Please tell us about yourself
Today we’re continuing our series of interviews with developers who fulfil various roles in the company. This week we sat down with Hrishikesh, the newest member of the design team, and discussed his journey from designing the Cloak of Defiance as a member of the community, to designing content as a member of the Grinding Gear Games team.
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Hi Hrishikesh! Thanks for taking part in the interview! Could you please introduce yourself and let us know how you ended up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?
Hi there. My name is Hrishikesh Sidhartha, mostly everyone calls me Hrishi. I’m the newest member of the Design team at Grinding Gear Games, having worked here for a little over 3 months now! Some of you might know me from earlier as being the supporter who came up with Cloak of Defiance and the keystone, Mind Over Matter.
I got interested in games at a very young age. Some of my earliest memories were of me watching my dad play games like Prince of Persia and Wolf 3D over the weekends. Eventually, I got a copy of Age of Empires and got completely caught up in the game, especially the map editor that came with it. I made quite a few custom campaigns and maps and had a lot of fun doing so.
Soon enough I discovered Diablo 2, and I got hooked. I played Diablo 2 for many years, and always returned for as many ladder resets as I could. I also moved on to MMORPGs, most notably Ragnarok Online and played it for many years, because it had a very diablo-like gameplay element to it. After all, most of the game was just slaughtering tons of monsters over and over!
I discovered Path of Exile through sheer chance way back in closed beta through a guildmate from Ragnarok Online who mentioned it in passing. I never thought it’d keep my interest the way it did, as it had been years since any game has captured my interest that much, but Path of Exile did that and then some. It’s what led me to supporting the game during open beta with an Eternal supporter pack. As some of you might know, the unique that resulted from that pack was Cloak of Defiance, and consequently resulted in the keystone, Mind Over Matter. I’ve played the game ever since.
What did you study?
I did my bachelors in Computer Science and Engineering from Anna University and masters in Game Design & Development from New Jersey Institute of Technology.
While I was always interested in games, I didn’t consider a career making them because I was honestly not aware that it was a realistic option. However, I did end up studying programming at University and ended up taking a number of game-related courses as electives, which convinced me otherwise, that I actually could pursue a career in the game industry.
These days, I play a lot of different games, but the ones I play most regularly are Path of Exile and Magic: The Gathering (mostly Vintage, but I dabble in other formats on occasion).
Could you please tell us about your current role at Grinding Gear Games and what an average work day is like for you?
So, as I mentioned earlier, I’m the newest member of GGG’s design team. I’ve mostly been involved in creating new content, both for new leagues as well as for future expansions, and to a lesser extent, balancing. Mostly all the work is highly collaborative, and it’s really fun listening to various people’s takes on a number of issues.
I don’t believe I’ve quite had an average day so far, as almost every day has been different! Most days involve working on issues from the previous day, implementing a little more new content into the game and testing this content to see how it plays. I also try to keep up to date with both PoE’s forums and the subreddit whenever I have the time.
How did you end up working at Grinding Gear Games?
About halfway through my degree, I contacted Chris and expressed interest in working for GGG. While it was quite early on and I had a few years to go, I think it helped that I showed interest early on.
Eventually, when I graduated, I contacted Chris and expressed interest again. Unfortunately, at the time, they were not hiring. I started working in a software company while continuing to pursue my dream of working in the gaming industry.
Thankfully, after a period of time, hiring was re-opened and I expressed interest once again. After a design test and an interview over skype, I began preparations to move to New Zealand!
Having deep knowledge of Path of Exile, as well as having worked on a number of game-related projects while at university helped a lot in this regard.
How has it been to transition from a member of the community to a member of the team?
It was quite a strange experience at first. I’m not even sure how to describe it, but the closest analogy I can think of is Alice stepping into the rabbit hole. It was incredibly interesting to see the inner workings of the game you had spent the better part of the past few years playing!
I also had the fear that working on the game might lead to to me losing interest in actually playing the game in the evenings. This, thankfully, did not end up being true. While you do have access to the test server at work, it’s a very different experience to playing on the actual game at home. Adding new content to the game also made me want to go home and actually experience it on the live realm!
Is there anything in Path of Exile game design that has been surprisingly different to what you expected based on what you’ve seen on the outside?
