Sjoerd Grevelink is not your ordinary game developer. With a diverse career that has covered multiple platforms including PC, Playstation® 2/3, and Xbox® 360, his work ethic and capabilities have proven to be as remarkable as the games he helps create.
Specializing in gameplay programming, Sjoerd holds a Bachelor in Computer Science from Hogeschool Utrecht with a unique specialization in game programming, a testament to his strong foundation in the field. At Reloaded Games, Little Orbit, and CCG Labs, he has shaped his career with a focus on APB, a project that has been at the heart of his work and innovation.
Sjoerd is driven by his quest to develop himself professionally within a challenging work environment and to collaborate with a diverse and experienced team to produce games that resonate with fun and creativity. This unwavering dedication to his work and his desire to advance in the gaming industry has seen him contribute significantly to APB’s evolution, from his work on seasonal events to creating new game modes like Survival aka RIOT, to complex technical achievements in engine optimization.
With a career that’s as expansive as his, it’s time to delve into Sjoerd’s journey and take a closer look at how dedication and technical prowess have combined to create unforgettable gaming experiences.
Sjoerd, your career as a game developer, particularly with APB, spans numerous roles and projects – can you tell us how you first became involved with the game and what initially drew you to it?
I actually got recruited to work on APB during the Games Development Conference (GDC) and GamesCom conventions in Germany. At the time, I was seeking employment, having several leads, but thought attending GDC could be a great opportunity to network with friends and possibly discover other companies.
At a GDC party for speakers, I sought a friend who was presenting, and during the event, I conversed with many individuals in search of programmers. One of them was the CEO of Reloaded Games. They showcased a beta version of APB: Reloaded at the convention and arranged an interview for me with their programmers who were also present. Conducting my first interview on the noisy show floor felt quite surreal, yet exciting. Fortunately, they had a competent team, and I ultimately joined them.
Throughout your years at Reloaded Games and Little Orbit, you’ve had a significant impact on APB’s development. What would you say was the most challenging technical aspect you’ve tackled in the game, and how did you approach it?
The most challenging aspect was definitely the engine upgrade. Initiating such a project presents its own set of hurdles. Given access to the engine’s source code, we had to choose between integrating the game code into a new engine or updating the existing engine’s code incrementally. We opted for the latter, beginning with the Scaleform UI system. This component was relatively independent within the engine and was implemented into the live game prior to the comprehensive engine update. This strategy allowed us to test parts of the upgrade progressively until the entire update was completed.
Games often evolve with time, requiring creative innovations to stay relevant and engaging. Could you share some of the innovative gameplay features you’ve developed for APB and how they have shaped the player experience?
Two aspects stand out for improvement. Firstly, we faced limitations in creating new weapons due to the existing system’s constraints. To address this, we introduced a system enabling designers to define weapon properties over time or per slot by specifying points on a graph. This seemingly minor enhancement significantly expanded the designers’ ability to craft innovative weapons. Secondly, I developed a versatile mission system to experiment with various gameplay styles, enriching the game with engaging seasonal events and eventually leading to the introduction of the RIOT game mode.
Optimizing a game engine is no small feat; it demands a robust understanding of both the software and the desired outcome. How did you approach engine optimization for APB and APB Console, and what were the benchmarks you aimed to achieve?
Unreal Engine’s built-in metric tools, alongside other commercial solutions, assist in analyzing time spent within the game to optimize performance. We explore speeding up processes or spreading tasks over multiple frames for smoother gameplay. For character customization, a robust system requires time to merge assets for display, so we initially show a placeholder character, replacing it with the final version upon completion. Our performance goals were an average of 60 fps and a low of 30 fps, challenging for consoles but aimed for parity or improvement on PC post-upgrade.
Implementing systems like the Anzu advertisement framework represents a blend of technical and creative problem-solving. How do you find the balance between enhancing the game technologically and maintaining an immersive player experience?
For the Anzu framework, we had billboards in-game that we occasionally updated to showcase our events. Adapting these to display real advertisements brought more realism to the game, set in a US city where billboards are common. This includes rotating billboards on our bus-stops and televisions.
We prioritize the gameplay experience, opting for technological improvements that enhance the game, rather than adding features for their own sake.
The work on a new game mode for APB and upgrading the engine suggests a continuous improvement mindset. How do you prioritize your development goals and stay innovative in a long-standing project like APB?
It’s truly a balancing act. We collaborate with our lead designers and producers to devise a plan for the game’s live version, while still dedicating some developers to the engine upgrade. The upgrade was crucial for the console releases, as the older version of Unreal didn’t support those consoles, and both the UI and gameplay weren’t designed or optimized for controller use.
Your role has expanded over the years to not only include development but also management and mentoring. How has your transition been from a technical expert to a leader guiding a team of developers?
To be honest, it has been challenging. Leading a team requires a different skill set than contributing directly to the game. With our team being small- to medium-sized, I often need to handle both roles. Nonetheless, I make an effort to stay informed about everyone’s contributions to ensure I understand the project’s progress and organization. This approach has been beneficial for guiding team members on their tasks, answering queries, and determining which tasks suit each developer’s strengths.
Lastly, in your quest to create fun games with an awesome team, what has been your most memorable project or accomplishment at Reloaded Games, and why does it stand out for you?
We explored expanding the APB universe into different game genres. I was involved in two projects, particularly enjoying APB: Vendetta, a high-energy first-person shooter incorporating parkour elements. We developed a prototype featuring various parkour moves, and I collaborated closely with a designer to refine these movements and enhance navigation within a basic level. While not the most complex task, this period of direct collaboration to discover enjoyable gameplay elements is a cherished memory.
It’s clear that Sjoerd Grevelink’s career is a tapestry woven with persistence, creativity, and technological acumen. As players continue to traverse the streets of APB, they directly experience the fruits of his labor—a labor born out of love for game development and a commitment to excellence that is second to none.
In case Sjoerd’s story has inspired you, remember that the essence of game development is the continuous journey of learning, innovation, and fun. Perhaps it’s time to revisit APB or even take up coding to craft your own world. Whatever path you choose, may it be filled with the dedication and passion that Sjoerd models so well.