What do you do at IllFonic?
I basically oversee engineering at IllFonic: The gameplay programming, IT, backend and automation teams within the company.
My day-to-day typically involves a few meetings, some planning and a little bit of coding.
You’ve been with IllFonic since the beginning. Looking back, what is your favorite chapter of the IllFonic saga?
I have a few favorites.
The earliest days of working on Nexuiz are up there. We had just moved into our first real office from a studio apartment “office.” I set up the server room, our first domain controller and Perforce server, and ran and crimped all of the network cabling. That was our very first server rack, which now lives in my house, actually. Until that point our only server sat on the top shelf of a walk-in closet.
There were a total of five of us working out of that studio apartment. One guy was in the kitchen directly in front of the fridge. No one really used it, but if you did have to use the fridge it was really awkward; you had to ask him to move. Usually it was where pizzas were stored until they were finished.
I still randomly think back to the time when we were pitching it to publishers in our little box on the GDC floor, that we wheeled in and set up all ourselves– then the after-party where people could play Nexuiz on some PS3’s we set up.
There have been a LOT of great company parties.
At one point we were "between offices" in our early days, so the Perforce server was running off a coffee table in the living room with a VERY long CAT5 giving it internet access. It was only a matter of days but it was the first occurrence of us all working from home. I just remember the surreal feeling of sitting on the couch staring at it running on the coffee table.
The downtown Denver office days were great for finding lunch and a place to hang out after work, but not so great when the HVAC would shut off– especially for the poor server room. When we moved out of there I basically just wheeled the server rack onto an elevator, only to find out that I had to request permission to do that first from the security guard after I got to the ground floor. Oops. Too late now though!
In your many years working in video game development, what is one of your favorite things that you’ve implemented in a video game?
I had a lot of fun implementing the melee smack in Nexuiz. It was meant to mimic Halo's melee where you get yanked in the direction you are meleeing when there is someone to hit, but we turned that pull strength all the way up which caused some hilarious results.
On Evolve I implemented some anti-cheat features that were fun to write. Not sure how many of them saw the light of day, but I had a system for detecting wall hacking that would delay ban, adding to the cheater's confusion.
At one point on Star Citizen I had a procedural push/pull system working for the arms. When you would approach a surface in microgravity, it would automatically reach to the surface and drag along to provide some acceleration parallel to the surface. Don't know if that's still a thing.
With Arcadegeddon and GB:SU I worked pretty heavily on the networking features required for the "party hub" as it's referred to in code -- Gilly's and the Firehouse respectively. We wanted to make more interesting and interactive party lobbies for our games and I like how it has shaped up. A lot better than just sitting in the menus!
What was your experience like entering an executive role?
Well my responsibilities did not immediately noticeably change, it was more gradual. More planning and delegating; less programming. More meetings and talking on Discord.
Not really sure that's a title thing though, I think it has more to do with my team growing and needing those things from me more often.
You oversee multiple departments including engineering, IT, and automation. What is your CTO perspective on moving to a hybrid workplace model?
There were occasions in the "before-times" (especially when IllFonic was considerably smaller) where I would work from home for a week or more at a time to focus on a large implementation of some kind. Working from home is not a new concept for me.
It has it's pros and cons like anything though. I don't have to commute and I can wear sweat pants all day, but computer hardware has a way of getting broken or lost in the mail and communication break-downs happen more easily when doing remote work.
I enjoy meeting up with the people I work with in person to recharge from time to time, but still greatly enjoy the flexibility of the hybrid model.
How do you stay up-to-date with changing technological advancements/developments?
I have to say, a lot of credit for that goes to our teams posting articles and videos they come across. Aside from that I have some developer friends in other fields, some I have known for decades, that send me things from time to time.
Occasionally I beat them to finding something new, usually from YouTube or Reddit.
Tell us about a game that you grew up with that had a big impact on you.
Sure! My younger years were largely filled with what you would think of for NES through Nintendo 64 games, and some DOS games like Prince of Persia and Doom.
Eventually I got into PC gaming and played tons of Quake and Quake 2. There were just so many freely available mods to play that you could play forever.
I got my start with programming doing some web development prior, and got to learn PHP and CSS around when they first came out. Then I started tinkering with modding games, with asset swaps and scripts initially, and that eventually turned into programming.
Next thing you know I was heavily involved in the Quake modding scene and hosting websites for a number of projects, some of which were mine. Which is what actually led to me getting pulled into the game industry -- a fellow modder was working at a place that was hiring. I did not go to college because I got a programming job while in high school which is the whole point of college. But apparently I had done enough low level and complicated things to impress them and get hired.
Being as you work on video games all the time, do you still play games in your free time? What kind of games do you like to play, whether it’s for a challenge or to relax?
I do! The past few months I have been playing Sea of Thieves and 7 Days to Die with some people here almost every weekend. When I am just trying to kill some time for an hour or so, I play some Vampire Survivors or do a run in Risk of Rain 2.
Typically when I have people over at my house, Ultimate Chicken Horse or Mario Party comes out at some point.
The engineering team is going to be playing Halo this Friday evening coincidentally; we do game nights periodically.
Oh and I have been missing sleep to play Atomic Heart lately. Not done with it yet, but so far it's great.
Really I like a wide variety of games for different reasons.