As you know, sometimes we hire talented people straight from the community. James (aka viperesque), a subreddit moderator and long-time community member you may be familiar with, joined our team a few months ago. We recently asked him to share some insight about his background and time with us. We hope you enjoy this interview.
Hi James! Thanks for taking part in the interview! Please introduce yourself.Hi! I’m James, but in Path of Exile circles more people will know me as viperesque from the forums, reddit or Discord. I’ve been working at GGG as a game designer since January this year.
Tell us a bit about your current role at GGG.Before I started working to get this job, I didn’t really appreciate how many different tasks were involved in game design in Path of Exile! Turns out there are a lot of hats to wear. The roles which I expect people associate most with it are coming up with ideas and doing balance adjustments for items, skill and support gems, crafting systems, and so on. That’s definitely a big part of it, but for example, setup and scripting for monsters and encounters are also designer roles and end up being a significant portion of the job (though I’m only just starting to graduate from simple monsters myself). There are also things like bug catching, visual effects implementation, level design and preparing materials for announcements.
It’s also an extremely collaborative role — whether the initial idea for a feature or change comes from a designer or someone else, it almost always needs to go to another person (a programmer, animator, artist, level designer, sound designer, or anyone else) to be created, and then sent back to the designer to be implemented into the game. That’s been one of my unexpected favourite things about the position so far, because you get to work with so many people throughout the company and learn little bits about how they do their jobs.
How and when did you find out about Path of Exile?A friend of mine had been a closed beta supporter, and told our whole group of gamer friends about Path of Exile when it went into open beta. So I first found out about it in February 2013, and have been playing regularly ever since.
What was the moment that got you hooked on the game?It wasn’t a single moment. Even in 2013, Path of Exile was such a complicated game that it took months to fully appreciate it. That said, I can pick out a few exciting events. I remember I’d been wishing for years for more RPGs that took character customisation seriously without having turn-based or terrible gameplay, so that first time seeing the passive tree was definitely more of a “Hell yes!” for me than the “What the hell?” that I know many people experience. Getting my first real build (Marohi Ground Slam, already going out of style in early 2013 if we’re being honest) to endgame after two or three false starts made me feel like I was starting to understand the game, though I was so wrong. About 100 hours into Docks farming with Spork totems (now there’s the 2013 meta we knew and loved!) I was definitely hooked. At some point much later, the purpose of temporary leagues clicked for me, and that was when I realised I would be playing this game for years and years. Certainly never expected to end up here though!
You are known in the community as a Path of Exile subreddit moderator. How did you start there?Whenever I get really invested in a complicated game, I tend to start semi-obsessively devouring information about it. I also sometimes start answering people’s questions about the game online, partly because it’s a fun and fulfilling way to spend bits of spare time and partly because the process of helping people and reading other people’s answers improves my own knowledge.
In the case of Path of Exile, I started on the official forums, then made a reddit account to answer questions there as well, then got really into the Discord server when that started. This got me noticed by the Discord mods (who at the time were mostly subreddit mods too), and I was asked to help out modding there. That eventually led to being asked to help with the subreddit too, since I was active on both. I actually turned down that request a couple of times because I was worried about the time commitment/potential stress based on previous modding roles, but eventually I said yes on a trial basis, found it was much less painful than I expected, and stuck with it.
What were the most difficult moments and the most fun moments?The biggest difficulties always came from trying to reach a compromise between groups with completely opposite opinions or beliefs about how the subreddit should work. Reddit is weird like that I think — forums can be subdivided as much as you like, but subreddits mash everything together and you’re stuck with it all (and splinter subreddits rarely get much traction), so everyone has to put up with some content they don’t really care for and that causes friction. Having people on both sides of a debate accuse you of being biased against them is an unforgettable experience.
Most fun...well honestly, modding isn’t fun. Occasionally you get the satisfaction of handling something well, but otherwise it’s very neutral.
How did you end up working at GGG?In a word, Bex!
