Inside the Vault: Obsidian’s Justin Reynard

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See how Obsidian’s Justin Reynard takes on Inside the Vault questions like a big pizza pie!

What’s your job at Obsidian?

I’m a Gameplay Programmer at Obsidian Entertainment.  While working on Fallout: New Vegas, I worked on Hardcore Mode, the new Recipe/Crafting implementation and oversaw most of the weapon/ammo changes. I also had a hand in creating many of the Skills and Perks. My day–to-day responsibilities included implementing these systems and working directly with Josh Sawyer to make sure all the changes functioned the way he envisioned.

When did you know you wanted to get into programming?

In college I had two passions – music and code. I tried to keep both of them 100% active but it proved very difficult. I had an opportunity to attempt the “rockstar” thing so I went for it. My grades started to suffer because the band was touring and recording too often, but I was having a blast. I knew I couldn’t keep both of them up forever, though.  After the band broke up, I moved my focus entirely to programming (and games specifically) and learned everything I could. I started my own social network and got really wrapped up in web application programming for a bit. I also taught myself C since my university was still only teaching Java. I also got into experimenting with stuff on the PSP, since it was the only way I knew to get experience making games on my own. I had no idea what I was doing but I managed to churn out a nice little RPG tech demo for  a contest I entered and it felt really, really rewarding. At this point, I knew that working on games was what I wanted to do.

What’s your favorite part of your job?  Least favorite part?

The best part is seeing your work in action. If I had stuck with doing database programming, making an algorithm that could run queries a few milliseconds faster, I don’t think I’d get the same gratification. When I program a new weapon or a new ability and I turn on my dev kit and see my character use it, it’s instantly satisfying for me. And then seeing the end product be something that you or your family can go to Target or Best Buy and see on the shelf for sale is really great. My girlfriend and I still get a kick out of going to the local game stores and picking up a copy of a game we helped make. We talk very loudly about how it’s the greatest game ever, even though the other customers probably just think we’re weird.

My least favorite part has to be reading negative press/comments about my games. I always get so defensive and want to explain to them why it (the thing they hated) worked that way and turn their opinion around. I want to tell them how hard we worked and just make them love it! But I know that’s never a good idea so I just vow to stop reading the reviews comments.

How did you get involved in the game industry?

When I graduated college I really wasn’t sure how to make the transition from Indiana to the game development industry. I was preparing my small portfolio and resume when I was offered an opportunity to work for Edward Castronova, an economist who was one of the first in his field to apply theory of economics to a virtual world (EverQuest). He wanted to use a grant to develop his own MMO to do his own research and wanted me to work as the lead programmer on the project. Together with a small team we created Arden: The World of William Shakespeare and had a ton of fun doing it. When the grant ran out, I packed my bags, rented a room and headed out to California to find a developer willing to hire a green college grad with no triple-A game development experience. Luckily, Obsidian was willing to take that chance, and now I’m here.

Do you have any tips for breaking in?

In my opinion, if you love games and want to be a game developer badly enough, you can do it. But, your personal (outside of school) game-related time should be at least 60% game development and 40% playing them. A lot of people love playing them, and think they want to make them but don’t really approach it from that direction outside of school. Just remember, out of the 10 million applications an HR employee gets every day, 90% of them have the same degree you do. What are you going to have that sets you apart? Everyone has their “senior graphics project” or the “checkers AI” they made for their AI class. What did you work on at night that sets you apart from everyone else applying?

To date, what’s been the highlight of your career?

This is tough, because game development has been a blast for me. It felt really great after my crazy move to California to call my family and tell them I got a job in the industry (then months later sending them the first game with my name in the credits). One of the highlights of my career has definitely been hearing about how my little brother, Tyler, is constantly telling his friends what I do and how he wants to make games someday. Being able to do what I love while still being a role model and making my parents proud is a really rewarding experience.

Any fun stories to share about working at Obsidian?

We had cake twice this week. Both of them Fallout-themed. Pretty much par for the course around here.

What’s your all-time favorite game?

Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions. There were only a few things I didn’t like about the original PlayStation version, and the remake fixed every one of them. I hope someday they make a true sequel for it (*nudges Square Enix*).

What games are you looking forward to?

Dead Rising 2 is a huge one. The first one took a lot of my time (I skipped class to get 7th place in Survival mode rankings when the game first came out) and I’m really looking forward to playing the sequel. I’m also looking forward to picking up my copy of Fallout: New Vegas and playing through it from start to finish, since most of my work was always in very specific areas. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a lot of time to play other games while finishing work on New Vegas, so I have a backlog of quite a few games to play (Bioshock 2, Arkham Asylum, and Darkstalkers – to name a few).

Worst job you’ve ever had?

If you’ve finished college and had those guys from your university calling you, faking that they want to know how post-graduation use of your degree is going and then asking for you to “give back” the school that got you there by donating money… I’ve done that.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Game developers have free time? (Just kidding!) I actually still code a lot in my spare time. I spend a lot of time attempting to reverse engineer MMORPG’s and I still do some web application development here and there. I also spend a good amount of time with my lovely girlfriend, since she’s patient enough to put up with a guy who spends at least twelve hours a day writing code. Occasionally I still get out my guitar, too, and try to remember how it works.

Anything else you’d like to share?

New Vegas has been great to work on. I never dreamed I’d have an opportunity to implement systems into a franchise like Fallout. There are a lot of great people on this team – people who have spent a lot of their time dedicated   to making this game as amazing as possible. I’d like to take this opportunity to not only thank them all for their dedication, but also the family members of our team. I really hope everyone enjoys playing it as much as we enjoyed working on it.

Reader Comments

  1. nice, just nice…. no but really I enjoy reading your personal experience I think it gives hope to people who really want to work in the industry, and those who thought about it, well maybe not so much. But very entertaining and gives perspective in how much work all of you have put into this game. Can’t wait :) Good luck anyways!

  2. Hey Braddah Justin, jus wonderin if you folks at obsidian have any ideas for DLC or are you waiting for fan input first? All da boyz here in Hawaii can’t wait to play the Greatness that you folks produce!!! Mahalo for your time, Kaleo

  3. great stuff, thanks for your work! the crafting, hardcore, and economic changes are some of the most interesting parts of NV that i’ve been looking forward to.

    i will repeat my question, again, and again, and again until i get something vaguely approximating an answer: how is item and money acquisition and balance achieved in a big RPG like NV? how do you decide when and where the player gets more items, or better items? how is the global economy considered, if at all? is there someone tasked with tracking how much stuff is in the world, such as which areas have too much loot or not enough?

  4. Greetings from Bloomington – If you were doing the calling for IU after 2004 then maybe we’ve talked on the phone =) I remember using Castronova’s research in a school report and hearing about Arden – I remember it sounding like an interesting project but being too caught up in whatever the big MMO was at the time. I don’t know about FONV yet, but if you’re reading the “reviews” on your biography, I thought it was one of the better features I have seen so far. Great job and thanks for all the hard work on what I’m sure is going to be a great game!

  5. I absolutely love the Fallout franchise and look forward to enjoying this upcoming game.

    Thanks so much for this interview. I consult many of my clients – people who are looking for jobs – and challenge them to make a full-time job in finding a job. But what Justin did to pursue his dream career goes beyond that. What he did in his free time (60% coding; 40% gaming) demonstrates his passion and willingness to achieve success.

    Justin is a great role-model for college grads today… and I have no doubt that all his efforts and knowledge skills learned will shine brightly with New Vegas. Just hearing him talking about the game will make me appreciate the creativity and hard work done. It’s just refreshing to know Obsidian recruits remarkable individuals.

  6. Excellent read and very inspiring in its heroic triumphant qualities of a life still to reach its creative peak :D

    Looking forward to seeing all the great action with Hardcore mode,recipies and crafting,ammo and weapon changes.

    Thanks for the gaming happiness to come Mr Reynard.

  7. I’m really looking forward to New Vegas next week, and it’s cool to know a fellow IU grad played a role in its creation. :)