Interview with Adam Heine
On several occassions people have asked on Torment's developers board what working on a game would be like. Adam Heine is a young man who recently started to work for BIS on Torment. We asked him what it is like, and more...
- What do you do at Interplay?
Up until recently I was officially a part-time Scripter at Black Isle Studios. Very recently I got hired full-time as a Junior Programmer, but my job description is very similar.
- Can you explain the art of scripting (maybe also show a script?)
Put very simply, my job is to implement what the designers design - to make their vision a reality in the game. I place creatures in the world, write their scripts (that is, I tell them what to do given any situation), figure out respawning creatures, write cutscenes, and basically serve as monkey-boy for a variety of other tasks. Below you'll find one of my scripts. This script is mainly attack AI for a mage who attacks you on sight. The variable "MortalCombat" simply keeps track of what spell he is supposed to cast right now. In the Infinity Engine, creatures do have to actually memorize spells to use them, but in the past bad things have happened if we told a creature to cast a spell that he didn't have memorized.
// Location: AR0403
// If attacked, attack my attacker
AttackedBy( [PC], DEFAULT )THEN
- How did you get your current job?
Well, almost two years ago, while I was a junior at UCSD, Feargus (ed: Division Director,
Black Isle Studios)
emailed our CSE department saying they were looking for good programmers (our CSE department often forwards job offers to an undergrad mailing list). My roommate and I had just finished playing Fallout (which, of course, we loved) and even though I had a year of school left I had to try and take the opportunity. I told Feargus that I was graduating in another year and asked what I might do; he told me to apply in the following February or March and they would see what they needed. So another year of school passed, and I remembered Feargus' suggestion (of course I remembered, it was the only job opportunity I was interested in!) and emailed him. He got back to me soon after and said that they could use a programmer and asked if I could come in for an interview.
As for my programming background, that goes all the way back to Apple IIe's and early elementary school. Here is an exclusive, open-source copy of my very first program (no kidding):
10 PRINT "Hi, Daddy!"Back in late elementary and Jr. High I decided I wanted to design games (no, I'm not giving you exclusives of those - they suck). I didn't know what else to pursue to get there so I pursued programming, since I liked it anyway.
- Which skills are generally required for script-writing?
That really all depends on how intensive the scripting language is and what is being done with it. For our game, all that is really required is a basic knowledge of logic. The language itself is very simple and can be learned quickly. Certainly programming skills help tremendously to understand how the engine handles the scripts - this comes in handy when we break the engine with some very complex scripts (you'd be surprised how often this happens).
But a typical scripting language will be more than a string of IF/THEN's normally, and will require more programming knowledge. Still, you probably don't need nearly as much programming skills as you would if you were a full-fledged programmer. I'll let you know what I found out depending on what they make me program on the next project.
- Is the industry as glamerous as some people might think?
I wouldn't call it glamorous. Most people I talk to in the real world have never heard of Interplay or Baldur's Gate. Before I got the job, I would often get funny looks or a sarcastic "sure, whatever" when I told people what I wanted to do. For some of those people, when I talk to them now I get a sympathetic, "Oh... that's what you wanted to do, right?" But I don't really care what they think because it is exactly what I wanted to do, and I'm very happy to be here.
It's still a job, and it's still very much real work, but because I am so interested in the final product I enjoy the work that much more. I told my roommate recently that I don't think I could ever get a normal job again. If Black Isle drops me and no one else wants me, I doubt I'll ever do any "normal" programming. I've never really enjoyed a job the way I do this one, and I don't want to go back.
It certainly might feel more glamorous when I get to see my name in the credits of the game, but honestly how many of us ever read the credits and remember the names of all those guys? I'd love to, I try to, but in the end I don't remember most of their names anyway, and I certainly don't expect to be remembered by most except maybe the denizens of our message board. I do this job because I love it.
- In total, what kind of people would you recommend trying to find a job at for example Interplay?
First, you gotta like video games. No, you probably have to love video games. Then you have to accept the fact that you'll probably never be able to play any again. Well, it's probably not that bad really (I still play Worms and Goldeneye all the time). I think the most important thing, for any job really, is that you have an invested interest in the final product. And I don't mean financially, but I mean that you really WANT the final product to be good. If you have that, then the work and the time will be worth it.
Feargus once told me that this is an industry where you will gain 5 years of experience in a year or less, and I think that's true. I wouldn't worry too much about knowing what you're doing so much as being very willing to learn how to do what you're doing.
- What advice would you give them?
