Game developer Michael Romero on Chrono Trigger, C/C++, and Macs

WishB Junior Game Developer Michael Romero, the son of DOOM co-creator John Romero, discusses writing and playing video games and offers advice to aspiring game programmers.

Michael Romero, the son of DOOM co-creator John Romero, went into the family business. After studying design at Full Sail University, he now works for WishB LLC as a Junior Game Developer. In this email interview, Michael discusses writing and playing video games and offers advice to aspiring game programmers.

Matthew Nawrocki: What influenced your decision to follow in your father's footsteps as a game developer?

Michael Romero: Chrono Trigger. It was the second RPG that I had ever played (the first was Super Mario RPG). Many gamers consider Chrono Trigger to be one of the best RPGs of all time -- and for good reason. I first played the game when I was ten years old and continued to play it obsessively for the next two years or so. The more I played, the more I wanted to create a "Chrono Trigger" of my own. Ever since that time, I knew I needed to make games. I'm still on a mission to creating my "Chrono Trigger"!

When did you write your first game?

I wrote my first game back in 2007, 2 months prior to my enrollment into Full Sail University. I made it when I first started to learn C. It was an incredibly cheesy text adventure called Bully Smash!

What kind of games do you enjoy playing?

At this point, it's pretty self evident that I'm a huge RPG buff. The RPG genre typically uses more character building and storytelling elements within their design. I'm a sucker for those two design mechanics and, if they are done well, I immediately get hooked.

Do you have a preference to PCs/Macs or consoles? Why?

My preference is the Mac -- hands down. The longer you program, the more you start to really appreciate solid software. There's just no denying that Apple creates amazing software coupled with an interface that provides a user experience that blows away Windows. By what I've been seeing lately, Apple has been more on the road of innovation than anything. That in itself makes me admire the Mac platform.

Some experts in the field state that consoles are dominating over their PC equivalents due to lack of piracy and large installed user base. What is your opinion on the console/PC debate, and will it ever be resolved?

The PC is littered with tons of piracy. In order for that to be a thing of the past, distribution of games released on the PC need to follow in the footsteps of Blizzard (World of Warcraft) and Valve (Steam). More companies just need to take the time and come up with a plan and execute. I believe the activity of piracy will moderately falter when that happens. Of course, hackers get smarter and will find new ways to exploit. It's always a constant struggle.

Do you have a favorite programming language and any other set of tools for game development?

My favorite programming languages are C/C++. In order to have code that will run your game as optimized as possible, thorough knowledge of C/C++ is a must. I've been developing a lot within the Unity engine and XCode IDE recently. The Unity engine is easy to pick up and is a great choice for rapid game development.

I've been creating technology myself for an iPhone game I'm making. Before using XCode, I had been accustomed to Visual Studio. It definitely had a learning curve to it, but over time I have taken advantage of how it handles multiple views of code and the extensive list of hot keys. When you get good at XCode, you start to write code very fast.

At your current stint with WishB, what kind of work do you do, and what is WishB's target market?

At WishB, I'm a game programmer, and I write C# scripts to implement game features that the team designs. I work within the Unity engine. To be a little more specific, my tasks vary from debugging to feature implementation to even architecture. My work is typically that of a generalist programmer. We are targeting the kid's market with an original IP. Can't say too much other than that!

Our generation grew up with consoles and PCs for our gaming needs. Will the Internet eventually evolve into a platform agnostic epicenter and ultimately be the next best thing for the next generation of gamers, or will our personal hardware be here to stay?

I go back and forth on this one. I'd rather stay neutral and say that I think both are going to be around in the future for a long time. Consoles and the Internet contain different aspects of gaming that make them both really important. Consoles allow us to keep reinventing new tactile feedback and specialized hardware to bring more and more unique gaming experiences.

The openness of the Internet is also a very powerful thing. I think now it is even more powerful with the ever evolving HTML 5. Complete open source that allows Web browsers to produce 3D accelerated graphics with no plugin required is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this future standard.

Gaming on the web will be taking a huge leap forward -- and fast. I definitely want console and Internet gaming to evolve in parallel rather than one dominate the other.

With smartphones as ubiquitous as they are now, where do you see games in the mobile sector going as compared to more traditional platforms?

I personally feel that the mobile market will stay in tune with casual games. People normally play iPhone games to kill time and to get a quick five to ten minutes of game time in. You're not going to get much accomplished with a game that takes too much time to make progress. The majority of gamers get bored easily. Phones today perform a multitude of tasks that only require a few minutes of the user's time. A mobile game's design should be built around that fact and [designers should] try to find new ways to keep the consumer playing beyond that average time.

Do you have any advice that you wish to impart to those starting out in game development?

Develop a very strong work ethic, learn to build connections with people, and work on side projects. Typically companies don't hire the person on skill alone. That's very, very rare. If the company knows that you are very passionate for the industry, that you work hard, and that you have a personality that balances professional and friendly behavior; you can get very far. Working on side projects doesn't just make you more skilled against the competition -- it also shows that you love what you do. Companies love that.

Do you think you will take up your father's mantle and make the next DOOM blockbuster someday?

Heh. I feel extremely grateful to just be a part of this awesome industry. My mission has always been to create that "Chrono Trigger" game, blockbuster or not. Just to imagine creating a game with the success of DOOM is beyond comprehension at this point. Of course, one could always hope for that kind of success some day. I'm just happy to make games.

By Matthew Nawrocki

An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Cus...