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Yui Meet Iron Galaxy

#MEETIRONGALAXY - Yui Castaneda, Software Engineer

03/20/2023   •   Written By Thomas Braaksma

Like precisely slicing a piece of fish for sushi, it takes a focused mind to solve programming puzzles to build the games we play.

In this interview series, you will meet a variety of Iron Galaxians that help put together the pieces of the games we build. This time around, we speak with Yui Castaneda, who lends her talents as a Software Engineer at our Chicago studio. She started with us in April 2022. Let’s find out what she’s been up to since then!

Iron Galaxy: Who are you and what would you say you do here at Iron Galaxy?

Yui Castaneda: Heya! I’m Yui and I’m a Software Engineer here! I have been here for almost a year now. I came into work pretty much immediately after college. I applied and went through the hiring process before graduation. This is my first job in the video game industry. I’d say a lot of what I do is learning while solving programming puzzles, which most people like to call tasks. I also talk to a lot of people while making social connections. Fun fact: I used to be a sushi chef, and I will take any opportunity to talk about sushi!

IG: Let me save that open invite to talk about sushi for a little later. For now, tell us about the most challenging aspect of your job.

YC: Fighting imposter syndrome, to be honest. Engineering challenges and skills can be conquered with time. Talking to people, although a little challenging at times, eventually comes as I warm up to them. I refined my soft skills, like time management and prioritization, at my previous jobs. Imposter syndrome though? Rubbing shoulders with people who’ve been doing this for years or had other engineering jobs for years is super intimidating! However, everyone here is kind and willing to teach, explain, and assure.

IG: Imposter syndrome is a very real thing in any industry. Like you said, the people at Iron Galaxy are always willing to reassure us that we’re in the right place. What is the one skill you learned growing up that you use the most in your role?

YC: Giving it my all, whether it means understanding the entire structure of a system, asking questions, experimenting, or breaking things. There is always some way forward to whatever I want to achieve. Sometimes I face problems that are intimidating, but the thing that always matters in the end is giving it a shot and putting in the strongest effort possible.

IG: You do need to break a few things to get it right sometimes! What has been your proudest moment as a member of the Iron Galaxy team?

YC: There are several that stand out, but the biggest one was watching Rumbleverse launching and reaching the hands of gamers. I was obsessed with watching the community discord, fan videos, funny moment compilations, and streamers enjoying the game. It was also fun watching people get so much better at the game and discover some crazy techniques I could never even dream of. Also, it’s neato that Rumbleverse was the first game with my name in the credits!

IG: Being a fly on the wall in the discord was certainly interesting. How is your job unique when compared to the other roles in our company.

YC: What makes my job unique is that I can listen to the problems that people in other areas encounter and do something about it. I lean more towards systems and tools work, which allows me to help others by building tools that they need or make it easy to change the jump height of a character, for example. Essentially, I can make the jobs of my coworkers easier. I also enjoy the ability to make these tools easier to use, so I treat it as an exercise in mindfulness.

IG: It’s gotta be rewarding to be the solution to your coworkers’ problems. What type of advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your career footsteps?

YC: Hold onto your goals tightly while honing your skills and stay true to yourself. If you lose sight of why you want to do what you love, it becomes easy to lose the resolve to follow through and reach that goal. It nearly happened to me on my spaghetti noodle path to where I am today, but little reminders helped me keep that resolve and persevere. Also, staying true to yourself is important for your happiness and to, by you being happy, share that happiness with others.

IG: When you are true to yourself, you spread happiness around. The answers in these interviews never cease to amaze me. What is the best thing about working at a video game development company?

YC: Seeing and hearing how much fun everyone has outside of working. Working in person, it means seeing people come together to play games at the end of the day, even if some games are new to people. It means learning about how people spend time gaming with friends, family, and co-workers at home or online. It’s a heartwarming reminder that everyone in this company enjoys being here and enjoys what they do.

