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Skip Navigation LinksPlayHard > In English > Making a Game: Programming (Part I). Interview with David Caloguerea

Название: Zeno Clash
Разработчик: ACE Team
Зарубежный издатель: ACE Team
Издатель в России: Новый Диск
Официальный сайт игры: перейти
Системные требования:
P4-3.0, 1 GB RAM, 128 MB 3D Card
P4-3.0, 1 GB RAM, 128 MB 3D Card
MultiPlayer: нет
Жанр: Action, First Person Shooter
Игра вышла: 21.04.2009
Рейтинг: 7.5

It's already known that Noviy Disk will publish Zeno Clash in Russia and there is our strong feeling that the game is going to be intriguing and very entertaining. A few weeks before ACE Team starts sharing their developer diaries with us, we launch an unique project where in a series of interviews ACE Team specialists' will present to us their view on general game design and its aspects, speak about their background, hobbies and work on Zeno Clash. Can't wait to look into heart, soul & mind of an experienced developer? Then read on to the first part of the series where we talk to the Lead Programmer of the studio - David Caloguerea!

David in this autographed picture teaches us the most important code lines for any Action game using the old Mac computer stored at the studio

- Please, introduce yourself to the Russian gamers.

- Hi, I’m David Caloguerea, I’m the lead programmer for the upcoming title Zeno Clash.

- Where did you study?

- I studied math here in Chile, I wanted to study something like Computer Engineering or similar, but after looking at the subjects and schedules of the careers, I decided to study math instead.

- What was the first game you played and your impressions about it?

- I think the first game I remember playing was Abadia del Crimen, a small game for the Amstrad computer, when I was still living in Spain. It was an adaptation from Umberto Eco’s “Il nome della rosa” (“The Name of the Rose” - in English). Since I was a little boy I really enjoyed videogames, I spent countless hours playing Elite and every other PC game I could lay my hands on.

- Tell us about your first job.

- Strangely, after I finished my studies I started working as a 3D-artist in a post-production studio. My brother in law needed someone to help him and I wanted to start working and stop studying. I also wanted to get my hands in something more tangible than theorems. Without an arts major it was a whole new area for me and I learned a lot about it.

- How have your skills evolved over time?

- Right now I could say that I am a decent 3D-artist (even if I haven’t worked at it for about 3 years now). I can manage myself in Photoshop and such, but my strong point is and always will be my programming skills. I may have some voids in my education and there may be some things I have to study again (especially if I want to create something from scratch), but my experience with the Maya API and later with some game engines compensates for all that. I think that a fundamental skill is to have the ability to understand an engine, modify it and make it work for your project.

- How has your career developed further?

- After about 5 years doing 3D, I tried to go back to my roots and get back to programming. I found work at Wanako Games as a programmer where I had the time to get in touch with my old skills. I met the people from ACE Team in Wanako Games; Andres and Carlos were working as game designers. We became friends there and after that we decided to make the jump and reopen ACE Team for business (in other words being our own bosses).

- What do you like the most in your current job?

- I think it’s the fact that we are our own bosses. Sure there’s a lot more responsibility and it can be a bit stressful at times, but having the last word in game mechanics, art decisions and such is something priceless.

- How does your usual work day go?

- Sometimes the first thing I do in the morning is goof around reading some gaming news and webcomics for about 15 minutes, then I get to work at whatever I’m doing at the moment (game mechanics, AI, HUD, etc). If I count my old post-production days, I have worked 36 hours straight easily. When I was at Wanako I had some big crunch-times too, but for this project (and since I am married now) we are trying to be more organized.

- What do you think about corporate parties?

- Since we are a small studio, we all know each other and we are close, so of course that gathering together is a must do from time to time. But something more organized will come in the future, when we have the budget for doing some cool stuff like annual events and such. Back in Wanako we had things like carting or paint-ball once a year and it was pretty good. We would like to do that too.

- Do you drive?

- I got my license when I was 18, but I try to live near the office so I can walk. Currently I am about 35 minutes away, so it’s a nice walk.

- What have you read or seen from some recent titles that impressed you?

- Nothing so recent… of course I enjoyed classics like LOTR when I was at school, but I think my favorite writer is William Gibson, specially “Neuromancer”. About movies: when I was studying I was a big fan of art films, but now I can enjoy a commercial movie too.

- What’re your favorite game genres and projects?

- The two games I have enjoyed the most in the last years would be Portal and Psychonauts, so you can see that a good story-writing is really important to me. Sometimes I find myself playing a FPS and not finishing it, especially if the story doesn’t motivate me to finish it.

- Is there a title you’re looking forward to play?

- I want to play Grand Theft Auto IV, but I’ll wait for the PC release. I really like their open world style. I also want to buy Okami for the Wii (which by the way is the first console I have owned). I really liked the visual style.