The main surprise to me was the way team members collaborated on various things! I had always assumed that mostly all collaboration and discussion was done in long meetings and then people kept to themselves.
It turns out that the entire office environment is really open and collaboration happens basically all the time, instead of during set hours of the day. This is probably the main thing that comes to mind when I think of anything that has been surprisingly different to what I expected.
What is your favourite thing you’ve worked on for the game so far?
This isn’t something that’s released yet, but I’ve been working on a new unique helmet for a little while now. It was supposed to come out with Prophecy but unfortunately got delayed. It’s currently slated for 2.4.0 and introduces a very new mechanic that currently doesn’t exist anywhere else in the game. It should hopefully lead to some new builds!
What can the community look forward to in terms of things you’re working on at the moment?
A lot of the work I’m currently doing has to do with the upcoming expansion. While I was certainly involved in a lot of Prophecy league’s work, I started work about halfway through the development process. There was also a period where I was learning the systems and consequently wasn’t involved in Prophecy’s development quite as much.
For the upcoming expansion, I’ve actually been involved right from the beginning and I’m really excited to see how you like all the new content coming your way!
Do you have any advice for aspiring game designers?
Having recently gone through the process of entering the game industry, I could certainly share my experiences, but there are a number of paths that you can take, and I don’t have experience with all of them.
From my experiences, the biggest thing companies care about is what you’ve actually done. It matters much less if you have a degree in hand but have no cool game projects to show for it. I’d suggest spending your time wisely while you go through university and make as many games as you can. Of course, if your courses allow you to make them as part of it, all the better!
Since game designing is a lot about crafting experiences for people, I found that liberal arts was quite important to give you perspective there. This might differ from person to person, but I’ve often found the lessons I’ve learned in liberal arts to be the most important of all.
Play lots of games. While this sounds obvious, it’s fairly important to experience a wide selection of different games. You often want to draw on experiences and it’s much easier when you have a lot to draw from.
Finally, be persistent and don’t give up easily. I’d also suggest being open to relocating if it means being able to get your foot in the door! You might not be able to find a position where you currently live.
When did you start playing Path of Exile? Did you have a favourite league or go-to builds that you were playing?
I started playing Path of Exile towards the end of closed beta. It was pretty casual at the time, and I really got into it when open beta started. I have played every hardcore league since then, with the only omission being Tempest/Warbands due to that being a particularly busy time in real life!
I specifically love spellcasters, especially non-traditional and tanky spellcasters. The first build I really enjoyed was the infamous Spork Totem build many years ago. I continued to play it in a number of leagues after it’s heyday, including during Talisman.
One of my favourite builds was the Romira’s Banquet Cold Snap build that I played during the Beyond league. It utilized the Cloak of Defiance/Eldritch Battery/Arctic Armour combo, but I realise I might be quite biased here! Beyond also happened to be one of my favourite leagues, but it might be a factor of the build I played.
My most recent build in Prophecy HC was a CI max block Mjolner build with Aegis Aurora, utilizing the Armour Grand Spectrum jewels to make up for the lack of flat armour in traditional CI gear.
It’s anybody’s guess what I’ll end up playing in the upcoming league, but it’ll probably involve spellcasting to some degree!
Are there any games that have inspired your design mentality or that you feel are pushing the boundaries of game development in an interesting way?
This might seem like a bit of a cop out, but these days I tend to just look at how a number of games handle their systems and pick out tiny aspects of what I find interesting in them. With the huge number of games that exist today compared to some years ago, it’s so much easier to pick and choose aspects of many games that you really like or think are interesting.
That being said, many games that inspire my design mentality do happen to be the games I grew up with. Diablo 2, Ragnarok Online and Age of Empires were already mentioned and probably are the most significant of them, along with the various Pokemon games. Other games that deserve mention, at least from a personal standpoint, are DotA, Civilization, Quake, Neverwinter Nights and Dragon Age, although I’m sure I could name many more!
Are you able to give us a teaser of something you’ve been working on for the upcoming 2.4.0 expansion?
As I’ve mentioned a few times, I’ve mostly been working on content for the upcoming expansion. I’m most excited about some of the boss encounters I’ve been involved in designing. I’m really looking forward to seeing them in the live game.