Get to Know a GameDev: Balbino Aylagas

Balbino AylagasGame development is a global phenomenon and thanks in part to people like Balbino Aylagas and the Artcode Academy, its community is rapidly growing in Central America. Based in El Salvador, this game dev helped found a school with accompanying studio, where he teaches and gets to work on game programming. Like some other devs we’ve featured, Balbino was inspired by a meeting with an old friend which sparked the idea for Artcode.

Besides having students working some interesting games, like The Nightmare from Beyond and Fleeing Time, Artcode also offers teachers with significant industry experience. Balbino Aylagas has over 13 years experience in professional programming, and we were eager to get his take on the games industry and how it’s evolving in El Salvador.

What would be your unofficial title?
If I understood well the question, then I would have to say “the programming guy that does everything else the artist and designer do not do”. Good thing that I love what I do because programming and teaching have been the only constants in my life since I started my professional life.

What did you do before you worked in the game industry?
More or less from 2003 to 2013 I was a backend web developer for several companies. I do not regret any of those years because several individuals in that period of time taught me most of the programming stuff that made me the professional I am today. But in the period of 2012 – 2013 I felt dead from inside, with no surprises, no challenges, and I felt I was dying slowly in a routine I could not get out off. In this time there was no thoughts of making games or nothing even remotely close to it.

Around November 2012 I had a call from a longtime friend from school that I had not seen in quite a while. He wanted to meet up to run a business idea by me. I said cool. In the meeting he told me he studied in Holland [for] a career in game art and game design, and that he wanted to come back to the country and set up a studio. First I just stared and seconds later I said: “yes, when do we start…” – that was the spark I needed, and it became the turning point in my professional life. February 15, 2013 I quit my job and we started Artcode Academy/Studio.

As we started the business plan for the studio we realized that in our country the game industry is so small, as almost non-existent as the people that can help us make games; so we decided to put a game dev academy that would help us make the professionals we needed. Artcode became both an academy and a studio and I became a game programmer.

Artcode Academy

That’s a great story, and it sounds like a challenging project. Since Artcode, have you developed many game projects?
My favourite past project that most impacted me was Enola. I was an Artcode outsource to the studio The Domaginarium, and had the task to create one of the enemy’s AI and the final boss battle for the game, programming wise. It was a challenge for me because I had only like 4 months getting to know the engine (UDK) and it was very difficult, but it was my first experience making a game that was already been selling worldwide; not a big hit but it was a really good start for me.

[I] learned so much and grew a lot in this period of time making this game as a programmer and as a game developer overall. Right now I am helping The Domaginarium with a somewhat passive role in programming and administration with their new game The Nightmare from Beyond. It’s going to be the first game from my country in the PlayStation platform. That is a huge step for our small almost inexistent industry, lol.

Very exciting! Are there a lot of challenges associated with being a dev in El Salvador?
I think that there are a lot of challenges. First of our economy is really bad and most of the people have to find a way to make some money to be able to make the games we want; and that is difficult for the studio side because you have to constantly check which person is available to work on a game.

Another great challenge is an education oriented one: here in my country, since there is no formal education on games it is very difficult to find people with good working skills for jobs in games it takes us a lot of extra work to make games look, feel good.

Game Dev El SalvadorAnother important issue is where we get our knowledge: in our case Artcode is the best place in my country to learn from teachers that have experience making games, but our experience cannot be compared to for example somebody that receives a class with Richard Lemarchand at the University of Southern California (a lead Game Designer on the Uncharted games for the PlayStation 3). The experience in game design we can give is nothing even close to what Richard can give, and that makes us work with what we have available here. I think this are very big challenges that we face in a day to day basis.

What personal challenges have you faced during your career?
I believe one of the greatest challenges was letting go of my secure job as a web developer to pursue a life as game developer, teacher and entrepreneur. I also had a hard time making the switch from web development to game development. One part because it was difficult to let go of something that I had done for such a long time (10 years, more or less) and another part because I knew almost no game development before. I had to really step up my game really fast and I struggled a lot the first year. With time, action and discipline, I overcame a lot of this challenges; but I still have a lot of way to go.

Along the way, has any particular game made an emotional impact on you?
The game that I played that made the most impact for me was Final Fantasy 7 because it was a self-imposed challenge, I had to beat the game in 3 weeks. But as I was playing I got really caught up with the story, the characters and the bosses to the point that I cried like a baby in Aeris’ death. I said to myself. if I ever make games I want them to transmit that energy and feeling. I was still a school kid when that happened. FF7 is my all-time ultimate favourite game.

Such a good choice. How about your heroes or role models, in terms of your work?
There are a lot of people I look up to in our industry. Some are AAA, others are indie and other are still small but working up.

I can recall Rami Ismail from studio Vlambeer for his work creating games and the lectures and speaks that really help everybody that really listens. One of my favourite games ever is Nuclear Throne. One of the best indie game developers you can see around and I feel really lucky to been able to meet him and talk to him in person.

Jane Ng and Jake Rodkin from studio Campo Santo also for one of the best games I have played and made in Unity, Firewatch. Master piece and it was for me very cleverly made. That team give great lectures and they give a lot of experience back to the industry.

Richard Lemarchand for his work on Naughty Dog and now being a Game Design teacher at USC. When you talk to him, he is such a nice person, interested in game dev from our country and very helpful meeting people at GDC. I can only imagine how having a class in a university with him as teacher can be.

Ken Wesley, he is an instructor in the Digital Media Arts & Engineering program at LSU. Awesome person and a great and experienced professional giving a lot of hard work to make DMAE program in LSU help students get prepared for the game industry.

Jose Bidegain, is a good friend and cofounder of Artcode. He works his behind off every day making an impact on Artcode students and our country. Has a lot of experience as a Salvadoran game developer that studied in Game Design and Game Art in Qantm, Amsterdam.

This are [just] some of all the people that I consider important for me in the game industry and from which I learn a lot just by watching the way they make and monetize games.

That’s a phenomenal list. Lastly, if you could make any kind of game in the world, with no limits on budget or scope, what kind of game would it be?
Easy! An FF6 / FF7 type turn based RPG game. That is my life goal really. I have so many ideas but I have to still learn a lot and have way more experience to be able to make it so it will take a few more years to start it.


Sounds like a good project for Artcode 😉

Do you know someone in the gaming or game development community with a unique perspective, interesting project or creative take on the industry? We’d like to talk to them!
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  • On March 31, 2017