Etienne de Villiers

Etienne joined MPG as Senior Programmer in May 2019. He lives in Pringle Bay, South Africa and has been on the hugely successful Fall Guys project since joining us. We spoke to him about his career, his thoughts on the industry, and what he’s looking forward to next.

  • Role | Senior Software Engineer
  • Location | South Africa
  • Joined the industry | 2003
  • Number of games | 6 plus many unreleased
  • Superpower | Commenting code
  • Kryptonite | Documentation
  • Favourite language | C#
  • Favourite Software | Deezer
  • Game that changed you | Crystal Caves
  • Rock / paper / scissors | Depends

What attracted you to working in games?

I was hooked from the very first time I typed FD 10 in LOGO and watched that little turtle move on screen. The idea that you can type a few lines of code and shortly afterwards see something moving on screen still excites me. It is such a uniquely wonderful creative medium, where a complex visual result can sometimes be achieved so easily but the seemingly simplest thing can require years of mathematical knowledge or days of endlessly frustrating debugging.

How did you get into the industry?

When I finished high school I knew I wanted to become a game programmer, but there were no degrees in South Africa specialising in games back then (late 90s). Luckily there was a brand new “Multimedia” degree available, which combined Computer Science (CS) with other subjects such as Visual Design and Human Computer Interaction (HCI). These non-CS subjects I actually found really useful throughout my career, especially HCI which taught you about user-centric design and development.

After finishing my degree I was lucky enough to land a position as a programmer at the only proper game studio in South Africa at that time, I-Imagine Studios, which was part of the original Xbox incubator program. And I’ve been working in games ever since.

How is it different now from when you joined?

Two standout things are how easy it is to get started, and the wealth of information that is available. Someone that has never programmed before can now download Unity, work through a tutorial and have a simple little game prototype by the end of the day. And if they have a question, most likely they’ll be able to find the answer within a few minutes on StackOverflow.

I remember back in school me and a friend spent days attempting to get a 3D object to render in Pascal by trying to decipher a perspective projection algorithm that was printed in one of the back pages of a book on BASIC programming, which was the only resource we could get our hands on.

What's your proudest achievement?

I would probably say my recent character work on Fall Guys. Trying to get 60 physics-heavy characters in a small space all networked and playing nicely has been a really tricky, interesting and fun challenge. I had to write a new rag doll system as the 3rd party one just didn’t network properly and was killing the frame rate. I worked very closely with Joe (the lead designer) to try and get the character controlling and feeling like he envisioned, and to see players on Twitch or Youtube spontaneously burst out in laughter as their Fall Guy tries to stumble to victory has been very rewarding.

What game do you wish you'd worked on and why?

Probably Starcraft. I’ve never worked on a strategy game, even though I love strategy games and that is one of my all time favourites. 

Do you have any heroes in the industry?

Don’t know if I’m weird, but I don’t really have any heroes or people that I admire massively (except maybe someone like Nelson Mandela!). More important to me has been all the amazing people that I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with over the years, of which there are too many to mention or single out!

What changes would you like to see in the industry?

Firstly: I think there is still a severe lack of diversity in game development, especially in programming. Hopefully with interest in programming becoming much more widespread recently it can accelerate the rate of improvement we have seen in this area.

Secondly: when I started out in the games industry I used to have to do a lot of unpaid overtime / excessive crunch. Luckily I’ve not had this for many years now, but if this is still a “thing” it is an evil that needs to be rooted out. So if your company subjects you to this, go work at a better company, like MPG!

What are you looking forward to?

Um, this is such a broad open-ended question….  It would be quite nice if we could get half the planet declared a national park so we could try and save the world from us pesky humans.

How has the pandemic changed the way you work?

Luckily for me, very little, as I’ve been working remotely from home for over 8 years.

Pringle Bay, South Africa

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