Before GGG I was a research biochemist, and it was fine but never felt like a perfect fit for me. I was thinking about much less drastic career shifts — maybe pharma or government science. The idea that maybe I could apply to GGG popped up from nowhere one day and I couldn’t quite shake it. I know heaps about the game, I’m active in the community, I lived in Australia long enough to get citizenship and my partner is Australian so we could dodge New Zealand’s overseas hiring regulations...I thought it was kind of a silly dream, but I knew I’d regret not following it up. Luckily I was already on good terms with Bex because of communication about subreddit issues over the years, so I asked her whether it would make any sense for me to apply for a community role at GGG.
As it turned out, the community team was full. However, Bex thought I might fit in more roles, encouraged me to send an open-ended application in anyway, and gave me a lot of advice for doing so. If it wasn’t for her I probably would never have sent anything in, and definitely wouldn’t have considered myself for a design role.
It turned out that Chris and a few other GGG staff already knew of me. A few emails and a couple of Skypes with Chris later I was being considered for a game design position. I made it through Neon's two hour interview/chat/gameplay session, flew over to try out in person, my partner was happy to quit her job, and next thing I knew we were packing up our household and moving to Auckland!
How has working with us been so far compared with your expectations? Have there been any surprises?I didn’t really know what to expect until I started, so in that sense everything has been a surprise! When I first tried out, I had to make sure to prepare myself in case I hated it! It’s been great though. I feel incredibly lucky to be in this position and to have a job I really enjoy doing, and everyone in the office is so friendly. I guess one nice surprise is that game balance has a surprising amount in common with scientific experimentation, so I can apply a lot of my experience and training there. Sorry to people who’ve had to read my issue notes when I start treating them like a lab notebook!
It’s also been interesting to finally be able to learn about all the mechanics GGG keep secret, and how wrong I was in my assumptions about some of them. And while it’s not directly related to the job, going into Covid lockdown three weeks after arriving in New Zealand was definitely a surprise, and one we’ve only managed to handle by borrowing a lot of things from the office...
You were involved in the design of the notables for the Cluster Jewel system. What was the most challenging part in this process?Firstly, getting my head around this crazy new system I’d just been told about on my second day on the job. Secondly, just coming up with all the ideas! There was never a specific goal for the number of notables to end up with, but we had to have enough so that every build we could think of had a decent number to pick from. Rory jokingly(?) suggested that we get to a list of 3000 and cull from there. We probably came up with at least 500, although to be clear this was a group effort and no more than a third of them were mine.
Do you have any advice for aspiring designers?I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this question yet! For Path of Exile specifically, I’d echo Neon's comments at ExileCon that the big thing you need is to know the game inside and out. Understanding how the game’s mechanics and calculations work, being able to quickly figure out use and abuse cases for a new item or skill, making sure you don’t repeat anything that has already been done, and knowing what metrics to use for balance are all absolutely vital. I’m being taught the rest as I go, though some aptitude for computers is obviously a plus. Also, this applies to any role and is a bit of a cliché but it’s so helpful to be visible! I was lucky that GGG senior staff were engaged with the community and noticed my years of answering questions to the extent that I could convince them to hire me, but if you’re gunning for a job from the get-go I’m sure you can think of a better strategy than that.
What can the community look forward to in terms of things you're working on at the moment?Naturally I’m mostly working on 3.11 right now. In particular, I’ve been improving and reworking some of the less-loved unique items and buffing a few underpowered skills. If your favourite hipster build goes meta in 3.11, or a buffed skill/unique is still ignored and unused, you can probably blame me for it. I also have smaller roles in new skills and unique items for 3.11, and a bit of league mechanic setup. Looking further ahead, I’m taking point on a fairly large set of changes to some older content that you’ll find out more about later in the year, coordinating the finishing touches for Act 1 of the Path of Exile 2 campaign, and doing setup for some of the monsters from Act 2. Exciting times!
on May 10, 2020, 8:05:46 PM
Grinding Gear Games