Tynan Sylvester — Ludeon Studios
Founder and director at Ludeon Studios and creator of the RimWorld.
What led you to the game dev industry and how did you become a game designer?
I started making Unreal Tournament maps when I was in high school. I was a barely-useful member of a mod team making a mod called Tactical Ops. During the UT2003 and UT2004 era I expanded my skills into mod making, making a total conversion mod called Elemental Conflict. That’s where I started learning programming, photoshop, modelling, and other game dev tools. By the end of university I had been making maps and mods for about seven years, so I was able to get a job at Irrational Games in Boston as a level designer.
What does a typical day look like?
It varies quite a lot, but typically involves working on my computer until I sense my brain is too tired to make good progress, and then doing something fun or relaxing for the rest of the day.
What's your setup?
Recently I’ve actually been using a powerful laptop hooked up to a monitor, keyboard, and speakers. Performance laptops are strong enough for it these days, and it’s convenient to be able to take your system away as needed.
Which apps and services do you use most to complete your main tasks?
Google Docs for managing designs and tasks among developers. VSCode for writing code and data files. Unity for testing and primary development. Photoshop for images. OBS Studio for capturing video. Premiere for editing video. Audition for capturing audio and editing it.
Where do you gain inspiration from?
I try to engage with media that can bring inspiration. Maybe I’d enjoy a John Grisham legal thriller but I deliberately focus on books and games and films that will be useful references. Since nothing is created from scratch, our creative output is bounded by the extent of experiences and media we’ve had ourselves. So I try to read nonfiction and more unusual science fiction stories. I love Alastair Reynolds.
When and how do you start working on a new feature? Could you describe the process?
I write down every feature and game idea in a giant list and bubble-sort them. When the last feature is finished, I begin with the next feature at the top of the list, secure in the knowledge that it’s better than everything else in all those pages of ideas.
Which games have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?
I’ve enjoyed some games recently but I’m not sure I’d call any of them “great design”. Good design, but great is really rare.
What achievements in your career are you most proud of?
Making an indie game that has entertained humans for well over 150 million hours of total playtime. Making a game that genuinely creates emergent stories – a piece of what people dreamed games could do since decades ago, but have had so much trouble actually executing.
If you could change one thing about your career, what would it be?
I would have quit AAA development and gone indie a few years earlier.
Which recent task turned out to be much difficult than you expected?
Dealing with mod compatibility issues while updating a game.
How are the disputes about variants of feature design solved in your company?
I analyze, decide, and explain so everyone understands the reasoning, even if they don’t personally agree with it.
What do you do to self-improve in game design?
Play a lot. Read a lot. Write down ideas and expand on them. Writing crystallizes your thought patterns. It makes you smarter. I never could have made RimWorld without writing my game design book first – I didn’t have the framework to make the non-intuitive decisions I had to make.
What music do you listen to whilst designing?
Usually, nothing at all. I like quiet.
If a game designer would want to apply to your company, what would you advise him?
Make something real and get someone you don’t know to play it. Incorporate their feedback and improve the thing you made. I like to see someone who has made something real.
Any advice for game designers in general?
Focus less on which work you would enjoy doing, and more on what players would enjoy playing.