Sometimes we get so focused on our love of games, it’s easy to forget the people who actually make them. These hard working developers, programmers, artists, designers, sound technicians, animators, writers and more all have their own thoughts and feelings on games, but how do we find out what they are? Easy… We ask them!

Paul Sztajer Studio Director, Producer at See Through Studios.  Games: Flatland: Fallen Angle, Unstoppabot, Particulars

Paul Sztajer
Studio Director, Producer at See Through Studios.
Games: Flatland: Fallen Angle, Unstoppabot, Particulars

What is your current role and what does it involve?

I’m the Producer and Lead Developer of SeeThrough Studios’ current game, Particulars. This involves doing a little bit of everything and making sure the trains run on time (or at least, that the lateness of the trains don’t lead to a full-on stampede). Random things I’ve worked on recently include writing, marketing, researching science, recording voice acting, visual design and organising translators. Mostly, though, I’m working on the programming and design of the game, with sides of management and unrelenting panic.

What drew you to the Games Industry?

I think I’ve always been interested in how games, as systemic entities, can tell stories. My very first game development experience was all the way back in primary school, when I made a really quite horrible Starcraft campaign called ‘Starcraft: Aftermath’. About halfway through ‘development’, Brood Wars came out, and I couldn’t afford to buy it. So Aftermath came complete with an overwrought plot about how everything after the original campaign was a lie and didn’t really matter anyway.

Ever since then, I’ve always been interested in the design of games, and I’ve worked on a bunch of game related projects (most of which were horribly overscoped). It was only when I had finished uni that I started to seriously consider making something bigger.

What sort of games did you love playing when you were younger?

Starcraft, obviously, but that was mostly because it had a kick-ass map editor. I loved playing the crazy maps and game modes people came up with. Half-life and Half-life 2 were massive influences on the way I think about games – the sheer fluidity of the storytelling really struck me. I didn’t really have consoles when I was a kid (I only got a SNES once the N64 was out, and didn’t get anything else until the Wii), but Donkey Kong Country was definitely a favourite.

What’s the most significant change you’ve seen in games in your lifetime?

It’s got to be the democratisation of development. We’re moving towards the point where absolutely anyone can make a game, and that’s leading to some really amazing ideas getting made.

What inspires you most about modern gaming?

I’d have to say the movement towards minimalism. I’ve always thought that the technology in games has outpaced design methodology, and that we need to step back and work out how to make really awesome things with simple rules before we use technology to increase the complexity.

As a part of this, we’re starting to see some really interesting examples of systemic storytelling in games like Papers Please and FTL, which is probably the thing I’m most excited to see develop more.

What infuriates you the most about modern gaming?

I’m gonna cheat a bit and put two things here: the overwhelming dominance of a few overdone genres over more interesting designs, and bad writing. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy and appreciate the FPS as a genre, but do we really need that many?

In terms of bad writing, it just flummoxes me that so many games get this so wrong. Compared to the other, quite massive, costs of making a game, getting a good writer on board to fix your words is really quite cheap. But good, crisp and concise writing is almost nowhere to be found. Most games use far too many words to say far too little, and many more don’t understand some of the more basic rules of storytelling.

What’s your dream project?

I think I’m starting to work on it, actually. I’m a bit of a time travel nut, and have always been interested in being able to visualise and really grok (understand intuitively or by empathy) time travel. To that end, I’m currently working on a board game called Time Fight, where players control teams of Fighters locked in gladiatorial combat, with time travel.

We’re looking to use kickstarter to publish that later this year, and if that does well, I’m looking to work on a video game version. And if I’m able to scope that the way I want (ie. fairly big), it’ll probably be my dream project.

I also have a game about the speed of light I’d like to do some day, and a game that’s a broadway musical. I think I’ve learned to have many dream projects – it makes it easier to scale back what you’re working on to something feasible.

What has you most excited for the future of game development?

As mentioned before, it’s got to be the development of systemic narrative. I’m really interested in ways of allowing narrative to be gamified, and I’m not at all convinced that the conversation tree is the correct solution. Hopefully we’ll see more in that space in the future.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into the games industry?

I’ve got a few things:

1. Make games. Lots of games.

2. Realise that most of your ideas will suck. Work out how to find the ones that are worthwhile.

3. Have a backup plan. The games industry is very unforgiving, and can be hard financially. One of the best things I’ve had going for me is the knowledge that if everything else fails, I can fall back on my programming skills to survive.

4. Always be learning.

5. The words: “That’s an awesome idea. Let’s put it in the sequel.”

If you have any of your own questions for Paul, you can ask him on Twitter: @Pdyxs