Developer Interview Series: Justin Tan

Our second Boomzap employee in our interview series is Justin Tan, a student in Singapore who also happens to be a kick-ass design intern. Justin was the designer on my first Boomzap project (Orchard); now that his internship is coming to an end, I’m glad I get to interview him before he leaves.

We hope you like this interview, and check back often so you can meet the rest of our team. Cheers!

Luna Cruz – Producer/designer



What do you do for Boomzap?
I’m an intern designer, which involves every single bit of the game designer’s role: conceptualizing, playtesting, levelmaking and data balancing. Plus, I help out with the sound editing and visual design from time to time.

Which projects have you worked on, and how did you find the experience?
I’ve worked on a handful, which apart from several ongoing ones which we can’t disclose yet, would include Orchard. Orchard was really the first time I assumed the role of game designer for a project, and naturally it was quite some responsibility and expectation to meet (because Chris [Natsuume, creative director] trusted me a lot). But it was a great experience altogether; when you’re pushed beyond that comfort zone, you do make some mistakes, and at the end you get the pleasure of looking back and saying, “Hey, I could really do it”.

You’re still in school; what, and where, are you studying?
I’m studying at Nanyang Technological University, which although is mostly devoted to engineering and the sciences, does have a School of Arts, Design and Media. That’s where I’m doing my degree programme. I’m majoring in Interactive Media specifically. It touches on things ranging from games, multimedia, installation art, web design, art history and emotive robotics.

How does the Boomzap internship program work?
The details now compared to when I first started might have changed a bit. But basically, getting in involves your usual application and an interview. Of course, the requirements are pretty stringent, and you get a much better chance if you can get a recommendation from someone within the company. There’s basically a short probation period once you begin, after which it converts to a three-month rolling contract, along with a pay increase.

What’s it like being a design intern? How do you manage both school and work?
To be honest, it’s incredibly hardcore, but incredibly rewarding. Simply put, Boomzap expects a lot of its staff, even its interns — you get a lot more say and influence over how a game is developed, but at the same time that calls for a lot more commitment and responsibility.

Regarding to how I balance school and work — I usually plan my timetable to make sure I’ve time everyday to spend on each. Boomzap is great in that it has flexi-hours, which means I get to work in the morning and attend lectures in the afternoon. Or in the more extreme cases, assignments in the day, studio classes in the evening, and checking in game data at 2am. That happens once every two weeks on average.

Why did you choose game design? (Over art, or programming, or any other skills you already have)
This is one of those questions that gets me rattling on for hours. I’ll try my best to sum up my sentiments without being too esoteric.

Let’s try this: I see myself as a creator — alongside the poet, sculptor, filmmaker, inventor, writer and painter. Each of us has our own medium for expression, and mine happens to be the game. In game media especially (not distinguishing between digital and traditional), you have the power to work with “interactivity”. You get to engage your audience (your players) in worlds you create. You get to make it alive and ever-changing; it responds according to what you do.

Tell us about your life in Singapore. What is your typical day like?
It’s probably just like your average city-dweller life anywhere in the world. Studies and work take up most of the day. I do make an effort to go for a run in the evenings though, and hang out with friends at night.

What kind of gear do you use? (You can be specific about tech… unless you are not proud)
I’m not too much a techie, but I like elegance, simplicity and order. I work with my MacBook Pro which runs both Leopard and Vista. Perpetually connected to it when I’m not out travelling is my portable hard disk. My Razer mouse is an essential companion.

Apart from that, plenty of rough paper.

Which games helped form/influence you as a game designer? (There’s bound to be at least one… though I bet there are plenty.)
There are so many, but probably the most memorable ones would be the earliest ones I played that got me hooked when I was young. The games I enjoyed *playing* were great of course, but I think it was those where I spent time *playing* with the level editors were what got me started on this whole game design thing. You know, you start making levels before moving on to campaigns, then systems, and then the full game itself.

To list the games with editors I spent a good portion of my life with: Loderunner (the 1993 remake by Sierra), Warcraft II, Age of Empires and Starcraft.

What design lessons will you take away from your internship?
The “real game industry” lessons. Apart from realizing the seriousness of the work (meeting deadlines, compromising on features, demanding workloads), I’ve also learnt how to respond to them.

What games are you playing now?
Interestingly, I’ve sort of taken a little step back from digital games, and have begun exposing myself to card and board games. I’ve been trying everything from Whist to Cassino, Cribbage to Backgammon. Currently, I’ve been playing all sorts of Rummy variants. And the occasional round of Settlers of Catan.