- Have you ever been to Russia?

- No, I haven’t, but I would really like to go. One of the things I would really like to do is to take the Trans-Siberian Railway route, and to visit Moscow and St. Petesburg.

- What do you like to do in your free time?

- Usually go to the movies or read a good book, and, of course, gaming, but mostly spend time with my wife.


- Describe a typical modern gamer. Is there an unique trait for that?

- For me, and from the people I know, I would say that a ludic interest. People who enjoy playing over all things, whether it’s a tabletop, a cards game or any other… to me that’s a gamer. A modern gamer of course will be more influenced over the latest generation graphics, the latest animation engines, etc., but at the end of the day what’s more important is if you had fun or not. Because that’s what a game is about.

- How do you see the future of the game industry as a whole?

- Of course, FPSs will push the technology if we are talking about graphics, AI and such, but platforms like the Wii are the ones that will expand the industry. The main problems (in my humble opinion) is the reach of the games. Almost everyone has a TV at home, or a cinema nearby, but not everyone has a PC able to play the latest games, or a gaming console. If you want the gaming industry to expand as the movie industry once did, you need to have the ability to reach your audience. If someone is making art games (and plans on make a living of it), that person must be able to reach the thousands of people that will want to buy the game, vs the millions of people that buy the mainstream games like Gears of War and Grand Theft Auto IV. Casual gaming will expand the market, so other new genres will have enough audience to be economically rentable.


David on vacations

- Give some advice to people who would like to be professional programmers.

- Lets see, to me if you want to be good at something you must dedicate full time to it. For instance, when I wanted to get into 3D, I worked full time (and I got paid) while I was learning. Programming is not different to that. If you want to get good at it, there’s no better way than getting your hands dirty and starting your own projects. It doesn’t matter if you finish them or not… it’s what you learn of them what’s more important.

- Is programming an art or a science?

- You can learn programming languages at an University, but to me programming is a bit like painting: you can improve a lot by hard work, but it takes someone special to make a work of art.

- Name 3 rules any programmer in spite of the level of experience has to follow to be successful.

- Plan ahead, be organized and, most of all, be motivated.

- How has the games programming evolved in its history?

- Obviously it has become more graphic. Back in the days a 3D-game was almost unthinkable, now (photo)realism is the new Holy Grail (and it has been for some years now). Realistic AI, realistic physics, realistic materials… most people are moving towards some kind of virtual reality, which is good since it pushes the boundaries and the technology but in my opinion they aren’t innovative as they used to be. Think of a time when everything was new, every task was a challenge and experimentation was the norm. Now people are making bigger, expanded games, but not necessarily better ones.

- What’re the main modern challenges for programmers?

- I think sometimes it’s up to us to try new things and new mechanics that game designers will not think of. I believe in brainstorming ideas back and forth between the game designers and the programmers. Sometimes we will have a different insight of how to make things that will be new or beneficial for them (think of Portal). Programming isn’t everything in the game as some programmers like to think, but we make the tools that game designers will use when they try to create their world, so they go hand in hand.

- What programming languages and software do you use in your work?

- C++ and Visual Studio, of course. Is there anything else [smiles]? But I would like to work with the IPhone SDK in the near future.

- What are the main tasks set for a programmer? How does an interaction with other team members work?

- The main task is to get things done in time. Even if you work with a licensed engine, there are many core mechanics, new tools and stuff that are project-specific. Your job is to get these done in time, so you will not delay the artists, animators, game designers, etc. And a good dialogue will speed things a lot for all the persons involved. Many programmers have no clue about interfaces, or about what an artist needs to be able to use a tool. Sometimes an option like “16bit vertex” in an exporter will not be clear to others, so you must work in knowing other’s needs in order to fulfill them.

- What is a game code capable of nowadays? What is still beyond its possibilities?

- I think nowadays the industry is in a great moment: technology wise. AI has improved a lot in the last decade, as well as graphic engines, physic engines and such. Machines are also really powerful. I think the limitations are self imposed right now. Anything can be done… especially with the tens of million dollars budgets that big games have right now. What we lack right now are new tools and new visions, better dialogue between artists, game designers and programmers, so we can create the things that still only stay in paper because no one thinks that they can be done. I like to think that expressive rendering will be a key piece in the integration of art and coding in the future, so we will be able to see some art like the one in the Street Fighter IV trailers right in a game.

- How are the errors in the code corrected? What are the traits of a good beta-tester?

We, as programmers, have a wide array of tools to find bugs, but those hard to reproduce are the harder ones to catch and fix. As for beta-testers, I have met many people that are really good beta-testers. It’s the ability to think outside the box that makes them good… to try to understand how the game works and in consequence to make unusual actions on it. “What will happen if you shoot that rope?” (even if the rope itself has nothing to do with the game). These are the actions that normally allow us to find those unexpected behaviors that we all hate so much.

