Friday, 8 June 2018

Hiring: Project-based programmer



Title: Gameplay Programmer
Type: Full-time, project-based (1 year)
Last day to apply: 8th of July 2018


Frictional Games is famous for its immersive, atmospheric first-person games; games created by a small team working closely together. For our next game, we need to expand that team! We need a gameplay coder who can support the rest of us, taking on responsibility for game-wide systems such as inventory, AI, first-person body, and other features that the player’s experience will depend on. Join us, and help us transport our players to strange and terrifying new realms.

The position is full-time, and project-based for the period of 1 year. After that period there may be a possibility for the position to become permanent.

What will you work on?
Here are some of the specific gameplay systems you will find yourself working on:
  • Inventory management
  • AI behavior
  • Physics interactions
  • User interface
  • Game-specific systems (think Sanity system in Amnesia: The Dark Descent)
  • Inverse kinematics
It is a big plus if you have already worked on most of these before. While we value experience, it is more important that you are willing and able to dig into challenges and learn new things. We are interested in playing to your strengths, so the things listed will not be the only ones you will be working on.

What are we looking for?
The person we’re looking for should have a solid understanding of different gameplay systems. You need to be able to see the big picture and have a firm grasp on how information flows between modules, and how complex behaviour can be reduced into simple rule sets.

We use our own engines, so you need to be able to adapt to the existing system and code base. We also value the end user experience, so we hope you can step into the players’ shoes instead of only focusing on the nitty gritty technical stuff.

You have to be a European resident to apply!

Here are our other essential requirements:
  • You have worked on a game that uses 3D environments.
  • Well-versed in C++, C#, Java or similar.
  • Strong linear algebra skills.
  • Major role in completing at least one game.
  • Strong self-drive and ability to organise your own work.
  • A critical approach to your work, ability to reflect.
  • Confidence in implementing your own designs.
  • Fluency in English.
  • Team communication skills.
  • Knowledge of game design.
  • A Windows PC that runs recent games (such as SOMA) that you can use for work (unless you live in Malmö and will work from the office).
  • A fast and stable internet connection.
For this position you can work from home. We have a central hub in Malmö, Sweden, which you can use if you wish.

What we offer:
  • Flexible working hours, a no-crunch approach.
  • Opportunities to influence your work flow.
  • Variety in your work tasks, and ability to influence your work load.
  • Participation in Show & Tell of games, having a say in all aspects of the game making.
  • An office in central Malmö you can use.
  • An inclusive work environment.
  • A possibility to become a permanent employee.

Apply? Yes!
Did the tasks above sound like your cup of tea (or other beverage)? Are you the person we’re looking for? Then we would love you hear from you! The last day to send the application is 8th of July 2018 - but the sooner the better.

Please send us your:
  • Cover letter
    • Tell us why we should hire YOU!
  • CV
  • Portfolio
    • PDF or links to your works
Please note that we require all the attachments to consider you.

Send your application to apply@frictionalgames.com!

Privacy Policy
By sending us your application, you give us permission to store your personal information and attachments.

We store all applications in a secure system. The applications are stored for two years, after which they are deleted. If you want your your information removed earlier, please contact us through our Contact form. Read more in our Privacy Policy.


Friday, 18 May 2018

Hiring: 3D Artist



Title: 3D artist
Focus: Environment design
Type: Full-time, permanent
Last day to apply: 17th of June 2018

Frictional games are filled with terror, intrigue, mystery, and emotion. We want our environments to reflect that, from the shape of the landscape to the smallest rock, while subtly guiding players and helping to enhance the gameplay.

This is where you come in.

We are now looking for an experienced 3D artist, who will focus on environment design for our upcoming games. This means working closely with our gameplay programmers / designers, and using modelling, texturing, and design skills to create memorable, interesting, and functional environments for our players to experience.


What will you work on?
We are quite a small team, but we consider it our strength. As an environment artist you will get to work on everything from props to high-level design. This means your contribution will greatly influence how the final game looks, plays, and evokes emotions.

Here are some of the things you will be working on:
  • Collaborating with designers to create level layouts, combining both gameplay and an artistic perspective.
  • Taking levels from whitebox to a polished product.
  • Creating basic models that make up the levels, such as walls and floors.
  • Modelling props of various complexity, both with and without the help of concept art, and often having to take gameplay concerns into account.
  • Constructing particle systems, both by drawing textures and using parameters in our editor.
  • Combining various techniques to create special effects, such as flowing water or fire.
We also encourage working outside of your area of expertise, and always learning new things. The more areas of development you are willing and able take part in, the better!

For some examples of our environments, please check the video above!


What are we looking for?
The person we’re looking for is creative, driven and self-sufficient. We have recently set up a central hub in Malmö, Sweden, and hope you can move over to our seaside city sometime in the future.

You have to be a European resident to apply.

