Under The Thumb

Image courtesy of Ritual Entertainment

Don 'onethumb' MacAskill is the resident Jedi Master at Ritual, in charge of defending the tribe with his powers.

First of all can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about what you do at Ritual?

Hi, my name's Don MacAskill, and I'm the resident Jedi Master at Ritual. As a Jedi Master, I wield the Force in many ways... My primary job function is to handle all things technical -- maintaining machines and network, keeping the website up-to-date, and performance testing hardware. And my secondary function is to help out on the game, whether it be dealing with press, assisting Activision with stuff they need, assisting Joe Selinske (Project Manager) on various projects, helping detail the flow of the game, or writing some of the game's dialog. Luckily, there's a lot to do on both sides of the job and Ritual let's me use the Force liberally.

How did you get your job at Ritual?

I'm not quite sure. I think it was an insane mix of luck and the "who you know" factor. Shortly after QuakeCon '97, Harry Miller (CEO) called me up and offered me the job. While it sounded like a blast, I wanted to stay in California with my family and friends, and I had a wonderful opportunity at Accolade there that I was considering. I eventually accepted the job at Accolade (helping Matt Powers and Company work on what's now called Slave Zero... it's looking incredible, BTW). After a few months, though, I realized that Ritual was exactly where I'd love to be, and I was fortunate enough that they were willing to have me still.

From the halloween party

How did your first day at Ritual feel like?

Exciting. I'm a hardcore gamer down to my toes, and being given an opportunity like this was amazing. I was walking around in a daze, I think. :) I knew most of the team from previous events and whatnot, but actually being a part of the team was something new and different.

What's it like working at Ritual all day?

In some ways, much like the first. I still wake up every morning astonished at the fact that I am a part of such a talented developement team. It's incredible. We're all great friends and have an awesome time making great stuff -- it's really a dream come true.

Has the chaos (not Werckle ;) at Ritual settled down now that the demo's out the door?

Chaos? Settled down? Don't make me laugh, man... we've got a game to finish!

Are you pleased with the way the public is responding to the SiN Demo?

Yes, totally. We've gotten hundreds of people telling us how much they like the game (and how they're playing it over and over -- that's a new one on me, replayability!) and jumping on a Sin server instantly brings a barrage of compliments. It's really outstanding to see people appreciate the work the team has put into this thing.

What were your thoughts on this year's QuakeCon/CPL event?

I was really too busy to attend except to be a part of a couple of lectures and talks, but in all, I wasn't really that happy with it. It felt even further away from the "fun factor" and community feel than the Frag did -- and that's saying a lot. I think if you talk to many people who go to these things, and ask them which ones were the most fun, they'll reply with "QuakeCon '97 and M3." While I am glad to see there is a market and an interest in tournament play, and there's no doubt that the Frag and the CPL Event provided good tournaments, I did hear a couple of people who were bummed that it had been billed like QuakeCon but turned out to be just a tournament function. I think that's how I felt too -- I want to go somewhere and hang out with my friends and party and play games, not to come into some warehousey place that doesn't have any hangout places (Denny's!) or anything.

I'm anxious to see about doing an event myself sometime in the near future (when I have some time) that's not commercial at all, and is just a LAN party rather than an organized tournament. A number of other people here and there have also expressed an interest, so who knows, maybe we'll see a killer event sometime soon.

What are your suggestions for people hoping to start a game development company?

I tried it a year and a half ago, and it failed. It's hard to get off the ground... I would say start with some TC or great demo and work from there... Don't even go the "organized company route" until you have something to show publishers or investors... but then again, I'm probably not the best source for advice. :)

What do you suggest artists should put in their portfolio? What kind of samples do employers wish to see?

I'm not really a great judge of art, but I'd say that if you've done it and think it's good, include it! Most jobs have some sort of a description, I'd tailor my submissions to whatever they want, with maybe a few other items included to show that you have other talents as well... but again, I'm not an artist, so you may want to ask someone else :)

What do you suggest level designers should put in their portfolio? What kind of samples do employers wish to see?

Levels. :) I think it's pretty safe to say that most companies are looking for folks who can do great single player levels... A lot of people do deathmatch, but single player takes a bit more talent (in general).

What do you suggest programmers should put in their portfolio? What kind of samples do employers wish to see?

I think a resume with good references and a great past history is probably the most important here. Once you've caught someone's eye, they can ask for samples of your work or whatever, but without references or experience, you won't even get that far.

What about people who just got out of college? How do they get a job in the game industry?

I have no idea... I dropped out of college. :)

Most jobs I've seen require at least 2 years of experience, but how do you get that experience if you're just fresh out of college?

Internships? Part-time jobs? I think you'll find that talent goes a long way in overcoming experience, and formal training can definitely help there... And entry-level jobs are available at many of the larger developement houses. After being there for awhile, you can then jump around. If there's anything people in this industry do, it's jump around. :)

If some programmer comes around and wants to adopt ÜberTech and expand on it will you guys hire him/her for your next project, whatever it may be?

We have two programmer openings, but I don't think we need anyone to "adopt" UberTech -- we have 3 talented programmers here, and with the addition of 2 more, we'll have a great team to work on a variety of things.

What engine will FAKK2 be using? Possibility of the ÜberEngine maybe?

Can't tell you that. :)

Would you guys allow some outside programmer to port SiN over to Linux/Unix?

Gotta keep up with the times, man -- read my .plan. :) Yes, we're planning on having an unsupported Linux port done by an outside programmer. No promises, but this is totally doable.

Any prelim. plans for the next project yet? Maybe a SiN 2?

Lots of plans. You'll just have to wait and find out, though :)

How do you think Game Development will change by the year 2004?

I think we'll see teams needing more and more people, I'm afraid. I've only been in the industry a short while, but it seems like game developement time stays roughly the same, but more and more people work on each successive title. FPSes so far are the exception, but I think that's partly technology limiting how much real content can go into a level or whatnot. We'll see, but I think you'll start seeing huge "casts" of people working on each game... And I think the industry will become quite a bit more mainstream, as well.

What do you think of the Dallas heat?

It's hot. :)

How many computers have you guys blown up in the 105° heat?

None so far, thank goodness. There are horror stories about last summer, though....

What do you think about life in Dallas?

I love the job, I love the team, but I miss California weather and my family and friends (Hi Mom!).

Do you have a hobby?

I have many... I'm the kind of guy who gets very passionate about things, but I'm afraid I'm very passionate about a few too many. :) Audio/Video stuff is a big passion of mine, as is Martial Arts (currently on hiatus though, too busy with this job :)... I love movies, but I'm afraid I'm not too picky -- if it's entertaining, I really like it. I'm a huge Star Wars fan (ok, that doesn't even touch the surface), a Babylon 5 fanatic, and a hardcore video game junkie. I love to read (especially fantasy). I'm also getting into cars, though that also has taken a back seat since moving out here to Dallas. Anyway, I should stop now... suffice it to say, I like a great many things. :)

Collecting stuffed Intel Guys is one of his hobbies :)

Well, that's all folks! Many thanks to onethumb for taking the time to answer my questions.. Thanks man!