Welcome back for another installation of Meet the Team at PreviewLabs! This week, we’re getting to know Domien De Mol, a game prototyping programmer in the Belgian HQ.
Q: Good afternoon, Domien! I hear you’re one of the older dudes in the company. Do you remember a life without computers? Or were they always part of your life?
A: Recently a bunch of new colleagues popped up who are all older than me, so I’m not alone! We got our first PC when I was about five, I think. A maxi tower with a mighty Intel 286 processor and 5.25” flexible floppies! Maybe a coincidence, but I remember little to nothing about my life before that…
Q: What was the first game you played back then?
A: That was Sokoban (or some clone, I can’t even find a screenshot). It’s a puzzle game where you have to push boxes to a target location in a warehouse-like environment. My dad put a sticky note on the PC with the instructions “Insert floppy, type A:, type Sokoban”, because we couldn’t remember the order ourselves.
After that it was probably Alley Cat, a collection of cat-based mini-games in true glorious CGA colors. That was one of the few games my sister actually wanted to play with me.
Q: So what’s an average day like for you in the Belgian office?
A: Most days I’m the first one to arrive in the morning because the office is really close to home, and I ride my bike every day. I encounter no traffic except some school kids riding way too slow for my trained legs! After recovering from my ride, I get right to business and start whipping up prototypes while I make some coffee to survive the rest of the day.
Q: Now, your career didn’t begin in the games industry — how big of a change was that for you? What made you choose PreviewLabs?
A: The major change was being able to work on things that genuinely interest me. That makes it way more fun, of course.
I wasn’t actively looking for a new job, but I did scan job openings once in a while. PreviewLabs immediately stood out for me because it was a game prototyping company very close to me.
Q: What makes game prototyping so attractive to you?
A: Well, it’s mostly getting to work on very different short projects instead of infinitely polishing and tweaking a large monolith.
We also get to experiment and work with lots of new gadgets and technologies: at the moment, that’s mainly AR, VR, and some funky controllers.
I also like that I’m able to focus more on programming work instead of doing non-development tasks — as opposed to my previous job, there’s not too much testing, installing, going live, and follow-up support (which was often on location, in a noisy factory).
Q: How much of your previous work experience has helped with your current job?
A: Because it’s a different context and technology, it’s mainly general development skills and communication. I did have to use different programming and languages which come in handy once in a while (SQL, for example).
I did pick up some necessary ‘soft skills’ though. I think I learned a lot about working on a project with other people. I was a very timid little boy when I first started working.
Q: So what, officially, is your role at PreviewLabs?
Q: Talk to me a little bit about some of the projects you’re working on (Bernard sent me a list). What’s this Tuning System I see on here?
A: Ah, the beautiful tuning system! PreviewLabs includes this with every prototype to give the client a lot of options to tune and tweak the features. This gives them the tools to experiment with it and to evaluate the concept.
The problem was that this tuning system was getting outdated — it was made in a different Unity time period and didn’t look very good. So, I got to rewrite it in a modern, PreviewLabs-inspired style based on a design we made.
For Pain Buddy, I got to make an awesome new minigame that we are all addicted to. Kasper thought of a hybrid of Tetris, Connect-4 and Bejeweled. And miraculously, it works!
A completely different thing I had the honor to do was implementing Spotify support in a VR health game of one of our clients. What looked rather simple turned into a great adventure into the depths of compiling Chromium (the open source engine behind the Google Chrome browser). Totally different than making a game in Unity, but I enjoyed the challenge and the reward of getting it working.
I also got to make a forklift simulator in VR. You control the forklift with the Vive controllers and drive using pedals. It’s really fun to drive around and try to tip over the forklift and make you sick. Although obviously not the point of the simulator, but trying to hit the factory worker, innocently walking around, was cool as well. This may be Carmageddon’s fault. I swear I don’t do that on the road! And if I did, I would definitely not allow you to share it on our company blog.
Q: What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on so far (and are able to talk about on the blog, of course)?
A: I think my favorite one is still the first project I ever got to make: a casual game prototype. Probably partly because it was my first project; that’s always a bit special. A new company, getting to make a game! It was also nice to make because it was for an entertainment game. And best of all, the client was really happy.
My favorite project is still the first I got to make — that’s always a bit special.
Q: Working with virtual reality has to be a big change from your last job. Do you enjoy the VR projects, and testing out all the new headsets and peripherals when they come in?
A: Of course! It’s always fun to test out new gadgets and see how they try to improve the VR experience. Now if only they didn’t mess up my hair by putting them on and off 500 times a day…
Q: I hear you welcomed your second child into the world earlier this year — congrats! How’s that working out for you? Do you have any free time to play video games that aren’t work-related?
A: Finding time to play games is of course way harder than when I was a student. It’s hard now seeing how much time my younger colleague Matthew can spend playing games compared to me! But, I do manage to clear 30 minutes to an hour most days to play something, after the kids are in bed (and stay there, with some luck). I only have to give up some sleep, but who needs that anyway?
Q: Back in the days before parenthood, what types of video games did you play the most? What was the last game you really enjoyed?
A: I think I played and enjoyed most genres, from slower tactical games to fast-paced shooters, and everything in between. Horror games are not my thing, though.
The last game I completed and really enjoyed was Divinity: Original Sin. It only took me half a year (110 game hours). It’s a Belgian isometric RPG with a lot of tactics, systems and freedom. It’s really good. The successor to it is already released but I didn’t find the time yet to play it and obsessing about it for now. It does hurt that Matthew completed it in only a few weeks though.
Q: If you could take a vacation anywhere, where would you go, and what would you do?
A: I’m a mountain person, so somewhere with beautiful mountains. Snow is optional but welcome. Day activity would then either be trekking, snowboarding or mountain biking. A beer or two to relax afterwards is mandatory. Oh, and a bit of time to game of course!
I’ve been to Canada before and would definitely not decline going there again. But I also want to explore other parts of the world. So many beautiful places still to visit…
Q: It seems you have a solid relationship with coffee.
A: Yes, I do love coffee, but I honestly managed to temper my addiction. I just need a (large) cup in the morning and one (alright, maybe two) in the afternoon. You should also know I’m PreviewLabs’ official coffee master. Sorry, maybe I’m talking too much about the subject now, but it’s really not a problem to combine the art of coffee with the madness of 2 small kids. I’ve taught them to give me 5 minutes to make it!
Thank you, Domien. Enjoy your brew!