Here are some essential skills we require:
  • Good understanding of composition and player guidance.
  • Ability to challenge yourself, make bold creative decisions, and try non-conventional things.
  • A critical approach to your work, with the ability to take a step back and reflect.
  • A strive for structure, efficiency, and clarity.
  • Strong self-drive and ability to organise your own work.
  • Interest in and ability to do research for interesting prop and environment solutions.
  • Love for working on a variety of tasks.
  • Fluency in English.
And here are some more techie skills:
  • Excellent skills in 3D software. Modo preferred.
  • Familiarity with Zbrush/Mudbox/similar.
  • Excellent skills in Substance.
  • Excellent skills in Photoshop or similar software.
  • Familiarity with issue-tracking software.
  • Experience in classic/non-PBR workflow.
  • Basic rigging and animation skills.
If you want to impress us:
  • Love for horror, sci-fi, and narrative games.
  • A major role in completing at least one game.
  • Great free-drawing skills.
  • Experience in level design.
  • Strong game design skills.
  • Experience kitbashing/working with modular sets.

What do we offer?
We make games, because that’s what we love. But we know there are other things we love, like playing games, taking part in sports, or spending time with our families. We believe a healthy balance between work and life reflects positively on your work, which is why we don’t encourage crunch.

We also offer:
  • Flexible working hours.
  • Opportunities to influence your workflow.
  • Variety in your work tasks, and ability to influence your workload.
  • Participation in our internal game Show & Tell sessions, so you’ll have input into all aspects of the game.
  • Social security and holidays that are up to the Swedish standards.
  • An inclusive and respectful work environment.
  • An office in central Malmö you can use as much as you please.
  • Fun workmates, game and movie nights, and other outings!

Apply? Apply!
If all of the above piqued your interest, we would love to hear from you! Send us your application 17th of June the latest - but the sooner, the better! Please attach your:
  • Cover Letter 
    • Why should we hire YOU?
  • CV
  • Portfolio 
    • Link or PDF
  • Preliminary work test
    • See the test below
  • Examples of works that have inspired you or blown you away 
    • PDF, screenshots preferred.

Please note that we require all the attachments to consider you.

Send your application to apply@frictionalgames.com!


Preliminary work test
After 3 years of failed experiments, Professor Kim finally managed to reverse gravity. However, the professor died just as he succeeded, and the whole thing ran amok.

The player enters the research facility where the experiments took place. As they go through the level, they gradually learn about what the professor was trying to achieve. At the end they’re met with a revelation, and see the disturbing results of the experiment. As they reach the end, the level must loop in a way where the player finds themselves near the entrance, where they first started.

We are looking for a simple design, done as a rough 3D sketch/white box. You are free to write notes and do paint-overs on top of the 3D.

This test is a first step in the evaluation process, showing us your basic skills, so we are not looking for you to spend a lot of time on it. Imagine this as a quick proof of concept you would present before doing a pitch or a design.

We will evaluate your artist vision, creativity as well as level design skills.

Put everything as a collection of images into one folder on Dropbox, Drive or similar, and send the link to us.


Privacy Policy
By sending us your application, you give us permission to store your personal information and attachments.

We store all applications in a secure system. The applications are stored for two years, after which they are deleted. If you want your your information removed earlier, please contact us through our Contact form. Read more in our Privacy Policy.


Wednesday, 2 May 2018

People of Frictional: Gregor Panič

WHO AM I?


Hi there! I’m Gregor and I’m a designer and programmer at Frictional, which means I’m responsible for all the fun events in our levels. Okay, maybe they’re fun just for us.

It's me! And the sign on our door, printed on an A4 and a little crumpled...

I’m a more recent recruit, having joined around September 2016. My job description, gameplay programmer / designer, is purposefully vague. While I mainly work on level scripting, I also spend time on AI, gameplay systems and level design. I also worked on our collaboration with the Tobii Eye Tracker, which I will talk about later. The great part about this is that my work never gets stale and almost none of my days feel the same.

I’m originally from a little known country called Slovenia, but I’ve recently moved to the land of the vikings to become one myself. Or, in other words: I moved to Malmö around two months ago and now work from our fairly new office.

My setup at work - right next to the fanart wall! No deskmate yet, though. :'(
I absolutely adore our office and go there pretty much every day to socialize with and get inspired by my co-workers. I’m also the one who nags everyone with occasional movie and gaming nights, where we usually grab some snacks, relax and watch a horror movie (obviously), or games like FIFA and Jackbox Party Pack!

BACKGROUND


I can’t really remember the time when I first started playing games. I do know that around the late 90s my dad brought home an Intel 80186 PC one day, thinking he would use it for work. He was wrong. After he showed me a couple of MS-DOS games and I realized I could make things move by pressing buttons, I became glued to that PC. My parents didn’t manage to pry me from it, so I’ve been playing games ever since. Not on the same machine, obviously.

I played a lot of games, but didn’t touch the horror genre for the longest time. I still remember having vivid nightmares and being unable to sleep whenever I saw something remotely scary on television. When I was older, however, a friend of mine bought me Amnesia as a “gift”. It was a dare, of course, but because I didn’t want to disappoint my friend, I played through it. It was just as scary as everyone was telling me, perhaps even more so.

