Jochem Kuijpers has always been curious about technology, which shaped his determination to become a game programmer
Jochem talks to us about his childhood in a small Dutch town, what tech programming is like at Guerrilla, and offers advice for other programming aspirants.
Hi Jochem! Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I’m Jochem, a Tech Programmer here at Guerrilla! I grew up here in the Netherlands – a small town in the south region of Noord-Brabant, not too far from Amsterdam.
Oh wow, tell us about your life in Brabant!
Like in most Dutch places, the biking infrastructure is really good and the streets are safe to navigate. There was a lot of freedom! I spent a lot of time roaming the countryside on bikes, building tree huts, or playing games with friends. Growing up there, I took music lessons and played on a soccer team for a while. My parents also made sure that I spent at least part of the summer holidays doing some kind of summer job, which I now see as a really valuable experience.
It sounds wonderful and quaint. What inspired you to make the move to the Amsterdam area?
I moved closer to the Amsterdam area because the commute to the office would've been almost two hours door-to-door otherwise! When I started at Guerrilla in 2020, the company was working from home because of the pandemic and so I had a lot of time to think about where I wanted to live.
I now live in a well-connected town just outside of Amsterdam, with great public transit options in just about every direction! Now that I'm working in the office, my door-to-door commute is much shorter.
What do you think was the earliest root of your programming journey?
I was always interested in technology. I often asked my dad how various things worked, from household appliances to power plants. He'd sit down with me and explain it in terms that I could understand. I also liked playing with LEGOs, especially the Technic sets, and the electric train set that we had. I took apart RC cars and other simple electronic toys. My mom would usually warn me that if I didn't know how to put it back together, it might never work again. But I’d reassure her that I knew exactly how they fit back together, and indeed I managed to get things working again (most of the time)!
You sound like you were such a curious child! Were you into any specific games when you were younger?
My siblings and I played games like Prince of Persia and Sokoban on an old DOS computer. We never figured out how to save in these games, so we simply replayed the beginnings. I'm not sure if we ever got to the end! I can probably dream the first few levels of both of those games.
I also played a lot of RollerCoaster Tycoon on our Windows 95 PC. Later, we saved enough money to buy a second-hand PlayStation 2 – our first gaming console!
And when did this love of games become your path to programming?
I really wanted to know how things work, which naturally included computers. In 2008 I came across the online Dutch GameMaker community where I learned how to use early versions of GameMaker. I shared a few games I made on this forum and other users would comment, give feedback, write tutorial posts for each other – often with code samples and downloadable project files. Tinkering with these files was a great way to learn programming and get to know like-minded people.
Ah, so you got a great head start with it as a hobby. When did you decide to pursue it as your career?
I knew I wanted to do game programming for a living in early high school. I looked up GDC talks, blog posts, and other resources about it. I knew that the gaming industry would be competitive, so I attended Eindhoven University of Technology to study Computer Science. I reasoned that game developers would always need good programmers, and this university would teach me how to do that well!
Tell us about joining Guerrilla!
I actually applied about a year before I graduated, which in hindsight wasn't the best plan I've ever had – but luckily I was rejected at the time, so I took the time to finish my degree. After graduating I reached out to the recruiter once more, even though the job listing wasn’t at my experience level. To my surprise, I was invited for interviews and ended up joining as a Junior Game Tech Programmer! So if you think you might be a good fit but lack the experience, I recommend applying anyway – you never know!
How do you find working for the studio?
Guerrilla is amazing! The atmosphere is great and there are a lot of opportunities to socialize. Guerrilla really invests in employees and understands that even though we work on amazing projects, work is work. You can be a Guerrilla from 9 to 5 and have a life outside of work, which I think is really important.
Can you tell us a little bit about tech programming at Guerrilla? How do they support other teams?
Our tech teams support the game teams in a lot of different ways, since we work on our own state-of-the-art game engine, our editor, tools and studio infrastructure that our games are built upon. We also take care of various low-level engine systems for the game systems. Our tech teams have very passionate people working in highly specialized roles, so that means there's always something interesting happening!
We try to anticipate the engine features that the game teams will need for game projects. This way, we aim to make sure our tech supports their use cases by the time they need it, or at least that we have room in our schedules to work on the features in a timely way.
What’s challenging about your role? What do you enjoy most about your work?
There’s a lot of interdisciplinary communication involved when working on a game project, which can sometimes be challenging if two people are approaching the same problem from two different angles. But it's also very rewarding when this goes right and you create a cool new feature that everyone gets really excited about!
What I enjoy is knowing I helped on a great game like Horizon Forbidden West. When working on low level systems, it's sometimes hard to point out my contributions because the code I wrote doesn't typically produce visuals or audio directly. But I'm very proud to have helped the team ship Horizon Forbidden West and seeing players enjoy the game is a lot of fun!
Do you have any advice for people who’d like to pursue programming?
Find your curiosity! Deep-dive into the questions you ask yourself or see other people ask in order to build a deeper understanding of the things that you're working on or with. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! The internet is full of people trying to help.
If you're just starting out, check out The Coding Train, a YouTube channel/website that uses a very exploratory way of teaching programming. Once you've got a grasp of how programming works, I'd recommend downloading your game engine of choice and finding video tutorials online. The benefit of programming in a game engine is that you typically have quick visual feedback on what is going on, which will motivate you when things get difficult.
Then, I recommend making small prototypes of single game mechanics or small games. Here, I think it’s better to finish four projects in a month than never finishing one. If you’re in for a challenge, try to make something from scratch without a game engine! You can use these projects in your portfolio if you end up applying to Guerrilla – we'd love to see them!