Software circa 1991. One of the unique things about it is that, with its simple, clean vector graphics, it still holds up visually even today. Its creator, Eric Chahi, currently sells a high-res Windows XP version of the game on his website, so you can check it out pretty easily. (And oh, for the days when one person could make an entire game!)
The remarkable thing about the game is the way it tells its story–you play a physicist whose experiment goes horrible wrong, stranding him on an alien planet. However, there’s no dialogue in the game, no text past the brief intro movie, no intelligible speech. There’s no HUD or other on-screen information, and no tutorial. Nothing but the game’s stark, angular world. It’s purely visual, and it forces you to figure everything out completely on your own. (Not coincidentally, it’s also a brutally hard game, but very rewarding.)
What games are you looking forward to?
At the moment, Super Mario Galaxy, Crysis, and Assassin’s Creed are the big ones. Assassin’s Creed in particular is extraordinarily compelling in theory, if they can pull off the gameplay side.
Any other hobbies and interests? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Amateur photography is the big one. (Check out my flickr page.) Incomplete, unordered list of other spare-time activities: Warhammer Fantasy Battles, making sushi, building RC cars, Dungeons & Dragons, origami, traveling….
Pitch your dream game.
Well, I’d like to see games that are dark, not just by virtue of gore and violence, but because they touch on dark moments in human history and dark things about the human soul. I’d like to see games that tackle the horrors of war without glorifying it, for example–gaming’s Platoon or Apocalypse Now. I’ve always wanted to see a war FPS where you play an African-American soldier in the Philippines war of the turn of the 20th century (which was really a precursor to Vietnam in a lot of ways). So on the one hand, you’ve got the indiscrimate slaughter of civilians in an extremely one-sided conflict, and on the other hand, you see the same racial epithets being flung by white soldiers at the dark-skinned natives that the Black soldiers have also been at the receiving end of. Many deserted, some even enlisted with the insurgent army. Now there’s a tough choice to be faced with in a game!
Or, maybe an adventure game where you play a Japanese orphan trying to scrape out a life after the Allied firebombing of WW2. (Blatantly inspired by the Ghibli film “Grave of the Fireflies” here.) Or an open-ended sandbox game where you’re a homeless person trying to survive in Washinton DC (let’s subvert the whole GTA concept). Or…
The thing is, this sort of setting doesn’t preclude compelling gameplay at all (all these examples are based on types of games that are well-proven), and it deepens the player’s emotional connection to the game–giving them something real and human to care about, instead of the typical one-man-vs.-the-invading-alien-army cliche we see so much of. I don’t think games have to shy away from dealing with real-word issues in order to be fun.