News Meet the Team #13- Sandy Sammarco (Senior Designer)

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Meet the Team #13- Sandy Sammarco (Senior Designer)



Hi everyone, we’re back again for another Meet The Team interview, this time with Senior Designer Sandy Sammarco, someone a lot of you guys have been waiting to hear from. In this interview Sandy has some great advice on getting into the video games industry as well the importance of the Design Discussion Forum.
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Sandy it is a pleasure to have you here; there are a lot of people interested in seeing what you have to say.
First of all how long have you worked at Frontier Developments and what other projects have you worked on?

I’ve been at Frontier for six years or so and previously worked on several projects involving variously: super-cute kittens and cubs, thrill-seeking crazies and desperate secret agents.​

How did you get to where you are today and what advice would you give to anyone else hoping to get where you are?
After many completely fulfilling – and not at all horrific – years working in a bankers’ clearing house, wanting to get into the games industry but not trying, I decided that trying might be a more productive option. Luckily, all the time I had wasted being a PC gamer (back when getting games to load as well as your mouse driver was a game in of itself) finally paid off – I managed to secure a job manning the technical support phone line for a games publisher. From there I graduated to third-party production then transferred across to a development studio; I’ve been in design roles ever since.
Advice for getting into the games industry? Sure - don’t do what I did. That’s like the long route, dude. You want to be a designer? Go for it! Study games, games theory, game engines, make stuff, take it seriously.
Put the effort in, put yourself about, and don’t let people put you off – what the heck do they know anyhow? Nothing can stop you except yourself and the random number generator of life – but you can’t do anything about that, so don’t worry about it.​
Which elements of Elite: Dangerous are you most excited about?
The missions and events system. It’s a complicated beast, but if we can pull it off the player will always have a multitude of interesting plots to become entangled with (intentionally and accidentally).
These generated game play sequences will be able to use current, system and galactic events, as well as player history, to help keep the experience of a logical narrative but importantly, the end result should create the expectation that “anything can happen in the next half hour!”​
What role will you be playing most in the final game?
Smuggler extraordinaire, agent provocateur and occasional Federal sympathiser, when the money’s right, of course...​
What is your favourite ship from the Elite series?
The Adder! Sure it looks like a brick, doesn’t fly that much better, but it’s got character and it’s a tough cookie – you’re piloting your own little Tonka toy!​
Now time for some questions from the community ...

(From forum user ‘Withnail’) Not sure if this has been mentioned before, but I would be interested to hear Sandy’s thoughts on the Design Decision Forum and whether it has been useful to him and the team. This required a lot of hard work on Frontier's part, were the results worth it?
There’s no doubt that the DDF has been and continues to be a very useful tool. It forces Team Design to justify our decisions and provides some great ideas to boot.
Once a topic has been through the forum we’ve always ended up with a far better grasp of the challenges and game play it offers. We’ve had fairly major changes result from the discussions, and even when topics have passed through the process relatively unscathed, there’s normally some points of view expressed that have got us thinking about issues that we might otherwise have missed.
Sure, it is time intensive (and it was a pretty scary thing to start, being a completely alien public experience for us!), but on balance I’d say it’s paying its way quite nicely, so thank you very much to all those that have contributed!​
(From forum user ‘Slawkenbergius’)Is the size of the play-space a blessing or a curse when it comes to designing the game for multiplayer?
I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s a curse, but it would be fair to say that dealing with such mind-boggling distances has its particular challenges, especially technically. However, I guess without that immense scale, space just wouldn’t be, well, space, would it?​

(‘Mjt168’ from Twitter) Can you ask Sandy, what in the game's development is keeping him awake at night?
The sheer scale of the project and the weight of expectations are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I guess sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between spine-tingling excitement and spine-liquefying fear.​
(‘x2Eliah’ from Twitter)What's your go-to/favourite design approach: design by spreadsheet, design by sketch, or design by consensus?
I favour a pretty simple process: take a system, try to articulate the awesome goals it needs to achieve, things that make the player go “yeah!”, then build as few rules as possible to attain those goals.
In general, one designer will own such a task and create the specification, but basically the whole design team gets to have their say and provide (sometimes very passionate) feedback.
Spreadsheets, sketches, flow charts and the like are all very useful tools, but I think the most important aspect is making sure the design team have a comprehensive, shared vision of the final game and how systems need to interact to realise this.​
Now, Where do you stand on fun vs. Realism when designing a game like Elite: Dangerous, what comes first?

