#MEETIRONGALAXY – JOSE VILLEGAS, SYSTEMS DESIGNER
Here at Iron Galaxy, our designers use their imagination to create fun experiences for players. In this interview series, you will meet a variety of people who help us create awesome games. Today, we’re talking to Jose Villegas, who started with us in January 2019. Let’s learn about Jose and his journey in the industry.
Iron Galaxy: Who are you and what would you say you do here at Iron Galaxy?
Jose Villegas: Hello! I’m Jose and I work as Spreadsheet Overlord, also known as Systems Designer, at Iron Galaxy. I’ve been at the studio for almost four years now and am loving it! My work involves designing, overseeing, and implementing game systems for both in and out-of-game content. I’m pretty handy with RPG systems, so don’t get me started on game progression and balance, ‘cause I’ll use the remainder of the space I have here just for that.
IG: Thanks for that introduction, Jose! What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
JV: I’d say that, with design, one of the most challenging aspects is making sure people are on board with your goals and proposals. Your ideas are always as good as how well you can argue for them, so when it comes to deciding the route for a game you always need to think of the most effective way of presenting those ideas.
One benefit of doing this is that, while structuring arguments in your head, you always end up drilling holes in your own systems. This will lead you to find answers to those problems and will make your systems stronger, allowing you to come better prepared to argue for them.
IG: To poke your brain more, what is one skill you learned growing up that you use the most in your role?
JV: At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, I think empathy is an extremely important skill to have as a designer. Empathy not only allows you to understand the player’s needs, but it also gives you an edge on your day-to-day of game development. This industry is extremely collaborative; nothing gets done in isolation, so knowing and getting a feel for how others are doing allows you to create a better environment to foster creativity.
IG: What has been your proudest moment as a member of the Iron Galaxy team?
JV: The release of Rumbleverse, for sure. It was the first project I worked on when I first joined the studio, and after moving between projects for a while, I was able to return to the game to help ship it and take it to the closing line.
When the game went live, I experienced that feeling of ‘one more game’ right away, and getting that from something you helped make is truly special.
IG: How is your specific job unique when compared to the other roles in our company?
JV: I think that designers in general are unique in the sense that we are the discipline that needs to collaborate the most with others. You need to make sure everyone is aligned with the same goals and understands where the game is heading. This is important in a long-term sense, so people are in sync with the vision for the game, but also on a day-to-day basis to make sure that implementation matches the expected outcomes.
IG: What’s some advice you could share if someone wanted to follow in your career’s footsteps?
JV: My practical advice for getting into the games industry is persistence for sure. Finding a (good) game dev job involves ‘being at the right place at the right time,’ unfortunately. The only way to minimize this is to just keep trying and getting ready for your heart to be broken more than once. Of course, you must not neglect the technical aspects of game design. Being comfortable with modern engines like Unreal and Unity is essential to be a desirable candidate. (As an aside, I have a lot of bias towards Excel proficiency, as it’s one of the most important tools for systems designers. If you can make scripts for Excel or Google Sheets, you get extra points in my book for sure.)
In a broader sense, a good designer needs to always keep asking themselves ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ These two questions encapsulate the core aspects of game design, and not only should guide you in your decisions when designing features but also when evaluating other games. When playing a game make it a habit to ask yourself: “Why is this game doing this?” Try to answer from the perspective of the designer working on that project. Doing this will allow you to have a critical eye for systems and will allow you to grow using that knowledge.
IG: Thanks for your industry and role-specific advice. What is the best thing about working at a video game development company?
JV: I think it’s fantastic being able to work on what I love and knowing that everyone else feels the same. Nobody lands a job making games on accident, and that is palpable. Every person I’ve worked with loves video games as much as I do and that is unlike any industry.
IG: What is your favorite perk associated with your job?
JV: Iron Galaxy touches so many different projects that it gives everyone here a very privileged insight on the rest of the industry. We often have these “wow, are we actually working on that?” moments in our company meetings that makes being a part of the company really exciting.
IG: Speaking of what the studio is working on as a whole, how collaborative are you with different teams across Iron Galaxy?
JV: Extremely. At a high level, it’s the designers’ job to make sure everyone understands the feature to make sure the team is growing in the same direction. It’s important for developers to know where their contribution lies on the grand scheme of the project, and it’s up to design to make sure those goals are communicated clearly and are well understood by everyone.
At a lower level, design must be clear and precise on the requirements needed to achieve a feature. For this reason, being in constant communication with the other disciplines is fundamental so there are no obstacles in implementation.
IG: As a designer, what is the most rewarding aspect of creating things that other people experience?
JV: I think that just knowing that other people spend their time enjoying something you contributed to create is very special. I’ve been lucky to talk to people who have played games I’ve worked on and hearing them describe their positive experiences with them is fantastic.
Ultimately, making games have also made me appreciate the craftsmanship and design in things that I enjoy as well in my personal life. I think about the effort that it takes for us to make games, and now I try to see that in everything I consume as well, which leads me to appreciate them more.
IG: Another reflection question for you: What is the best impact you’ve ever seen a video game have on someone’s life?
JV: I think there are many games that have impacted me personally in a positive way. While I do have many games I love and enjoy, Braid and Portal are the ones that impacted my life the most. Before studying game development, I studied literature. I wrote my bachelor’s thesis about those two games and how they tell their stories using gameplay. I wasn’t intending to become a game dev when I started writing it, but something finally clicked in my mind during that process. After that I decided to take the plunge when I admitted to myself that’s what I really wanted, and I was denying myself the opportunity to at least try. 10 years later and I’d say it was a good decision.
IG: Where are you from?
