Alisa Spodyneyko — Creative Mobile Games
Lead game designer of X-Files: Deep State and other projects of the company.
St. Petersburg, Russia.
What led you to the game dev industry and how did you become a game designer?
My path in the game development industry has begun in a position of an analytical mathematician in Create Studios. I got there straight after graduating from the university just by searching online for a job. In that company I’ve observed a lot how game designers work and really embraced the profession. As for myself — I’ve requalified into a game designer a year later by getting a job in Creative Mobile.
What does a typical day look like?
A regular day is very different on various development stages of a project. If it’s in production and hasn’t yet soft-launched or released, then a typical day is all about checking mails, responding to the received mails, standups, other meetings, feature discussions and so on. After lunch when you’ve already talked to everyone, it’s time for writing specifications or working manually with tools and settings.
As for the released projects, a lot of time is dedicated to the analytics — searching for issues or important patterns, evaluating the results of the latest updates and building up lists of required improvements.
What's your setup?
I work on a gaming laptop MSI (I don’t really know the exact model). I use it with a mouse, headset and the second display. As I’m a mobile game designer, I always have my work devices with me: Mi Pad 2 tablet and Nokia 6 phone. We try to use not top-notch devices in order to make sure that our players with not that powerful devices would be able to play nicely.
Which apps and services do you use most to complete your main tasks?
Most used apps are Excel (all calculations), Chrome (documentation in Confluence, task management in Jira), SmartGit (version control), Slack (corporate messenger), and other tools for tweaking the game and adding the content.
Where do you gain inspiration from?
I can identify two main sources. The first source is other games: in Google Play, Steam, Kongregate, Switch, PS4, tabletops. The second source is connected to the specification of the project. You have to dive into the world of those people, for whom your game is for. To understand what they like, what they are motivated with, how they live, what they do in their free time, etc.
For example, when we were developing the racing games, we went to the American Beauty Car Show, discussed cars, read about different car options and ways to squeeze the maximum out of a car. At that time I’ve also got my driving license and purchased a car. When we were developing the X-Files, we watched the TV series, discussed its universe and read the forums about the conspiracy theories.
When and how do you start working on a new feature? Could you describe the process?
The work on a new feature most of the time starts with the requirements: what the feature is for, what has to be achieved, what the limitations are (both technical and content). Then we brainstorm ideas. After that we’re not discussing them and ponder upon the feature in the background for some time (if we have it). Then after a couple of days or a week we hold the next synchronization meeting, where we build the concept (selecting the best ideas), and after that we write documents, while working on the small details of the feature.
Of course, this process is for the big serious feature. Smaller features are thought through by a single person and in much shorter period of time.
Which games have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
I’ve loved how Splatoon 2 was made. Besides the nice mechanics and graphics they’ve put a lot of small excellent designs, which really show the skill of those who created it. For example, I liked that while you’re waiting for the players to gather before the match, a player can try himself in the role of a DJ — to mix the background music with sticks and buttons of the controller. Also they created a very nice feeling of the holiday during events — the square, where the player usually finds himself on at the start of the game, changes completely: a stage is placed, the lights, singing girls on stage, all the passing-by people are with cocktails and dance, and so on.
What achievements in your career are you most proud of?
Being proud is not exactly my feeling. I am very glad I had such a variety of projects in my portfolio. I was lucky to work on completely different genres: card battler, scrolling shooter, RPG, match-3, card game, drag racing, hidden object game. And I’ve also managed to try myself both in mobile and social games.
If you could change one thing about your career, what would it be?
I would have tried to switch from the racing genre on something else just a bit earlier.
Which recent task turned out to be much difficult than you expected?
Unfortunately, I can’t quickly recall anything. There were tasks, which took much more time to accomplish because of some unrelated reasons, but it didn’t make them more difficult. And all the other tasks were pretty much predictable.
How are the disputes about variants of feature design solved in your company?
In different ways. If the two variants look equal and it’s really difficult to understand which one is better, I tend to fall in to the majority, because it would at least save the time. Why should I try to prove your point when you’re not completely sure you’re right? Otherwise we try to search for decent points, examples or reference the similar mechanics in other games. Usually the decision is made after all that. In the really difficult (and really rare) cases, when we can’t agree on something, the decision is made in favour of the simplest one for implementation.
What do you do to self-improve in game design?
Playing, playing and playing. I try to watch all the latest trends, play popular games, study new platforms and read all the latest news.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
Nothing. I can’t work while listening to music, TV series or streams — I’m either distracted and stop working, or I stop listening, but there’s no point then, right?
If a game designer would want to apply to your company, what would you advise him?
Refresh the knowledge of maths. Game designers require at least the minimal skills of being able to calculate something for the project. We really like to check such stuff on interviews.
Any advice for game designers in general?
Constantly self-educate, research the market, analyze top games. Everything’s changing quickly and one has to keep an ear to the ground.