But while I was playing it I also realized that it was about more than just scaring the living hell out of me. It managed to fully immerse me in its world and story, which I had not experienced to this degree before. This is how I got introduced to the horror genre, and to Frictional, which would later impact my life more than I could have possibly imagined.

Making games has been my dream ever since I can remember. Given how much fun I had playing them, I thought it would be great if I could make my own – which is why I always liked messing around with settings, seeing what I could do with cheat codes, and figuring out damage formulas so I could get an advantage. It wasn’t until I got sucked into a game called Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, however, that I actually made my first array into creating my own content. I made lightsaber hilts, maps, and even modified some scripts to make the game play like I wanted to.

Unfortunately, growing up in Slovenia there was no real game dev scene there, so I forgot about my dream. It simply never occured to me that I could make games for a living. However, since I was already using my computer so much, I thought it would be fun to work in IT. So I learned some basic C++ programming in high school, then went to a computer science university where I learned a lot more about programming and software in general.

For a long time I resigned myself to becoming a web developer, taking some summer jobs and part-time work in that field. The job became more and more mundane and boring, until I finally realized that I couldn’t do it long term, and that I had to find something more fulfilling. That is when I remembered my dream of making games, how much fun they brought me and how great it would be to be able to help someone else have the same experience. I already had a lot of programming experience, so I became determined to join the games industry.

I immediately quit my part-time job and started working on my first small game. I wanted to do everything on my own so that I would learn all the intricacies of game development. A year or so of studying and work amounted to Welkin Road, a little puzzle platformer with grappling hooks.

In Welkin Road you use your two grappling hooks to solve movement-based puzzles.

While I was in the process of finishing Welkin Road, I started looking at potential studios I could join. That’s when I saw a tweet from Frictional, mentioning that they were looking for a designer / programmer. I didn’t think I was ready, but I figured this was my only chance to work with the company, so I sent my resume in anyway.

To my big surprise they offered me a work test, to see whether I was suitable for the role. I gave it my best, but after I sent in my project I tried to prepare myself for the inevitable let-down. Instead I got a positive reply and an invitation to an interview. The final decision came a couple of weeks later.

Spoiler alert: I got the job.

Given that I was a big fan of Amnesia and SOMA, the decision to accept was a no-brainer. However, it took me quite a while to properly register that I had fulfilled my lifelong dream. A year and a half later I realize how lucky I am to be one of the few people who can wake up on Mondays with a smile on their face.

After joining, I immediately started working on my introductory tasks aimed at learning the new tools. I joined at the same time as Max, so we bonded over struggling to understand all the new stuff. When those tasks were done, I started working on my first real project: designing and implementing eye tracking features in SOMA, which I will talk about in more detail in the next section.

A while after I was brought on, the company started looking to set up a studio in Malmö. I already knew that if I wanted to make games, I would most likely have to move, so the decision to move to Malmö didn’t take me long to make. Finding a place to stay took a while, but I eventually managed to find a nice apartment and settle in, in no small part thanks to my incredibly kind and welcoming co-workers.

The setup in my new home in Malmö!


FIRING LASERS (more commonly known as Eye Tracking)


As promised, I will now spend some time talking about my adventures in eye tracking. After receiving a unit from Tobii, I first tested it with a bunch of games that already had eye tracking support. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was a particularly useful use case study, since it had a robust implementation and used the eye tracker in interesting ways. I was initially very surprised at how well the eye tracker worked in that game, and how seamless and intuitive it was to use without putting any strain on my eyes. This gave me the confidence that we could use this to enhance SOMA.

Once I got a feel for what the technology was capable of, I read through Tobii’s SDK documentation and code samples to figure out how it all worked. In simple terms, the Tobii eye tracker provides a continuous data stream of screen coordinates that represent the location on the screen the user is looking at. Think of it as firing 60+ laser beams per second from your eyes to your monitor. Bring it on, Cyclops!

After I was done feeling like a superhero, I looked into how we could use this in our own engine, HPL3. Since Tobii’s SDK was easy to use, integrating it into HPL3 wasn’t too difficult, especially with the help of our engine programmer Peter.

With the technical aspects more or less dealt with, I started thinking about the design of our eye tracking features, and how we could best make use of this technology to enhance the game. This included brainstorming sessions, quick prototyping and a lot of feedback from the rest of the team.

It quickly became clear that while controlling and moving stuff around on the screen with your eyes is fun, it becomes tiring and uncomfortable really fast. For a good experience, the player must never be actively thinking about using their eyes. Instead, the game should react to the player’s natural eye movements and try to enhance the experience. A negative side effect of this design principle is that unfortunately quite a lot of features become very subtle and hard for the player to notice consciously, despite having an overall positive effect.

The white circle is where the player is looking.

Another interesting aspect of designing these features was how eye tracking could be used in a very immersive first person horror game. Horror games often rely on where the player is looking to trigger certain events, which always means a certain level of uncertainty about whether the player actually registered what was happening on the screen or not. With eye tracking, this uncertainty became very minimal, which meant that the timing of a lot of the events in SOMA naturally improved.

