Over my twelve-or-so years in full time employment (nearly all of that in games-development), I have participated in a fair few job interviews.
I was very excited about the first few. A chance to do what high-flying professionals do. To use my scalpel-like intellect, ask probing questions, and find out whether the professional vibe of the interviewee began and ended with their suit. To show my own bosses that I could play in the Big League, and could be trusted with Important Things.
My only frame of reference for people-sat-across-a-table-working-out-who-is-a-lying-bastard was the TV series “Cracker”. Imagine my red-face when I discovered that job interviews that end with the interviewee breaking-down in tears are NOT considered a success!
“Admit it – you killed her, cut up the body and fed it to your neighbour’s children!”
“No! I’m just here for the junior tester’s job!”
But after those first few, I found it quite routine. Occasionally my partner and I would play good-cop-bad-cop with them, and sometimes we’d ask dumb questions that we had thought up in the pub beforehand … we wouldn’t be expecting a correct answer (usually there wasn’t one), we just wanted to see how they’d react.
There’s a certain clash between the whole concept of the formal interview (plus what the law allows) versus finding the right employee for the games industry. This is because you have to be of a certain personality to work in games. That ideal personality varies slightly from company to company (after all, every company has its own distinct personality) but it is still possible to group all those personalities under one umbrella. One broad category.
That category is “nutjob”.
I feel I’m allowed to say that, because I am one. After a dozen years in the games industry (and doing late-nights for at least half of that time) I believe I have earnt my stripes and am well-qualified to say that to be successful in the games industry you must be a passionate, creative, highly-strung, thick-skinned, borderline-OCD, grade-A, 24-carat, card-carrying nutjob. With bells on.
Yes: you do have to be mad to work here. You and Mr Wibble, your invisible friend who lives in your finger.
That personality-type is rather at odds with any other branch of software development. Dare I say it: any serious branch.
No matter how hard people try to make entertainment software development mature or sophisticated – and despite how many Aston Martins Peter Molyneux may own – the fact remains that most computer game developers are actually just special-needs children with too much pocket money. Imagine a whole building full of grownups who still think it is fun to shout “bum”. A building full of people who, during summer, will find an ice-cream van and convince the driver to visit the office so that they can all eat funny-feet and 99s until they are sick.
With this in mind – back to the problem of job interviews. How do you sort the weirdos from the normals? How do you make sure that only the loopiest unstable candidate gets the job? Here then, is a guide to the sorts of questions you should be asking a potential computer-game developer.
Many of these questions have no correct answer. The important thing to look out for is that the applicant considers them serious and important questions, and is quite prepared to defend their answer vehemently when challenged. This is a telling sign of a games-developer, and is a vital trait for Friday-afternoon pub arguments.
Here are a few things that should be asked at games company interviews:
- What is the significance of the number 42?
- List the Star Wars movies in order of brilliance. (The answer is unimportant. The important point to look out for is, of course: “We do not recognise The Phantom Menace as a Star Wars movie”)
- Complete this sentence: “Look matey, I know a dead parrot when I see one …”
- Tell us about your home computer setup.
- Kirk or Picard?
- To which World of Warcraft Guild do you belong?
- What size Warhammer army can you field?
- How many gamer points do you have on XBOX Live?
- How have you categorised your porn collection?
- Don’t lie. Yes you have.
- So … you’re wearing a tie. Did your Mother tie it?
- I’ve told you before about lying. Take it off and then put it back on again. There! See?
- Order these by awesomeness: Chuck Norris, Jaffa Cakes, Nunchucks, Bill Bailey, insane robots, giant squids, boobs.
- If you were given a time machine, could go anywhere in history, change anything, meet anyone … which past Sci-Fi convention would you attend and why?
… and after all that – if there’s any time left – you may ask them one or two questions about programming.