The 'Shroom:Issue 105/Fantanoice Interview
G'day 'Shroom peeps, Crocodile Dippy (talk) here with a wonderful special interview for you today! She's a prominent member of our community, particularly on the forums, and her name is Fantanoice (talk)! However, what makes this one special is that Fanta is a qualified game designer and programmer who actively works in the industry, and we've organised this interview to provide some insight into game design studies, job opportunities, the work environment, the processes involved in game development, as well as some fun stuff about her personally to lighten up the mood. While her word is not to be taken as absolute gospel, as every country, every local region within those countries, and every game studio within those regions, is different, but hopefully this will shed some light on some of the hoops you have to jump through to get into game development if that's the field you have your sights set on.
Crocodile Dippy: OK so courteous question! How are you this evening?
Fantanoice: Great! A bit worn out from the heat wave!
Crocodile Dippy: It's been, like, 41 degrees the last few days? Crazy weather.
Fantanoice: Yeah it's been crazy. So happy to get the cool change today.
Crocodile Dippy: Well tonight, at least. It was a bit of a scorcher earlier.
Fantanoice: It really was. I was up at 8 and it was already about 35. My dog had opened the back door herself and was sitting near the fan, haha.
Crocodile Dippy: Bloody hell, that's one hot dog.
Fantanoice: Badoom tishhh
Crocodile Dippy: With a light opening, how about we start the formal inquiries with a bit about the studio you work for and the role you play there.
Fantanoice: My employer is Big Ant Studios, a game development company from Melbourne who specialise in niche sports titles. Some of our notable titles include the Rugby League Live series and Don Bradman Cricket. I've been working there as a Junior Programmer for about a year.
Crocodile Dippy: Yea one of your recent titles, Rugby League Live 3, has been a chart topping hit in Australia and New Zealand, hasn't it?
Fantanoice: Yes it has! It went to number 1 in Australia and New Zealand. It also made the top 10 in the UK.
Crocodile Dippy: Not bad going at all! Australian games tend not to make a huge dent outside Australia, unless you're Halfbrick ehehe
Fantanoice: That has been the case for a while, though this year was surprisingly positive for the Australian game industry. There were some great local games this year like Hand of Fate and Crossy Road.
Crocodile Dippy: Yea, you're right. We're not quite a huge competitor yet, but we're slowly creeping up. A bit like Sweden, I think!
Fantanoice: I really hope that's the direction we're headed, Sweden has a lot of talent making a lot of good games. I'm not sure if they also get Government support but I presume they do. Australia is exploding with talent from the work-for-hire days of the 90's-00's, and the fresh University graduates, but there are so few jobs available and no help from the Federal Government to fund new companies that it's all going to waste. A lot of the successful titles from this year have been the result of these funds but the fact there's nothing to keep them going makes me upset. Thank goodness we still have Film Victoria but I really feel for those in the other states/territories who aren't so lucky.
Crocodile Dippy: Yea Sweden is in a better place because their government actually does invest in game studios and offers grants, which is really helping the medium boon. Our government is still a bit behind, but hey, you and your team are helping to legitimise the industry here!
That segues somewhat into my next question; how difficult was it for you to find the job you have now? The number of jobs is very limited, as you said, and the competition is a bit daunting.
Fantanoice: It's mainly because of the Global Game Jam. A game jam is a weekend (or some other set amount of time, usually a weekend) where game developers meet up and complete a game before it finishes. GGJ is an annual one that runs over a weekend in late January, and people from all over the world participate. Anyway, I attended this year's (2015) after being lucky enough to receive a sponsored ticket (I was a poor, unemployed Uni graduate at the time who couldn't afford her own). I didn't have a team organised going in, so I ended up in a team full of randoms. One of them was a lovely (well actually they were all really lovely!) bloke named Charles who was also, coincidentally, one of the lead programmers at Big Ant. We got along well and he was impressed with the work I did, so after the jam he invited me into the studio. The rest, as they say, is 'istory!
