Continuing with our developer interviews, we took a moment to talk with Skyler, one of our gameplay programmers who joined the team last year. Check it out below.

Hi Skyler! Thanks for taking part in the interview. Please introduce yourself.

Hi! My name is Skyler and I'm a gameplay programmer at Grinding Gear Games since about October of last year. I was born in Alaska where I grew up, attended college at the University of Utah, and now I'm here in NZ learning how to be a proper kiwi.

Could you tell us a bit about your current role at GGG?

As a gameplay programmer I pretty much do anything and everything programming related that has to do with gameplay: implementing unique items, hooking up new stats, making skills, and more.

When did you find out about Path of Exile?

I started playing Path of Exile about 7 years ago when I was in highschool and 1.0 came out. I had a good friend who told me about it and I had fond memories of D2 as a kid so I gave it a go. Been playing almost every league since.

What was the moment that got you hooked on the game?

I think for me it was a combination of two things.

First was definitely the theorycrafting. I've probably spent as much or more time using offline skill tree planners and the wiki as I have actually playing the game. Before Path of Building (thanks OpenARL!) I would be in class writing down numbers from the wiki and the offline skill tree and doing manual arithmetic on paper to estimate the total DPS of some build idea. I'd spend hours on this stuff, sometimes being unable to go to sleep until I planned out a build idea floating around in my head.

Second was probably the community. I've been checking the Path of Exile reddit multiple times daily for about the last seven years. I just absolutely love the builds people come up with and learning more about the game through others. Plus those few weeks leading up to a league launch are always pretty magical. The hype train is infectious.

You knew Chris prior to joining us. How did you meet?

I was actually extremely lucky in meeting Chris. I was just finishing up my senior year at University of Utah in 2019 and was attending the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. A friend let me borrow their VIP pass and encouraged me to go to a talk. I noticed Chris was one of the speakers and this piqued my interest. After the talk I asked him about job opportunities and he gave me his email and discord. I was shocked to say the least. I'm also a bit ashamed to admit, but I definitely got a selfie with him to show the friend who introduced me to the game all those years ago hahaha.

When did you know that you wanted to work in the video game industry?

I had decided I wanted to make games since about my junior year of high school, so it was definitely a long term plan for me. I was always very keen on the old adage "work a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life". Of course every job will feel like work sometimes, but I generally feel very privileged to have been able to pursue my passion.

How did you end up working at GGG?

After meeting Chris at GDC I poured my heart into a cover letter and resume, emailed him, and crossed my fingers. After many back and forth emails, we set up a technical interview with Jonathan where I shared my screen and tackled a programming problem live. However, while my general programming was quite strong and I immediately knew how to solve the problem, my C++ was very weak (I’d been heavily using Unity and C# in the last few years). I was certain I had bombed the interview when Jonathan said “Well… your C++ clearly needs a lot of work.” But he followed up, “However, it’s clear you’re actually a programmer. You think like a programmer. We can work with that.” I just about flew out of my chair, somehow managing to hold my composure for the rest of the interview.

You are working on skill mechanics. Would you be able to give us an overview of the process of your involvement in the development of a new skill?

Sure! The first step is just getting a minimum viable prototype. Just something that functions so we can feel out if the idea has any promise. After that it's an extremely iterative back and forth between me, the designer, and the effects artist. Obviously the designer has final say in most non technical decisions, but I thoroughly enjoy trying to contribute my thoughts and opinions. Generally I value trying to make skills that are interesting to theorycraft since that has always been my favorite part of the game.

What is the most challenging aspect of programming Path of Exile gameplay?

Definitely the sheer size of the game. I like to joke that I get paid to fix bugs and to make more bugs to fix later. The codebase is absolutely huge and it's very easy to miss small details or not consider niche edge cases. Thankfully having a good understanding of the game has helped me in considering these edge cases, but it can still be very hard to catch everything (Bless QA for catching so many of my bugs).

What is your favourite thing you've worked on for the game so far?

I think it has to be implementing The Saviour. I really enjoy the wide open possibilities the sword offers. It's been extremely gratifying watching videos of people testing all the different skills that can work with it and reasoning about what's best and how they could build around the different options.

Do you have any advice for aspiring programmers?

Your education is not enough. It's sad, but it's definitely true. If you want to stand out you cannot simply rely on your classwork. You have to always be experimenting with side projects, working towards internships, and building a well curated portfolio. This is especially true if you want to get into the games industry. Find projects that interest you and put the time in. The only way to get better at programming is to program.

What can the community look forward to in terms of things you're working on at the moment?

This league I've been working a lot on an older skill category which hasn’t seen major changes in quite a while: revamping the original skills and making quite a few new ones as well. I’m a bit limited on what I can reveal at this time (we have news posts coming soon), but suffice to say I think the changes will enable some interesting builds and breathe life back into truly ethical forms of gameplay.
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