Q: Hello Nicolas! First things first: Cybulski isn’t a name commonly heard in Belgium, so I suspect your roots lie abroad?
A: You have no idea how often I had to answer that question. Here goes: my two grandfathers – yes, both of them – were Polish soldiers in the allied forces liberating Europe. After the war they came back to Belgium, and I guess it was for more than chocolate and beer. There you have it.
Q: Why do you like video games? Have you always liked them?
A: I have played video games as long as I can remember. As a kid, I used to go swimming just because in the canteen they had two arcade machines. Man, I loved those arcade cabinets. It’s extremely cool to see them reappear in the indie scene. I am old enough to have seen the entire evolution of gaming, all the way from Nintendo’s Game & Watch to modern day mobile gaming. It’s fascinating to see how it made full circle. Even the core gameplay mechanics of many of those games have returned. I guess, when you wait long enough everything comes back.
Q: Did you always aspire a career in game development?
A: Definitely! Unfortunately, in the late nineties there wasn’t much of a games industry in Belgium, so it always seemed like some far off fantasy. One day I read an article in a games magazine about Larian Studios. After warming up the old dial-up modem I immediately mailed them and not much later I got invited for a talk with Swen [Vincke, CEO and founder of the company – ed] Their office was a small chaotic mess in the middle of a residential street. Almost everybody chain smoked and the place was littered with Coca-Cola and Red Bull cans. I was immediately in love with it! I was incredibly lucky that my school allowed me to do my internship at Larian Studios because at that time, people in Belgium didn’t take the games business very seriously.
Q: How do you feel about game development in Belgium today?
A: I think there is a lot of activity going on in Belgium right now. Bernard and I were at the Belgian pavilion at Gamescom this year and it was an absolute beehive – very cool. There is so much talent that finally finds its way to game development. There are a lot of local gatherings of game developers and initiatives like The House of Indie, Brotaru, FLEGA, DAE, that are systematically bringing people together. It feels like one big family where everybody tries to help out one another.
“There are a lot of local gatherings of game developers that are systematically bringing people together. It feels like one big family where everybody tries to help one another.”
Q: Where did you work before joining PreviewLabs?
A: Like I’ve already mentioned, I’ve worked a while for Larian Studios. After that I’ve worked as programmer and project manager in a lot of industries. I’ve done IT-projects for slaughterhouses, leasing companies and what not.
I think it’s a good thing to leave your comfort zone sometimes. At least for a while. That way you meet people from all walks of life. I have met the most interesting people in places I would have least expected them. I learned to have an open mind and listen to people. Those skills are very important in game development, especially when you want to be a project manager.
Q: How did you end up with a job at PreviewLabs?
A: A friend of mine who used to work for Guerrilla Games told me about PreviewLabs. Bernard was looking for a project manager at the time, and I felt like I was ready to go back to my game development roots.
“I think it’s a good thing to leave your comfort zone sometimes. I have met the most interesting people in places I would’ve least expected them.”
Q: You’re PreviewLabs’ brand new project manager. Will you only be monitoring development or are you going to pitch in with design ideas or programming yourself?
A: My job is actually very versatile. In general I’m handling projects once they’ve passed the sales phase. That means that I have to organize the workload of the developers, handle communication with the customers, attend meetings and so forth. I also get to make gameplay recommendations (my favorite part of the job), do networking, and remind Bernard about stuff he forgets about.
Q: I’m sure there are plenty, but if you have to point out one, what’s the key reason a company should work with PreviewLabs?
A: We don’t just work for our customers – we work with them. We have tons of experience in-house to advise and guide our customers, so they can achieve their goals.
Q: In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge PreviewLabs faces at the moment? How do you aim to overcome this?
A: PreviewLabs is growing fast. That is fantastic news, but along with growth come a few challenges that, when managed correctly, allow a company to become solid. When mismanaged however, it can make the foundations of the company crumble resulting, in unhappy customers and disgruntled employees. Out of experience, I can tell you it’s a scenario that happens all too often.
A company needs a strategy for growth. It needs to implement the right tools and set up structures to allow for good communication. However, there is no silver bullet to achieve this – it is not an exact science. In my role as project manager, I aim to help PreviewLabs grow to be a key player in the industry. That’s somewhat a lofty goal. But you have to think big, don’t you?
Q: Can you think of a flawed game you’ve played that could’ve done with a bit more prototyping?
A: I think all games benefit going through an extensive prototyping period. I sometimes see games that have a lot of potential but don’t deliver. But blaming that on poor prototyping, without knowing the entire story, is a bit arrogant. There are countless parameters that can make or break a game…
“A company needs a strategy for growth. It needs to implement the right tools and set up structures to allow for good communication.”
Q: Do you still find the time in your daily life to play video games? What’s the last game you’ve played properly?
A: I wish I had more time to game. But between my job and my family there just isn’t a lot of spare time to really sit down and play properly. The last game I’ve really invested quite some time in must be Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. Lately I tend to play more indie platform games.
Q: What do you look for in a video game?
A: I don’t really have a genre I prefer over others. In my opinion it’s all about the gameplay. A good platform game (e.g. Guacamelee!) can be just as fun as a really deep RPG (e.g. Fallout: New Vegas). As long as it’s fun to play, I’m happy with it. That’s what games are about, in my opinion.
Q: What game is so good you would’ve really liked to work on it?
A: That’s a tough question. I wish I would have come up with Fez. That game blew me away. So simple, yet so beautiful.
I can be envious of people who come up with ideas that are really simple, but no one thought about before. Take Spaceteam for example – in itself it’s the dumbest thing there is, but it’s executed to perfection.
Q: If you wouldn’t be working at PreviewLabs right now, what’s the second best game studio in the world you’d like to work at?
A: As a fanboy, I’d say Blizzard. I would love to be part of that huge circus. But it’s a big company and I guess they are sometimes jammed between huge corporate interests and a fan base that is almost impossible to please.
So I’d say a small studio. Something you can put your back into and help make big.
Q: Apart from video games, do you have any other major pastime activities?
A: Like I said, I’m quite the family guy. I guess my major pastime is walking the dogs and making sure my house isn’t a total warzone. Given the soldier status of my two sons, that’s not always an easy task. Other than that I practice some martial arts, play the drums and drink the occasional alcoholic beverage … and then some!
Thanks for your time and good luck with the new challenge. Now go manage the hell out of those projects!