Grigory Ponomaryov — Banzai Games
Lead Game Designer and Product Owner of a team, responsible for Shadow Fight 3.
What led you to the game dev industry and how did you become a game designer?
When I was finishing my Master of Arts degree, I got disappointed in the area I was receiving my education. I took a break and spent some time to sort myself out and realise what I want to do. As I always loved games and wanted to make them, I started to self-educate, read game design literature and was looking for companies, which were ready to take me as an intern with no work experience. Even for free. I’ve completed a test, got interviewed and that’s how I got into the industry as an intern.
What does a typical day look like?
I come to work at 10 in the morning, check Skype for new messages and manage the tasks on my team’s board. At 10:30 my team has a Skype call, we hold a daily meeting, I find out what everyone’s working on, does anyone has any bottlenecks, or needs help. We’ve got quite a large scale project, so usually before lunch I call and talk to colleagues, coordinate different teams and do the management in general. After lunch if there’s no meeting ahead and no one needs anything urgent from me (which is rare), I start doing some technical tasks: implementing content in Unity, config maintenance and similar tasks.
What's your setup?
A large table in open-space and whiteboard wall covers, where we draw charts and make notes during discussions.
Two Samsung displays, regular office Logitech mouse and keyboard, Microsoft headset. The PC is quite not bad: GeForce GTX950, i5-6400 2.7 GHz, 16 GB RAM — all these under control of the Windows 7.
Such a configuration allows me to keep 2 Unity instances open and a few supplementary apps, and still work with that comfortably.
Which apps and services do you use most to complete your main tasks?
Main apps and services are Unity, Notepad++, Skype, Discord, Monosnap, Google Chrome, JetBrains WebStorm, Tortoise Git and Google Services — Google Docs and Google Sheets.
Where do you gain inspiration from?
From the coffee machine. If taken seriously, I wished to make games since childhood, so the opportunity to do what I wished for and participate in game development are already good enough sources of inspiration.
When and how do you start working on a new feature? Could you describe the process?
Most of the times we start to work on a new feature because of a problem we need to solve in order to improve user experience, gameplay or monetization. Usually we start to discuss the issue in the game design channel or with the producer. Then we hold a meeting with those, who we need to participate in the feature design. Often those are game designer and the producer, but sometimes we ask artists, animators, developers or a scenario write to join if necessary. During the meeting we discuss the current issue or the new feature, brainstorm some ideas and evaluate their advantages and disadvantages. When we all reach a consensus on what we want from the new feature, we note down the results of all the discussions and create tasks for different teams.
Which games have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
I think I won’t be original here to name Divinity: Original Sin 2. As a player I love games, in which I’ve provided with a huge variety of instruments, complex problems and opportunities to solve those problems with different instruments. But Divinity goes past this and adds a social aspect to the game. There’s more fun when you play it with your friend and your opinions on how to solve this or that issue are different. You discuss a plan, can’t define your actions, try to agree on everything and bring your plan to life, but then something goes wrong and you have to deal with the consequences of your actions.
What achievements in your career are you most proud of?
My contribution to the recently released Shadow Fight 3 and what we managed to achieve with this great game, already highly appreciated by players.
If you could change one thing about your career, what would it be?
For now there’s only one thing I would have changed. If only I could start working in the game dev earlier, for example straight after finishing the university or during the last year.
Which recent task turned out to be much difficult than you expected?
Asset bundles management. It’s simple on the surface — arrange the content and resources so that the player could download only what he needed at the moment. It expanded into a several weeks headache for a lot of people because of the amount of resources and multiple interconnections between them. This kept us from easily creating isolated parts of the game, which would be convenient to download.
How are the disputes about variants of feature design solved in your company?
We agree on everything almost every time. Game development is a super teamwork-based activity, therefore we almost always manage to reach a common ground. Final word is after the general producer, who coordinates the decision and can put a veto on it, if it he thinks it wouldn’t work.
What do you do to self-improve in game design?
I try to read literature in English in my free time, read different industrial websites, listen to podcasts and watch lectures and videos. If you don’t have a language barrier, then the self-educational space is absolutely infinite. I like to read or listen to post-mortems of various games on GDC, when developers talk about what and why they’ve created, what they managed to achieve and where they made mistakes. Analysis of other developers’ experience and mistakes seems one of the most effective ways of self-improvement for me.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
Usually during my workday I listen to music or podcasts, or lectures, not to be distracted by the open-space noise. Usually my playlist is a mix of different genres, but lately I have a lot of punk rock, for example Dropkick Murphys and The Hatters.
If a game designer would want to apply to your company, what would you advise him?
First, be open to other people’s opinion and ideas. Listening to everyone and synthesize the best out of is is a very important skill for a game designer.
Second, don’t be afraid to express your opinion, of course if you have it and you have decent point to support it.
Any advice for game designers in general?
Ideally, strive to creating an interesting and cool games, which you would want to play yourself. Of course, revenue is very important for any company, but if the only thing you think about is how to drag more money out of the players, your game will eventually become a boring mechanism for exploiting weaknesses of human psychology.