Developer Pop Quiz is a weekly interview series in which we ask developers from around the industry the same 10 questions and post their responses.
Isn't it great when dreams come true? For Ska Studio's Lead Dishwasher, James Silva, the Xbox Live Indie Games movement helped him, not only keep his dreams alive, but go on to release two of Xbox Live Arcades best games, "The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai" and "The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile." As a true testament to how the indie games scene can help you quit your day job, and go on to do much bigger things with your life, Mr. Silva owes a lot of his success to hard work, self-motivation and perseverance, which makes him an ideal candidate for this week's Developer Pop Quiz.
Name: James Silva
Title: Lead Dishwasher
Company: Ska Studios
Job Description: Programmer, Artist, Animator, Designer, Composer, Dishwasher
First title worked on: "Zombie Smashers X" (2001, PC)
Most recent title worked on: "The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile" (2011, XBLA)
What game has most influenced you, and why?
Growing up, I was obsessed with Bungie's early FPS, "Marathon." I like saying I was a Bungie fanboy back when Bungie was underground. I was 14 or so when it came out, and I just remember being completely drawn into the game. It was a game about a space marine killing aliens that wasn't about killing aliens--rather, it was about Artificial Intelligences: AIs turning bad, experiencing emotion, and playing God, all with your survival at stake.
What are you playing right now?
Now that we've got some more free time, my girlfriend and I have been gradually tearing through all of the co-op games we can find; after some power leveling through "Borderlands" and a brief stint in "Shank," we've just landed on the first "Gears of War."
What was your first break in the games industry?
In 2007, after about seven years of making mediocre-yet-improving games as a college student, I was beginning to accept the grim reality that the game development dream would have to die and the applications development job I got out of college was going to be it for my career. But about two months into the desk job (which was, admittedly, a pretty decent desk job still), a game I had made for the 2007 Microsoft Dream Build Play competition called "The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai" took first place, an XBLA contract. My coworkers were totally cheering me on for the whole experience; I did the quit-your-day-job thing, starved a bit, launched the game, and now I'm making a living doing what I love!
What's the best advice you've ever gotten?
"Don't drink that."
Where do you look for inspiration?
I'm a big fan of a lot of Japanese action films like "Death Trance," "Azumi" and "Machine Girl." Of course, Ryuhei Kitamura's "Versus" is what got me hooked. "My reflexes are 500 times faster than Mike Tyson's!!!"
What's the biggest lesson you've learned about game development?
On the design level, it's been not to take myself too seriously. When you put months--sometimes years--of work into one game, it's easy to subconsciously start attaching some insanely lofty significance to it, so you have to keep taking a step back and reminding yourself that it's all about making awesome.
On the tech end, it's been to not let logistics cramp a concept--as programmer and designer, I'm all too often backing off from an idea with "that would be cool, but way too hard to implement;" I've been getting better about this, though.
What has been the low point of your career?
I think I have the sort of personality that gives in to despair really easily, so there have been a few! The gloom really sets in as we get closer to final certification: debugging becomes this endless, impossible task where every issue fixed creates three more bugs, once-fixed bugs mysteriously unfix themselves, getting the game to a shippable state seems totally impossible, and I can't decide which I dread more: humiliation or starvation.
What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?
I think when game developers take their creative cues from a profit-first mentality, the games suffer for it. This is evident from an indie level, where simple concept games like "Osmos" and
"Nightsky" are cloned ad nauseam, to AAA productions, where every level, feature, and character is carefully budgeted, and games are given the ax solely because investors are afraid to publish anything with a female protagonist.
What is the most important thing that has happened to gaming in the last 10 years?
For me it was the launch of XNA and Xbox Live Indie Games. XBLIG is the first and still only platform for hobbyist developers to cheaply and easily develop games for a console, which is probably the only development in gaming I've wished for since I was twelve. Not only is it a totally competent platform for indie console development, but it streamlines a lot of typically challenging or tedious development tasks, like online multiplayer gaming.
Where do you see gaming in 5 years?
I think, for better or for worse, we're headed toward some sort of social gaming singularity. Social features like friends lists, persistent leaderboards, and plain old multiplayer gaming go a long way toward redefining gaming as a social experience. However, when social games start taking on the characteristics of weeds, viruses and parasites as a means of improving market share, things get a little sketchy. Use it, don't abuse it!