Get to Know a Game Dev: Colin Janowicz
Video game quality assurance might conjure up party scenes from Grandma’s Boy; but real QA isn’t always considered a fun or glamorous area of game development. Job security can be fleeting, and sometimes QA feels less involved than other creative roles. But for “bug whisperer” Colin Janowicz, it’s become a pretty rewarding career.
Starting with a high school co-op, Colin has gone on to work with high profile studios like Vlambeer and Gameloft; he even met his partner, Melissa Davidson in games. Thanks to his experience in both QA and indie development (not to mention his stylish Nintendo controller backpack), we were eager to sit down and ask Colin all about his work in the games industry.
What’s an unofficial title that best describes your role in gaming?
I would say that my unofficial title would be “the bug whisperer”, which I have been nicknamed several times in the past. I have had a knack for finding issues with the games and finding the root cause of the issue. I’m really good at it, and I also have been lucky enough to contribute code and art to a few shipped products earlier in my career. Outside of work, I am an aspiring game developer and artist.
Is there anything weird about your job that most people wouldn’t know about?
I think most people would find it weird that bugs are about 1/4 of the time unfixed. Parts of the game are instead re-designed so that the player can’t access the part of the game that is bugged, or the hole in the game logic is plugged in a quick and slapdash way. Also, any last second additions to a game are always the bane of a team’s existence.
Did you always want to work in this type of role?
I didn’t originally guess that I’d be in a quality assurance role, I always thought I’d be in a role as a coder or an artist. However, I’m still early in my career, and I have plenty of time to make it in other related fields of game development.
I’ve always wanted to be a coder or artist partly so that I can contribute to the quality of the game at work, but also because I’d love to collaborate at home with Melissa on our personal projects 🙂
Has your job ever forced to live apart from friends or family?
Not that much. I have been lucky and always able to find work in the Greater Toronto Area, so I’ve always been close to my friends or family. Maintaining a long distance relationship has never been an easy thing to do, no matter where you work, but I would recommend making every effort to see your partner, and dedicate chunks of time just for maintaining your relationship.
That’s solid advice, for any relationship. What did you do before working in games?
Before I worked in the game industry, I had a brief series of summer jobs in high school, one cashier position and one food prep position. My games industry career got started when I landed a co-op position at a games company, and I stayed there for several years while I went to University and beyond.
So how did you break into games?
I broke into this great industry through good timing and connections. I was looking for a high school co-op position in the video games industry, and a connection through my parents got me a co-op position from a different high-school at a video game company. I impressed the co-workers with my enthusiasm and work ethic, so they kept me on as a QA person, and occasional artist and developer.
That’s awesome. Were there any personal challenges you’ve had to face during your career?
Getting let go from my first job when the company fell on hard times, and the subsequent job search was definitely the biggest personal challenge I had faced. My first job lasted a surprisingly long time, close to six or seven years on and off. The following year saw me work four more jobs in different places.
After a couple short contracts, I found a job that I was by far my most unique challenge. The job was to be a Game Master for a couple of online foreign developed MMO’s maintained by a publisher in Toronto. It was a very challenging job with a very large amount of autonomy. It was the most difficult work experience of my life, and I’m extremely grateful for it, because it made my future work experience far more enjoyable and easy to manage.
So what would be the high and low points, so far?
I would say that the highest point in my career has been being employed at my current workplace, Gameloft. I am learning a lot about how highly organized, modular, and effective Triple A teams work and organize themselves, and I am having the time of my life in an extremely friendly and solutions oriented work environment, with a ton of culture and group events that pull the team together.
The lowest point would probably have been the rough times when I was unemployed, and trying to chase both programming jobs that I wasn’t quite qualified for yet, as well as QA positions that were relatively scarce.
Are there any game industry role models that you look to for guidance?
I see several one-man or small team independent video game developers as my heroes. Some of these people include Vlambeer, Konjak, and WayForward. I admire their willingness to try a lot of ideas and see a lot of games through to completion, honing their crafts with each game created, no matter how successful.
I also admire many artists who work in the video games industry, such as Sparth (Nicolas Bouvier), Brandon Liao, and Kekai Kotaki, Moof (Josh Anderson), Atey Ghailan, MrJack (Luke Mancini), and Rob Cunningham, among many others. (Most of them do sci-fi art, and I love it all lol)
What kind of game would you make, if you had no limits?
My dream game to develop would be an action packed sci-fi multiplayer game where you fight, steal and swashbuckle your way around the galaxy with your buddies, discover crazy new things that didn’t seem possible in the game all the time, and fight the good fight against really tough bad guys. (Which basically sounds like Star Wars, but hey, can’t forget your roots, lol).
Also, Melissa and I made a bet that I can’t make a game that shows how awesome Galactic Federation from Metroid can be. Can’t let her get away with dissing the Federation.
No, of course not! Have any games had an emotional impact on you?
I’m having trouble thinking of an emotional event, but I remember crying my eyes out as a child when playing Banjo Kazooie, because an eagle that you took care of had all grown up and flew off. I was very very young at the time.
I think the game Bastion had the strongest intended emotional impact on me, I was really touched by the story of survivors in the middle of a disaster that ravaged a magical and richly written world. But I also loved the triumph that came with completing a challenging game with a friend, like the time that my partner Melissa and I completed Zelda 3: A Link to the Past, and she let me play the whole thing. I also loved playing Halo cooperatively with my friends, and that game’s sense of adventure and challenging gameplay left a large impact on my game design aspirations.
How have games changed, since you first started playing?
I saw games differently when I started making them as a living, and I started to appreciate the finer points of the immersion and illusion that drew players into the game. I think older players tend to enjoy games that really immerse themselves in the world of the game, and with VR on the way, and awesome games like House of the Dying Sun, and Elite Dangerous, I’m pretty happy with my changing tastes in games.
Any new games you’re looking forward to?
I have not tried No Man’s Sky yet; But I’m also a little disappointed that the action gameplay isn’t all its cracked up to be (apparently). I was hoping for something with a little more depth in the enemy simulation and polish to the combat. I’m also curious about Mass Effect Andromeda, which has been mysterious so far. I was a big fan of the Mass Effect series.
Any events you’re looking forward to?
[We just attended] Fan Expo, and Torontaru every month. We’re going to do game dev meetings like the Unity Developers Meetup when they happen (it’s been a while since the last one) – and definitely going to ToJam when it’s available!
Ok and finally, if you could travel to any point in time for a single day, where would you go?
I think I would go to two hundred years in the future. I’m curious how things go in the future, and I could only imaging the future being even more incredible than the world we live in today (and fingers crossed: Mars colonies, moon bases, and kick ass technology).
But if I had to go to the past, I think I’d like to go back to the late 70’s and see how sci-fi grew up, and maybe see my parents enjoying Star Wars for the first time.
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- On September 07, 2016