(Also here's a link to our GGJ game: )
Crocodile Dippy: That's quite a good story. Having some real skill to show off certainly pays off in even those lucky moments where you happen to be in the right place, right time, hm?
Fantanoice: It was by far the most serendipitous thing to ever happened to me! It just goes to show that you need to grab every opportunity that comes your way!
Crocodile Dippy: No doubt! Speaking of skill, what type of qualifications do you need to get a job in the industry as a programmer?
Fantanoice: Ok this may be a bit controversial but I'd say for the majority of tech-related fields - including games - you don't 'need' any formal qualifications, they're just there to help you out. You will look far more professional on resume / LinkedIn than someone who was self-educated (which may result in you getting more interviews) but that's about the extent of what the paper will do.
That's not to say further study is pointless. The mentoring and networks you make there are invaluable, though again you have to grab the opportunities that are presented to you. At University you can talk to your tutors, your lecturers, your peers, and just become a massive sponge, soaking up all the knowledge at a rapid pace that would be impossible for someone self-educated. This is worth more than the degree, in my opinion.
One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received (and will also be contentious) was from a past co-worker, which was, “Aim for 51% and spend the rest of the time making something cool.” He now works at Facebook. After having finished my course I would agree with this but only if you're actually doing the 'something cool' and not using it as an excuse to go for the barest minimum. I'd also say you can aim for higher if the extra marks overlap with the 'something cool.'
Crocodile Dippy: So the formality of the qualification itself isn't necessary. I actually don't think that's super controversial, given a lot of people tend to be self-taught in... well, a lot of fields, from game development, film making, music, art, etc.
Fantanoice: That's true. I mainly point it out because there's a lot of pressure on young people - especially in Australia - to go to University and get a degree or they'll have no future, which is not true. University is just one path, but it isn't the only one.
Crocodile Dippy: That works well for my next question on what you think the most important qualities a person needs to be a good game developer?
Fantanoice: Creative, analytical, resilient and studious. Being a nice person helps too.
Crocodile Dippy: "Studious" would be my problem there ehehe
Fantanoice: With regards to being studious, you've got to be constantly learning, staying in the know and developing your skills because the industry, tools, and even the games change so rapidly that you'll get left behind if you don't. If you don't have the personality for it then you're gonna have a rough time.
Crocodile Dippy: So what are your most and least favourite aspects of game development?
Fantanoice: I really like having new challenges and problems to solve. Programming problems can involve thinking about a new feature and how you're going to implement it so that it works and runs efficiently.
Also, thinking about sports games and why people play them is interesting, especially as someone who didn't grow up playing them (apart from NBA Live 2003). For instance, I read a comment from a Rugby fan who really wanted to know if our Career Mode would support you sitting on the bench like the real thing. This blew my mind because everything in Game Design school tells you that the player should be in the action all the time. Which is right? Keep the action for the game? Or add the realism for the simulation?
Least favourite is all the added overhead that comes with working on big projects, like making estimates and time management. It's not my strong suit but I'm working on it!
Crocodile Dippy: Crunching numbers... ain't nobody got time for that.
For a more light hearted question, what is your favourite video game and why?
Fantanoice: I have so many favourites but the first one that comes to mind is Banjo Kazooie. I just love it to bits. It was the first birthday gift my parents asked me to pick out, rather than them trying to surprise me. I found music, characters, worlds, puzzles, everything about it was so endearing, I want to know everything about it and was more than happy to scour the whole thing, getting every collectible including the ? Eggs and Ice Key which didn't do anything (and you could only get using the debug codes in Treasure Trove Cove). I also remember getting so lost in the Stop n Swop' mystery, having constant discussions with my siblings about all the extra hidden content in Banjo Kazooie that you'd unlock by linking with Tooie. We ended up finding a new place to explore in each world that we were all certain would just open up when Banjo Tooie came out. Alas, it wasn't the case, but it was still fun.
As an adult I still go back to it, still getting lost in the charming world of all the cute animals and interesting-themed worlds. Yeah, Banjo Kazooie is great.
