Staff Chat Notes – July 16, 2019
In what we hope will become a recurring opportunity, some of the moderators (@Garanwyn, @Kerridoc, @Rook, @zephyr1) met with members of the Small Giant Games Staff for a casual conversation to share with our fellow players.
Special Guest: Sofia — Game Developer
All responses are from Sofia, unless otherwise indicated.
Garanwyn: What do you do at Small Giant Games?
I’m a developer, in charge of implementing features. I’m in the code every day.
What I’ve been doing recently is the Building Update — that’s sort of my main thing right now, I’m holding the ropes on that. I’m sort of in charge of that, trying to see that everything goes well, and I’m the only one developing that.
Petri: Yeah, we have quite a small team. And each member of the team has a responsibility for one of the big features.
Rook: So you bring the art to life, you make it happen.
Yeah, basically. I get the art, and then I make the building work around that, so we actually have something in the game to use.
Rook: Do you have difficulty, like someone will bring you the art, and you’re like, “I cannot make this, this is not possible?”
Well that’s more like if we’re having a conversation with the designer, and then the designer asks for something very difficult to implement, then there can be situations like that. But usually they can always be discussed to make them more manageable to implement.
Kira: It’s usually Player Support who will want something, and we go to them and say, “can you put this in the game?” And they’re like, “well, um, no, that’s a bad idea.”
Kerridoc: What was your favorite art to animate?
Well, I don’t really do animations. We have UI developers who design the UI, and create art and create animations for the UI.
I wonder what’s an easy way to explain the things I do?
It’s more like, for every feature that you have in the game, and every action that you can make, there’s huge work that goes on behind the scenes that makes that possible. For example, building a building, or the battle system in general — there’s a huge bunch of things that happen in the background, and that’s sort of what I do.
So when you see animations, that’s actually not so much what I’m doing. But I’m putting the feature in the game, so that you can play it.
For example, if you’re in Beta, and then you see something like these sort of unfinished features, where the UI looks a bit unfinished and there are no animations and such, that’s basically the work I put in there so we can define how and when things will happen.
Garanwyn: So are you primarily doing client-side programming?
I’m sort of full stack. I’m doing it all. But this Building Update was mainly client-side.
zephyr1: That’s actually what I was sort of wondering too, is with a small team if you tend to be assigned a feature or a piece of functionality, and you’re doing the whole stack for it, or if there is more a division of labor. It sounds like you’ve been doing the whole of the Stronghold Update.
Yeah, I’ve been doing the full stack, but we do have many designated server developers who only work on continuing the server and fixing live issues and things like that. And then we have a few of us who are building entire features, who work full stack. And then this one developer who’s mostly working on the admin tool for the Support guys.
I get a lot of say in what I do. Actually, when I started working on Building Update, I actually just said, “I want my own feature now, I want to create the full stack of some feature.”
Before that, I was working on different tickets all around the architecture, for parts of features, and also on the support side.
Now I’m focusing on the full stack, creating the features.
Kira: Sofia is also the one who developed the transfer tool in the game, for moving between different operating systems.
Petri: That was a huge help for us in Player Support.
Kira: That was a big Player Support request.
That’s a good example of a feature that was actually very server heavy, a lot of networking code that I made.
Garanwyn: So how did you get hooked up with Small Giant in the first place?
It was when I was wanting to get into the game industry, and then I was applying to different places, and one of my friends sent me to the website for Small Giant, because they were looking for a developer. And I really got interested in the game and the company, and I just applied, and they were interested in me.
Rook: That is so cool!
zephyr1: How long have you been with SG?
I started in June 2018, so a bit over a year.
zephyr1: Oh ok, so a while.
Petri: And I think our youngest at 20. We have a couple young employees, but I think you’re the youngest. We have everything, a wide range of ages —
Kira: No, I think the oldest, we’re probably all about the same age, probably mid to late 40s —
Petri: (laughing) No, we have, I think we have…
Kira and Petri: (both laughing)
Garanwyn: You said you do a lot of solo work — would it be possible for you to talk a little bit about how the collaboration does work? Do the artists come to you with finished animations? Do they start by talking to you about ideas that they have, and you say, “this could work, and this couldn’t?”