IG: It doesn’t feel like work when you’re surrounded by people that love what they do. What is your favorite perk associated with your job?

YC: The different projects that Iron Galaxy is working on and helping others launch or support their games. The amount of love for IG I’ve seen online from people and other studios makes me smile every time and I am glad I get to be a part of those relationships in one way or another.

IC: Though we keep a lot of our projects top secret, it’s still heartwarming to see the response when a game that we supported has its launch day. How collaborative are you with different teams across Iron Galaxy?

YC: On official projects, I haven’t had to collaborate all that much. During internal game jams, it was a fun time to talk to people I never met, in disciplines I never interacted with, which harkened back to university game jams and classes. It’s fun to bring an idea to fruition together, seeing different components from the different disciplines progress, and eventually make it into our project. Seeing that process from pros in real time was super cool! Can’t wait to see more of that!

IG: Game jams are learning experiences! We’ve touched on this a little already, but can you elaborate more on seeing people react to something you helped create?

YC: It never stops being exciting to see people having a blast with the thing you made. It is a similar joy I felt when strangers enjoyed the sushi I made, just on a way bigger scale.

IG: Sushi, a common theme we’re seeing in this interview! More on that soon. What is the biggest impact you’ve ever seen a video game have on someone’s life?

YC: To be honest, that someone’s life is mine! I’ve got a heavy answer, but I’ll keep it light. I had a very rough childhood with a not so happy family. During one Christmas morning, I was involved in a traumatic event which shattered everything I understood up until then. Despite being broken by that, I managed to keep my mind together through some dialogue in a game I got that same morning. “There is nothing wrong with fighting to bring about peace,” is the line that helped me process what I had just experienced and shaped my resolve from then on (also yes, little Yui played DBZ: Budokai back in the day!). Maybe it made me stubborn, but since then, I always give it my all when it comes to acting on something I believe is right. This game is the reason why I wanted to become a developer: so that I can bring joy to the lives of those who need it the most, just like games did for me in my childhood.

IG: Thank you for being able to share your wisdom with us.

What is your favorite pro-tip for working from home?

YC: I’ve got a couple of tips actually.

1. Make sure you have some way of making physical contact with some living creature. Doesn’t matter if it’s a person, or a pet, or a houseplant. This is especially important when you are going days at a time at home, with the possibility of being alone for large stretches of time to release some oxytocin in your brain and feel good.

2. Do not feel obligated to respond to things after your allotted work time for the day. You have a life, you have things to do and take care of, so don’t neglect that for spending more time than you need to with work stuff. Silence notifications if you need to. Lots of apps allow you to schedule your work hours and not push notifications at you outside of that range. You have a life, despite what you may say in jest!

IG: Terrific tips to live by. Speaking of home, where is your hometown?

YC: Chicago, born and raised! It’s nice to work in the same city I grew up in, because lots of peers didn’t grow up here, so I can give them all the recommendations for restaurants, museums, hidden gems, and points of interest.

IG: Going to have to take you up on some of those hidden gems! Aside from playing video games, what is another hobby that you occupy your time with?

YC: Recently I’ve been getting into Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, and I went into it without hesitation. It was quite the investment, but there is something relaxing and meditative about painting tiny details with an accurate hand, having to focus intensely on something for a good stretch of time. This has also allowed me to scratch my itch to play chess! It’s one of my favorite games and Warhammer feels like an expanded version of that. Besides, there’s something satisfying about outwitting your opponent as a strategist.

Aside from that, I rotate between playing my guitar, learning how to get better at playing the shinobue, a high-pitched Japanese folk flute made from bamboo, and messing around with electronics. It’s kind of interesting seeing how working on those Warhammer figures increases my accuracy with a soldering iron.

IG: I’ve heard you practice the shinobue in the kitchen area and it sounded lovely. What is something you feel everyone must do once in their life?