In the end, we ended up with a number of eye tracking features we were happy with. The most noticeable ones are extended view, which makes the viewport pan towards where the player is looking, and the ability to control the flashlight with your eyes. A number of enemies also react to the player’s gaze, such as the flesher monster becoming aggressive when looked at and teleporting when the player blinks, or the deep sea diver stopping when the player maintains eye contact.

Other features are much more subtle and designed to enhance immersion and mood. For example, staring at creepy and gory scenes zooms the screen slightly, giving the impression that Simon is in a trance or shock-like state and can’t look away. When the player looks at enemies, the screen distortion effect intensifies to further discourage players from looking at them.

Additionally there are some really secret ones, such as Ross’ distorted computer messages appearing exactly when the player blinks, to further reinforce how Ross is inside Simon’s head. My personal favorite, however, is a subtle reaction from K8, the incredibly friendly and helpful swimbot, which gives the player a small opportunity to communicate with it.

The developer showcase of eye tracking features.


In summary, working on eye tracking has been an incredibly fun and rewarding experience both because of the challenge, knowledge gained and the creative freedom. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy firing lasers with their eyes? The end result hopefully enhances the SOMA experience, even if just a tiny little bit. So if you have the PC version on Windows and a Tobii eye tracker, consider giving an even more immersive version of SOMA a go!

The official trailer for eye tracking in SOMA.

Eye tracking is just a small part of my work at Frictional though, as I’m currently working on one of our next projects. I’m already really proud of what we’re creating and I’m happier than ever with my choice to follow my dream of making games. We’re all really excited to be able to share more of what we’re doing, but until then we’ll just keep doing our best. This also reminds me it is time for another gaming night, to keep our spirits up!

Quality Frictional Humour™ from a recent Jackbox Party night.


Wanna see who else works at Frictional? Check out the rest of the People of Frictional posts!


Tuesday, 27 March 2018

People of Frictional: Alex Camilleri

WHO AM I


Hi, my name is Alex and I am one of those people on this planet who make games for a living. I joined Frictional Games almost a year ago as a gameplay programmer & designer, and I am currently working on [REDACTED].



Despite my warm Sicilian blood, I ended up living in this beautiful yet terribly cold place called Sweden, where I obviously work from.

BACKGROUND


I got exposed to videogames as a kid, watching my dad playing Lucas adventures (that Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis intro sequence will forever be impressed in my memory) and – like most people these days – I just spent a lot of my free time playing games.

I remember that when I was really really young I would draw labyrinths on paper and let my best friend play them as I was adding moving traps and enemies on the go. It was a complete nonsense but I think it’s the earliest somewhat-interactive thing I’ve ever made. It was pretty fun.

During my teenage years it was really clear to me that I wanted to work with games, so I started doing game journalism and with two friends of mine I would spend nights playing games but also making terrible prototypes, studying some programming in our spare time. My first playable game was obviously an extremely generic shoot-em-up with horrible graphics and some keygen music slapped on top.

Figure 1: On the left: me eating while being bored to death with my new programming book. On the right: me probably being overly excited about making something shoot a bullet into something else. I’m also wearing swimming trunks for some reason.


I eventually decided to move to the Netherlands to study and get my bachelor’s degree in Game Design and Production. Living there was a great fun and allowed me to be part of an active gamedev community. I went to gamedev events, met many developers, expanded my network and opened my one-man-company called Kalopsia (hi Josh Homme!). I also joined a lot of game jams, one of which landed me an internship at Guerrilla Cambridge doing some level design on RIGS: Mechanized Combat League for PSVR (at the time the Morpheus prototype was just a bunch of lenses and cables put together with tape).

I ultimately started my own small but very personal project called Memoir En Code: Reissue, which I eventually released on Steam/Humble/GOG (totally not a plug). I worked solo on that project for quite some time, and after the release I felt the need to change gears and work in a team again. A friend of mine told me there was an opening at Frictional Games, and how could I not apply to the company that made SOMA?

Fun fact: after I submitted the work test I travelled to San Francisco for GDC17, and Thomas and Fredrik were there as well. We did not meet in person though, and I ended up spending most of the conference thinking about the test; it was actually a bit stressful and distracting! I found a partner for a new solo project that I was planning to make in case stuff didn’t work out, but I got a positive response from Frictional and I obviously agreed to join the team.

I’m not crazy after all.

WHAT I DO


During the first weeks at Frictional I spent my time learning the tools and the overall work pipeline. This resulted in me creating a short psychedelic game where you put out fires by peeing on them, while Slayer music plays in the background. It’s probably the best thing I have made to this date.

At the beginning there was a lot of stuff to learn and take in. But to be honest that was the entire point why I pushed myself into a new environment; you can’t really become a better developer if you don’t expose yourself to new stuff.

After I was done with the intro tasks I quickly jumped into production, working with Aaron (we are officially called the A-Team). He works from the UK, but we have a very clear line of communication; we are fairly independent, but we are always in sync, which is working out very well for us.

