What does an average day at work look like for you?
I write game and shader code primarily relating to the generation of astronomical bodies and their graphical representation. A typical day sees me getting to the office for 9:30am (Flexitime is best time). With a mug of tea at the ready and my builds updating to the latest revision, I check my jobs and meetings lists for the day. There's often a short morning meeting so that multiple people working in the same area know of the latest updates. After that, it's back to the keyboard to code away. I could be fixing bugs, adding support for new features, doing R&D on the best approach to a new problem; the usual programmer faire. It's not insular work though; our tasks are part of a large collaborative effort. For example, I could be advising on astrophysics matters with people in the art team.
Lunch is 1pm – 2pm. Involved is typically a combination of eating, stretching my legs, napping, and having a blast on something in my Steam library. Recent examples include The Chaos Engine, Syndicate, and Carmageddon. Beep beep.
After that, it's back to the keyboard. If I get long tracks of time where I can focus on coding, I'd often tune into an internet radio station or listen to game commentaries. Occasionally a tea-break may emerge, along with discussions on gaming, design, physics, films, 80s cartoons, the correct application of an osoto makikomi... we're a varied bunch. Home time for me is usually around 6PM.
What aspect of the game have you worked on that you are most proud of?
I'd say it's the background you see in game: stars with luminosity based relative brightness and saturation, the distant view of the Milky Way and the Local Group, and wibbly-wobbly gravitational effects. When I play the game at home I still enjoy just flying around looking at the twinkly lights.
What’s your favourite thing about Elite Dangerous?
It's got to be the soundscape: everything from the ship engines to the dynamic ambient soundtrack to the background voices in the stations. The audio team really have done a brilliant job.
What was the biggest challenge you came up against during game development?
I come from an experimental physics background. In a project like Elite Dangerous, there are some aspects of real physics that don't immediately blend with interesting gameplay or playable framerates. Finding an acceptable ground between the art and code side of science discussions was sometimes testing. In some cases the quest for realism was made difficult by the physical hardware, such as the brightness range of your monitor being many orders of magnitude outside how bright a star can appear. An artistically pleasing brightness curve must instead be authored which follows the apparent brightness falloff your eyes would expect, and also be robust enough to handle dim Y class dwarf stars to super-bright Wolf-Rayets.
What have you learned from working on Elite Dangerous?
This is the first video game I've worked on in a professional capacity. As such, Elite Dangerous has taught me much, especially in terms of coding standards and efficiency. I only wish I had some of this experience when I was a graduate student at Fermilab. So much analysis time was needlessly lost. We live and learn.
I have also learned that begging the sound team for a voice acting role, followed by doing bad Arnie impressions, does not get you into the sound booth.
Also, that Fig Rolls are the most prized commodity in the games development kitchen.
Federation, Empire, or Alliance? And why?
In Elite Dangerous, I've mostly been spending time in Empire space as that's where my wingmates have been hanging out. However, I played a lot of Frontier: Elite II when I was young and I usually sided with the Federation, what with the convenience of the starting locations. I'll likely pick the Federation again when I finally decide which power to back wholeheartedly. The Farragut Battle Cruiser is pretty rad, too.
Tell the community a fun fact about yourself
I am enlisted as a continuity checker and Rob64 voice actor for a work-in-progress fan-made animated series based on Nintendo's Star Fox.
If you could ask the community one question, what would it be?
Have you seen a standard... a symbol... perhaps on a shield? Two snakes coming together... Facing each other! But they're one!
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