Yeah — so what happened with Building Update, for example. I said, I want my own feature, and then it was me and one senior developer and Tim, the lead game designer, and we sat down and were looking at the backlog for what features could happen, and we decided together that I would do the Building Update, and then going forward Tim would be sending me specifications, and I would ask for details and requirements, like all of the buildings that are needed, what each building would do. And also another game designer who I work with closely would provide more detail, because there’s really a lot of design that goes into these features, so it’s constant that I’m asking for specifications so I know exactly what to implement.
And then for art, it’s basically, when I have something that’s about finished, or that I know is going to be finished, I will tell Tim that I need some art for this now, and then he will make the specifications for the artists who then come up with the art, and then I’ll get that and put it in the game. I usually make my own placeholder art before I get that.
Petri: I love that use of emojis that you have.
Kira: Yeah, our “planning for” prevention board, she figured out how to put emojis, so all her tickets, you can tell, they have cherries in them hiding.
zephyr1: Do you find that that’s sort of a one-way flow of design, where you’re getting specifications and just implementing them, or do you find that as you implement things, you end up giving feedback back to the designer sayings, “you know, now that I’m working on this and getting more into it, I’m wondering if this should be changed.”
Yeah, sometimes that does happen, and especially as I’m developing something and I see more and more things that should be considered that the designer maybe doesn’t consider in the first place.
Obviously I don’t have such expertise in design that I would be questioning all the decisions of the designer, but we do discuss things, and I bring up things that should be considered.
zephyr1: The Hunter’s Lodge was a surprise for players, because it wasn’t in the 2019 Sneak Peek. I was curious about what your experience was working on that, and unveiling it as a little bit of a surprise. How did you feel working on a project like that, and then seeing player reaction to that?
Yeah, so the Hunter’s Lodge was actually sort of a surprise for me as well, because I didn’t get the specification for the last building until after I finished Hero Academy and Alchemy Lab.
So I don’t think there was anything to sneak peek at in December.
Petri: Yeah, it wasn’t included then.
We didn’t know what the building was going to be.
And then obviously there was info about it on the Forum, and there was this awesome new trailer that someone in User Acquisition [marketing] made.
And I do like reading comments on the Forum, like when fans are chatting about something, that makes it very exciting for me, of course.
Kira: So you do read the Forum?
zephyr1: That was one of the things we wondered about. You like reading the Forum, but what I wonder is whether that ends up informing your work, is it useful feedback, or more just seeing how people are reacting, since you’re less involved in design?
Yeah, it’s pretty much more just seeing the reactions, and understanding what the community thinks.
Garanwyn: That sounds like a dangerous pastime…
Yeah, I try to limit it, but sometimes I get into it. But there’s a lot of really good stuff on the Forum, I enjoy reading it.
Petri: And of course through the Beta process, there’s involvement.
Oh yeah, for sure, the Beta feedback, I read that sometimes, and then we have the QA reading that, and the designers reading that, and that’s very valuable for us to get all of that. That definitely affects my work in that then I get requests from QA and designers of all the things that need to be changed.
Kira: We’re hoping to arrange a call in the future with our QA.
Kerridoc: So when you’re looking for a bit of amusement, do you have a favorite thread or part of the Forum you head to?
Well today I found the Ridiculous Bragging Thread, and that was nice.
zephyr1: We’ve kind of talked about this with some of the other SG Staff in past conversations, but I’m curious — do you play E&P regularly, and if so, does that work into how you think about development, or what your experience is like working for SG?
I started playing a bit before I joined, and I’ve played pretty actively the past year. We have this tiny alliance with a few of my colleagues, that’s a Small Giant only alliance, and we’re hitting 2-3* Titans. There are only six of us in the alliance.
Petri: That’s a different one — Kira and I aren’t in that one.
Rook: These must be secret alliances that you don’t let anyone know about.
Kira: Well, we’re not too hard to find, Petri has the Staff Badge, and he’s often in chat. But other Staff are more hidden. There are players like all the other players.
Petri: Yeah, and they’re no different, we have quite a few alliances.
Kira: Yeah, we do, and some people are in their own alliance with non-employees, and are playing like people play.
Garanwyn: It sounded like Tim was in a normal alliance.
Petri: Yeah, I think he’s been in that one since the beginning, from the soft launch.
Garanwyn: I feel a little sorry for him, there are several LINE groups that have taken to cursing him whenever the RNG goes badly.
zephyr1: …because he’s personally pushing the button, that’s the theory. That’s actually all Tim does all day, is sit and push the button.