I spend most of my days scripting events, moving a door 0.25 units to the left to improve visibility and making that sound play with 0.5s delay because it just feels a bit better. The rest of the day is spent drinking tea with my desk-buddy Max and mostly hoping that nothing breaks. I have also spent some time making small changes to the debug tools we use, just to make the pipeline a bit smoother or a bit more comfortable. I juggle between working from the office and from home, depending on the amount of isolation my brain needs. Being able to do that is a big privilege that has a very positive creative impact on me.

Figure 2: my workstation at home. I have the same desk at the office and the same type of chaos ruling over it.


STUFF THAT I LIKE


Since designing games is a complete dream-job, I try to keep myself busy by doing other creative things on the side. I spend quite some time doing photography, which I enjoy quite a lot. When I travel I always bring my a7ii with me, practicing and slowly improving over time. Aside from that, I also very much enjoy making music. Some months ago I got a Teenage Engineering OP-1 which I am having tons of fun with, and I am now playing a bit of ukulele.

I guess I won’t be happy if I don’t mention my biggest love. I have a deep (and almost unhealthy) love for anything Kojima makes. Over the years my love for his games went a bit overboard (I am the person behind the Metal Gear Timeline which you should totally check out if you are new to the saga) and now I ended up with a corner of my apartment being completely dedicated to his work. I keep adding stuff to the cabinet and now I probably need a new one after I got some new loot from my recent trip to Hong Kong. I fill my existential void with Metal Gear stuff, I need a doctor.

Oh, and you can find me on Twitter as @AlexKalopsia!

Figure 3: My babies.

Wanna see who else works at Frictional? Check out the rest of the People of Frictional posts!


Wednesday, 28 February 2018

People of Frictional: Max Lidbeck

WHO AM I


I’m Max, and I do gameplay programming and design. I joined Frictional about a year and a half ago, and I’ve been working on one of our super secret projects since.

Yours truly.

For the first nine months or so I, like everyone else, worked from home. Last summer we got an office set up in the heart of Malmö. Since then the amount of days I spend working from home has reduced greatly, though I still do it from time to time.


Setup at home and at work.


These are my two workspaces, the first one in the office and the other one at home (which is rather bare bones right now, moved in just a couple of days ago!). They’re quite similar; both the computers and the chairs are the same kind. I wanted to be even more consistent and get the same type of desk as the office one at home, a decision that was ultimately overruled by my better half (apparently it doesn’t go with the rest of the decor).

BACKGROUND


Games have always been a big part of my life. Most of my time growing up was spent either playing games or talking about games. But, for quite a while, my family didn’t have a PC. Which meant I was stuck playing all sorts of old, weird games on rapidly aging Apple computers. One of my earliest gaming memories consist of repeatedly failing at air-hockey, losing to a hideous pig-man in Shufflepuck Cafe on my dad’s old Macintosh.



Eventually I scraped together enough money to put together my first PC, in front of which I would stay rooted for the following years. In addition to playing, I spent a lot of time creating custom content for games with my friends. It was always quite basic though, as I hadn’t learned any programming yet.

For a year or so I studied film and media studies at the university, with a diffuse goal of wanting to work in games down the line. One night my girlfriend gave me a push, and I applied for a three-year game development program at Blekinge Institute of Technology (BTH).

My years at BTH were a mixed bag. On one hand, we had a lot of freedom and got to work on tons of small projects, which was very fun and super rewarding. On the other hand, some courses felt like they were only marginally related to game development. Working on side-projects during your spare time was crucial. I got through it all by finding a good group of like-minded students that I stuck to for the entirety of the education. Our final project was a side-scrolling adventure game called Far Away - you can watch the trailer for it on Youtube.



Perfectly in sync with graduating, I stumbled across a job opening at Frictional and sent in an application. Over the following weeks I answered some additional questions, did a work test and finally had an interview. A couple of days before I would hear from Frictional, I got a job offer from another company in software development. I clumsily explained to them I was waiting on another offer and asked for a few more days. Finally, I got an email from Fredrik and Thomas offering me the job. It was a no-brainer, and I happily accepted.

WHAT I DO


My first few weeks at the company consisted of completing a list of introductory tasks, to learn more about the tools and the engine. This was a lot of fun, and culminated in the creation of a silly mini-game where I got to put everything I had learned to the test.

After I had completed the introductory tasks I got to work on Safe Mode for SOMA, which was something I was really excited about -- contributing to a game I truly thought was great. From the get-go, we felt it was important to maintain the monsters’ threatening presence in order for their new behaviours to gel with the overall tone of the game. We couldn't just disable their ability to harm you; doing this would end up breaking immersion (imagine repeatedly throwing a toolbox in Akers' face and him just standing there, taking it). Instead, we tried to focus on how to best tweak each monster's behaviour in a manner that suited that particular encounter. For instance, some might eerily walk up to you and size you up, and can even bluff charge you if you’ve strayed too close. To further enforce the behaviours fitting with the world, we decided that if you were to actively mess with monsters (like invading their personal space for too long, hurling trash at them and so on), they should still be able to hurt you, just not kill you. Overall it was a very worthwhile experience, and I'm quite happy with how it all turned out.

Now I’m working on one of our secret projects. As the gameplay programmer/designer workflow has already been described in previous posts I won’t go into detail, but my days in general are spent designing and scripting events and scenes, as well as programming gameplay systems.

