Inside the Vault: Orin Tresnjak

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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.

Reader Comments

  1. This guy have some brilliant ideas on dream games, there’s just not enough games out there that focuses on compelling story telling and realistic human interactions other than shooting them. My dream game would be something like a point and click adventure game (like monkey island) played out in a first person shooters style. Sorta like half-life 2, except more story, less shooting.

  2. Rivers Crossed …

    Assume that all PR dabbles in the magic of misdirection.
    Assume, matters not what Bethesda’s FO3 ”IS” or ”ISN’T”.
    Speculate, if Orin T.’s dream game pitch, a remake of Conrad’s “Heart Of Darkness”
    was the guiding *night* for a Bethesda product.
    Consider it a mature spiel to a truly mature consumer.

    Too late in the design cycle to be the direction to sell B.’s FO3?
    Too late, a hint of sci-fi horror survival back beat as was tapped out in McCarthy’s “The Road”?
    Consider, crossed too many rivers and burned too many bridges to mirror the complex comedy of human tragedy.

    2007 voice acting can’t flow river-water like, runs rail-road like.
    Ironic, road ties a segue of scripted cut scenes.
    Code tech for choice and consequences, ‘teh hard’ for this Nex Gen.

    Perhaps too late to float a reflection.
    The present PR pitch is fueled on the big LULZ of rewriting game history,
    (FO –> FPS, IF had the tech …).
    Blooming a ‘Halo’ halo,
    Bethesda’s FO3 may be the other, another, remake of “Gears Of War”, with delusions of ‘GTA’.
    Pitched: ! ‘Oblivion’ with ‘Gears’ ^el grande^ !

    Rivers crossed … and bridges burned.

    Orin T.’s dream game might have wait for, ‘4’, teh “Game Of The Year —> 2012″.

    4too

  3. He has Jenx, in Orin’s words:

    I loved the level of freedom—the way they dropped you into the world with little guidance and let you discover things for yourself, with multiple ways to handle most situations. The bleakness and moral ambiguity of the setting was another big one—rather than giving you a choice between mustache-twirling evil and total virtue, they let you develop an organic, complex character. They’re probably the only games that have made me stop to think about the moral implications of the choices I was making.

  4. hi all the luck with fallout 3. you are giving life to to the game after so many fan’s have whaited so long.
    Please give bad thing for player uesing drugs. thats from a. LONG TIME FALLOUT FAN THAT HOPE’S THE BESTS FOR FALLOUT 3

  5. I remember Out of this World, it was a fantastic game, one of the best they released on platforms. It’s good to see somebody motivated to see more story-driven games working on Fallout. You’ve got quite a legacy to live up to. Best of luck to ya!

  6. Wow! I just saw 20 copies of Out of This World for Mac on sale at a dollar store in Bucks County PA last night. I haven’t heard it mentioned for probably 15 years and then BAM-BAM twice in a row. What are the odds? Too bad “Out of this World” doesn’t fit on a lottery ticket, eh?

    I hope Bethesda promotes this Orin character to Lead Designer. Those games he pitched are great, and that brand of ideas is exactly what franchises like Fallout and even TES could really use. Hey Orin, if you’re ever in Philly I’ll buy you a beer and we can talk games.

  7. Good deal. Makes me realize I played more PC games than I thought. I thought this game was great, but I also thought it was extremely difficult (mostly because of control issues I had). I think I only made it about half way through the game.

  8. Oh…well so he has. Ok, then I vote the guy gets elected to running all the shots about the game, and if anyone objects he or she should be shot with a monkey gun.

    (and of course, I’m joking. There are no such things as monkey guns)

  9. There should be monkey guns.. *Sigh* In a perfect world..

    I’m so pumped for F3. Seriously, I get all giddy thinking about it.

    Also, those are some pretty cool ideas, Orin. I would definitely play them given the chance.

    Really looking forward to F3. Good Luck!

  10. God, I never thought we would see Fallout 3…(sob)…I am speechless. I really hope they let you implement your “horrors of reality” game play style into Fallout 3; if you think about it, there was a lot of that going on in the originals. Take care man and thank you for being a part of Fallout 3.

  11. Dunno, if he gets promoted to leader, maybe he won’t have time for inspired work :)
    But it would be nice to hear that his design ideas aren’t rejected by other staff.

    I have no doubt that Fallout 3 will rock.
    I only wish it would last long, like a real sandbox.(as x3reunion or eve online does, if i can believe what i hear) Do that, and i would be willing to part with my money for it.

    By the time of appearance i will have enough money to buy a config that actually runs it :)

  12. ЖДЕМ Fallout3 причем с нетерпением )
    привет из России