Interview with Adabelle Leiram, Gameplay Programmer

Adabelle is an accomplished programmer in the video game industry who has focused on gameplay, and someone who personally really inspires me. She's on Twitter at @theelderbelle .

1. First, introduce yourself! Where have you worked and what have you worked on?

I started out as a gameplay programming intern at Ubisoft Massive for 9 months after which I was hired to carry on working on Tom Clancy’s - The Division. After we released the game in March 2016, I stayed on the project, working on patches and DLCs etc. Later on I started working on an unannounced project.

After a while I felt that I wanted to get some more experience in other areas of programming and started working as a web development consultant. I first worked on an internal website for the employees at the consultancy agency that hired me and later on the Ladbrokes mobile site.
I really enjoyed learning new things from other industries and it was really interesting to see how similar it is to game development and yet how differently things can be done. Since my heart has always been in game development, I hope that I will be able to bring some of the things I’ve learned back to the games industry when I start working at King in February!

2. How did you get into programming for video games?

I had pretty much always played video games since I was young but never realised it was something I could actually do. I’d never heard of game development courses or schools but, one day, I stumbled upon an article mentioning that a video games studio in Sweden (where I lived) would be working on an installment of one of my favourite games, Assassin’s Creed. Suddenly working with game development became something more attainable in my mind. I started looking up game development schools and through a contact at Ubisoft Massive found out about a school called The Game Assembly. 90% of their students got a job in the games industry after only two years at their school, so I felt I had nothing to lose if I at least gave it a try. Luckily for me, it was like a perfect fit.

3. Why do you love gameplay programming?

It’s hard to sum it up without writing pages of why I love it, but here goes!

First of all, I love the variation in the work. On Tom Clancy’s - The Division I got to work with so many different areas of the game, from loot generation to PVP mechanics to visual scripting tools to handling save games in a game that’s constantly changing (just to name a few). This constant change in my day-to-day work motivated me so much since I felt like I was constantly developing myself.

Another thing I love about working with gameplay is being faced with different types of problem solving. As I mentioned before, I worked with many different systems that presented their own types of programming challenges, but those weren’t the only things I often had to find solutions to. I had to think of things like “Is this tool I’m working on intuitive for the designer that will be using it?”, “Could this gameplay feature I’m working on be hacked/exploited?” and “How do I explain why we can’t do x to the person who asked me to implement it in a way that they’ll understand?”.

Speaking of which, working with gameplay means 9/10 times working with other disciplines. People that have other experiences, knowledge and priorities when it comes to making games. I always found meeting these perspectives that were different to my own to be really interesting and challenging, especially when we tried to solve a problem together. It made me grow a lot, especially as a programmer, to be faced with different opinions daily. I do believe however that this can only work in a working environment where there is psychological safety and trust.

4. What was one of the most challenging programming tasks you encountered, and how did you solve it?

I always find this question really hard to answer as I feel like working with programming means solving so many challenging problems on a regular basis that it’s really hard to think of one specific one. Sometimes something trivial can be challenging because I’m in the wrong mindset/mood and sometimes something difficult becomes really easy once you find the necessary information. I guess my strategy to solving challenging problems or when I’m stuck is to look for information (in the code, commit messages/timeline, on the internet, ask a colleague), get another opinion/ask for help or sometimes just take a step away from the computer, whether it be a walk around the block or going home earlier. Programming is really creative, so sometimes I just need to shake off the tunnel vision and a solution can come to me out of the blue. I’ve literally woken up in the middle of the night with an idea of how to solve a problem.

5. What was one of the most fun problems you got to work on?

The first thing that pops to mind was a little feature on Tom Clancy’s - The Division that we called Accolades. It was basically bonus XP for things the player did out of the ordinary (e.g. environment kills). I guess the main reason I enjoyed it so much was that it was one of the first features (if not THE first) that I got to work on professionally. It was also at the point when I had just started getting my head around the structure of this huge code base and was able to work a lot more independently than previously. It was also one of the first times that I got to work on something with someone else, a designer, and it was really fun to bounce ideas off each other. So to summarize, I guess it was the point where I felt independant for the first time as well as having an influence on a game of that size.

6. Where would you like to be career-wise in the future?

I have always had an organisational streak in me and like being able to take initiative. I think it has a lot to do with the logical side of me, I see a problem and want to try to solve it even if it isn’t straightforward. I have a huge interest in leadership and structure, and have spent a lot of my spare time reading about project management, group dynamics and leadership. I even did a year long leadership and mentoring course. I’d love to be in a position where I can affect how we work with games based on the things I’ve learned from working with games and outside of the industry, especially when it comes to the things that I see as most problematic currently (diversity, culture and crunch). Whether this position be running my own studio or leading a team of developers, I’m not sure yet. Time will tell :)

Love as the Foundation of Success