Cliqist: Please tell our readers who you are and what you do?
Julian Adams: Heya! I’m Juju Adams, a technical programmer working with GameMaker to support designers, artists, and audio folk perfect their games. I’ve been making games using GameMaker for 14 years now – over half my life – and I’ve managed to make it my full-time job, paying my rent and bills in central London.
What was your path to getting into the gaming industry? Did you take any side quests?
Ho boy, when I play Fallout and Elder Scrolls games I always put off the main quest to explore all the fun tangential content, and my real life is no different! So far I’ve been a daycare assistant, an officer cadet and competition rifle shooter, a geophysics scientist, a lighting designer, a theatrical producer, live band sound engineer… probably been employed for some other stuff too that I’ve forgotten.
Getting into games was something that was a long time coming. I’ve been messing around with computers and technology ever since I can remember; my first memory is editing a text file for a maze game on an Acorn Archimedes. In my spare time I’ve always tinkered with games but I didn’t take it seriously, that is until Alex Preston heard about my particular skills and asked me to work on Hyper Light Drifter.
I was set to work chipping away at the core code to get the game running twice as fast alongside bug fixes, extra features, fixing some minor porting issues and so on. It was an extremely challenging job, but we got there.
After that, Jonathan Biddle (he’ll hate that I used his full name, he prefers “Bidds”) picked me up for a similar, but expanded, role on The Swords Of Ditto. I knew Bidds’ name as the designer of Stealth Bastard so I signed up and that’s where I’m at now! It’s been a fantastic project to work on and I absolutely adore the team and the game. It’s everything I think games should be: colorful, fun, non-serious, challenging.
What’s a normal day at work like for you?
8:30am, wake up and turn on the PC and check to see if there have been any nasty bugs reported overnight (some of the Swords Of Ditto team are in different time-zones). Once I’ve had a quick nibble for breakfast, I plan out what work needs to be done with the boss then I crack on with the code. Lunch at 1, and I finish up at 7 or 8. If I have the energy I’ll spend time with friends in the evening, but mostly I’ll read a book and try to catch up on gaming news.
It’s a standard work-from-home job really, though with the added stress of having to make a game. Bidds reminds the whole team to take frequent breaks and to avoid burning ourselves out. This doesn’t mean we don’t have difficult 80-hour weeks from time to time, but it does mean we’re mentally prepared for them.
Quick bit of advice for people working from home: Get a comfy chair and eat well. Drink lots of water.
Have you been involved in VR development?
Sadly, no. I work primarily in 2D because I think it’s more accessible for people in general than 3D and by extension, VR.
Having said that, I think VR is a realm of unimaginable possibilities, but I’m not in a position to explore them just yet I hope one day I’ll be able to meet David Bowie, even if it’s only virtual reality.
Are there any important rituals you think gaming devs, wanting to get a step on the career ladder, should undergo? For example, going to cons, how to structure their portfolios etc?
Rituals? I heartily recommend the bacchanalian gatherings known as “hanging out with devs at the pub”. We sometimes stay ‘til close. It’s wild.
Having said that, I do feel for people who, for personal, religious, or physiological reasons, can’t be around alcohol. So much socializing gets done, especially in the UK, around booze that I think we’re pushing people away that should have a chance at being integrated into the wider game dev community.
Making friends is the first step to finding your place in the games industry; we’re very social people despite what films and TV would have you believe. My particular route into a proper career was unquestionably through befriending people-who-know-people, whether I was I aware of their connections or not. Alcohol doesn’t have to be a part of this! Participating in a game jam (especially physical jams) and/or putting together a team for a game jam is a solid first step in getting out there and understanding the various communities.
As for other advice… I’ve never had to write a job application or CV in my life so my experience in “job skills” is, well, about the same as it was when I started making games age 10.
Do you believe that Steam has helped or hindered the indie scene in the last few years, with the backlash regarding lower quality games getting onto various trading platforms?
I think Valve institutionally give zero fucks about the people making the games that they sell, and institutionally give zero fucks about what games they end up selling. Compared to the highly personable attitude of itch.io (and Gamejolt as well), Valve look stale, corporate, and unresponsive. Steam is rotten wood waiting for a big enough wave to sink it.
The days when getting onto Steam would put your plucky lil’ indie game – big ideas on a small budget – in front of the eyes of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is long gone. There’s purchaser momentum on Steam’s side, where players feel put out if a game isn’t available on Steam. Momentum the only thing going for that god-awful platform.
Look at the UI. Just look at it! It’s a disgrace! Steam remains a necessary evil for now.
Do you feel that the UK is an exciting place to be for indie devs?
Unquestionably! The UK gamedev community is quite simply pioneering, and that extends all the way down to the grass roots. The biggest weakness that I see is that there are so many of us – it’s hard to keep track of who’s making what.
Lets talk community – are there areas that the gaming community excels at more than other hobbies/industry’s and are there any negatives that you’d like to see eroded?
The wider games scene has a real knack for teaching each other. My corner of gamedev – GameMaker, and proud of it – excels at enabling each other to learn how to design and to program. And it’s not only us either, the Unity and RPGMaker communities are great. Love2D and Construct are great. There’s so much potential being unlocked by people sharing their ideas with each other.
I’m involved intimately in running a server of 2,500 people devoted to helping each other make games (specifically in GameMaker, though we have lots of cross-engine members too). Every day I peek at the help channels and sure enough there’re people showing each other how to solve problems with their design, code, art, or audio. Several members have gone on to release successful commercial projects. I’m so proud of them.
But here’s the requisite “toxicity” comment: We need stronger moderation in every single community space dedicated to games. Ban dickheads wherever you see and find them. I used to work in a nursery looking after kids so here’s an idea for y’all: adults are big children, and big children need big boundaries. I don’t care how much money the traffic is getting your tech-bro startup, organisations of all sizes have to start dealing with toxicity with actual concrete action.
Y’know that server? We’ve banned a paltry 9 users in 15 months, and that number is so low because we have clear boundaries that are readily enforced. Countering toxicity can be done, it just takes a spine to do it.
Are there any gaming websites or publications you frequently read?
Does Twitter count? Ha!
I keep tabs on Eurogamer, MCV and PC Games Insider too. Unfortunately, I don’t have a huge amount of spare time to myself these days and it’s hard to find a chance to poke my head out the door and see what everyone else is doing.
Are there any exciting secrets you can share about what you have planned in 2018?
It looks like I’ll be working on The Swords Of Ditto after release (April 24th). But what are we working on? Who knows…
On a personal note, I’ve started on a smaller HTML5 project with an extremely talented young Scottish designer. We’ll hopefully squeak it out the door at the end of the Summer. It’s early days but I’m so excited to be working with him.
In an ideal world, where budget and resources were no issue, have you a dream game you’d love to create?
I’m an absolute sucker for turn-based grand strategy games, but they take ages to play. I want to be able to play a good hearty game of Civilization and not have it take four play sessions of six hours each to do it. I’d take on that game design problem if given the chance (please hire me Firaxis).
Ok now for a tricky question – what have been your most recent favorite games (this can be indie or AAA)?
Life Is Strange is an incredible game. Really powerful stuff, and it almost made me like Alt-J (“Something Good” is played at the start of the second chapter and it’s a marvelous choice of music).
For a bit of a retro trip, I’ve been plinking away at Wario Land 3 on the tube. It’s basically perfect.
Is there a video game character you resonate with?
Crash Bandicoot, specifically Crash Bandicoot going “WAAHHHH” has he falls down another bottomless pit. That’s what programming a game feels like, but y’know what, you always find a way to re-spawn and try again.