24 Nov 2020
Hi Francesco, before we get straight into it - tell us as little bit about yourself.
Name: Francesco Roccucci
Job Title: AI Director
Company Working For: Cloud Imperium Games
Years of experience: 12 years in the video game industry, started working as programming for a web agency in 2001 while studying.
Let's get into it!
Q. Are there any particular games that you've worked on that you'd like to mention?
A. When I worked in Crytek, I had the opportunity of joining the Crysis team to work on the AI of Crysis 3.
The team was composed by very experienced developers and it was run with a flat structure: the game was the product of a team effort; everybody was a driver, and everybody was strongly responsible for his own part.
Q. How did you first get into the industry?
A. My first memory of video games can be dated 1983-1984, I was 3-4 years old when I saw “Jumping Acrobats” on a Philips Videopac at my cousin’s place.
I got a Commodore 64 as a gift from my parents a few years later. I was so amazed by what that piece of technology could do that I dedicated a lot of time to learn Basic and I started programming my first text-adventures.
That built the dream of becoming a video-games programmer, in particular I wanted to work on Artificial Intelligence.
My first job in this field was with EA in the EA Phenomic studio in Ingelheim, where I worked on Battleforge as Tools Programmer Intern.
Q. Did you complete any courses or get any particular qualifications relative to the role?
A. I studied Informatics Engineering at “La Sapienza” in Rome and I got a MSc, with a major in “Artificial Intelligence”.
I always loved math, programming and I was (and of course still am) fascinated with AI, so studying the branch of Engineering related to the Artificial Intelligence was my dream.
Q. Is there any particular software/hardware/systems that you use?
A. I mostly work in Windows environment and the program I use most of the time is Visual Studio.
We have quite powerful machines to be able to run the game in development mode, so we need powerful CPU, GPU and also tons of RAM.
Recently I’m also using a lot confluence and mind-mapping or graph tools to describe the architecture of the systems we want to develop.
Q. How large is the team you work with?
A. The people that directly report to me are currently 6 but we aim to grow the team to maybe double the size.
The AI in games is connected to pretty much all other departments so on a daily basis I work a lot with Animation and Design in addition to the other programmers.
As AI Director I have to also overview and review the work of those additional departments, for example reviewing the implementation of new behaviours or helping the animation team to define which animations we need and how we could implement them at best in the game.
Q. Have you had any opportunities to travel with the role? If so, what's your best experience?
A. Unfortunately, due to the current pandemic we have suspended all the traveling in the past year, but before that I have been traveling between all our studios: Manchester, Austin and LA are really beautiful places to visit.
Q. How would you describe an average working day?
A. My usual working day starts around 10.00, I begin catching up with my emails to verify if I need to unblock any colleague with clarifications or decisions.
I then run few quick syncs with other directors to verify the progress of the work of the sprint teams I am responsible for.
My day can then continue with a combination of more hands-on work and managerial work.
I like to keep some development tasks for myself, I like to try to tackle tasks that can relieve some pressure from my team. I tend to keep myself hands-on mostly on some of the core technology, as an example the Subsumption System (Behaviour and Mission) and Navigation, just to mention a couple.
I then spend part of the day reviewing the AI content, for example how behaviours have been implemented and how code is written through code reviews.
Finally, I also dedicate some time to our producers to maintain the team backlogs and verifying priorities or defining the next architectural steps for our systems.
Q. What advice would you give someone looking to get into the industry?
A. What I always suggest to the people who ask me this question is to follow your own passions. Being passionate about what you do is, in my opinion, the only way to be good at it.
If you want to be a good programmer, take your time to study not just a programming language but also how a computer works, don’t forget to build good math basis.
In addition to that, dedicate time to working on your projects. Trying to solve problems on your own teaches you invaluable lessons and allows you to experience some of the real situations you might encounter in the industry.
Q. What would you say is the best part of working at your company?
A. Cloud Imperium Games is a company dedicated to technology and innovation. As an Engineer and as an AI specialist I love to be in a company where pushing the boundaries is the main mission.
I love I can work on super challenging and interesting tasks and to have the chance to architect the AI system for both our single player and multiplayer games.
And I love that my role allows me to direct the AI department but also leaves me the time to be involved with the detailed implementation.
Q. Is there anything up and coming in your business that you would like to let us know about/promote?
A. The AI team is always looking for new talents, our goal is to create a living and breathing world and we need the best people in the industry to do it.
We always look forward to finding motivated and self-driven people that can work in our ecosystem and take care of the creation of complex content and the engineering of systems that can scale for the large simulation that is Star Citizen.
Q. And finally, is there anything else you would like to add?
A. Hope to see you in the verse!
Keep Calm and waka waka...