YC: Travel and genuinely attempt to assimilate to the culture abroad to some degree, however minor. When you give into a new culture and even semi step into the shoes of people who live in another place and culture than you, you end up learning that everyone in this world has something in common. We all eat, we all work on stuff, and we all have people we care about. Many things might be different on higher abstraction levels but the essence of it all is still the same.

IG: The things that make us different are really what make us human and essentially the same. What is something you have always wanted to create?

YC: I’ve always wanted to recreate Samus’ helmet from Metroid Prime into something wearable and usable, complete with the various visors that you can find in the game. Although having an x-ray emitting device on a helmet would probably not be a good idea, I’d replace it with an infrared camera. Thermal cameras exist so that’s already a possibility. Maybe have an AI powered camera to identify objects would be a cool replacement for the scan visor since that’s already a thing. Oh! Maybe there could be like O2 and heartrate stats overlayed on the screen with a HUD? Maybe thermometers on screen too, for internal and external temps? The real challenge would be to keep all the functionality without imposing on the aesthetic of the helmet.

IG: Sounds like you put some thought into this. Maybe someone in studio that worked on the Metroid Prime Remastered can commission you to build it!

Now I have an idea what you might say to this next question! If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

YC: I would choose sushi! Not a surprise, is it? The thing lots of people don’t know about sushi is that it isn’t just raw fish and rice. Sushi can be anything you make of it. It can have vegetables, cooked beef, egg, you name it! If you can apply the technique to your ingredients, you can have any combination of foods you’d like in a convenient to eat bite.

My top 3 are as follows:

1. Yui Maki – I invented this one using my roommate as a test subject over the course of months. It is a roll with salmon, yellowtail, avocado, and green onions in the middle, and is topped with thin slices of salmon. This is one I always recommend dipping in soy sauce. The creaminess of the roll contrasted with the salt of the soy sauce is the perfect pairing!

2. Godzilla Maki – The Godzilla maki I made at my old job is by far the best one in my opinion. Super big, filling, and creamy, sweet, and savory at the same time with a variety of textures. It’s shrimp, cream cheese, and avocado rolled and then covered in tempura crunch, eel sauce, and wasabi mayo. I highly recommend spicy mayo on top instead of the wasabi mayo we used because it magnifies the dish!

3. Salmon nigiri – Simple and classic, but that’s what makes this great. The best ones are the fish with thick, white fat lines which makes for buttery and rich bites.

Left: Godzilla Maki, Right: Yui Maki

IG: Those all sound delicious. There has been a lot of sushi talk so far including your time as a sushi chef. Have any of your skills as a chef been transferable to your work as a Software Engineer?

YC: A few transferred over actually! The first one is people skills. Being able to hold a conversation, being able to smoothly obtain information that I need out of a conversation, and making people laugh or smile is something that is invaluable to a place with lots of people I see often. Happiness begets happiness, so starting that chain is something I try hard at. Sharing snacks or food is a good way to spread that happiness as well! The second one is time management. Working on sushi, you have a lot of tasks to complete in a tight window of time while also responding to changing demands at a moment’s notice. Sometimes that means progressing two things at once while setting one thing on hold for a moment. Not long ago here at Iron Galaxy, I was working on three things at once, pivoting onto a task after making progress on another to switch things up. That skill transferred directly. The final one is creativity. Sometimes while working as a sushi chef, I would encounter people that wanted to have a particular roll but could not have certain ingredients for one reason or another. That’s where I had to be creative by leveraging my skills, knowledge, and ingredients to, for example, accommodate a vegan eater and convert a fish heavy roll into something that was vegan friendly using mushrooms. This is where I learned to embrace unconventional but effective solutions and is something I like to apply to my work here at Iron Galaxy whenever I can. Also, whenever someone asks something of me, I do my best to deliver the best and most satisfying experience with whatever I’m delivering, whether it be sushi or tools.

IG: Amazing how different two jobs can be, but the skill sets can be so similar. What is your favorite travel destination that you have visited?

