Developing on console, another challenge? Interview with Khalil Hajlaoui

Interview Khalil Ecran Partage

With Khalil, we met through our previous jobs and we noticed many points in common including our passion for good Japanese games from SEGA, Nintendo, Capcom, SNK … and the arcade.

Today I want to talk to him because I think his journey can inspire children, teenagers and students who aspire to join the industry.

Hello Khalil! Could you please tell us what your current profession is?

My current position is a console programmer at Digital Extremes, I am in charge with a team of porting the Warframe game to the different home consoles (Playstation, Xbox and Switch)

And is this your first job in video games?

I started working in video games in 2011 it must be 10 years now

What studies did you do?

I followed a bachelor’s degree in electronics and programming that I completed in Brussels, Belgium. In 2009, I decided to come to Montreal to follow a 2nd cycle degree in video game development at the Ubisoft campus and which was offered to students in collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke in Longueuil.

What was your background to working in the video game industry?

I have always been passionate about video games since my childhood, especially on console with Sonic on Megadrive (Genesis) which was a revelation for me. Since then I have always maintained this passion on home consoles, portable consoles and arcades.

At the end of my high school, I did not think that it would be possible to make a career in video games: at the time there were not many companies in Belgium and the training was insufficient not to say non-existent, which did not offer a stable perspective in this sector. In 2007, I worked in a computer consulting firm for 2 years, and that’s when I heard about the Ubisoft campus in Montreal: there were already other courses in France and Belgium that were starting to offer a program dedicated to multimedia, but they were complete courses of 2 to 3 years and were still too generalist, unlike the Ubisoft campus which offered a real specialized training in 1 year. It was an opportunity that I jumped on and decided to take the steps to have a student visa so that I could come and study in Montreal.

Since my arrival in 2009, everything has gone quite quickly, with various job offers at the end of my studies, which have allowed me to settle in Montreal and make my passion my job until now.

What does a typical day look like as a programmer?

A typical day of a programmer is:

  • Meeting called “standup meeting”, to go around the tasks in progress
  • Planning meeting for upcoming tasks, evaluation meeting for task execution.
  • Technical support for different trades (artist, designer range, etc.)
  • Submission of deliverables (functionality requested in the tasks) in collaboration with the various trades (artist, game designer, etc.)
  • Bug fixes (runtime errors).
  • Follow-up of validation of deliverables with quality assurance (QA) services

What are the points you enjoy most when working in the industry?

I would say that what has marked me the most is:

  • The direct impact that his work can have on the quality of a game.
  • The challenge of learning new technologies.
  • The satisfaction of a job well done as a team.
  • Recognition and the relationship that develops between colleagues.

What are the negatives when working in the industry?

The development of a video game is a collective work in which everyone has a role to play, collaboration is essential and involves several responsibilities, I would say that the points that must be remembered:

  • Know how to accept criticism and change your habits
  • Agree to perform certain tasks that can be burdensome or daunting
  • Accept that some deliverables will not be integrated into the project

What advice would you give to students who want to enter the industry?

The best advice I could give:

  • Find out which trade suits you the most: game designer, level designer, programmer, illustrator, UI artist, 2D/3D animator, modeler, sound designer, etc. find out about the most requested profiles, it will always be possible to reposition yourself afterwards.
  • If you can’t land an internship in a company, work on your own personal projects or participate in Game Jam (prototyping competition), this is the best experience you can have.
  • Participate in the various exhibitions organized (MIGS/Mega, Demos Night, etc.) in order to network and present his creations.
  • Persevering in the technical difficulty, it will open all the doors to you
  • Be curious and continuously train on different technologies.

What advice would you give to parents who want their children to play in moderation?

For my part I found several solutions:

  • Participate in sessions: this provides better control over the choice of games and playing time.
  • Choose a game whose lifespan or theme is limited in time and which does not require a large investment or allows you to do a short session, such as puzzle games, arcade games in cooperation, games with narrations, etc.
  • Offer game sessions as a choice or alternative with other activities (outings, crafts, sports or artistic activities)
  • With the parental control tools offered it is also possible to limit the play time automatically if one can not be present.
Do you have any other tips for parents who don’t know a video game?

For young players, choose Nintendo handheld consoles, such as the Nintendo DS or 3DS for small budgets or the Switch for a larger budget.

Also with the rise in the prices of the latest generation games, a good alternative is to shop on the second-hand market

What are you playing at the moment? And do you recommend the titles in question?

I currently have a very long list of games for which I take the time to play them depending on the moment, it will:

  • Platform games: Splasher, BoxBoy, Sonic Mania plus,etc.
  • Puzzle games: Picross 3D round 2, Bridge Construct portal, etc.
  • Action games: Virtua Fighter 5, Soul Calibur 6, Dragon Ball Fighter Z, Warframe, Streets of Rage 4,etc.
  • Racing games: Wipeout Omega, Horizon chase turbo, etc.
  • Adventure games: Yakuza Kiwami, Absolver, etc.
  • Retro games: Myst, Grandia HD, Daytona USA, Fire Emblem shadow dragon, Langrisser, etc.

I alternate a lot between the Playstation 4, for solo sessions, and the Switch, for family sessions.

Do you have any games to recommend for the kids? and for teenagers?

As I am a great nostalgic for the games of my childhood, I would tend to discover older games that have marked the genres and that, I think, allow to maintain a video game culture that is sorely lacking in our time. Fortunately many titles have been redone or brought up to date and can easily be played, so I will advise, for the youngest:

  • Picross 3D (NDS)
  • BoxBoy (3DS)
  • Sonic Mania Plus (PS/XBOX/Switch)
  • Virtua Racing (Switch)
  • Daytona USA (XBOX)
  • Pikmin 3 (Switch)

For Teenagers

  • Metroid Zero Mission (GBA, NDS)
  • Streets of rage 4 (PS/XBOX/Switch)
  • Shenmue I&II (PS/XBOX)
  • Panzer Dragoon (Switch)
  • Ikaruga (Switch)
  • Okami (Switch)
  • Strider (PS)
  • Fez (PS/XBOX/Switch)
  • Guardian Heroes (XBOX)

Khalil, on which social networks can we find you?

I am present on LinkedIn,I also plan to give evening classes in video game programming, a continuing education that will be given in the college of Bois de Boulogne, in Montreal, Quebec.
I’m also working on a personal project with a former colleague but I can’t say more at the moment, I hope to be able to present something by the end of the year

Khalil, thank you very much for your time and advice.

Thank you Marc.

About Marc Shakour

Former video game programmer, columnist, teacher, competitor ... Marc has always been very familiar with the world and industry of video games. He decided to help neophytes about it, to discover new universes, worlds and fantastic creatures.

View all posts by Marc Shakour