Today’s Inside the Vault is about Shannon Bailey, programmer. He works on our internal tools – designers and artists love him because he handles their feature requests. Shannon also volunteered to help get the Star Trek Legacy Mod Tool into a state where we could release it to the public. One more thing – Shannon knows how to belt out a tune in Rock Band.
What’s your job at Bethesda?
I’m a programmer in the systems group, which means that I mostly work on the ways things get into the game. Specifically, I do a lot of work on the editor and the art exporter, and I help maintain our build process.
What other games have you worked on?
The only game I’ve worked on besides Fallout was Midway’s Gravity Games Bike title (though I started in their tools department, writing plug-ins and doing r&d).
I spent some time afterwards studying and working in cognitive neuroscience, ultimately in a lab that studied the effects of playing video games on the brain. But unless you count pushing a button to indicate the familiarity of a stimulus as gaming, Fallout 3 is the only other title I’ve worked on, and the first RPG.
What is the best part about working as a programmer? The worst part?
The best part is that there’s no job I’d rather do. There’s no worst part; there’s no part of the process I don’t enjoy, even on the more hectic days or those when something goes wrong. This is partly because of the cooperative spirit here â€“ people are less likely to say, “You broke this,” than, “Hey, could you fix this?” â€“ and partly because programming is fun. It’s a game, really; you have a set of rules and a goal which needs to be optimally accomplished using those rules.
And although I’m proud of the game we’re making and I’m looking forward to shipping it, it’s also rewarding to see the code I write getting used by the designers and artists on a daily basis.
How did you get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?
I applied to Midway at exactly the time when they were looking for recent college graduates â€“ so I was lucky there — but I’ve done a bit more speculation about what got me in to Bethesda after being out of the industry for a while.
In any creative field, there are two qualifications that seem to guarantee both entry and success: tireless interest in the process and the ability to bring something unique to it. One of the things that I’ve noticed about Bethesda is that everyone contributes to the game and to the vibe of the place in a different and easily identifiable way.
While doing the cog sci thing, I also worked part-time writing applications for an engineering company; the largest of these was a CAD-style program that generated house roofs. Not exactly a game editor, but similar in an important respect: I was building, and later extending, a content creation interface in direct response to the needs of those who’d be using it.
When I started working at Bethesda, the editor was already written, but we’ve added a lot of things to it over the course of developing Fallout, and I’m one of the people who implement most of the changes.
Obviously you have to love making games, but chances are that whatever experience you’ve had can transfer to some aspect of game development… and there’s your niche. Being aware of possible niches â€“ really, just knowing what you’re good at â€“ can help a lot.
What would you say is your personal favorite game of all time?
I can’t pick only one. Wizardry VII was the weirdest game I played during my teenage years, and one of the deepest. Few games will let you be a magic-using samurai who carries a laser and plate mail and negotiates with aliens. All this weirdness is believable, though, because the world doesn’t feel dormant; things are already urgent and in motion, and your decisions effect genuine changes. Very cool for 1992. Planescape and Fallout were later favorites, the former for its surrealism and the latter for the depth of its world.
Since the second half of the Playstation era, my gaming has almost exclusively been relegated to JRPGs. I like the aesthetics – the collision of magical futurism and technophobia – enough to withstand the invariable set of clichÃ©s. Or almost invariable. The Shin Megami Tensei games break the mold of cackling would-be demiurges by letting you, in the case of Nocturne, rewrite creation according to your definition of enlightenment. Heavy stuff.
Persona 3′s the best in the series so far. The atmosphere is incredible – esoteric, intellectual, and obliquely psychedelic – and everything about the game is deeply felt. Since the daylight half of the game is spent living a relatively normal life in Tokyo, you have to make a lot of choices that aren’t like the sorts of things you’re usually required to think about in games. This wouldn’t work if the characters with whom you interact seemed false or shallow, but since they don’t, every decision ultimately affecting your statistics feels a lot more like genuine role-playing than stat-boosting.
Rock Band is pretty great too.
What games are you looking forward to?
I just watched the preview for Persona 4, which looks as though it might become my new favorite game if it gets localized (and if it doesn’t, I’ll have to learn more Japanese).
What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
My raging caffeine addiction and the availability of free soda in the Bethesda kitchen.
Worst job you’ve ever had?
A year spent working at a video rental store during college made me sure that customer service wasn’t my thing. No horror stories, though, just tedium; no job I’ve ever had has been inherently awful.
Any other hobbies and interests? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I’m in a couple of bands â€“ I play bass and keyboards and sing a bit. I can be very competitive about Scrabble (though I’d probably get trounced in an actual competition). Several of us from Bethesda go rock climbing on a fairly regular basis, and I’ve started taking Kyokushin karate.