Who are you and where do you live in this world?
My name's Thomas Ryan, though I go by the nickname Zipper5. I'm a 19 year-old Canadian but I spent most of my life so far living in the Middle-Eastern state of Qatar. However, I currently reside in the Czech Republic.
How long have you been a member of the BI community?
I joined our official forums in 2005 but I remember frequenting various community sites long before that. I believe I first discovered the community through OFP.info way back when and I was immediately hooked.
Every hardcore member of our community has broken into the editor at some point. How long did you have the game before you did?
I got Operation Flashpoint for my birthday in 2001 and played mostly the vanilla content for years. Sure, the campaign was extremely long and satisfying, but sooner or later I went searching for that "something else". I don't think it took very long for me to find that in our Mission Editor.
Is there anything in the editor that you feel has been missing from day one? Something that mission designers could really use?
I think something that designers could really benefit from is some kind of on-the-fly briefing generator, especially now that our briefings are mostly done by script commands. Just having a briefing in your mission adds so much to the experience.
You're known for good mission design. What part of designing a mission do you enjoy the most?
I'd have to say I enjoy making cutscenes the most and I think it shows in my released work. It took me a long time to start learning how to script cameras in our engine, let alone find camera.sqs, but there was just something about it that drew me in. Initially, I mostly used camera.sqs to make various works of machinima using Arma 1, but I quickly became interested in making real-time cutscenes for missions, especially since I was beginning to plan to release some.
It's no secret that you are now employed by BI as one of their developers. How did you get the job? Did you apply and send in some missions or did they notice your work and contact you?
Looking back on it still makes me smile. I received a private message on our forum from Marek Španĕl congratulating me for my work on Operation Cobalt. With excitement flowing through my veins I instinctively replied asking if there were any jobs at BI that I could fill, explaining it's been one of my dreams since I first discovered OFP. Initially I thought I had screwed it up by being so forward, but Marek replied asking if I could send him my CV and things just took off from there.
Where did you call home before BI?
It comes as a surprise to most, but my home for 12 years of my life was actually the State of Qatar, a tiny peninsula that sticks out of the eastern side of Saudi Arabia. I spent more time there than I did in Canada, since I moved away in 1999.
Did you move to the Czech Republic? If so, what was it like to uproot? What were the challenges?
I have indeed been in the process of moving to the Czech Republic. It's been tough at times, primarily because of how long I spent living in Qatar, much to my chagrin. However, the people here are all extremely welcoming and helpful, and the country itself is beautiful. I decided I would take up a job at BI and move to the Czech Republic after I graduated from Highschool in Qatar, rather than continue on to University. I strongly believe I've made the right choice.
Do you work full time for BI or do you hold something else as a side job?
I work at BI full-time, but I can't complain. I wouldn't want to work anywhere else!
What was it like when you first walked into the door and met the BI team as a fan? How was the reception?
It all happened so fast I didn't have time to collect my thoughts until I was back at my accommodations in the evening. I knew I had to meet one of our artists, Jan Šarbort, who would have the keys to the place I would be staying. I was arriving on a Saturday I believe, so it wasn't exactly convenient timing. Pulling up to the office campus and seeing the Bohemia Interactive logo plastered above the main entrance was a very unique experience for me, but I was soon standing outside it with my cab pulling away and stuck holding my two suitcases, not having the faintest idea of what I should do. When in doubt, ring the doorbell I guess. Sure enough, Jan answered, and he was accompanied by Karel Mořický, our Technical Design Lead. The two helped me get settled in, showed me around, and soon enough we were headed into Prague for dinner. It was smooth-sailing from then on out.
Was learning their language, a requirement for employment?
Nope, though I do plan to learn Czech while I am here!
Now that you've had time to settle into your new position, do you see the community differently?
To a degree. Our community still produces some of the best content and people out of all the communities I know of, but now I'm no longer producing content as a member of the community for our games, rather I'm helping to produce the actual games themselves, which does affect what the community means to you. Now you're the one making the game, the platform, that others may use similarly to how you did. It's a culture-shock at first but I've gotten used to it.
Being an official dev now, the workload has been placed on you to share. Do the tasks assigned to you have any relevance to why you were hired in the first place? Is there any time remaining for you to do what you loved to do before getting hired?
They definitely still apply to why I was hired to do in the first place, but I have also expanded my skills since coming here. My love is still for all things mission editing, but I'm also getting involved in the creation of various systems our games use, and I even did a foray into multiplayer mission editing in Take On Helicopters, something I had not really invested much into up until then. I'm always learning something new.
Can you share with the readers what sort of tasks are assigned to you and how often those duties change?
As I said, most of my work is still in the realm of mission editing, but I am often assigned to create functions and systems that the playable content, or the game as a whole, will use. I tend to handle both tasks in parallel, as making the missions themselves in turn reveals to me how best to design the systems.
