SOLEIL

Staff Interview

Tatsuhiro Tanaka / Tomohisa Oda / Yusuke

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Profile

Tatsuhiro Tanaka / Senior R&D Engineer
Born in Kobe, Hyogo, having 32 years’ experience in the game industry.
He started his career as a writer of a personal computer magazine and then entered the game industry and engaged in game developments on various platforms as an engineer. He’s been through a lot in the game industry and knows its inside and out. He is still active at the forefront of the field and he is a sort of walking encyclopedia of Soleil. He joined Soleil eight years ago through introduction by a member of the development team at that time.

Tomohisa Oda / Technical Artist
Born in Nara City, Nara, having 23 years‘ experience in the game industry.
He joined a game company after graduating from an art university in Kyoto, then worked for a film and video production company, and engaged in several AAA titles as a technical artist at a major manufacturer after that. He joined Soleil two years ago upon receipt of an offer via a recruit agent. The reason he joined Soleil was that the office was close to his house and that his motivation was stimulated by Soleil’s development approach using general-purpose game engine (UE4).

Yusuke / Lead Programmer
Born in Ise City, Mie, having 8 years’ experience in the game industry.
After graduating from university, he started his career as a vehicle-related SE and then experienced various types of development such as smartphone applications, amusement machines, VR, etc., and entered his 15th year as an engineer now. Although he had no experience in console game development, he worked hard for Soleil for three years as a subcontractor and officially joined the company as a lead programmer afterward.

Yusuke: First of all, I would like to thank both of you for joining this interview in the middle of the high season of your ongoing projects. Today, as an interviewer, I would like to ask you to talk about topics useful for game developers from veteran’s point of view.

Oda: Please go ahead.

Tanaka: Honestly speaking, I was planning to take a day off today.

Yusuke: I'll make it up to you! ...Well then, can you tell me what made you enter into game development?

Tanaka: It was more than 40 years ago, I firmly decided to become a game programmer in the future when I came across a personal computer as a kid.

Oda: I was creating CGs personally when I was a art university student. That was a cue for me to enter the game industry. There were less job opportunities for us those days. So, after considering whether to continue drawing pictures while working as a part-timer or to join a game company, I chose a game company because it seemed to be fun and it is better-paying.

Yusuke: I see. I also have been playing games since I was born, so my motive was the same as Tanaka-san. It’s fun to be involved in the development of games we got hooked when we were kids, isn’t it?

Tanaka: It's not all fun, but it's the job I wanted to do. However, I got too much immersed in it. So I wish I had traveled and played around a bit more outside of work.

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Yusuke: I know both of you are always full of work and it is hard to take time for yourselves because you are involved the projects as a keyperson. It’s been said the game industry is a rogue industry since long ago, but is it still the case actually?

Oda: It was truly a rogue industry a decade ago and it was quite common for every game company to work until late at night and even on holidays. Such a situation has much improved in the last 5-6 years. However, it can easily turn back. Since game development is based on the premise of "creating something new and fun," there is no definitive method of creation for it and you always have to seek solutions for something better. If you neglect workflow while doing so, your development work can soon turn into a death march.

Tanaka: When I was young, it was common for us to stay overnight. “Super black” was the norm those days. Since we didn’t have the Internet as we do now, we often had no idea how to solve problems at all when we faced up to difficulties. Our labor conditions were definitely black. Fortunately, such conditions have been much improved nowadays. You’d better stay away from such kind of rogue companies.

Yusuke: It sounds both of you went through a difficult time. Compared to what I just heard from you guys, it’s surprisingly white (better) now. I don’t see many people stay in the office until midnight on my project.

Oda: Spread of the Internet is also helpful, but one of the reasons for the biggest improvement of our work environment is that the development with general-purpose game engines such as Unity and Unreal Engine (hereinafter called “UE”) has become widespread and overall efficiency has significantly improved. By the way, Soleil has introduced UE4 for quite some time.

Tanaka: Soleil has been using UE since UE3. Today's games are huge in scale, it costs too much to develop an original engine, and even if its core part can be created, it is hard to prepare abundant functions and editor environments for it. To create a game with limited resources, you have to choose an option to use an existing game engine. We chose UE because all the source codes are open to the public, so we can customize them as needed and it is easy to investigate defects. A bunch of information is also available from various communities and its official homepage.

Yusuke: Certainly it is good for us to be able to track the engine down to its contents even if something happens. (To Oda) What are the advantageous points of UE4 in your view as an artist?

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Oda: In my past workplace, they were using their original in-house engine. Developing a game engine in house is good in terms of optimization and customizability, but it takes a long time for it to be able to display visual assets on the game screen for the first time. So, artists have to create assets, imaging their looks in their minds up until first half of development will be completed.
However, in case of UE, you can create visual assets in PBR (Physically Based Rendering) format from day one. So there is an advantage that the start is quick. Moreover, abundant functions are available from the beginning. As you continue using it in multiple titles, your customization knowledge will be accumulated.

Yusuke: Development startups will be quicker, and you will be able to improve quality and efficiency by accumulating know-how.