It's hard for me to give advice. I feel like I've been blessed with this job in a lot of ways. I don't often know what they are looking for when they interview people. I do know that a lot of the designers rose up through the ranks of Interplay's QA department, so that's definitely one good way of getting here - it gives the department heads here a good chance to see how devoted and willing to learn you really are. And, as with any job, an easy way to get in is simply to be connected. I was lucky enough to be talking directly to Feargus rather than going through HR - that helped me a lot. The only difference between getting here and getting a normal job is to get here you should definitely enjoy playing games.
- Do you still have time to play other games?
As I said, I do get to play some. I recently got my hands on my own N64 (I've grown up with every system Nintendo has made, and my ex-roommate took his away with him when he got married), so I've been playing Smash Bros. and Goldeneye on that one. On my own computer, which is sadly outdated, I've been able to play Worms Armageddon quite a bit as well. I've taken to playing games that require only 5-30 minutes at a time so I can just sit down any time, play a little, then go do something else.
- In what way are the scripts you use in Torment, different from those in Baldur's Gate? (maybe you can also add some statistics)
I wish I had statistics for you. I'd like to see them myself. Our scripts are usually much more complex than those in Baldur's. The more comfortable we get with the engine, the more we are able to do with it. At the same time, we have been extending the functionality of the engine to do the things that we want it to do.
One of the things we have been able to do is to create a "rail system" where the designers will specify a series of points for generic NPCs to walk along. Then with the power that Jim Gardner (one of the programmers) has bestowed upon us scripters, we are able to spawn in generic townies and such at specific intervals and have them walk along those rails. This is a really easy way to make a town look populated, and to begin to create a world that seems to be moving along just fine without you even being there.
We have also been using in-game cutscenes more extensively than I believe Baldur's did. For those who don't know, an in-game cutscene is simply a point in the game when you lose control over your characters as you watch a scripted sequence occur (e.g. when Sarevok kills Gorion after you first leave Candlekeep, that is an in-game cutscene). Some of them are minor, others are big productions much like the one I just mentioned. The cutscenes have been a source of many of our headaches (if something breaks and the cutscene never ends, it is the same as the game locking up), but I personally enjoy them. It's a lot like choreographing a play really.
- Have you played the game yet? If so, what amazed you most?
I have been able to play the game on occasion, and I have always really enjoyed it. The first thing that amazed me, even when I first got here, was the sheer depth of the dialogue. The dialogue trees were large and very interesting, and they gave you many options most of which actually made a difference in your relation to the character you were speaking to (how many times have we seen dialogue with 5 different things you can say, but the NPC always says the same thing in return no matter what you do?). The other thing that has amazed me is just the oddities inherent in the Planes themselves. When I started here I knew nothing of the Planescape setting, but everytime I go into the game I find something new and strange that one of the designers will have come up with. The well-written dialogue along with the fantastic art combines to make the bizzareness of the Planes really come alive.
- Isn't it strange to see your own work in the game? I figure you know all the secrets already...
It is a little weird, but I imagine that it will only become really strange when I bring a box home to my roommate and watch him play through the areas that I created and debugged over the last few months (I'd play it myself, but I have to get a new computer first!). And actually, speaking of playing it myself, I don't know all the secrets yet. It's true that I do know quite a few things that you don't yet, but there are many areas that I haven't even been to yet and a lot of dialogue that I have never read. I hate spoiling things for anyone, and I'm trying to spoil as little of this game as possible for myself (although that's very difficult). I don't want to read any of the dialogue for the end-game yet, as I'm really excited to read how the whole thing turns out. Fortunately, because the dialogue is written and handled almost entirely by the designers, I don't have to read it unless I choose to.
- What do you think people will like/ dislike about the game?
I think if you like a good story then you will LOVE this game. From the moment I first starting reading design docs for this game, I felt it had a great story, and as I have played through pieces of it I have found that to be true. The story is very well-written and given to you in pleasantly ambiguous chunks, involving you in the story quite nicely. I can understand how people might not like this game if they expect it to be a clone to Baldur's, but hopefully it will satisfy them as well. There are plenty of places to exercise your combative skills in this game, and combat is usually (but not always) an effective means of solving quests. But I'm sure there will always be those people who may be annoyed at the amount of thinking or reading they would have to do to get the most out of this game.
- Who's your favorite Torment NPC?
I'd have to say it's a tie between Fall-From-Grace and Vhailor. A large part of that is their voice-overs - both were VERY well done. I think I like the idea of Vhailor enough to put him over the top though. He's really a tank whose over-developed sense of justice keeps him going to waste evil-doers. Do you remember the Red Knights from Dragon Warrior (i.e. how old school are you)? He's like a Lawful Good version of those guys.