Posted in News on September 29, 2016
Each individual member of our team brings a unique and invaluable set of skills, hobbies, and worldviews to the studio. To better understand who the Tangentlemen are, we’re looking to tell their stories—from previous development projects to their outside-the-workplace passions. This week, we’d like to introduce you to our engineer, John Swift.
It’s common for people to stumble through various jobs, offices, and industries before metaphorically falling into a passion like game development. For John Swift, Tangentlemen’s talented engineer, it took a fall from a cliff 80-feet tall to discover his fervor for games.
What resulted was a sense of direction after struggling to find solid footing as an acting major. The cost? A dislocated shoulder, broken ankle, and broken foot.
“Me and a friend were hiking where we shouldn’t have been, in a tiny little game trail. The ground started to crumble, I caught myself… but then it crumbled some more and I began to tumble. And it wasn’t a short fall—I bounced and rolled around 80 feet before I reached the bottom,” John tells. “It was actually a good overall life experience, if you can believe it. As an actor, you assume that if something goes wrong, you’ll figure it out. But this time, something went really, really wrong, and I had to shift gears.”
That shift occurred when the same friend John hiked with during his major fall came calling about an open spot at development studio Spark Unlimited. This was a career path John hadn’t really considered, yet still fulfilled that same desire born during his acting days to build something up from nothing, refine it, realize it, and move on to something else.
It was a risk, but John persuaded his then girlfriend, now wife that it was smart to leave a secure, full-time path as an electrical engineer—which he began to pursue after spurning acting—to jump into games. He quickly found his way into important meetings to better understand the production process and learn the many facets of game design first-hand, and his tireless work ethic propelled him from production assistant to associate producer midway through the project. However, about a month before Spark Unlimited’s Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z shipped, everyone was laid off.
Fortunately, the person who interviewed and hired him at Spark Unlimited was John Garcia-Shelton, who went on to found Tangentlemen with Cory Davis, Rich Smith, and Toby Gard. He was offered a job before too long and this time, the smaller team allowed for more creative and artistic freedom.
“When it’s a small group, you can have conversations about things that need to change, but it’s not about being in lockstep. What we’re trying to do is more improvisational jazz,” he explains. “There’s a framework, and we can all pay attention to what everyone’s doing and add in our little piece to complete the puzzle. At a large studio, it’s like an orchestra. But in a small studio, you can relax and figure out where you fit.”
There are no checklists. There’s no script. What John most appreciates about game development is what he found most fulfilling about acting—realizing a concept and then starting anew. During the first several months after the move from a garage to Sony Santa Monica’s studio, the team ran one-month cycles where they just tried random things. By making fully playable demos that were five to 10 minutes long, mining what worked, and throwing out the rest, John and the team were able to zone in on the tone of Here They Lie.
“We’re working on something that’s more about a feeling, teasing the player’s subconscious. That’s not something you can fully script out from the beginning,” John says. “We get to design a game world and let people play in it, but the actual moment of creation is more with the player assigning meaning to certain things that we’ve put in the world.
“If they walk out of this and think it’s about… the 2016 presidential election or something, maybe we didn’t hit the mark. There’s a lot of space between the story that we’re envisioning and how we think it’ll affect the audience. We’re trying to hit themes and ideas, and these will hit different people in different ways based on their life experiences or even their moods at the time.”
In order to be an active participant in the creation process of Here They Lie, John had to persuade the crew that he could program and create systems integral to the game-making process. At Spark Unlimited, his focus was production and taking notes. Here, he had to take those notes and put them into action.
“I realized that everyone around me was a super experienced veteran, and I was new at this. But I try really hard, and that was big,” John mentions. “I’d been coding on my own for a few years when they let me shift into doing it full-time, and it’s been extremely fulfilling to actually impact interactions within the game.”
From college to game design, John is driven by making a big something out of absolutely nothing. Being a key player in the creation process of Here They Lie, he gets to take this passion to new heights.
“It’s like window shopping for ideas or life paradigms. You get to try on a philosophy and see how it feels,” John says of creating new worlds. “You get to explore what would happen if a philosophy went to an extreme. This studio is exploring ideas and philosophies instead of trying to make the next big shooter or next big platformer.”