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Rogue Initiative Studios is pleased to introduce Joseph Howard!

Today, we’re excited to introduce Joseph Howard as our next “We Are Rogue” spotlight! Joe’s incredible work is notably featured in creating AI in collaboration with our Combat Design team.

As part of his Spotlight, we sat down with Joe to learn more about his passions for game development and his story in the industry.

Hi Joe! To start us off, could you please share with us your story thus far, and what led you to your interest in Interactive Entertainment?

I vividly remember playing outside a lot as a child.
My cousin and I would play-wrestle on his trampoline pretending we were WWF wrestlers (World Wrestling Federation at the time). One day, my mom got home late from work expecting I would be busy still doing homework, only to find out that I was not even in the house!
She scrambled up and down the street looking for me, eventually finding me next door with my cousin a little later than usual. Where I come from, you needed to be home when the streetlights came on. Period.
Needless to say, she panicked. She and my dad had to find a solution to keep me home after my homework was finished. That’s when they decided to purchase my first video game system: The TurboGrafx-16.
And WOW! That was my first taste of anything video game related. I never knew – at the time – that the cartoons I used to watch on T.V. could be controlled by me! This was revolutionary.
It was from that point on I decided that I was not going to join the WWF, but instead I was going to make video games.

Remote collaboration has been vastly effective for the Rogue Initiative Studios. As a global studio with game development and feature film projects happening in tandem, could you share a bit about Rogue Initiative’s remote collaboration processes as you scaled the team up?

I absolutely love the remote collaboration paradigm. To have all the computing equipment I have amassed be put to use is very satisfying, especially as much of it has been sitting in home office idle (I’m a bit of a collector). Working remotely over secure networks with my colleagues allows me the flexibility of interacting with talent anywhere in the world really.
The only limitation is the requirement of sleep (which I hope Elon Musk can solve eventually). Remote work also opens the wider world of cloud computing, which we use around the clock in multiple capacities.
The idea of having control over a immense computing power – that I never need to see or touch – makes me feel like we are living in the world of Minority Report.

We heard that you’re part of Rogue Initiative’s QRT (Quick Reaction Team) for any technological, networking or real-time visualization work in Unreal and Unity. What does that entail?

Oh yes! It entails a quick reaction! Ha ha. QRT is a unit within Rogue Initiative composed of a small team of coders, tech artists and game engine experts that are ready to respond to high priority issues that simply cannot wait until morning. That could be anything from rapid Blueprint scripting to solving an immediate technical issue on the virtual film set. We also assess and build more robust long-term request for new features to support their creative processes.
The QRT mandate is flexible and full spectrum in the production process. For instance, I may sit and play the role of technical adjudicator on set, or I may be in the background quietly planning new features and tools to be used for a the next shoot based on lie feedback from a director like Michael Bay.
As the requests come quickly and the work is demanding, we always need to be ready to react at the drop of a dime. One day you may be offering suggestions, and another you may be a virtual camera assistant to ensure Michael Bay gets his shot! One thing for certain, and Pete (Pete Blumel, CEO) always says this, Rogue Initiative’s QRT never says ‘impossible’.

You’ve done amazing work so far with creating AI enemies for the next generation of gaming. Could you share a little bit about your experience collaborating with the Combat Design Team and how that work process has been? For our folks who are learning, what’s one important tip you believe game developers should know when creating enemy AI systems?

The definition of video game AI is very open to individual opinion because of how each person defines what intelligence is. The choices that AI characters can make comes down to balancing fun, self-preservation, cinematics, and theatrics. We are always trying to strike a balance between all these practices in order to enhance the experience of the player. One day I may script some AI to perform perfect tasks that scientifically makes sense – but that may end up being boring. But then the combat design team may come in and say, “Let’s dumb him down just a hair to make this scenario 10 times cooler!” Since the player experience is the focus, cooler will always prevail!
Anyone looking into coding any type of AI needs to understand state machines very well and have a deep understanding of how characters should react to a player’s actions. I like to compare it to fiercely throwing a super bouncy ball against a wall in a room full of glass statues and scripting a reaction to each bounce as it ricochets off each object.

What aspects of yourself do you feel are valuable to the industry, especially with there being a growth of diversity in gaming? What’s one piece of advice you can give for those who may be interested in developing games one day?

I consider myself a jack of all trades for things scripting and coding related. I have an uncommon gaming experience growing up in an inner-city neighborhood, just in regard to the types of games that we played as a kid. Me, who loves Final Fantasy now, would only really play sports and wrestling games because that was the “video game social norm” in the area. Now, I have expanded my horizons with which games I play and with whom I interact online with.
For anyone looking into developing games in their future, study math rigorously. Get very comfortable with algebra, and especially linear algebra concepts at a bare minimum. Study logic, study game design. Practice your craft. Iterate. And most importantly find time to … study, study, study. Everyday. As much as possible. You’ll be saving yourself time and lots of headaches. No one wants to keep buying Motrin…

And last but not least, what are you playing these days? Could you share a few of your favorite video game titles?

Final Fantasy XI on PC and Horizon Forbidden West on PS5. I have been playing Final Fantasy XI on and off for 14 years now. I just can’t shake the addiction! Now I have 6 characters, ha ha.
As far as Horizon Forbidden West, I am really enjoying the archery mechanics, especially when combined with the hunting of mechanical animals. Knocking different pieces off of those “dinosaurs” is soooo satisfying! Shout out to Guerilla Games on a job well done!

We can’t wait to share soon the incredible work Joe has been working on for our newest project now in development. In the meantime, you can check out his awesome work on LinkedIn.

We’re happy to have you on the team, Joe!

Did you know? Rogue Initiative Studios is growing!  We have a variety of positions open on our team always looking for new faces. Consider going Rogue today!