YC: I would have to say it is Kumamoto City, Kyushu in Japan. It is a city in Japan that is right next to the ocean, so seeing the ocean is a train ride away, and you don’t even need to leave the train since the track runs along the ocean! It is so scenic! There’s lots to do in Kumamoto City itself. There’s a semi active volcano nearby which you can visit, lots of rural shrines to visit with some being rather otherworldly. Most important of all, I have a found family there with people I bonded with, who were so kind to me. I want to return the favor one day, meaning I must go back to Kumamoto!

IG: It sounds lovely and welcoming. Was there any place in Japan you didn’t get to visit or hope to see one day?

YC: Hiroshima. I’ve read so many accounts from survivors, seen so many pictures from that day, and seen many films from people who lived through that destruction, that I now need to go to Hiroshima to pay my respects to the people that lost their lives, and to the people who made it out alive, suffering ailments from radiation. They all deserve respect.

IG: Going back to your answer of assimilating to a culture through travel you’d see why you’d have such a big heart when it comes to emphasizing to a community that had such a tragedy happen.

What game have you spent the most time playing?

YC: The game I have spent the most time playing is Final Fantasy XIV. This game is how I kept in touch with my roommate while he was teaching in Japan for two years. It is how I stayed connected with people pseudo-physically when I was going through a stretch of time not interacting with anyone outside of work. It's how I bonded with friend circles and my Free Company (or guild if you aren’t familiar with the terminology). I have so many memories and experiences with so many people that I care about thanks to this game. As a result of all that, I have about 3,000 hours logged onto that game. Not all of it was active, mind you, but a fair share of it was. Feel free to check out Yui Khutt in Jenova!

IG: 3,000 hours is a heavy investment but that’s the magic of a great game, you’ll get pulled into the world and get lost in it! What about one superpower that you would like to have?

YC: I’ve thought about this for a long time, but I came up with a thorough answer. I wish for the power of shape-shifting. No matter what or who I turn into, I retain my sense of self, consciousness, and ability to transform, even if the target is an inanimate object, in addition to the properties of my target form. Additionally, if I turn into someone who is supposed to have powers, I can use those powers as my own along with my ability to transform as long as I am in that form completely, so no partial transformations to gain full powers. The reason why is to just be adaptable to any sort of situation I could ever imagine end up being in. Besides, having various choices is nice!

IG: It’s like you would be able to have it all but retain yourself. That would be a great wish in itself but for the next question, you can have one more wish. You can’t wish for more wishes. What do you wish for?

YC: I’d wish for the genie’s freedom from genie-hood, but they got to keep their powers, if they aren’t going to destroy the world or if they just want to live their life and help people. Of course, I’d have to stay in touch just to make sure they’re doing alright, and if they needed help adapting or just learning about our world, I’d teach them and give them a hand.

Then in return, I’d have a new friend with magic powers that could help me out with my needs!

IG: There are some very empathetic loopholes going on here. What fictional universe would you choose over our own? What if there was no coming back?

YC: If I must stick with my current body, I’d just go to the world of Splatoon. It is generally safe, still modern and urban, so familiar, and most people just want to vibe. I wouldn’t have to be at risk of some large-scale war, I’d have food and friends, shelter, and internet (splatnet?). I could even get a pet salmon that follows me around everywhere.

IG: If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would you invite?

YC: I would invite Iron Galaxy’s own Dave Lang along with a few friends who seem to be super Dave Lang fans. I want to see the joy on their faces seeing the person they rave about while seeing Dave Lang be Dave Lang in that context since he does pretty well in the limelight. Also, who doesn’t love Dave Lang? Having worked under him and interacted with him directly several times, or watching live streams, or seeing what he says and delivers, he cares about people. I see why my friends are super fans!

IG: Dave does have a way with words and a way with people. Maybe this dinner will become true when he reads this!

Thanks for taking the time to sit down and talk with us today it’s been a pleasure. With all this talk about sushi, we are going to have to swing past your old work and pick up a couple of rolls to taste test in the studio!

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