THE OFFICE


Additionally, I thought I’d talk a bit about the differences in working from home compared to working in the office. We’re also gonna do a proper office tour later on, so stay tuned!

This is where the magic happens.

This is our office! Currently, we’re around seven people occupying this space, probably with more to come. It’s quite seldom all of us are here at once though, but there are usually a few people around. And on the off chance that you’re here by yourself one day, fear not; there’s always the noisy, seemingly stiletto heel-wearing, tap-dancing travel agency crew upstairs to keep you company (seriously).

So, it really isn’t all that crowded here. But, seeing as most of us don’t work from the office, we often have meetings over Slack. It can easily get annoying for your desk-mates if you keep babbling on and on in various meetings throughout the day, which is why we’ve set up a separate meeting room. It also moonlights as a test room, complete with a TV, some dev kits and a monster webcam.



The fact that the company is split into people working from home and people working in the office could potentially lead to complications, such as communication issues. In order to prevent this we’ve made sure that all important decisions and discussions still happen over Slack, to keep everyone in the loop. So far this policy has worked well, and the transition has been quite smooth.

In the end, a typical day of work in the office is very similar to one at home. There is of course the added social aspect of working in the same physical space as you colleagues, which is great, but if you one morning feel like you’d rather stay at home and work, you can. Having this option every day really is quite luxurious.

Other than this, and the requirement to wear pants, the routines of working in the office and and working from home differ very little.

Wanna see who else works at Frictional? Check out the rest of the People of Frictional posts!


Thursday, 22 February 2018

Q&A with Frictional writer Ian Thomas

On the last day of the cold January Will from Extra Credits sat down to stream SOMA, and for the first few hours of the game he was joined by his friend and Frictional employee Ian Thomas. Ian worked on scripting, coding, and level design for SOMA, and is now the Story Lead on one of Frictional’s two upcoming projects. During the stream he answered some questions from the viewers, ranging from what type of pizza he thinks Simon had in his fridge, to ways of minimising dissonance between the player and the character in a narrative game.

In this blog we’ve compiled the best questions and answers into an easily readable form. So go get a beverage of your choice and dive into the everyday life at Frictional, narrative game design and tips on networking in the industry! Or, if you’re not the reading type, you can also watch the whole video on Twitch.

Have some other questions? Hit us up on Twitter and we will try to answer the best we can!

(Picture commentary from your favourite community manager/editor of this blog, Kat.)



Q: Does the Frictional team scare each other at the office?

We didn’t have an office until recently, and even now most people are still remote, so not really!

The thing about being behind the scenes in horror is that it’s very difficult to scare yourself, and each other, because you know what’s going on. We do play each others’ levels every other week, and it’s always brilliant to get a decent scare out of a coworker.

Otherwise we don’t hide in the office cupboards or anything like that… regularly.


Q: Is it true that developers don’t actually play their games?

No - we play our games thousands of times, and most developers do!

It does depend on where you sit in the development chain. If you work for a very big company and only do something like facial models, you might rarely play the game until it’s close to completion. But in a team the size of Frictional everyone plays the game all the time. That’s how we get our primary feedback and develop our levels before the game goes anywhere near alpha testers.


Q: How about after they’re released?

Probably not that often. For me personally there are two reasons, which both have to do with time. Firstly, I’m probably already working on a new thing. Secondly, during the short downtime after a release I’m trying to catch up on games I had to put aside during development. But it depends: for example, when I worked on LEGO games I would later play them with friends, because they’re so much fun to sit down and co-op play.

For a couple of years after the release you might be fed up with your game and not want to see it, but then you might come back to it fresh. With SOMA I sometimes tune into livestreams, especially if I’m feeling down. That’s one of the kicks you get out of this stuff – knowing which parts of the game people are going to react to, and getting to watch those reactions! That’s the best payoff.


Q: Did the existential dread of SOMA ever get to the team?

It’s a little different for the dev team, as the horror is a slow burn of months and months, whereas for the players it comes in a short burst. The philosophical questions affected people in different ways, but I don’t think we broke anyone. As far as I know we’re all fine, but given that a lot of us work remotely, it could well be that one of us is deep in Northern Sweden inscribing magical circles in his front room and we just don’t know...


Q: Why did SOMA get a Safe Mode?

SOMA was originally released with monsters that could kill you, and that put off some people that were attracted to the themes, the sci-fi and the philosophy, because they saw the game as too scary or too difficult. Thomas and Jens had discussed a possible safe mode early on, but weren’t sure it would work. However, after the game came out, someone in the community released the Wuss Mod that removed the monsters, and that and the general interest in the themes of the game made us rethink. So now we’ve released the official Safe Mode, where the monsters still attack you, but only if you provoke them – and even then they won’t kill you.

You can now avoid one of these three death screens!

The concept of death in games is a strange one. All it really means is that you go back to a checkpoint, or reload, and all the tension that’s built up goes away. The fact is that game death is pretty dull. It becomes much more interesting when it’s a part of a mechanic or of the story. We at Frictional have talked about it internally for a while, but it’s something we’ve never really gotten a satisfactory answer to.

So, all in all, even if you turn on Safe Mode, it’s not that much different from playing the game normally.


Q: What type of pizza does Simon have in his fridge?

Meat lovers’, definitely.

Schrödinger's pizza! And a Mexicana. Unless they mixed it up at the factory. In which case it's also a Schrödinger's pizza.


Q: What was the funniest or hardest bug to fix in SOMA?

There were so many! You can find some of the stuff in the supersecret.rar file that comes with the installation.

I spent a lot of time fixing David Munshi. His animation really didn’t behave and he kept leaping around the place. He was so problematic, especially in this sequence where he was supposed to sit down in a chair and type away at the keyboard. We had so much trouble with that - what if the player had moved the chair? We couldn’t lock it in place, because we want the player to be able to mess with these things. We went around trying to come up with an answer for ages.

And then someone on the team went: “Standing desk!”. Problem solved! It’s silly little things like this which tie up your time.

For all you thirsty Munshi lovers out there. You know who you are.

Another similar element was the Omnitool. It was a fairly major design thing that we came up with to connect the game characters, and to gate scenarios. We were struggling trying to tie these things together, and then it was just one of those days when someone came up with one single idea that solved so many problems. It was a massive design triumph – even if we realised later that the name was a bit Mass Effect!


Q: Why does using items and elements in Frictional’s games mimic real movements?

This is one of Thomas’s core design principles: making actions like opening doors and turning cranks feel like physical actions. It binds you more closely into the game and the character, on an unconscious level. We’ve spent an awful lot of time thinking about ways to collapse the player and the character into one and make the player feel like a part of the world. It’s a subtle way of feedback that you don’t really think about, but it makes you feel like you’re “there”.

There’s an interesting difference between horror games and horror films in this sense. You would think that horror movies are scarier because you’re dragged into the action that moves on rails and there’s nothing you can do about it. But for me that kind of horror is actually less scary than the kind in games, where you have to be the person to push the stick forward.

We try to implement this feedback loop in other elements of the game too, like the sound design. When a character is scared it makes their heartbeat go up, which makes the player scared, which makes their heartbeat go up in turn, and so on.


Q: Why didn’t SOMA reuse enemies?

It obviously would have been much cheaper to reuse the monsters. But in SOMA it was a clear design point, since each of the enemies in SOMA was trying to advance the plot, get across a particular point in the story, or raise a philosophical question. Thus, the enemies were appropriate to a particular space or a piece of plot and it didn’t make sense to reuse them.


Q: Did SOMA start with a finished story, or did it change during development?

The story changed massively over the years. I came on to the game a couple of years into development, and at that time there were lots of fixed points and a general path, but still a lot changed around that.  As the game developed, things got cut, they got reorganized, locations changed purpose, and some things just didn’t work out.

Building a narrative game is an ever-changing process. With something like a platformer you can build one level, test the mechanics, then build a hundred more similar levels iterating on and expanding those core mechanics. Whereas in a game like this you might build one level in isolation, but that means you don’t know what the character is feeling based on what they’ve previously experienced.

You don’t really know if the story is going to work until you put several chapters together. That’s why it’s also very difficult to test until most of it is in place. Then it might suddenly not work, so you have to change, drop and add things. There’s quite a lot of reworking in narrative games, just to make sure you get the feel right and that the story makes sense. You’ve probably heard the term “kill your darlings” – and that’s exactly what we had to do.

A lot of the things were taken out before they were anywhere near complete – they were works in progress that were never polished. Thus these elements are not really “cut content”, just rough concepts.


Q: The term “cut content” comes from film, and building a game is closer to architecture or sculpting. Would there be a better name for it?

A pile of leftover bricks in the corner!


Q: How do you construct narrative horror?

Thomas is constantly writing about how the player isn’t playing the actual game, but a mental model they have constructed in their head. A lot of our work goes into trying to create that model in their head and not to break it.

A central idea in our storytelling is that there’s more going on than the player is seeing. As a writer you need to leave gaps and leave out pieces, and let the player make their own mind up about what connects it all together.

You'll meet a tall, dark stranger...

From a horror point of view there’s danger in over-specifying. Firstly having too many details makes the story too difficult to maintain. And secondly it makes the game lose a lot of its mystery. The more you show things like your monsters, the less scary they become. A classic example of this is the difference between Alien and Aliens. In Alien you just see flashes of the creatures and it freaks you out. In Aliens you see more of them, and it becomes less about fear and more about shooting.
It’s best to sketch things out and leave it up to the player’s imagination to fill in the blanks – because the player’s imagination is the best graphics card we have!

There are a lot of references that the superfans have been able to put together. But there are one or two questions that even we as a team don’t necessarily know the answers to.


Q: How do you keep track of all the story elements?

During the production of SOMA there was an awful lot of timeline stuff going on. Here we have to thank our Mikael Hedberg, Mike, who was the main writer. He was the one to make sure that all of the pieces of content were held together and consistent across the game. A lot of the things got rewritten because major historical timelines changed too, but Mike kept it together.

During the development we had this weird narrative element we call the double apocalypse. At one point in writing most of the Earth was dead already because of a nuclear war, and then an asteroid hit and destroyed what was left. We went back and forth on that and it became clear that a double apocalypse would be way over the top and coincidental. So we edited the script to what it is now, but this has resulted in the internal term ‘that sounds like a double apocalypse’, which is when our scripts have become just a bit too unbelievable or coincidental.


Q: How do you convey backstories, lore, and world-building?

Obviously there are clichés like audio logs and walls of text, but there is a trend to do something different with them, or explaining the universe in a different way. But the fundamental problem is relaying a bunch of information to the player, and the further the world is from your everyday 21st century setting, the more you have to explain and the harder it is. So it’s understandable that a lot of games do it in the obvious way. The best way I’ve seen exposition done is by working it into the environment and art, making it part of the world so that the player can discover it rather than shoving it into the player’s face.


Q: How do you hook someone who disagrees with the character?

It’s hard to get the character to say and feel the same things as what the player is feeling. If you do it wrong it breaks the connection between the player and the character, and makes it far less intense. Ideally, if the player is thinking something, you want the character to be able to echo it. We spend a lot of time taking lines out so the character doesn’t say something out of place or contrary to what the player feels.

With philosophical questions there are fixed messages you can make and things you can say about the world, but that will put off a part of the audience. The big thing when setting moral questions or decisions is that you should ask the question instead of giving the answer. If you offer the players a grey area to explore, they might even change their minds about the issue at hand.

To murder or not to murder, that is the question.


Q: How do you write for people who are not scared of a particular monster or setting?

In my experience the trick is to pack as many different types of fear in the game as you can, and picking the phobias that will affect the most people. If there’s only one type of horror, it’s not going to catch a wide enough audience. Also, if you only put in, say, snakes, anyone who isn’t afraid of snakes is going to find it dull.

We probably peaked in our first game. What's worse than spiders? (Not representative of the company's opinion.)


Q: What’s the main thing you want to get across in games?

The key thing is that the players have something they will remember when they walk away from the game, or when they talk about it with other people. It’s different for different games, and as a developer you decide on the effect and how you want to deliver it. In games like Left 4 Dead delivery might be more about the mechanical design. In other games it’s a particular story moment or question.

In SOMA the goal was not to just scare the players as they’re looking at the screen, it was about the horror that they would think about after they put the mouse or controller down and were laid in bed thinking about what they’d seen. It was about hitting deeper themes. Sure, we wrapped it in horror, but the real horror was, in a way, outside the game.


Q: What does SOMA stand for?

It has many interpretations, but I think the one Thomas and Mike were going for was the Greek word for body. The game is all about the physicality of the body and its interaction with what could be called the spirit, mind, or soul – the embodiment of you.

The funniest coincidence was when we went to GDC to show the game off to journalists before the official announcement. We hadn’t realised there is a district in San Francisco called Soma, so we were sitting in a bar called Soma, in the Soma district, about to announce Soma!

As to why it’s spelled in all caps – it happened to look better when David designed the logo!


Q: Does this broken glass look like a monster face on purpose?

I’m pretty sure it’s not on purpose – it’s just because humans are programmed to see faces all over the place, like socket plugs. It’s called pareidolia. But it’s something you can exploit - you can trick people into thinking they’ve seen a monster!

This window is out to get you!


Q: What is the best way to network with the industry people?

Go to industry events, and the bar hangouts afterwards!

It’s critical, though, not to treat it as “networking”. Let’s just call it talking to people, in a room full of people who like the same stuff as you. It’s not about throwing your business cards at each other, it’s about talking to them and finding common interests. Then maybe a year or two down the line, if you got on, they might remember you and your special skills or interests and contact you. Me being on Will’s stream started with us just chatting. And conversations I had in bars five years ago have turned into projects this year.

You have to be good at what you do, but like in most industries, it’s really about the people you know. I’m a bit of an introvert myself, so I know it’s scary. But once you realise that everybody in the room is probably as scared as you, and that you’re all geeks who like the same stuff, it gets easier.
Another good way to make connections is attending game jams. If you haven’t taken part in one, go find the nearest one! Go out, help your team, and if you’re any good at what you do, people will be working with you soon.


Q: Can you give us some fun facts?

Sure!

- You can blame the “Massive Recoil” DVD in Simon’s room on our artist, David. A lot of the things in Simon’s apartment are actually real things David has.

- We try to be authentic with our games, but out Finnish sound guy Tapio Liukkonen takes it really far. We have sequences of him diving into a frozen lake with a computer keyboard to get authentic underwater keyboard noises. It’s ridiculous.



- Explaining SOMA to the voice actors was challenging – especially to this 65-year-old British thespian, clearly a theatre guy. Watching Mike explain the story to him made me think that the whole situation was silly and the guy wasn’t getting the story at all. And then he went into the studio and completely nailed the role.

- There’s a lot of game development in Scandinavia, particularly in Sweden and Norway, because it’s dark and cold all the time so people just stay indoors and make games. Just kidding… or am I?