Meet the Team Meet the Team - Steve Kirby

Paige Harvey

Community Manager
Frontier
Hello Commanders, and welcome to our first Meet the Team interview!

Over the years, Elite Dangerous has grown and evolved and so has the team working on it. Because of this, we wanted to give you the opportunity to learn a little more about the people who work on the game and to get a glimpse into life here at the studio. Every month we'll be releasing an interview with a member of the Elite Dangerous team and this month, we're speaking with Steve Kirby!

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Hello Commander! The Elite Dangerous community has massively grown since the last time you did one of these interviews, so would you mind introducing yourself?
Hello! My name is Steve Kirby and my Commander name is "CMDR JustCallMeWendy". I've used "JustCallMeWendy" as my gamertag for quite a while, but I'm going to stay enigmatic and not tell you how I chose it. Ha ha!

Mysterious! What's your role here at Frontier Developments?
I'm a Principal Game Designer, working as co-lead on Elite Dangerous alongside Adam Bourke-Waite. In my role I do all sorts of things, however you can usually find me designing mechanics and scenarios, and working with the design team, giving them direction on what they're working on, liaising with other departments, demoing what we've come up with, etc.

How long have you been at Frontier, and what was your first role within the company?
I came to the Frontier as a Senior Designer and I've been here at the studio... coming up nine years now!

How did you initially get into the games industry?
I've been into games ever since I was a little kid, and I decided that I wanted to get into the games industry and design games. I managed to get the phone numbers of a couple of games studios, so I phoned them and asked "how do I get into the games industry?" They replied that it would be difficult as I didn't have any experience. At that time there weren't any games design courses, so I couldn't just go and study at university to get experience. However, they mentioned that an entry level position in QA might be my best bet and one that I could apply for without much experience.

I then proceeded to phone up every single games studio that I could find the number for and offered my services as an unpaid QA tester for a couple of weeks. Thankfully, a very lovely lady called Sue Jolly at Coyote Developments in Croydon said "yes". Shortly after, I went in for the interview and they agreed to take me up on my offer. After a week, they took me aside and offered me a permanent, paid position, so I went back to my current job (which I'd taken holiday from to do the QA work) and quit! From there I worked my way up to the position of Junior Designer, did a stint as an Associate Producer, and then became a Full Designer and here we are!

TL;DR: I made a nuisance of myself, and that's how I got into the games industry.


Based on the experiences you've had, do you have any advice for others looking to get into the industry?
Keep trying. Understand that you may have to start with a position different to where you'd like to end up (jobs in QA and CS are great entry level positions as well as great career paths in the industry) and get as much experience as you can. Go to Game Jams, read forums, mod games, immerse yourself in gaming communities and go to events, because you never know who you're going to meet and what opportunities might open for you! Apply for everything, make a nuisance of yourself, and just keep going.

However, please don't break into the building and claim you've always worked there...


Good advice! Tell us about a normal work day for you.
There are no normal work days for me! They don't exist! But I can average them out and tell you a few things.

A "normal" day for me starts pretty early, as I'll try and get in before the rest of my team. I don't always manage that because we have some very early risers who get in before me, but I always start off with a cup of black coffee with two sugars. I'll check my emails to see if there is any urgent business, check our tasks lists and prepare for the day ahead. When the team are assembled, we have stand up meetings to make sure that everyone is up to date with what we're working on, and discuss what we'll be working on going forward.

Then, it'll usually be a mix of meetings, working on a design or sitting with other members of the team, reviewing/discussing whatever they're currently designing. I also spend time managing the team, being a Principal Games Designer, making sure they're aware of any action points from meetings I've attended, managing their workloads and ensuring that have all the tools they need to do their job.

Throughout the day, I'll play the latest build so that I understand what new designs are being plugged in, which areas are working and which aren't, and then figure out (with the team) what we do with that information. When all that's done, just before heading home, I'll prepare for the next day and start all over again! As I say, there are no normal days, so this is just what a single day out of a week could look like. It's really very varied, but the coffee is the staple of every day.


Next question! What are the biggest challenges that you face working on Elite Dangerous?
The fact that Elite is a live game is a really interesting and engaging design challenge, and one we strive to meet on a daily basis! We love that it's a live game, but it does come with it's own unique set of challenges when compared to say, an unreleased game. When you're working on a project that hasn't been released yet, you can adjust features without affecting the game for thousands of players, as only the developers get to see it. When it's a live game, you've got another level of visibility as the players are literally online, playing it at the time you're working on it. Online multiplayer is also challenging, because it requires you to design features that suit players who are flying in solo, or playing in groups. Then, you also need to account for players who approach the game in different ways!