(we continue to laugh, knowing full well some people reading this probably believe that)
zephyr1: In the span of time that you’ve been playing really actively in the last year, and the game has really evolved a lot in that period of time, has being on both sides of that changed the way you look at your development work or your time as a player? Or is it just sort of all mixed together at this point?
I don’t think it really changed the way I see the game.
I guess some features, like how we constantly used to have problems with Wars, and I was playing in the game, and I see a War going on, and I’m like, “uhhhh, I wonder if something’s going to happen.”
But other than that, I think the development work is still the same. I get super excited implementing new features, that I’m excited to play with.
It’s really nice to develop a game that you’re playing yourself, and it’s such a good game too.
Rook: I was just texting Kira this morning saying that I periodically scan for other games, and I’m almost always disappointed, because E&P is so good!It’s really hard to find a follow-up. There just aren’t a lot of things out there that compare.
Just recently I said at the office, we should make versions of every genre of games, and then they would all be good.
Kira: That would be my heyday, I’d be excited.
Petri: I think that’s a lot of competition.
zephyr1: Speaking of which, that’s an interesting question too — has the company evolved for you in your roles specifically over the last year that you’ve been there? I think the player perception is often, “oh, now they’re a Zynga company, and everything has changed.” But I think our impression as moderators based on past conversations with Staff isn’t necessarily the same, so I’m curious what your personal experience has been.
For me, I just got a new laptop.
Can you guys think of anything?
Petri: No, it’s been pretty much the same as usual.
Kira: No, but we did get Zynga t-shirts and hoodies.
We get cool people coming over to the office.
Petri: Yeah, people come to visit.
Kira: Zynga is quite impressed with the way we’re able to do what we do with such a small team, so there’s a lot of knowledge sharing that’s happening with us and them. So there will be occasionally someone in the office observing how we do it without producers, how we do it without all the kind of bureaucracy and hierarchy that other game companies have. But other than that, there’s been no difference.
Rook: So the perception of the player is very different than the reality, they’re not seeing.
Garanwyn: I think the average player is not terribly clear on how a corporate relationship like that works, though. That’s not surprising information for me at all — I would have been shocked if Zynga were interfering meaningfully in the day-to-day operations.
Petri: We’re running out of time with Sofia, are there any last questions?
zephyr1: You talked about your friend referring you, and how you got excited about the game in the last year — but what came before that? How did you get into game development? Is this your first professional experience in game development?
This is my first job in the gaming industry, but I’ve been a gamer all my life.
When I was in junior high, I was like 13, and I wanted to decide what I wanted to do. I wanted to start working towards a career path at such an early age — I was a bit crazy. But I liked games, and I figured I could become a game developer — why not. And then in high school, I went to code, and then I applied to university for Computer Science, and then I got my first coder job at 18 when I started at university. I was there for like 6 months, and then I figured, “now I have enough experience to pursue a new job in game development.”
Rook: That is so cool, I’m telling my daughter about this.
zephyr1: Your daughter is around the same age as Sofia was when she made that decision to pursue game development, isn’t she?
Rook: She is literally 13 and has been gaming for years, and wants to gets into code, so it’s funny.
zephyr1: Role model!
Rook I’m sitting here going, “I wish I had taped this!”
Petri: In university studying programming, were there a lot of other female students in computer science as well?
I think there were like 15% women studying with me.
Petri: Oh! That’s good to hear that it’s not quite so uneven anymore. That’s really important, getting that perspective.
Kira: And Finland is so unique with the mobile gaming culture. Rovio started here, Supercell started here, we’re here, and there are half a dozen other smaller mobile game companies here. So it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for someone to think they want to work in a mobile game company, and their educational system here is good at directing students at an early age in what they’re interested in. You’ll have to tell me, but I think that at 15 or 16, you can complete regular high school, and then you can go on to general studies in university, or if you want to do vocational training program in programming.
(a potentially extensive conversation about the Finnish education system ensues; Kira and Petri cut themselves short)
Kira: We could probably figure this out another time…
zephyr1: The next call will be a detailed presentation on the Finnish education system.
Rook: Thank you so much for all of this, it’s been really, really great!
This was really fun!
zephyr1: Thanks so much for the time and insights, it’s really interesting!
Garanwyn: Thanks for joining us!
zephyr1: It’ll be nice to know that as we see more building updates come out that we know who’s doing them! It’s not just a faceless developer!
Kira: Yeah, there should be signatures, like little emoji in the game.
Thank you for having me!