Here’s why we think Adrian is swell…
Clint Bundrick, Combat Designer: We knew Adrian was awesome within the first 30 minutes of his interview. During that interview, we asked Adrian to tell us what he thought about Sky-Lines and how we could fix them. We had been trying to wrap our heads around them for months, and it hadn’t quite clicked yet. Adrian walked in the door and without hesitation picked up the controller and redesigned portions of the system on the fly. By the end of it, he had effectively solved many of the problems with which we had been struggling. We knew instantly that he was the Sky-Line guy. Equally famous for his lustrous hair and unwavering work ethic, Adrian has become much more than just the Sky-Line guy, and is now the go-to team member when it comes to any and every system in BioShock Infinite. Chances are, if you can interact with it in BioShock Infinite, Balanon was involved.
Your title on BioShock Infinite is Senior Systems Designer. What does that mean?
Adrian Balanon: It means I’m responsible for some aspect of gameplay, whether it is player abilities, weapons, AI behavior, movement, or controls. Systems Designers are at the forefront of what the player is able to do and how he is able to do it.
In a nutshell, we take abstract concepts and rules and work with the creative direction and all the departments to translate that onto the screen. When a Director says, “This gun sucks,” it’s our job to figure out how to make it not suck. The solution could be one of many factors such as rate of fire, how long it takes to reload, the animation of the weapon when it reloads or fires, the glow of tracer and muzzle-flash visual FX, the sound of it firing, the length of the reload, its damage output. We touch all those pieces.
What games have you worked on?
AB: I have worked on Spider-Man 2, Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man 3, Kung-Fu Panda, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and two unannounced projects that were cancelled. The best part about my career thus far is that I have gone through Dev Team Quality Assurance, Production, Level Design, and Systems Design.
Describe Life at Irrational in three words or less.
AB: Always be closing.
What is your favorite game of all time?
AB: Oof, that’s a tough question. As a gamer, I’d have to say MechWarrior 2. It has all the things I love: giant robots, giant robot customization, the feeling I’m in control of a giant walking robot, lasers, and explosions. It probably did not help that I read all the MechWarrior novelizations as a kid.
However, as someone working in the industry, I’d have to say Spider-Man 2. I learned so much working on that project. While I was a QA Tester/Lead on that project, I was with the development team and was able to learn how development works from the ground up, and how to approach player mechanics and combat design. Honestly, I think people who get into the industry will always consider their first project as something special, and that was mine.
What is your favorite movie?
AB: This is always a difficult question for me because I enjoy a lot of movies, and two always crop up. It is either Lawrence of Arabia or Blade Runner. However, since you are putting me on the spot, I’d have to choose Lawrence of Arabia.
I chose that one because when I was in junior high, my world history teacher showed the movie spread out over a week, and even though it was a CRT television, I was awed by the story and the beautiful wide shots.
When I got to high school and the first few years of college, I had a friend who had a very infectious love of movies, and I started watching them in the many revival houses around Los Angeles. Let me tell you, watching Lawrence exit the Nefud Desert in 70mm after he went back in to rescue someone who got lost in the initial passage is an incredibly memorable movie moment that everyone should experience.
Whenever I see Lawrence of Arabia pop up in a theater schedule, I try to make sure that I can go watch it.
What are your hobbies outside of work?
AB: I probably have way too many interests and hobbies. Some are passing fads, but the things that have stayed with me are games, reading a lot of nonfiction, and photography.
I’ve already talked about my favorite game; needless to say I try to stay informed about all game genres. I enjoy plenty of FPS games, RPGs, fighters, and action games, but for niche stuff, I enjoy war games and point-and-click adventure games. The two I have on the docket now when I have time are Gary Grigsby’s War in the East and Jane Jensen’s Gray Matter.
In terms of nonfiction, I’m reading Barbarossa Derailed by David Glantz, which is about the operational history of the Eastern Front of World War II, and I just completed Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden. I am biased toward nonfiction because history fascinates me. It comes from two different influences.
In elementary school, we had a library in the building, and we were required to check one book out each week and read it. The one I remember distinctively from that time was a book about the USS Nautilus and its trip to the North Pole, written for children. At that point, I said to myself, “America is pretty awesome, I wonder what else happened?” This line of thinking eventually took me to Rome and Greece, but that’s another story.
The second influence would have to be my father. He enjoys Civil War history, and we watched Ken Burns’ Civil War when it first aired. I try to watch that series once each year. I own the soundtrack, it’s amazing.
Lastly, I’m into photography if for no other reason than it gets me outside. It’s probably the hobby that is able to get me to relax and forget about the world. I shoot with a Nikon D7000, but I still feel like a noob because I’m also a little impatient. If there is a lesson I can personally take away from photography, it is that you have to just stop and look around.
Where do you go and shoot with your camera?
AB: I’ve only been in Boston a little over a year, so I take one day out of my weekend, get up, get on a train, pick a random station in the city, and start walking. Eventually, like any tourist, I wind up on the Freedom Trail. It’s incredibly relaxing. I was from the West Coast previously, so having access to public transportation has been an eye-opener.
Tell your favorite story about life at Irrational.
AB: The short version of the story goes like this: I was still pretty new to the team, and I was sitting at my desk tuning some numbers and Ken Levine walks by and drops off a banana cream pie. He heard I liked them, so he wanted to get me one in appreciation for something I had done earlier in the month. He didn’t know why I liked them, but people I had worked with previously had told him that he should get me pie if I did something good. It was pretty awesome and the pie was delicious!
The long version of the story: On one of the projects I worked on, I bought pie for some people working late and there was one whole pie left, which was banana cream. I took the pie and put it in my mini-fridge and wrote a note in permanent marker on a notepad to remind myself about the pie.
The handwriting was squirrely, as if I was holding the pen with a closed fist, and the note just said “EAT PIE.” Needless to say, when I got to work the following day, I realized that I still had pie and that I probably worked way too late the previous night. I wound up keeping the notepad through through the years as a souvenir and placed it on a wall in my work area. Every now and then, people will ask, “Why do you have a note to eat pie?” Usually, I would respond with, “if you had pie, wouldn’t you want a reminder to eat it?