MEETING TIM "MRTACT" KEATING - LEAD PROGRAMMER

Team Comment - Comments from MrTact - September 4, 2002
To start, in your first Team Comments you talked a little about your background. One thing that wasn’t covered was the origin of ‘MrTact.’ Was it just a random name that you picked, or does it have meaning?

Every year at OSI, around Christmas time, we have a big company meeting to recognize employees that have done an outstanding job -- best manager, MVP, and so on. I am not one of those people. As it happens, at this event we also give out some gag awards. The first year I was here, I quickly established a reputation for asking pointed questions of company executives in meetings. Therefore, at the end of the year, I was given the award "Most Tactful Questioner." When Cynthe contacted me to create a board account for me, I needed a new moniker (my old nick not being fit for public consumption). I latched onto the award (which happens to be sitting on my desk at this moment), and came up with "MrTact."

Congratulations on your recent promotion to Lead Programmer! Could you describe your new position? What duties are involved, and how does it differ from your previous position at Origin?

Heh. In my previous position, I got to program. Thanks folks, you're a wonderful audience. I'll be here all week.

Seriously, as the lead, I am more responsible for the overall development process. I am more aware of the schedule now, and I'm the point man when it comes to taking on onerous duties (like figuring out why the current server build is crashing test centers) so other team members can stay focused on AoS development. Plus, I go to a lot more meetings :-(


What goals (short term, or long term) do you have planned for your team?

We're a little shorthanded now, so my immediate goal is to staff back up. After that, it's "Get AoS ready to ship" and then hopefully, we'll have a little time to focus on fixing bugs (and implementing a certain feature that numerous players have been asking for on the boards lately).

If I have a long-term goal at the moment (and not just a "wanna," like "I wanna fix the stealable blessed items in bags bug" -- I have way too many of them), it is probably to create a system whereby we can get better usage metrics on game features, so we have a more objective way of prioritizing which things to work on first.


Is there anything that you’re looking forward to being able to do now that you’re the Lead Programmer?

Upgrade to a nicer office? I like to think that as lead, I will be able to have a little more influence over the direction we choose to take UO. My objective is to continue the trend of rigorous software engineering discipline that Prophet established. That, and continue to communicate directly with the community, an area in which I think we've declined recently, to our detriment. I don't think it'll ever be, shall we say, "player-developer dialogs" like it sometimes was in the old days. It should be obvious, though, that I'm very enthusiastic about posting on the boards, and I plan to keep doing that.

Do you have any advice for the aspiring game programmer?

Way more than I could reasonably put in this CFT, so I will summarize (and maybe do a follow-up CFT on this later, which I have thought about doing). I will narrow it down to three points:

First, you have to have skills to get a job developing games, just like any other job. For game engineers nowadays, that increasingly means knowledge of design methodology, patterns, STL, reuse, and several other buzzwords. GO TO SCHOOL. I can't recommend that enough. The days of self-taught cowboy programmers are past their prime and headed for a well-deserved interment. (Which is ironic, since I'm largely self-taught.)

Second, you really need to have patience and persistence. My first game-related money came from an article I wrote for Roleplayer magazine in 1992 or ‘93. It was only this year I moved onto a product development team (even though I've been a programmer and manager at Origin for a couple years now), so that's a 10-year journey. It's a chicken and egg problem -- in order to get a job in the industry, you need industry knowledge; to learn about the industry, you need a job in the industry. The only way to solve it is with slow incremental changes over time. If you are at the "menial low-wage job" point in your life and have the opportunity to work for a game company instead of working at say McDonald's, do it.

Finally, you had better love making games. And I mean LOVE love it, because it is NOWHERE near as fun as you think it is. Though it beats working at IBM. ;-)


MrTact
Lead Programmer
Ultima Online