- How to make AI react to users’ actions in a smart way?

- The trick is you don’t have to make it smart, you have to make it look smart. And for that the number of different actions that the AI can make takes a big role. In my opinion, the variety of the choices is what can make an AI look smart, even if the enemies are not so smart. There’s this trick question: How can you make an enemy look dumb instead of badly programmed? You make the enemy smart, and then you must make him take the wrong choices.

- In the most games we see difficulty modes patterns. How are they implemented?

- Most of the times difficulty modes only influence the damage of the weapons, the health of the enemies and such. Unless you are playing a game like tetris, or a golf game or something else. It takes extra work to make several levels of intelligence for the game. Take Tic-tac-toe, for example, difficulty is set by how many patterns the game will recognize and will be able to deal with. So you should have several layers of decisions one on top of another to be able to give the impression of progression. That’s something that you will likely not see in a FPS, where you still want the enemies to look smart in easy mode, so that you don’t detriment the gaming experience.

- What are the common mistakes for the developers?

- If we have to talk about common mistakes, I would say that the most common would be bad path-finding. A good path-finding system is fundamental in how enemies will move and react while in-game. Also it is necessary (as we have seen in so many stealth games), to have a good perception system. You should be able to lose an enemy, or walk from behind without the enemy knowing that you are there all the time.

- What is in the future for the AI?

- I think we will see something interesting in the Left 4 Dead title. It’s like having a GM (Game Master) that interacts with you spawning enemies, changing plot and difficulty settings, to make the game easier or challenging based on your interactions, so that every game will be different.

- Let’s dream a bit. You are in charge of the programmers’ team making the ideal game with unlimited budget and work force. What that game would be like (genre, plot, gameplay, multiplayer, AI)?

- I hope you will see something from me in the future, everyone in the studio has it’s own ideas and projects, so you will be seeing many more interesting and novel games from us. I’m a fan of non-photorealistic rendering (a.k.a. expressive rendering), so that’s a line that I really want to explore as well as games set in dreams (this is also very interesting). But for starters I would make a FPS game with a strong emphasis in game-play and story. I want the plot to be able to transmit to the player, in the way that many movies can transmit a feeling or even a way to see the world.

Zeno Clash in its debug mode for any aspiring programmer. At a test level David is working on the heavyweight characters and also here you can see the green lines for the path-finding algorithms and the AI routines next to the enemy

- What was the first thing you paid attention to when programming for Zeno Clash?

- First thing would be game-play, left to do would still be game-play [smiles]. I think it’s one of those things that you keep improving until the last day. It is the backbone of the game after all.

- What problems have you encountered in the creative process?

- I can’t think of anything special, since there are so many challenges, but usually when you hit a dead end it is good to do something else and give yourself time. Most of the times your brain only needs time to absorb everything that is needed for you to complete the task.

- What are the strengths of the in-game AI? What are the enemies and the bosses capable of to challenge the player?

- We are working on the Source Engine, so we have a very solid platform to program our AI. Basically we are looking for the enemies to react to very different situations. Since this is a game that mixes melee with weaponry, the enemies must be able to tell if you are armed or not, if they can pick a weapon that is near them, if it’s better to run to you or to stay away - that kind of thing. Bosses on the other hand are more The Legend of Zelda like: they have a set of possible behaviors or actions and you have to learn how to interact with them in order to defeat them.


- If there is anything else, you’d like to add, please, do it here.

Of course, I wouldn’t miss the chance to promote our game [smiles]. I’ll just say that people should go for it. I guarantee it will be novel and I hope everyone will enjoy the art direction and the world that we have created here. And I really hope I can go to Russia someday, since I really love traveling.

- Thanks, David! We wish you to fulfil all your creative ideas!


13.06.2008 17:34, Unicorn


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Новости: 05.02.2010 Названа точная дата выхода Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition
05.10.2009 ACE Team готовит ультиматум
25.06.2009 ACE Team роет яму для поклонников Zeno Clash
10.06.2009 Консольный Зенозоик
26.05.2008 Анонс (RU): Zeno Clash
29.08.2007 Анонс: Zeno Clash
Анонсы: Zeno Clash
Обзоры: Zeno Clash
Интервью: Zeno Clash. Интервью с Карлосом Бордо
Интервью с Карлосом Бордо, ACE Team
Читы: Zeno Clash
Прохождения: Zeno Clash
Тренеры: Zeno Clash [+4]
Zeno Clash [+6, update #4]
Zeno Clash [+6, update #1]
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Ролики: Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition [X360-trailer, 1:03, mp4, 640x352]
Zeno Clash: Ultimate Edition ["Rush Mode", 1:08, mov, HD 720p]
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