Damien Bargiacchi: A Q&A with Our Programmer

02/18/2010
Courtesy of Flick'rs kylemac

Courtesy of Flick’rs kylemac

As you may or may not know, there are a few of us that keep the Ayogo Games’ engine in good working order, inside and out. You might have read my post explaining what my role is here, and if you’ve clicked on any of the authors’ links, you can easily figure out what they do. But still, there are a handful of other Ayogos (as I call the people that work here) that we haven’t had a chance to introduce to you, until now! (We think that they’re pretty spectacular people with interesting things to say, hopefully, you do too!)

Here’s the first Q&A in a series of many to come with one of our programmers, Damien, who has been with Ayogo (pretty much) since its inception. Damien is not only a programmer, but the guy “who has all those cool t-shirts.”He has more than 70 colourful and hilarious t-shirts that he likes to show off at work–some more provocative than others. Here are some of his thoughts about our industry.

When it comes to the virality of games…

In this industry, game makers have to balance getting their games out there and noticed with annoying users too much. There has been a trend where users were getting spammed all the time. That’s not useful for the player. You have to message users with relevant information. In Need for Speed Nitro (we did that one!) does that well. For example, if your car has participated in a race, you’ll get an update. I think that’s interesting information for the player. This is opposed to the really inconsequential messages you get from many games.

Playing games…

I go through stages. I’ll spend a bunch of time on consoles then switch on handheld games for a while. I tend to concentrate on a very few games at a time.

I started to play Mafia Wars for research purposes for our iPhone game City of Ash. I ended up spending a lot of time there after the research was done. Ian (another dev) and I pretty much always have a game or two of Uniwar on the go.

About the popularity of social games…

You have that RPG aspect that hooks people – some sort of numerical gain – mixed with the social graph. Mob Wars, one of the first big social games, tied classic RPG elements together with the friends list.

Future of social game development…

It’s hard to say. In the beginning, users were getting messaged a lot, whereas more recently that’s changing. Facebook’s new gaming dashboard seems to be designed to help users manage that communication. It’ll encourage game developers to put out more interesting messages since each game has equal priority instead of each message. Until now it’s been quantity over quality and I think the dashboard will start encouraging more quality messages.

Interests as a programmer…

I’m interested in the lower level components of software systems: I like writing code that other programmers can use to do their jobs more effectively – components that other developers can use as building blocks.

The iPad and games…

The iPad provides, in a general sense, a new place for people to interact with technology. It’s cheaper and more portable than a desktop or laptop computer but has less processing power, no dedicated input device and it’s locked down. It’s more expensive than a netbook but you get more screen real estate and interact with the device quite differently. The increase in screen real estate over a smartphone or netbook means you can fit more information on screen and keep it readable. As for the underlying technology, we’ve already developed games for the iPhone and iPod Touch so we know how to do that part already. It’s just the interaction design that changes for us: we’ll have to design another UI, but I think it’ll be easier to do well than on the iPhone.

Your ideal technology scenario…

I think we need to work towards interoperability. We have all these interesting devices and technology, but they’re often separated. We need find a way to tie them together. We’ve started to have that with common communication technologies: you have your calendar, contacts and email available in desktop, web and phone environments. That’s a fairly recent change and it’s great, but new technology comes out and is kept segregated in its own world. This is especially bad when DRM is introduced. We need to move to a place where you can freely use information in more than one context.

If you were to make improvements…

The thing I miss most from console and PC gaming is the strong storytelling component that exists in that realm.

Designing social games…

In the current incarnation of ‘social games’ they tend to be free to play so they market themselves. This means that you have to make the experience good from the get go. People keep playing them because they’re fun.

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