Tanaka: As I said, the UE technology itself is open to the public, so it is also a big benefit for engineers to be able to share their knowledge through various forums where they can communicate with each other. Epic Games are holding workshops for their licensees regularly and communication among engineers are active. You can also try out what you have learned from other companies.

Yusuke: That’s right. I once consulted with members of other companies about memory management and GC related matters in a UE workshop, and I was greatly helped. Two Soleil programmers, Haruka and Fu (*), were also on stage (**) at a localization workshop, and I heard them say it was “useful.” I believe these workshops are producing a good side benefit among us.

* Soleil's programmers. Click here to see the relevant development staff interview.
** Participated in "Localization Deep Dive" workshop related to UE4 localization.

Tanaka: Yes, we should disseminate information more openly.

Yusuke: Tanaka-san has been on the stage (***) at UNREAL FEST twice in the past. I think this is actually amazing.

*** Official large-scale Unreal Engine workshop hosted by Epic Games Japan.
↑Archive when Tanaka took the stage.

Tanaka: I appreciate Epic Games Japan as I’ve been receiving a lot of inputs from them and I just had something to talk about on those occasions. I want to encourage young people to challenge such an event.

Yusuke: I’ll think about a certain topic based on my current project.

Tanaka: You isn't young as he says, you know.

Everyone: (laughs)

Oda: Speaking of Yusuke, you had no console experience before joining Soleil, and now you are in charge of the lead. What is the story behind this?

Yusuke: My previous job was SE related to vehicles, but there are similarities in the basic parts of design and implementation. It just turned out well as I tried my best.

Tanaka: Games are also part of software development. If you fully understand the basics, there are many adoptable things in common.

Yusuke: The only reason I was able to get involved in game development is that the timing was just right. I was assigned as an additional UI staff in the later stage of development. Since I was good at finding bug-prone implementations and cause of problems as a debugger, I was gradually entrusted with more and more tasks.

Oda: I see, you were assigned in the right place at the right time.

Yusuke: In the end, it was like “Just go to Yusuke when the game is crashed.” However, rather than simply fixing bugs, it was most important to quickly report and contact other sections and solve such a problem by coordinating all the necessary tasks including mine.

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Oda: That’s how you developed your communication skill. In other words, is it that you were trained in the field and have obtained your current position?

Yusuke: Yes, and while working with the great veterans of Soleil, I learned a lot. To be honest, I feel nervous to be in the same workplace as ex-Team Ninja members. I could have grown a lot because of that tension, just working hard day in and day out.

Oda: Oh wow, you had determination(laughs). But somehow I understood.

Yusuke: Can you tell me the best part of Soleil from your perspective as a veteran?

Tanaka: Soleil is not a big company and not known that much, but that’s why there are many opportunities where you can play an active role and young people can express their opinions freely. The good part of Soleil is that you can work efficiently since its size is small and that many foreign staff of various origins and female staff are working actively, playing key roles in each section. And lastly, Soleil is good at game development for overseas.

Oda: For example, regarding the introduction of new tools and technologies, the decision making is generally quick at Soleil. The workplace I used to be was a big one, so it took a long time to put them to practical use because there was a very stressful procedure to make presentations to bosses and obtain their approvals.

Yusuke: Mmmm, I see, it's just the right scale of development, not too big and not too small.
But on the other hand, what is the bad part of it?

Tanaka: Since the scale is small, we are less competitive to major companies with facilities and equipment.

Yusuke: Well, umm....

Oda: Honestly, there are a lot of bad parts. However, as mentioned earlier, decision making at the top is relatively quick, so I think it is a suitable workplace for people who have many ideas for improvement.

Yusuke: Thank you very much. Since this interview goes public also for recruitment, can you give some advice for students and those who are interested in game development?

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Tanaka: Now you can freely use game engines such as UE4 and Unity, just try to make your own games. Those games do not need to be perfect, but it is important for you to experience making a complete game from the beginning to the end. If you can create a work that can be shown to people, you will have a greater chance of finding a job at a game development company.

Oda: Since I am a drawing-related TA, I can say the threshold for self-learning is much lower than in the past, in terms of art field. Both UE and Houdini can be learned for free now. That’s why there are many competitors. So if you are a student, you should improve your ability and skills to make basic drawings such as sketch. Then it may be easier to catch the eyes of hiring side.

Yusuke: Thank you! I think it will be quite helpful. Even if you are a mid-career worker from another industry like me or inexperienced, I hope people who have passion for games will join Soleil.

Oda: In case of mid-career worker, passion alone may be tough … You were lucky, Yusuke!

Yusuke: After all, it wasn’t that easier as I thought.

Tanaka: Just aim for what you want to achieve (whether you are mid-career or inexperienced). But if you do, be serious. Passion for games is essential. You won’t last without it. You can’t continue without the willingness to upgrade yourself constantly.

Yusuke: I appreciate the word to the marrow of my bones. Soleil is not known that much yet, but the more you know about Soleil, the more you will find its working environment attractive. I hope I’ll be able to carry on this fire while veterans are still alive.

Tanaka: You are still young, you know.

Yusuke: In which aspect!?? (Laughs) Thank you for your time today.

Oda: Thank you.