Monday, 18 February 2013

Meet the developers: Johann Lim

Welcome back!

It’s been a while since I have written about someone from E1 Studio, so this week I will be introducing you to Johann Lim (That’s pronounce “Yohan”), a grammar Nazi and more importantly, one of our gameplay designers.
Too bad girls, this dish is hitched. You should settle for a Subway Teriyaki instead.
It was tough interviewing Johann, we had too much in common and our focus kept going off tangent. Ben and Jason, the guys from our mobile division- Touchy Interactive, were sitting nearby and constantly butting in too.

Here’s an example of how the interview went-

Yours Truly: Which college did you go to?
Johann: I studied at the Imperial College of London. The “College of nerds, geeks and doctors” 

However at the mention of “Imperial”- the Star Wars spell was invoked and Johann, Ben, Jason and I trailed off into a conversation about Palpatine’s elite guards.

Moving forward…  

After college he worked in IT and even joined a friend to start a company doing GPS stuff. Too bad for him (although fortunate for us) that GPS thing didn’t work out. However at that junction,  Johann got the call of theatre!

Naturally I asked him if his time working in theatre had given him an edge in game design


My time in theatre was crucial in the "unlocking" or "releasing" of my creative side. You can't imagine how "stick up the arse" I used to be in my younger days. Furthermore, the many trainings in performing for theatre helped with the different aspects of creativity, teamwork, self-motivation and project-based work (ie working with a deadline).

A great example is improv. 

On one level, it's great for impulsive, intuitive, immediate idea exploration - you just have to do / say something to contribute RIGHT NOW. You have little time or space to be shy / embarrassed about what comes out of your mouth, or expressed by your body. On another level, it's great for teamwork - you're all working together to create an interesting scene. Additionally, there's a rule where you cannot negate what someone else has done / said - so you're always working together based on the immediate reality.

Theatre in general is a good example. The scale of the production is big, and there are so many moving parts and so many people doing different things. It's not unlike a games development company. And there's practically no way one person can handle everything (sure sure there are exceptions, but you're not the exception sorry!) so you have to trust people to do what they have to. And if they let you down, then just pick yourselves up, learn useful stuff from the experience and move on.”

So theater had thought Johann a few things about being a game designer. But love for the stage alone doesn’t cut it.

You need to love GAMES.

I asked him how long has he been into gaming and- Oh my, what a surprise! Johann has always been interested in gaming! Just like the rest of us.

However it’s possible he started earlier than most of us here in the studio. His older brothers were the culprits that got him hooked. They would play “Wizardry” on the old Apple II e, and Johann would watch in wonder as they progressed down wire frame corridors and read text that popped up at every turn.
So what was Johann’s all-time favorite game?

“. ... this... is an impossible question” said he.

“There are many games I love for many reasons. Nothing stands out above the rest in every situation. I'll list some and why I love them, how's that?

Here’s Johann & Shern. 
Just smile for the camera guys and I promise to go away
Stratego  - introduced me to strategy games

Ultima 4-6 - introduced me to really deep and meaningful RPGs

Company of Heroes - one of the best implemented RTSes

X-Com (the old one, haven't played much of the new one yet)- one of the best tactical action games ever

Star Control 2 (now The Ur-Quan Masters 2)- one of the best all-round experience games ever ever

Super Contra (SNES) - introduced me to 2P co-op and made it so seamless

Half-Life - made FPS’s a story-telling engine, awesome

Puerto Rico (board game) - beautiful level of complexity without overdoing it

Dungeon Lords (board game) - brilliant implementation of the PC game (Dungeon Keeper) and great fun

Magic the Gathering (card game) - the depth, complexity and creativity of design is astounding; and it keeps getting better!

Populous - playing god is kinda fun

I'm sure there are more, just can't think of them right now.”

It’s always a nice to share so many things in common with different people but it’s even nicer to find a place where you get to work with these people. Johann, like me, thought game development was completely absent in this part of the world, until he played Company of Heroes with Shern Chong from the studio. After an insightful discussion on the CoH’s mechanics, E1 Studio was plus one designer.

I guess one lesson you can learn from Johann’s story is that you never know what the future holds for you and that you can go down different paths at every turn and still find yourself heading in the right direction.
With that in mind, I was curious to know what Johann’s thoughts on were on the direction video games were heading.
More Magic: The Gathering

“We're on the path to more interesting games. By interesting I mean more exploration in how they're played and how they play. Genres like RTS, FPS, Action, Adventure, point-and-click - all become harder and harder to label as more and more people get into developing games and really pushing the boundaries. There'll be more depth in games, and, over time, better stories told. Fewer "blockbusters" and more indies.

Someone said that "games are the new media" - I think it's too early to say that, but hell it's interesting times for games. It's something that the consumer interacts with, and that is a whole new level of complexity that we're very slowly trying to figure out. This is the Age of Games, and it'll be a century or two before we ‘get it’ ”

So to wrap things up I asked Johann what was a vital characteristic requirement for any game designer?

“Designers always need to seek out new experiences. They enrich your life and you need to draw inspiration from them if you are going to build a game”

In other words, people aspiring to be game designers should get off their butts and do other things besides playing computer games.

I guess it also helps a lot to have some skills in programming like Johann.

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