Recently, I was granted the opportunity to interview the Vitei Backroom team. In this in-depth interview, the team discusses the history and the structure of the Backroom and what it’s like to work in the video games industry. The team reveals never before known secrets about various prototypes they have developed and the future of the company.
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This interview was conducted June 19th, 2017 in the lobby of the Vitei Backroom in Kyoto. Bold text indicates statements or questions made by PushDustIn. The interview was transcribed and then sent to Giles Goddard and the Vitei Backroom team for approval.
Special thanks to Pauline Machabert of the Vitei Backroom for organizing this interview.
This interview represents over 14 hours of work. If you love what you see, please consider donating to the Source Gaming Patreon. We don’t run ads on this site, so the money we receive from donations is the only thing keeping this site up.
After reading this interview, check out our interview with Giles Goddard, the CEO of Vitei Games.
CM = Chris McLaughlin
PM = Pauline Machabert
JC = Jetha Chan
Table of Contents:
Page 1 — Introductions and History
Page 2 — Working in the Backroom
Page 3 — Backroom vs. Frontroom and Creative Freedom
Page 4 — Throwing Chickens in VR
Page 5 — How to Organize a Flat Company
Page 6 — Escaping Nintendo’s Shadow
Page 7 — Wrapping up the Party
Page 1 — Introductions and History
Can you briefly introduce yourselves?
CM: Hello, I’m Chris McLaughlin. I’m a programmer. ‘Tech Director’…I like the sound of that.
Giles was saying there wasn’t really a hierarchy here.
CM: I’m a programmer.
Well, we can say you are the ‘Tech Director’.
CM: Ok let’s say that.
PM: I’m Pauline Machabert, and I’m a programmer.
JC: I’m Jetha Chan, and I’m a programmer/project manager of sorts.
Ok, how long have you been with the backroom? Chris, let’s start off with you.
CM: I’ve been here for four years…pretty much since the start. [The Backroom] might’ve started six months before I joined, but I’ve been here pretty much the whole time.
Were you one of the first employees here?
CM: I think so. Because the Backroom is part of the Frontroom…Backroom and Frontroom aren’t separate companies, please be aware of that. At the time, [the Backroom] was just a department within Vitei. The people who were here before me…a couple of them…they are essentially still with Vitei, I guess.
Were you initially interested in VR, or were you more interested in the prototyping?
CM: The prototyping, definitely. The VR didn’t start until six months after I was there. I came and we were doing a bit of prototyping…text console. A text based game. That was mostly functional – that’s a particular programming style – functional programming with Clojure (https://clojure.org/). When Giles was at Nintendo, the story I heard was that he made a big push for moving to C++. At the time of that was unheard of…it was new. ‘Hang on, we just got used to C and before that a bit of assembly and now you are saying C++ is a thing.’ But Giles apparently led that push.
Giles and this other guy, Dani who used to be a big part of Vitei, he really pushed functional programming…which was another kind of ‘woah! why would you try to do this for games?’ thing, a bit like C++ was at the time for Giles -‘come on guys, this is going to be too slow’. Functional programming was like ‘come on guys, this is going to be too slow – I don’t care if it’s powerful’. So the first prototype was getting me up to speed on functional programming business.
Then after that, we worked on a real time strategy game…a network real-time strategy game that never really went anywhere in the end. Sadly, that’s how most prototypes go. You tend to think, ‘well that was interesting, but it’s not really much fun’, or ‘that was interesting but it’s not the right time for that or this is the kind of project that needs 200 people to be bothered making or whatever’. After that, Giles ordered [an Oculus DK1] and that arrived. I jammed another prototype we were working on the time into it and that’s when we started doing VR. [laughs]
[laughs] Alright, so Pauline how did you get involved with the Backroom?
PM: I joined first as a full-time employee but that only lasted a short time. I joined the Backroom two years ago. I was working on prototypes in Unity and not VR, and quite quickly, I moved on to being a part time, sometimes remote programmer…mainly on Powder. With Powder, I wasn’t exactly working with the Backroom because I wasn’t working with a team it was just Giles and me working on Powder. From France…from Ishigaki and from the Alps…and eventually in Kyoto.
I thought Powder was interesting as it wasn’t listed on the Backroom website.
PM: It’s because we [Giles and myself] started it as another tiny part of Vitei. It was intended to be an ‘island Vitei’.
So there was going to be three Viteis?
PM: Yeah but it only had me in it, so it wasn’t really a thing. Now it doesn’t really exist now I’m in the Backroom. It was my only real project, and I worked remote and part time…so my time with the Backroom really starts now. [When I was at the Alps] I was showing Powder every day to get feedback. It was really interesting to see people trying VR for the first time and enjoying it. So that was my Vitei Backroom time even though it wasn’t really…
You showed off Powder at last year’s BitSummit, right?
PM: Yeah, we had two games at BitSummit last year… Tiny Escape and Powder.
Are you interested in picking up Powder up again?
PM: Yeah, but we are currently focused on the VR games we are working on. We’ll see what happens in the future.
Alright, how about you Jetha?
JC: I joined Vitei Frontroom two years ago. Previously, I applied two years before that but the timing was wrong. However, when I came back from a working holiday I applied and everything happened in a blur and before I knew it I was working in the Frontroom. There I was an engine programmer on Tank Troopers which we shipped last December on the 3DS. I was in the Frontroom until the end of April and moved to the Backroom ever since.
I was talking with Giles about Tank Troopers and he said the online functionality was unfortunately cut.
JC: Yeah, it’s a shame. We had the functionality working…but you need to be really careful when you say stuff is done. Things can be done as in the functionality, as in – the code. Sure you can play an Internet game from here in Vitei to Nintendo but do you have matchmaking UI, do you have an online lobby…is it polished, is it consumer ready…and are all those things tested? If the answer is no, and you don’t have time in the schedule to complete those things, then I don’t know if you can call it done.
But it was exciting to do. Look at me, talking like I was involved with that but I wasn’t…my good friend Antti…he was involved with the network programming on that one. He did heroic work…they honestly thought we wouldn’t get it done and when we got it done it was like, ‘oh. okay’.
Kind of like ‘oh? Good for you guys’
JC: A little bit.