Adriel Wallick is an independent game developer most recently based out of The Netherlands. Originally a programmer on the next generation of weather satellites, she decided to explore gaming as a developer, instead of just as an avid gamer. She is best known for having made a game a week for an entire year, as well as organizing the annual Train Jam game jam from Chicago to San Francisco.
ADRIEL WALLICK Game Developer EDUCATION Boston University - BS Electrical Engineering WEBSITES http://msminotaur.com FAVORITE GAMES: Chrono Cross Final Fantasy IX Tomba! Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
She Builds Games partnered up with Voxelles: Chicago’s Women in Game Development to bring you a few excerpts from this exclusive interview with Adriel Wallick.
How did you think that video games were more complicated than electrical engineering and software engineering? Why did you think that you could do one, but you couldn’t do the other?
[laughs] I’m not really sure! Now this is the first time anybody’s ever asked me that, and I’ve never really looked at it from that perspective before. But, in my head, video games were just this nebulous… thing… that existed that people made. Whereas, at least with electronics, I understand like, “Oh, here’s a capacitor, here’s a resistor, here’s the logic. Okay, now we have something that does something.” You know? And for some reason that made more sense in my head than video games being easy. Because there was this level of abstraction. You have to be able to do super low-level optimization for everything, and you just have to be a super-genius. Maybe it was because games are such a new medium that I thought you had to be a super-genius to be able to do it.
What skills have been a professional asset to you?
This is the advice I like to give a lot of people when they say they don’t have the skill-set for something: Learn how to learn. Become easily adaptable to new technology. Figure out what your learning style is. I think that’s one of the most underrated and important skills: “Knowing how to Google really well.” And then retaining that knowledge. That’s actually one of the marks of a good programmer, I think. All the best programmers I know are the best Googlers.
“I am sure most of you out there, at some point, have thought, ‘Wow, I’m never going to be as good at making games as So-and-So. They are awesome, and so smart, and they always know what they’re doing. And I am so stupid and so lost, and also I’m terrible.‘ And you think these things to yourself, and you keep them in, because you don’t want other people to know that you’re thinking these, because they’ll think that you’re WEAK and you’re WEIRD, and that would be TERRIBLE. And so you just sort of keep thinking these things, and it turns into this belief in your head that you ARE not good at things, because, you know, obviously people just don’t realize how bad you are at things. And that’s not a good feeling. So by doing something like [making a Game A Week], and sort of making yourself vulnerable, and putting your work that is not up to any standards out there, and talking about it, and talking about what you’re feeling and everything, helps you learn that you’re not alone. EVERYBODY thinks those things. And that’s okay.”
What’s one of your favorite aspects of Train Jam?
Amtrak has no WiFi on the long train rides. They have them on the shorter trains, but not the ones that we’re on. For the last two years we’ve had sponsorship from Karma WiFi, with their little WiFi hot-spots, but they connect to 4G only. So, like, the connection that we get throughout the United States is basically like… Chicago… and then Denver… and then San Francisco! Y’know, that’s the only time that we have any connectivity. But they actually just released new devices that are 3G-capable as well, so we’re going to have a lot more coverage through the United States… But it would still be just about as spotty as what you would have on a cell phone going through there. So there are still large, large swaths of Train Jam that have no internet connection whatsoever.
Which is super great, to be totally honest. I make it a point to remind everybody about a thousand times that they’re not going to have internet before they come on the jam, so they have their tools downloaded, and they have their documentation downloaded… I also usually will have USB devices with offline documentation for Unity or GameMaker and whatever. And I find that a lot of people — if they’re prepared for it — can work just fine without internet. It was something interesting that I saw this year on Train Jam where, by the last night, people go to bed at 11:00 p.m. because they were done! And they were done because they didn’t have the internet to distract them! You know, like, people always think that they work slower without the internet, but it turns out that, Nope! You know, you are constantly distracted by Facebook, I promise.
So it creates this really interesting, relaxed jam, where people are just like “Oh, we’re just working, whatever… I’m a little frustrated that I can’t figure this out, but I’ll just do it some other way that I know how to do. Okay, and now we’re done! And we’re done kind of early, so that’s nice.” It also encourages a lot of communication between teams. That’s something I really like about Train Jam. It’s not, ‘you form a team and then you go off into your corner,’ it’s ‘you form a team and you’re still stuck on this train with them.’ So a lot of teams will talk to each other, and share advice, and share different ways to do things. If somebody has a programming problem, they’re actually forced to, like, ask their neighbor if they know the answer to it, as opposed to just going to Google and not bothering somebody. So it ended up causing a lot of inter-team communication and back-and-forth, which is just — I love it. It’s super great. We just have so many different teams just pushing things into other games and it’s really really nice.
Do you have any advice on prototyping? After a Game a Week for a whole year, you must be pretty good at it by now.
I have two pieces of big advice for prototyping. The first one is: Whatever idea you have, hone it down to one mechanic. Like, don’t look at an idea and pretend that it’s one mechanic. Actually get it down to one mechanic. If you have an idea about, like, “I’m gonna make a magnets game, and the magnets are gonna repel and attract, and it’s gonna be great, and then there’s gonna be all these things–” That’s too much. Your mechanic is repelling and attraction. Get it down to that. Build the prototype around that one main mechanic. And if you can’t get it down to one main mechanic, then your idea’s too big already.
The second piece of advice is: Don’t worry about the little things. Like the fluff and the polish. I would always get really antsy about getting something that actually looked correct in there, which is why I would always go to OpenGameArt.org and get some crafty tile sheet. And then all of a sudden, I’d be messing around with tile sheets for an hour instead of actually prototyping the main mechanic of the game, when I could have just put, like, a blue square in its place. And it’s really easy to get hung up on those details, because it sounds easy! Like, “Oh yeah, I’ll just go put some grass in here because its supposed to be grass,” and then, four hours later you might have grass, but that could have been four hours that you were actually prototyping out the idea with a green block that can do procedurally-generated grass.
It’s a lot of scoping things down and being mindful of your time management. Hone things down a lot, don’t worry about the details, and just make it work no matter how ugly it is, or how poor the code is. Also, don’t worry about nice-looking code; all of the code that you write during the prototyping phase is going to get thrown out. Just make it so that so you can test it out and see what works and make little adjustments to numbers until you get something that feels like what you’re looking for.