On the road to launch, we’ve sat down with Stormland insiders to learn about their role in the game’s development, including Insomniac Games Principal Designer Duncan Moore, Lead VFX Artist Yancy Young, and Oculus Studios Executive Producer David Yee. Today, we’re back with Insomniac Games Lead Gameplay Programmer Joel Bartley.
How did you get your start in the game industry?
Joel Bartley: I graduated with a Computer Science degree and started out working programming jobs outside of the game industry, but I had always loved gaming, growing up with Atari 2600, NES, SNES, and everything after. Eventually, I was working for a government contractor designing systems for the IRS. We had just finished a big project and were about to start on a new one. The challenges of the new system just seemed so boring, though. We had solved a lot of the problems with the first system, and the next project seemed like it would just be more of the same, so I decided I would take my lifelong passion for games and break into the game industry!
Obviously, this was easier said than done. I bought a bunch of books and taught myself 3D math and the basics of game programming. I scoured the internet for learning resources. In the evenings, I would work on a 3D asteroid shooter built in DirectX9 that I was using just to teach myself. I began applying to various game jobs in DC where I was living and in North Carolina where my wife’s family lived.
My break came when I was hired by Emergent Game Technologies in Chapel Hill, NC, to work on their Gamebryo game engine. I began working on the Nintendo Wii version of that engine, learning a ton along the way. After a couple years, I heard that Insomniac Games was opening a new studio right next door, in Durham, NC. I had always been a huge Ratchet & Clank fan, so it I knew that I had to apply. I got the job, and 11 years later, we’re still making awesome games!
What role did you play in the development of Stormland?
JB: I’m the Lead Gameplay Programmer on Stormland. In that role, I manage a team of programmers working on the game, try to keep schedules in line, and make sure everything is getting done when it needs to. I also led the UI team for the last year and ran several “strike teams” focusing on building out our procedural mission systems. In addition to my leadership roles, I still do a fair bit of programming! I built most of the hero skills for the game, as well as significant parts of the procedural level construction and mission generation systems.
One of the most interesting things that I worked on for the game was the dynamic level construction. Once a player finishes the main story, they gain access to the Stormland cycling world, where the world shifts and changes every week. Our environment and technical artists figured out how to make tons of islands to populate the world with lots of variation, and other folks on the team designed and built out systems for populating those islands with appropriate enemies, loot, and things to find. But we still needed a way to shift those islands around on the fly so that we didn’t have to manually construct fixed level geometry for every permutation of islands we wanted to test out.
This was a fun system to work on, as it involved digging deep into the engine to figure out how to move things that had never been moved—things like static physics bodies, light grids, navmesh, and more had just never needed to do this before. With help from various folks, we got it all working and now we can move an entire island around to anywhere we want when the game loads!
What’s your favorite part of the game and why?
JB: My favorite part of Stormland as a player is co-op battle planning. Talking things over with your friend, making plans, and taking out a tough set of enemies together is super fun! And once you unlock some of the higher-level skills, you can really take in some varied loadouts. Maybe one person has the Cloak Arm 2.0 skill and is able to allow both of you to sneak up on a giant Goliath bot without being seen. And maybe the other person has a high-level Grenade Launcher with the Specialty Ammo (higher ammo count) and Blast Processor (ignore explosive splash damage) skills. This second person can get right up on top of the Goliath and unload those grenades directly into its weak point without worrying about splash damage! Figuring out fun strategies like that is going to be a ton of fun for players, and I can’t wait to see what everybody comes up with!
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Joel—and for peeling back the curtain on Stormland’s cycling world. We can’t wait for players to finish the narrative campaign and dig in to all that this impressive game truly has to offer.