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Greg Hjelstrom is the lead programmer at Westwood Studios, best known for the monster hit Command & Conquer. Hjelstrom has done work on a Sega Saturn port of Red Alert, among other things. He is currently working on a 3D game entitled "Commando."
First off, could you list some of the game titles that you have worked on?
I have worked for Westwood Studios for the past three years. In that time I've worked on Sega Saturn port of Command and Conquer, I worked on some graphics code for the upcoming Command and Conquer 2, and I'm currently working on a 3D game called Commando.
What made you decide to work in the game industry in the first place?
It was always a hobby of mine to program games in my free time. I always liked the creative aspect of games programming and decided to see what it would be like to do it professionally.
What advice can you offer to people who want to get started with game programming, perhaps to turn it into a career?
You must really love to program. You will have to spend a lot of your own time learning as much as you can. I also think a good education is needed more and more these days. I'm using every bit of the math I learned in college and then some.
What in your opinion makes a good game?
I think the gameplay and presentation makes a good game. Don't ask me to quantify those two terms! I like games which are relatively simple but have fun gameplay. I've always liked the old platform games, side scrolling shooters, and racing games that have good physics. In fact, I think gameplay comes down to physics. I'm mainly thinking about action games right now since that's the type of game that I'm working on; obviously if you are talking about strategy games there are different factors that make the game fun.
During early stages of game development, what kind of relationship do you have with the artists for that game?
In my current project I have worked pretty closely with the artists. We are learning what works and what doesn't work every day. Also, I am responsible for several tools which they use to generate assets for the game.
What compiler would you recommend that a person learn to work with to enable them keep up with the industry?
For a long time Watcom was the compiler of choice in the games industry. Lately I see most stuff done with Visual C++. However, I do not believe it matters very much which compiler you use to learn with. If you learn the language and concepts you will easily be able to use any compiler you need to. If money is at all a problem, I would recommend just using the free GNU compiler.
Lastly, what do you use for reference material when trying to implement the newest in AI/Graphic/etc. technology?
My current job involves implementing 3D graphics, physics, and collision detection algorithms so I use all of the traditional textbooks (Computer Graphics Principles and Practices, etc) and am always looking out for relevant research papers both old and new. I also watch the news groups on the off chance that someone will say something that will trigger an idea in my mind.