Are the other developers willing to teach you new things?
Definitely. I've learned so much from my colleagues since being here that I couldn't even begin to accurately list them!
How open is the process at BI? Meaning, are you permitted to allow your creativity to flow freely or must you adhere to strict guidelines?
Like any business, BI does have a chain of command. We have various department leads in charge who have the final say in what goes on. However, such powers are usually only used when an issue becomes deadlocked and a decision has to be made. Otherwise, we're mostly free to carry out our tasks so long as we do what's required of us. It's an environment that is just relaxed enough to not be unnecessarily stressful, yet not so relaxed that nothing gets done. I couldn't have asked for a better work environment for my first proper job.
After a day at work, are you still motivated to work in the editor for your own personal projects or have you had enough of it by then?
For sure! I still hope to release more projects of my own in the future.
Describe a typical day for yourself?
I'm staying on our office campus above our motion capture hall, meaning it takes only a few minutes to get to the office. I typically start work at 9am, so this allows for a bit of a sleep-in on weekdays. When I get to my desk and my work PC boots up, I first check all of my current tasks before checking the state of the game and then getting to work on the tasks I have assigned for the day. I'm usually done work at 5pm, sometimes extending it to 6pm if there's a little extra work that needs finishing. Quite often my colleagues and I will then go into Prague for dinner and/or a movie, or I'll simply head back to my place and chill for the night with some gaming. I just finished Max Payne 3's story and am quite hooked on Day Z at the moment!
Care to share any other hobbies or interests outside of gaming?
Ha, that's kind of a hard one. My main and only real hobby most of my life has been all things gaming! However, my interests include graphics art, video editing and music, often all at the same time or even combined with a good game!
As an insider, how does the BI team view user made content? How often are the moments where the devs say "That's very creative!"?
All the time! User-made content is clearly very important to us here at BI, as it is our community who are our most loyal followers. We're often surprised by what they make, and often find ourselves asking "Man, how did we not think of that?" New releases are shown daily on websites like Armaholic, something that few other communities have the luxury of!
Care to share how it's been, adapting to a different society? What are some embarrassing/funny situations you've encountered since you've been there?
Living in Qatar most of my life gave me many opportunities to travel the world, so I am quite used to adjusting to new environments. I had already been to the Czech Republic on holiday many summers ago, but coming here to stay is obviously quite different. However, it's been pretty smooth adapting to how things work here, even if I don't speak the language!
Perhaps the funniest one I've had so far is attempting to ask for the correct bus ticket in Czech. The ticket itself costs 40 Czech Crowns, and to ask for it I would have to say 40 in Czech, which is čtyřicet. Pronouncing can be quite difficult for non-Czech speakers and it was no different for me. I asked the bus driver once, but he didn't understand me. I asked again, but to no avail. Luckily I had one of my Czech colleagues in line behind me who was able to say it for me. Turns out, the driver thought I was asking for a 60 Crown ticket (pronounced: šedesát). So no wonder he didn't know what I was talking about. Needless to say, I now ask for the ticket by just saying my destination!
As a player turned developer, and viewing BI from the inside; What does the future look like?
Bright, I would say. I knew before coming to BI that the industry was constantly involving, and it's clearer to me than ever before now that I'm viewing it from a developer's perspective. Things like the current Kickstarter craze making games that may otherwise have been impossible to get made, possible, make it clear to me that there are some very interesting titles in store for players to enjoy, and developers to make, in the near future.
Any projects on the drawing boards that have not been mentioned online yet? A yes or no would suffice.
Hm... No comment.
For all the folks that knew you before BI, would you like to say anything to them?
I would have to thank them for all the support that they have given me over the years. Without the fans of my community work giving me the motivation to continue, or the support from my family and friends when I decided to head down this rather unusual path, I would never be where I am today. I owe a lot to them all!
Any last tips, advice or words of wisdom?
Don't be afraid to take risks. I find that this is one of the major issues preventing people from reaching their fullest potential; the fear of the unknown versus the safety of complacency. Going down this career path was a huge risk for me, especially going into it right out of Highschool, but I knew it was what I wanted to do and was willing to make the sacrifices necessary to make it a reality. If it's what you want to do, then go for it!
What was the last game you bought?
Max Payne 3 on the PS3. All I can say is: Rockstar, you've done it again!
What is the first community site that you visit when you log on to the net?
OFP.info was the very first site I stumbled on to back in my early community days, circa 2005. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw all this free, awesome content that I could download and use! Figuring out how to actually get it to work, however, was a different story altogether.
Do you play Arma titles online? If so, which servers?
Definitely! Quite recently I've become addicted to Day Z, along with thousands of others. I don't tend to regularly visit the same servers (mainly because of how often most of them are full!) but you can typically find me on European Day Z servers during the day, and quite often on the various UK-based ones.
Many thanks to those who sent in questions for Zipper5.