Borys Zajączkowski

Borys Zajączkowski — 11 Bit Studios

Senior game designer from the studio, which created Anomaly, This War of Mine and Frostpunk.

Warsaw, Poland.

What led you to the game dev industry and how did you become a game designer?

As a kid I dreamt of becoming a writer – not only to write novels but to create worlds in some way. Also I was very much into mathematics, physics, chemistry – how things work in general. When personal computers showed up I fell in love with games but what interested me most was how to make such things work. Games appeared to me as another way to create worlds and to make strange things work. So I learned programming and I began making games. I wasn’t aware back then there’s such term as a game designer – me and my friends were just making games. Some of them we managed to publish. And that’s it. Years passed, I tasted other job opportunities in game industry like journalist or editor. Eventually, I came back to game design when 11 bit studios was expanding and looking for seasoned game people. (But I wrote a novel and some stories, in the meantime).

What does a typical day look like?

Usually it’s not that exciting. I get to our office around 10 am. First, I check whether I have any tasks from my teammates. Then I do what a man has to do – doing tasks, delegating tasks, spawning tasks, drinking coffee and smoking a pipe. Other times, especially at a starting phase of a project all I have to do is to come up with an idea… In those days I drink coffee, smoke a pipe and… stare blindly in a distance, read a lot of curious things, play other well known or quite obscure games, make drawings, draw diagrams, write things. Then for several days I return home feeling I did nothing of value that day. Eventually I end a workday fulfilled and satisfied with whatever I brought to life. And then life is good.

What's your setup?

Just a PC with two screens. A PC capable of running an internet browser and some contemporary games. Then a set of pipes, a bag of tobacco and a coffee mug.

Which apps and services do you use most to complete your main tasks?

As we are working on our own engine (Liquid Engine) we use mostly our own tools (Liquid Editor). And Google Docs, and JIRA.

Where do you gain inspiration from?

Life experience, games I’ve played, books I’ve read, movies I’ve watched. Everything, really. Above all I like to think that inspiration is not something magical you should wait for but it’s rather a set of knowledge and feelings you have to actively look for. Furthermore I personally value board games as inspiration very much – as they provide fundamental and honest ideas, mechanics and storytelling. While video games can hide from a player many things – within code, behind graphics, wrapped into overall experience – a board game cannot hide anything. It just sits on a table, all items available, manual wide open, all rules apparent.

When and how do you start working on a new feature? Could you describe the process?

As soon as a need for a new feature arises. 🙂 Certainly, the process tends to be different each time depending on a nature of particular feature, however I think I could find several quite constant stages: 

  • thinking – how I would like it to be done
  • research – looking for additional inspiration
  • drafting – just to preserve initial not saturated ideas
  • feedback – just show it to colleagues and then listen to them
  • research – see how others made similar features in the past
  • drafting – iterate initial ideas, now backed up with more data
  • feedback – again, you’re not making games for yourself only
  • prototype – time to make it work a bit

… and so on: a loop of feedback – iterate prototypes begins. That loop is supposed to come to end when everyone’s happy with a new feature or time is up. Or a feature turns up to be a crap.

Which games have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

SteamWorld series – Dig, Heist, Dig 2. Beautiful, clean, consistent design that fruits with a pleasant, fun game that unfolds constantly at a pace of a player’s progress. Never failing in keeping player’s involvement, never overwhelming a player with choices.

What achievements in your career are you most proud of?

Making and publishing my very first game – Digital Warriors. Leading the biggest game publication in Poland – Gry-OnLine. Joining 11 bit studios and contributing to some truly awesome games – Anomaly, This War of Mine, Frostpunk.

If you could change one thing about your career, what would it be?

I would look around for a producer and an agent to my early games as I am clinically unable to sell things. It’s a pity I couldn’t afford to make more of them in early 90’s.

Which recent task turned out to be much difficult than you expected?

That’s like a secret. 😉

How are the disputes about variants of feature design solved in your company?

We gather ideas, variants, we show them to others we discuss them. Often, we try to prototype and test even not very strong ideas before we decide to throw away anything. We do not shy from making paper prototypes on early stages of a project.

What do you do to self-improve in game design?

I tend to seek for improvement by making more games, mostly. And then in a process of making a game I study books, lectures, I do other research, I play other games, I talk to other designers (see: “working on a new feature”). I’m not a fan of learning anything in advance – I learn design as a part of designing new features. As a hobby… I design board games as I find them very educating and satisfying (see: “gaining inspiration”).

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

Oh, a bunch of stuff. From classical music, movie scores, through old English rock, Polish classics, blues, jazz, metal to pop music, even. Beethoven, Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Rammstein, Gorillaz, Lao Che, Budka Suflera, Dżem, Perfect, Pink, t.A.T.u. … – you name it. I like the music I like. Very often I actively look for such kind of music that would go well with a climate I expect for that particular job I’m currently on. 

If a game designer would want to apply to your company, what would you advise him?

Have some experience in the area and even more ideas for the future. Have some basic computer skills and some basic communication skills (including English).

Any advice for game designers in general?

Be modest and work constantly on your listening skills. Be curious and learn various things – everything and everyone you find interesting in the world you’ll try to fit into your creations, some day. 

Traditionally we ask to take a picture of your working place. Could you please share a picture of yours?

Well, I don’t gather gadgets, so it’s kinda standard desk with a computer on it. I tidied it up a bit, though, so it would look mega boring. 

How can people contact you?