What's your favourite memory of working on Elite Dangerous?
There was a time where I'd been ill for two weeks and upon returning to the office, discovered a cardboard version of me sat at my desk. Either my team missed me, or just found it weird not having me around. His... its name... was "Steve Cardby".

Another great memory is the launch of Horizons. I'd joined the team just prior to the launch of the full game, so I kind of missed the boat on that major excitement, however being able to fly down to a planet for the first time was indescribable, and I was very proud.


What's your favourite thing the community have done around Elite Dangerous?
My favourite thing is that they continue to play, and drive us to be more ambitious to make Elite Dangerous the best game it possibly can be! I love their creativity, we've built this huge sandbox galaxy full of missions and scenarios and things to do, but players have forged entirely new ways to play even outside of this!There are groups of Commanders who create films and music videos out of the sights they see, Commanders who go speedracing around starports, and those who roleplay and create entire lives for their characters.

If we're talking specifics, I loved it when a Buckyballer wrecked his ship mid-race, drove his SRV halfway around a planet to find a port, bought a new ship and then finished the race. That's the mentality our community has - and we love it!


Fantastic examples there, hopefully the community can remind us of the Buckyballer's name! So, one more serious question before we get into a few fun ones. What have you learned from working on Elite Dangerous, that you haven't learned anywhere else?
Wow. The universe is big? No, I joke, but it's a tough question! There are a few things. Firstly, it's probably the power of community in a game. Secondly, it's the most challenging game I've ever worked on because of it's live nature, and it's taught me to be humble. Thirdly, I've learnt that you can't please everyone and you can't know everything, so I've learnt to do the best I can, work together with the team and share knowledge, and to remember we're all human in the end!

That's wonderful, and very human. Let's shake off the serious stuff and have some fun! Three more questions. Which is your favourite Elite Dangerous ship, and why?
Okay, I have two favourite ships. The first is the Krait MK II. I think it's the most versatile ship we have, and I think that it meets multiple needs that I have when playing Elite Dangerous. That being said, I have a special place in my heart for my Keelback. I know it's a brick and I know it isn't the most maneuverable ship, but I just love it. I've spent a lot of time in my Keelback, which is called "The Wendy 2".

Tell us a fun fact about you!
People already know quite a lot about me, but I like cake and baking. I make soft toys in my spare time (I've made Michael Brookes an Unknown Artefact, and during last year's 24-hour livestream, we raffled off a Coriolis plushie). I've started playing the drums again. I love to snowboard (two planks bad, one plank good), and I've recently got into stand-up paddle-boarding! Oh gosh, more things. I'm technically a qualified animator as I studied animation at university, and I have a cat called Jasper!

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One last question! If you could ask the community any question, what would it be, and why?
What has playing Elite Dangerous taught you that you didn't know before, and, how many live elephants can you legally fit into a Type 9?

And with that scintillating question, the interview is over! Please leave your answers in the comments below and we will give a Community Prize Pack to our three favourite comments!

We hope you've enjoyed this glimpse into life at Frontier Developments and be sure to check back in next month for our interview with CMDR Sputnik and CMDR Electron from our Customer Support team.
 
the coffee is the staple of every day
Of course, Steve :)

What has playing Elite Dangerous taught you that you didn't know before, and, how many live elephants can you legally fit into a Type 9?
Taught me that I really like to apply real life photography basic skills I earned to video games ! Also, I'm not certain it's legal to fit live animals in a cargo container, as well as not carrying them in containers in the cargo bay. So I'd say 0 !
 
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If nothing else, this game has taught me how slow is the speed of light ! Try flying around at exactly light speed and you appreciate the overwhelming scale of star systems and our Galaxy very quickly !
 
Learned to dabble in node.js, some c# and a lot of voice attack, and quite a few new ways to process video, pictures, and a bit of audio.
Roughly 78 elephants in a cargo fit t9 though only 76 elephants playing trombones oddly.
 
That sensor is fantastic, never realised you made it Steve, Kudos.

Sylow beet me to the elephant punchline, I don't have a better answer o7

As for:
What has playing Elite Dangerous taught you that you didn't know before?
- many astronomical things, but the most important is that I realised that I was a completionist gamer and that doesn't really work in ED. I enjoy flying vr spaceships too much to give up so started thinking seriously about why I game and have become a more in the moment for the fun of it gamer as a result. I've even gone back to play other games since I realised this and enjoyed them far more.

Ps. Thanks for your work Steve, looking forward to the next one.
 
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