Q: Hi there Jannes! We always refer to you as Jannes, but it would be very nice to also know your last name. And while we’re on the subject: do you like your name?
A: My full name is Jannes Plyson. I do like my name, as it’s always a surprise how people will pronounce it in English.
Q: Did you always aspire a career in game/software development? Why (not)?
A: I always wanted to work in game development, but I actually never thought it would be possible given the small size of the Belgian games industry. So I’m very grateful I got the opportunity to start my career at PreviewLabs. I started out working part time for them while I was finishing my Master’s degree at the University of Ghent, and was the first guy to join Bernard in his living room to help prove the concept of PreviewLabs.
Q: What was so enticing about the PreviewLabs concept that you were prepared to work in a living room for quite some time?
A: Like most people do, I was looking for a job when I was finishing up my studies. The college I attended helps (ex-)students by regularly mailing them interesting job offers. One of these mailings mentioned a vacancy for a programming job at PreviewLabs. Since gaming related work opportunities were few and far between, it instantly piqued my interest. On top of that, the company was based in Wetteren, which was close to Ghent, where I was living at the time. Because of all that and the simple fact that the job really turned out to be my cup of tea, I didn’t mind working in a living room one bit.
“Prototyping projects tend to be on the short side, and having to work on a project for only a month instead of several years makes sure the job stays varied and interesting.”
Q: A lot of people that work in games start an adventure abroad. Why did you decide to stay in Belgium?
A: I had so many ties with Belgium and I had no intention to cut them all at once. The games industry in Belgium is quite small. I don’t think that will change quickly since it’s still much easier to rake in the big bucks creating business software than it is to make money from entertainment software. That’s a risky financial leap only a few people will dare to make.
Q: What do you like about prototyping?
A: I love being challenged while learning new technologies all the time. Prototyping projects tend to be on the short side, and having to work on a project for only a month instead of several years makes sure the job stays varied and interesting.
Q: Since you’re the most experienced employee, do you get bragging rights? Can you choose on what prototypes you’d rather work?
A: While I’m the employee with the biggest service record, I don’t get to choose my own projects. Of course, it’s only logical some projects get assigned to me since I have worked on similar jobs, and have built up experience with a particular technology. Unless we need to shift into a higher gear to nail a tight deadline, every programmer works independently on his own projects. The other guys do consult me from time to time when they run into trouble on their projects, though.
Q: Do you mostly program or can you pitch in with design ideas of your own?
I mostly program, but how we implement stuff is always up to the programmers.
Q: Where did the love for video games sprout?
A: I’ve liked video games for as long as I can remember. I started out with a Nintendo 64 before moving on to pc gaming. Even though I still play my games on the pc nowadays, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time still holds a special place in my heart. In my opinion, it’s the best game ever, but that may also be the nostalgia talking.
Q: Do you still have room in your agenda to play video games from time to time? What’s the last game you’ve played properly?
A: As I’ve recently become a father for the first time, it’s getting harder and harder to conjure some spare time to play games, but I’m trying to squeeze in an hour here and there. The last game I played from start to finish is probably The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I also played Fallout 4, but didn’t complete it since it was similar to Fallout: New Vegas. Since I commute a lot, I started playing Titan Quest on my Android phone. I played this game a lot on PC, so it’s fun to play it again on the phone.
“I wouldn’t like to have worked on my favorite games. Knowing them inside out before playing them would really destroy a big part of the fun.”
Q: Seems like you love your role playing games! In your opinion, what does a video game need to offer to be a great game?
A: I think it really depends on the type of game. I look for different things in different genres. While playing shooters I don’t really care about the story, as long as the level design is top notch. While playing an RPG though, the story’d better grab me by the throat or I will quickly lose interest. High quality graphics are a nice thing to have, but they won’t make or break the experience.
Q: Apart from video games, any other major pastime activities?
Two years ago, my wife and I bought a house in Roeselare-Beveren, in the western part of the country. On top of that, I recently became the proud father of a baby girl Norah, who was born July 28th, 2015. I love to spend time with my family and have fun with my daughter. Watching television is also a great way to relax and turn off my brain completely.
Q: Apart from video games, any other major pastime activities?
Recently I also started to play around with Arduino. In combination with my RepRap 3D printer, I’m working on creating a simple robot. I enjoy discovering the limitation of electronics and sensors and finding ways to make them functional in the real world.
Before working at PreviewLabs I experimented with programming in different 3D engines. I also didn’t like how trees looked in old games. That’s why I worked on a procedural tree generator for JMonkeyEngine. (available here). This project was a bit too time intensive to combine it with work, so I abandoned it in 2012.
Q: What game is so good you would’ve really liked to have worked on it? Why?
A: I actually don’t think I’d like to have worked on my favorite games, since knowing them inside out would really destroy the fun you could have with them. I’d much rather have worked on a game that direly needs improving in the programming department. Take The Walking Dead for example. Storywise, Telltale did so much interesting stuff, but the engine was an utter mess. If only they could’ve poured the same amount of dedication into the development of a proper engine as they did in writing the scenes and characters, the game could have been even more successful.
Q: In the highly uncertain event of PreviewLabs closing down, what’s the second best game studio in the world you’d like to work at?
A: I’m not sure I would stay in the business when that happens, as finding work close by would be my number one priority.
Crystal clear! Thanks for your time and good luck with raising your kid and convincing Telltale they really need to update their technology!