Today on Inside the Vault, we talk with Dan Teitel. Dan is one of our interface programmers. Interface programming requires lots of iterating since user interface feedback can be subjective, and our interface programmers are especially good at getting features in so we can try them out quickly.
What’s your job at Bethesda?
I am a programmer. I am largely responsible for portions of the interface but have also worked on the weather system for Oblivion and other aspects of the game, as well. My prize claim in Fallout 3 is the Hacking minigame which I was primarily responsible for implementing and also helped design along with Erik Deitrick, Emil Pagliarulo, and Todd Howard.
What other games have you worked on?
What is the best part about working as a programmer? The worst part?
The best part about being a programmer is the opportunity to be creative and to touch people’s lives. Working on games such as Oblivion and Fallout 3 that are played all around the world really gives me a sense of purpose. It’s not something I realized I needed until I worked three other jobs outside the industry before coming to Bethesda. They weren’t the worst jobs in the world, but I couldn’t ever shake the feeling in the morning that the world would be exactly the same whether I got up and went to work that day or not. Working in the game industry has given me a sense of connection to the world I live in. I’m part of an effort that gives enjoyment to people everywhere and I think that’s a worthwhile way to spend your time.
The worst part is fixing bugs. Bug fixing is the very epitome of tedium and will turn your hair gray and wrinkle your skin. They are thankless, unrelenting, glamourless little tasks that have the capacity to challenge your sanity. Every time you step on one, two more have spawned on either side of you. Even the ones you swore you squashed can find a way to gather themselves together and reappear. Bug fixing is the large majority of what you do toward the end of a project, so it can be easy to become convinced that they will never end. But then eventually one day they do. And then your game goes gold. And people start to play it. And that’s when you forget that you were ever stressed out about anything and you remember why you wanted to do this in the first place.
How did you get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?
From my experience, it takes talent, passion, perseverance, and luck. So put all your points into those four stats.
What would you say is your personal favorite game of all-time?
That is a difficult question. I can’t say I have a single favorite game but there are a few games that stand out because they changed the way I thought about games. The earliest was probably Atari Adventure. It was the first game I can remember playing that took place in a game world which existed on more than one screen. After that it was probably the original Legend of Zelda. That was the first game I played that really let you just explore a huge game world with few restrictions. And then, truthfully, nothing really did that for me again until Oblivion. For a long time before that, I was just playing sports game, which are a lot of fun, especially to play with other people. But then I started work here. Eventually, I got a chance to really experience what we had made. I never imagined anything like that was possible.
What games are you looking forward to?
Fallout 3, only because it means I can stop fixing bugs for awhile and go back to being a developer. As a player, I’m really looking forward to Sims 3. I’m a big fan of the series but when The Sims 2 came out, it was incredibly obvious who had been playing The Sims 1. From what I’ve read, The Sims 3 is going to be much more like a real-world RPG and less like a virtual dollhouse.
What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
When times are good, it’s not hard. If I have a complex problem to solve that challenges my intellect and affords me the opportunity to be creative and appreciate the fruits of my labor, then it’s self-motivating. It’s not that different from playing a game, when you think about it. You’re trying to get from A to B and it’s up to you to figure out what you need to do to get there.
No matter what Westwood College might have you believe, though, times are not always good. But even then, you know there’s stuff that needs to get done and you know it’s what stands between where you are and a finished product you can be proud of.
Worst job you’ve ever had?
The worst job I ever had was when I was 15. While all the cool/sane kids got jobs at the mall handing out smoothies and cinnamon rolls to the girls they were sweet on, my friend and I were working in a silent, dank warehouse with no windows packaging eyewear for dentists. Our efforts at avoiding insanity included amusing ourselves by sneaking slips of paper into the packages with messages like “Help. I’m trapped in a warehouse under a box of dental glasses”.
Any other hobbies and interests? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I am enjoying getting to know my first son. He was born last summer and already it feels like he’s lived three or four lifetimes. How quickly they change. Before too long he’ll be talking and that’s when the fun really begins.
I also have what some might describe as an unhealthy interest in politics. My relationship with politics is not unlike that of a woman with a cheating husband. He lies to me all the time. He’s always trying to get away with something. I know I should leave him but I keep thinking he might change. Regardless, I figure it’s probably not a bad idea for me to keep a close eye on what he’s up to.