JV: I was born in Santiago, Chile, and I lived there until I was 21, when I decided to move to the US to pursue game development as a career. I always try to go back home when I can, and I keep in contact with all my friends from Chile.
IG: What’s your personal pro-tip for working from home?
JV: Find a physical action you can do to get in ‘let’s get down to business’ mode. It’s easy to get distracted at home, so finding something to make you engage with what you need to get done is very important. I have a standing desk at home. I don’t use it all time, but when I need to get serious it helps me get in the right headspace.
IG: Aside from playing video games, what is a favorite hobby of yours?
JV: When I joined IG four years ago, I started cycling and now it’s become one of my favorite activities. Orlando is privileged with phenomenal bicycle trails and since we have nice weather, we can enjoy them year-round.
I’d every day to the office, and over the weekends I usually do a long trail where I can just lose myself for hours and turn off my brain. I always find an excuse to get on my bike, and now whenever we do IG picnics or beach days, I ride my bike to them.
IG: What is something you feel everyone must do once in their life?
JV: I think everyone should try to experience what it feels to try and take their bodies to their absolute limit. We have this wonderful machine to use, and I think people underestimate how much the average person can do. It could be running, cycling, hiking, or any intense physical activity, but there is this feeling of euphoria you get after exerting yourself for hours that is truly uplifting.
As weird as it sounds, going out there and sweating it out for hours until you can’t move anymore is one of the most relaxing things ever. If it sounds daunting just start small and take it one step further every time. Biking my first century is something I will never forget.
IG: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
JV: I make myself banana waffles for breakfast almost every day. It’s a healthy recipe that uses egg whites, oats, and cottage cheese. I love those waffles, and I wouldn’t mind at all eating them for the rest of my life. At least for breakfast, that’s already settled.
IG: Name one genre of games that you think is underrated.
JV: I love modern adventure games. I’m talking about games like What Remains of Edith Finch, Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Those games tell very interesting stories delivered in a way that’s truly unique to our medium. Whenever games use gameplay as a narrative device it makes me stare in awe at what they can achieve. I’m very envious of them and I hope that one day I can work on something along those lines too.
IG: What was the last concert you saw?
JV: I went to see Ghost in Tampa just the other day! They are one of my favorite bands, and I couldn’t pass the opportunity to see them live. I’ve been to three of their concerts: aside from the Tampa one, I went to their last one in Jacksonville like 4 years ago (which now that I think about it, almost coincides with when I started working here), and one in Seattle around 8 years ago. They always put on a great performance, and I totally recommend anyone to check ‘em out.
IG: What is the one song most likely to earn you a speeding ticket?
JV: First thing that popped to mind was Helter Skelter from The Beatles, for some reason. But speaking of Ghost, Mummy Dust is a good one to get your blood running.
The real answer though, is Remember Me, from the Initial D soundtrack.
IG: We’ve got a real speed racer here. What game have you spent the most time playing?
JV: Guild Wars is probably the game I’ve played the most. As a systems designer, I’m very impressed at how well put together it is. I started playing when the game came out 17 years (wow, yeah… has it been 17 years already?) and I’ve been playing the game on and off since then. I finally managed to get the GWAMM title last year, and this year I got a Ranger to lvl 20 in pre-searing, so I still log back in once in a while.
Also, at more than one point in my career I’ve found myself lurking in the game’s wiki trying to find inspiration for skills and abilities, and Guild Wars excels in that area.
However, if I combine all the hours I’ve put into every Pokémon game I’ve played, then that probably beats GW by a good margin, I’d say.
IG: Tell us more about your interests. What has been your favorite series binge?
JV: I’ve seen Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor more times than I want to admit. It’s a great anime, and it scratches that itch to overthink game systems that I have. Still hoping they pick it up again, but it seems unlikely.
IG: What’s one superpower that you would like to have?
JV: Is the power to not need to sleep a superpower? I guess infinite stamina is the same, no? You’d be able to get an extra third of your life to do anything you want. The best part is that is the most inconspicuous superpower ever, and nobody would know.
IG: Time to start chugging some Legs Protein Powders and Stamina Drinks. You get one wish. You can’t wish for more wishes. What do you wish for?
JV: To be perfectly blunt, I’d wish for money. Money buys health, stability, peace of mind, leisure, education, basically everything. Sure, it may not buy ‘love’, as they say, but money would allow you to have the ability to eliminate distractions to give you more time to find love.
IG: Given a time machine, which historical period would you like to experience first-hand?
JV: Honestly, I would be scared of dying, getting some disease from the past, or something along those lines. I like the present a lot, but if I have a time machine, I’d rather go to the future to see what kind of wacky adventures humanity got itself roped into. Do we solve climate change? Is the PlayStation 9 really a sphere like that trailer predicted? Only one way to find out.
IG: You’re thinking out the big need-to-know questions for us. What fictional universe would you choose over our own? What if there was no coming back?
JV: I’d be curious to live in a post-reaper Mass Effect universe. Yeah, getting captured by the reapers sounds pretty bad, but the universe after seems like an awesome place to explore and go have adventures. Also, humans can get those implants to do magic stuff, so that’s basically something anyone can do. Even if you can’t come back to our reality, you don’t have to go trailblazing in space, since you can just go back home to a now reaper-less earth.
IG: You’ve thought about this before. If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would you invite?
JV: I’ve always thought about how awesome it would be to meet myself from parallel universes where I made different decisions in life. What if I never decided to become a game developer? What would I be doing? Is there a version of myself that joined the circus?
While Circus Jose sounds like a great alternate Jose, we’re appreciative that Game Developer Jose decided to be a part of Iron Galaxy! Thanks for sharing with us during Hispanic Heritage Month, Jose. It was nice learning more about you and helpful hearing your advice for future game developers.
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