Leveling Up: From Intern to Employee at Funkitron

Funkitron staff, who typically work together remotely, meet up in Newburyport

Boston-based mobile game development studio Funkitron recently finished its first summer internship and recruitment program. Two students and two recent graduates, including Randi Cover, an MIT alum (2016, 18C), joined the company at the start of the summer to create content for Cascade, Funkitron’s ongoing mobile puzzle game project.

Funkitron interviewed the interns, who also included Daniel Hua (Carnegie Mellon 2017, Computer Science), Josh Malmquist (RIT 2018, Game Design and Development), and Brooke Milan (RIT 2016, Game Design and Development), and shared their perspectives with GECD.

Randi Cover
Randi Cover ('16, 18C)

Have you had internship/work experiences like this before?

RC: I UROPed with the Game Lab Summer 2015, Fall 2015, and Spring 2016.

DH: My previous work experience involved doing research with a professor. Though I think Funkitron is unique in that interns can work remotely.

JM: The only internship/work experience I had like this was when I Interned for Funkitron in my senior [year]. When I first interned with Funkitron, I worked on prototyping some new game concepts in Lua using Corona SDK.

BM: Not like this, no. My first internship was with iD Tech, a technology summer camp for kids, where I taught C# in Unity, Java Modding in Minecraft, and Game Design in Minecraft. It proved really helpful in mastering basics in those languages and also how to teach something to someone else who may or may not understand as much as I do. I had a lot of fun there and enjoyed teaching children about how awesome programming is, but have felt more fulfilled at Funkitron by contributing to a project with a user base.

What sticks out most in your mind about your time at Funkitron?

RC: It’s really fun to work here. I enjoy the work I’m doing and the people I’m working with.

DH: Level design. There are just so many mechanics, and there are so many different ways to combine them to make interesting things happen!

JM: The giant level design group meetings. For me it was incredibly interesting to see firsthand how the land/level design process works. I liked being a part of them and coming up with new ideas for level designs and mechanics.

BM: How open and friendly the entire team has been. It was almost too much! Everyone was so willing to talk or answer any questions I had; it was a little bit intimidating, in a way. But never a bad thing. It has been amazing working with everyone and being so welcomed.

Can you describe an experience where you received mentorship that helped you overcome a problem? Alternately, can you describe a situation where you came up against a problem and solved it yourself?

RC: Everyone has been super helpful during my time so far at Funkitron. Any time I have a question, I don’t feel nervous about asking someone. It feels like the other people working here
want to help us improve and that they don’t feel that answering our questions is an inconvenience.

DH: There were tons of times that I received helped from more experienced designers on my levels. One of my levels "Lights Out," initially involved a ton of logic involving switches to create the lights out puzzle, but after talking to Jonathan [Supnik], he came up with a simple solution that required none of that logic - just put area bursts into the reels! As for a situation where I solved a problem, the best example was the safes land. As I was experimenting with
safes, I found it a bit difficult to adjust them, especially in levels with multiple safes because of the sheer amount of piece mixes that a safe needs. I came up with a macro that generated these safes automatically, and a way of using this macro inline with the level code.

JM: The most common situation I faced where I came up against a problem and solved it myself was usually when I was trying to brainstorm a new design for a level. I would have this level in my head that I could see the design perfectly, but when I go to code it I would find all sorts of problems that I didn’t expect. The way I usually was able to solve this problem was iteration and trial and error. I would try one variation of the level and then base new changes to the level off of what did and didn’t work. I would also look at the level maker guide and experiment with adding a mechanic I didn’t initially consider at first.

BM: Being the technically second Land Designer was a bit intimidating. The challenge was/is different than just designing levels and the perspective it gives on what's going on in the land creation process and all the levels being made is amazing. But I struggled a bit with establishing the learning curve for ordering the levels. I was able to talk to Roh [Crasta] a few times, who has more experience and really enjoys learning curves, and he gave me some really good pointers. I was able to do a first pass organization that he thought was pretty good. We made some tweaks along with what levels we had and other changes, but I was really proud of what we did together and that those concepts had sunk in for me.

Promo for Cascade, a Funkitron game
Promo for Cascade, a Funkitron game

What's something you learned this summer that you hope to apply in your studies or career?

RC: I’ve learned so much this summer. This is the largest code base that I have ever been a part of and I had never used Lua before this summer. This is also a much bigger team than I was used to working with so I’ve had to learn how to communicate within a larger group of people.

DH: I think learning how to use Perforce is extremely relevant for many careers involving code, so that will definitely help. I've also learned a ton about Lua, so it's now another programming language that I can comfortably code in.

JM: There are many great things I learned from the internship...I learned from the level design meeting and helping co-lead a land design how to communicate properly and manage a development team, and how to keep your art team in the loop. I am looking forward to using those new skills and applying them to projects that I work on at school and in future projects. It gave me a great insight to the Do’s and Don’ts of what works for team communication.

BM: Learning curves are something I really want to continue to take to heart and use. In all types of level design, it's useful to break down game-play into individual mechanics and then those mechanics into various aspects. What does the player need to know in the simplest terms? How many levels do we need to teach that? What's the best way to teach that? What is a twist to give the player that makes them think about the mechanic a bit differently? And so on.

What's something you'd like to see us implement for future interns/employees? Alternately, do you have any advice you'd like to give to future interns/employees at Funkitron?

RC: Use the resources that are available and don’t be afraid to ask questions. And we need to make sure they get pointed to all the resources that are available to them (i.e. I didn’t know there was a programming onboarding document until over halfway into the summer).

DH: I think that having a group playtesting session every once in a while would be cool - where each level designer can choose one level to "show off" to others, and see how other designers react to playing it. As for advice for future interns: definitely ask for help when you're stuck; everyone is super accessible over Skype, especially in the level design chat.

JM: Something I would suggest implementing for future interns would be a mentorship program, where one of the Funkitron employees is matched with an intern so they can check in on them and provide guidance and advice. It would also allow for the intern to get more comfortable with the team by getting to know the mentor...or go to the mentor with general questions about the company. Some advice I would give to new interns/employees is, don’t be afraid to ask  questions if you are stuck on a problem. It is much better to try to figure out the problem and ask for help after you have been stuck for a while than to wait. Also It’s likely that someone has encountered a similar problem before and could  provide you with advice that you didn’t originally think of.

BM: I'd like to clean up the wiki a bit and give new people a better idea of the resources there - there's a lot of great documents I didn't know existed that weren't just helpful to some tasks, but were really interesting. And as for advice:  When someone says they would love to talk or answer questions, they mean it. Also, to get to know everyone where you can. Telecommuting can make that a bit more difficult, but it's great to know people on the team that much better  since we all work pretty closely.

Following the conclusion of the summer program, Daniel and Josh returned to their respective school programs, while Brooke joined new hire Randi as a full-time employee of Funkitron. See all Funkitron job opportunities, and stay connected with Funkitron on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook!