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Employee Spotlight: Donovan Drane

To make great games, you have to have great people. Today we’d like to spotlight one of our talented devs, Principal Gameplay Engineer, Donovan Drane. We sat down with Donovan to talk about games, his career, and some things he’s learned along the way.

Blog Team: How did you get into game development and what is your role at FRG?

Donovan: My software development career began in New York City where I worked on a variety of projects, the coolest of which was intuitive software designed to help people learn to play drums. In 2003 I got the opportunity to work at a small startup, Pirate Games, and moved to California without looking back. As Principal Gameplay Engineer here at FRG, I balance both creating code systems for my teams as well as coding game features. My background is in AI and character mechanics (especially combat) as well as controls, cameras, and movement. I love the creative side of my job, and split my focus between design and programming.

What are some games you’ve worked on? Which is your favorite?

Back when I was at Shaba Games, the game I was both proudest of and most excited about was Spiderman: Web of Shadows. Having grown up collecting Spiderman comics, being able to use that knowledge in a video game was a dream come true. Fun fact about that game, we had only 18 months to complete it! In the early days at Free Range Games, I really loved working on Freefall Tournament, which was a third person F2P shooter you could play right in your browser. I still think it’s one of the most fun browser games of all time and it was great being able to blow off steam with my coworkers during our playtests at the end of each day. Another passion project of ours that I loved working on was our turn-based RPG game, Spelldrifter. I'm currently working on The Lord of the RIngs: Return to Moria, which is another dream come true as a life-long Tolkien fanatic.

What are your top 3 games of all time? These answers are final and cannot be changed.

The first game that really changed my life was Ultima 4. It transformed the gaming industry, especially roleplaying games. It was a depth of world building we’d never seen before and playing that game as a kid inspired me to want to become a game dev. Next I'd choose System Shock 2, probably the first shooter with a really well written plot. My third choice would be Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, it really defined the team shooter genre. It got to a point where I felt like I was almost embarrassingly good, because you could tell how much time I spent playing. An honorable mention has to go to World of Warcraft as well. That game really made gamer culture a lot more mainstream and social. Made some great friends through playing, and I even know some people who met their real life spouses in Azeroth!

What do you wish more people knew about game dev?

Games are often designed to appeal to a variety of types of gamers, so they may have features that you don't use or see the point of, but that's ok! For example sometimes I’ll see a review complaining that a game contains a multiplayer mode because that particular gamer only plays single player. If you still enjoy the single player experience, it should be ok for others to love multiplayer. I love playing games with my friends, and we're not all the same exact kinds of gamers. I may enjoy combat the most while my buddies prefer crafting, story, exploration or whatever. We really love it when devs have taken the time and thought to add features that appeal to each of us. It's fine to not like rum raisin ice cream (I hate it), but I wouldn't be mad at an ice cream shop for serving it.

What is your design philosophy?

When you are creating a game, you have to come up with 4 or 5 pillars or 'guiding principles' to base all your decisions around. When designing or adding features to the game, you have to take a step back and think: Does this concept match our guiding principles? If it doesn’t, scratch it and move on.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career?

This goes back to my design philosophy about having guiding principles. Being willing to cut and edit is essential to creating a good game. You can spend hours (or even months) working on a feature, only to realize that it doesn’t quite fit in as well with the rest of the game as you'd hoped. Having the ability to realize and accept that something is too complex or confusing and needs to be changed or cut is one of the most difficult and important skills in game development.

What advice would you give someone trying to get into the gaming industry?

The best way to stand out is to create something yourself. While artists have portfolios to demonstrate their work, programmers and designers oftentimes don’t. Taking initiative and creating something independently, even if it's just a mod or simple game shows companies you have the right combo of stubbornness and willingness to learn. That will definitely help you stand out in a stack of resumes.

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