Crocodile Dippy: Banjo-Kazooie is an important game in my childhood too. Such an adorable game, we even featured it heavily in our special issue earlier in the year to celebrate Rare's 25th anniversary! I know you in particular have been excited for its spiritual successor, Yooka-Laylee.
The inverse of the previous question; what is your least favourite video game, and why?
Fantanoice: Out of titles that I have played, my least favourite is Star Fox Command. I grew up a SF fan after playing Lylat Wars (Star Fox 64 for non-PAL regions) and Star Fox Adventures, so I was really excited to play it. In the end I found it a huge disappointment: impossible controls, Atari-level graphics on your world map, fly-through-ring levels that could have been pulled right out of Superman 64 and just general boring, unpolished nonsense throughout the whole thing. It's the first game I ever traded in because I didn't want it in my house any more. If Star Fox Zero ends up anything like it I'll probably cry because I've waited so long for a good Star Fox game (the latest being Adventures because Assault was pretty meh, and whoever thinks otherwise is wrong)
There's also games like Rapelay and Custer's Revenge whose existence disgust me and I refuse to play because of my own morals, but they're a whole other can of worms.
Crocodile Dippy: My brother is in the same boat concerning Star Fox Command. Waste of time all-around, and didn't even have the glorious voice acting of Lylat Wars to salvage it in at least some capacity.
Fantanoice: Yeah, the voice acting in Lylat is top notch. The characters really made that game stand out for me, as space shooters aren't my thing to begin with. Something about making cute, wise-cracking animals do stuff made youngster me really happy.
Crocodile Dippy: I think that makes a lot of youngsters happy. That and some shorts.
Fantanoice: Well they are comfy and easy to wear.
Crocodile Dippy: Top percentage of shorts, yo.
So what upcoming games are you most looking forward to? I can imagine Yooka-Laylee and Star Fox Zero are up there.
Fantanoice: The two you mentioned, the new Legend of Zelda for Wii U, Zero Escape 3, the two new Ace Attorney games, Persona 5, and of course my employer's newest titles.
Crocodile Dippy: Pro plug, grrl.
Of those, Persona 5 is the one I'm most excited for. Atlus can always be relied upon to at least be fascinating in their games.
Fantanoice: I absolutely agree!
Crocodile Dippy: Hmmm... I don't want to drag this out super long, so I'll close up with: anything else you'd like to mention concerning yourself, your studio, or game development?
Fantanoice: Uuuh, nothing I can think of, I've waffled on so much already. Anything else you'd like to know?
Crocodile Dippy: Hmmm... I think my final question would actually be what you think of The 'Shroom? Anything in particular you like, anything you would change, or recommend?
Fantanoice: I like the idea of there being a series of community-driven articles, though I don't get time to read many. It's not always clear what articles would interest me unless someone tells me (eg: the trans one you wrote). A related articles' thing like Cracked would be good, though I don't know how easy it would be to set up. I'm also not sure why it's an e-zine and not a blog or CMS because the latter two would probably handle it better.
Crocodile Dippy: It's probably just to keep things as local as possible. We like to have The 'Shroom kept within the Wiki, so we make the best of what we can do with the Wiki's formatting. It is something to consider, tho, and I especially like that related articles idea. 2257 is a god at programming, so he may be able to set something up.
Fantanoice: Yeah makes sense to keep it with the wiki.
Crocodile Dippy: Thank you so much for your time, Fanta. It's been great getting to interview you, and learn a bit more about yourself, game development, and the environment that goes with it. It's great of you to offer advice and insight for anyone who may be thinking of pursuing programming and development in games.
A woman of diverse tastes, Fanta has persevered to get her dream job as a game developer, and has learned many a life lesson along the way. Always eager to broaden her scope and test her skills, Fanta is more than deserving of her place in this industry we hold so dear, and with any luck, she and her team will keep rising up as international stars. Big Ant Studios latest game, Lacrosse 16, will be released in January next year, so look out for that!