Fun. Every day of the week and twice on Sundays.
For me, the idea is to give the illusion of realism, or at least plausibility, rather than be slavishly realistic. It’s not that I have beef with games that do attempt to match reality, such as full on simulations. These are cool games, no argument. But they’re not what Elite: Dangerous is – they can’t be really, because there isn’t a real life analogy for our game to match.
That being said, I do take the realism issue very seriously. Whenever folk much cleverer than me are able to describe realistic processes that also support the game play we’re after, I’m all over it; I think a fantasy built on a factual foundation can be that much more compelling.
Happily the people I work with are much cleverer than me, so it’s all golden!​

Lastly Sandy, before we let you go, are you happy with the overall response from the Elite: Dangerous backers so far?
Personally I’m completely bowled over by the goodwill and support we’ve experienced; I really hope we can deliver something worthy of it.​
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Awesome, thanks so much for your answers Sandy, it’s been a long time coming and I'm happy we’ve managed to steal you away to do this!

Next time we’ll have Assistant Art Director Jonathan Bottone here to talk to us as well as answer your questions which you can tweet to @EliteDangerous or leave on this thread.

Till next time, keep flying Commanders!
Mark :)
 
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Great insights, thank you!

BTW, what's that horrid-looking brown thingie on Sandro's desk?
His nightclub wig?
New iteration of old fashion flight helmet (think scifi post re-retro stuff)?
Remains of the cat shown on screen?
Brain-sucking alien monster?
All of above?
 
Nice to meet you! I'm intrigued by what appears to be a number of stacked black hats behind you. Important meeting attire perhaps, where the size of the hat determines the importance of that meeting? Dreading the one where you come in wearing the sombrero! :)
 
Great insights, thank you!

BTW, what's that horrid-looking brown thingie on Sandro's desk?
His nightclub wig?
New iteration of old fashion flight helmet (think scifi post re-retro stuff)?
Remains of the cat shown on screen?
Brain-sucking alien monster?
All of above?
It's a Head Crab hat, from Half-Life ;)
 
The missions and events system. It’s a complicated beast, but if we can pull it off the player will always have a multitude of interesting plots to become entangled with (intentionally and accidentally).
These generated game play sequences will be able to use current, system and galactic events, as well as player history, to help keep the experience of a logical narrative but importantly, the end result should create the expectation that “anything can happen in the next half hour!”
Wow that sounds so awesome! Can't wait :)
Thanks for the interview Mark and Sandy!
 
sandy thanks for the great alpha so far. im certain you guys are making a game many will play and sign up to for years to come.
 
Great interview. Can't wait to get into the Beta and try that event system myself. Just a few more weeks (hopefully)...
 
A welcome return to this excellent piece and thanks to Sandy for his time and responses. Makes me wish I could afford to be on the DDF.

Ab
 
What role will you be playing most in the final game?
Smuggler extraordinaire, agent provocateur and occasional Federal sympathiser, when the money’s right, of course...​
Glad to see you're getting into the spirit by cosplaying some Elite lingerie. ;)

EDIT: Now there's a photoshop challenge waiting to happen...
 
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Good interview, this DDFer feels all warm and fuzzy inside. I like that the missions and events system is getting so much love. That's one of the bits in the DDF that I thought really stood out too. However, I'm surprised there is a cat and no Pskokow making an appearance floating accross space on the right hand monitor.
 
Really looking forward to seeing how the missions and events system works. It does seem crazy complex when you think about how many massive systems are being tied together.
 
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