Interview Vehicle Dynamics Designer - Nathan Heinis
Would you like to know more about the profession of Vehicle Dynamics Designer at Kylotonn? Nathan Heinis tells you more.
How would you define the job of Vehicle Dynamics Designer at KT? Can you tell us more about your role in Kylotonn?
In a few words, I adjust the parameters of the simulation to suit the different needs we may have. This can be realism, accessibility, or respecting a particular creative vision. The goal is to turn intentions into cars. I am a race engineer on virtual cars!
Can you tell us about your background?
I did math sup / math spé (editor's note: preparatory classes for the competitive entrance exams to the higher education schools of engineering) to pass the competitive entrance exams to go to engineering school. Originally, I wanted to do electronics for the console manufacturers, but instead of going to engineering school, I finally decided, kinda on a whim, to do video games. So I went to do game design, not knowing what it would entail. In the end, it's a good thing because my current job is at the intersection of what I did in engineering and in game design. It's really a job that suits my background.
What do you like the most about your job?
It's difficult to choose one thing! I like several aspects of the job. Physics in general: I love creating models, it's always cool to try to represent phenomena. In video games, we have a constraint, which is: "it must run at least X times per second". This is a constraint that is not found in scientific simulation, for example. The model has to be fast, realistic, but also fun and playable. I often end up with an interpretation of reality by our dyna programmer (editor's note: a dyna programmer is a programmer in charge of understanding the actions and consequences of real physics on a vehicle and reproducing them as precisely as possible in a program, in this case a video game) with values or approaches that are a little different from what one might expect.. It is always a pleasure to make models with these constraints, it's a challenge! We also have other obstacles, like making it all possible and functional on the whole TDUSC roster. Professionally speaking, it's very satisfying to find a solution that checks several boxes: what we can do in the production, what improves the overall game experience etc.
But on a more personal level, my favorite part of my job is also my colleagues who are great people, and it's always great to share moments with them!
Tell us about your regular day
My day always starts with a daily meeting,which varies in length depending on the problems to be solved (laughs) I only participate to the Game designer of TDUSC daily since I'm attached to this department.
"Sorry to interrupt, but why are you attached to the game design division?"
It's important because the visions of the Lead Game Designer and the Creative Director need to come to me, and logically, that's the most direct route. The behavior of the vehicles has to match the game design intentions.
After this daily, I start my day. The " typical day " that I like the most starts with a test of the game. I look at what problems there might be, how I can try to solve them. I think about a model that can solve this or that problem, while thinking about the production constraints that could emerge if we were to implement that model. Then, I do a pre-tuning pass of the model, I test a little bit of everything to see if it works. And if I'm lucky, by the end of the day, I might have improved a feature on all the cars!
What qualities do you consider essential for your job?
I think that my job is part of 3 subsets of jobs: first, Vehicle Dynamics Designer, which is part of the Game Designers group,which is itself part of the video game developers category. Each group requires certain skills. For Vehicle Dynamics Designers, it's really important to know how the math works, the physics and so on...There's a lot of instinctual research, but for the part of applying that to the scale of a game and the scale of the roster, you need the math. That's what's going to give us a consistent, actionable result across the entire game.
As a Game Designer, you have to get away from the stereotype of "the person with the ideas". Everyone knows how to have ideas. For me, a good GD is someone who manipulates ideas, whether they are other people's or his own, to make something coherent. You have a lot of constraints to respect, it has to work well with all the other mechanics, it has to be fluid, it has to be accessible...So for me, you have to know how to do something other than having ideas, no matter what your area of expertise is, and to have a critical eye on your own work. All of the GD work has implications upstream and downstream in the creative process. You have to know the ins and outs of what you want to add into the machine. I think it's important not to be afraid to communicate with other trades and absorb their vocabulary in order to make communication flow.
Finally, as far as game developers are concerned, I would say that the important thing is not to abandon games to the dominant discourse. It is already overrepresented because it is seen as necessary for the survival of the industry.
It's heartwarming to see that there are more games every day with queer, anti-capitalist, non-white, feminist, etc. voices. I hope this continues for studios and people who have things to say. I also hope that developers who work on games that embrace the dominant discourse will find the energy to insert criticism.
What is your favorite project to work on?
My favorite project to work on, I think, was a project I did when I was a student. It was a VR project, where we played a person who... was lazy. She would spend the day sitting at a table, but she had to accomplish her to-do list for the day with ridiculous gadgets. For example, a telescopic hand clamp to grab stuff from the shelves and feed the cat, a gun that could blow out the light bulb to turn off the light at the end of the day... It was not a polishedgame, it was not a really well made game, but it was so well managed in terms of its production that we were able to incorporate all the jokes and mechanics that we wanted to put in the game originally; it made for a super coherent and super funny game, and it was the first time I saw people actually laughing when they were playing a game that I had worked on, and it was great. That's kind of what I've been trying to do ever since, get some emotion out of what I'm producing!
How do you handle the dynamics of the different vehicles? How much detail do you go into with the different types of vehicles?
We use the same engine as WRC, and on WRC we need to have physics that are really accurate to reality. We have a really good management of many parameters, which allows us to have a large number of adjustments of all the essential parts of the cars: The torque curve of the engine, the hybridization of one or more axles, the sideways forces on the tires or their stiffness...We really have a simulation of the different elements of the car, from the engine to the ABS through the differential and the inertia of the chassis...This allows us to really adapt the driving according to the type of vehicle and the sensations we are looking for. Then, we also have other variables that result from the simulation, for example, the rotation speed of the wheels or how they slide on the ground; and all these values are then sent to other trades. For example, the sound teams will need the variable "the engine is under this much load, so we're sending this kind of sound". The UI team is going to need "We're running at so many revolutions per minute, so we need to display it on the car dashboard in such and such a way". It's a bit of a "black box" from an external point of view, where I'm (almost) alone in the box, but all the other teams will need the information that comes out of it!
So to manage all this it's a bit like a snake biting its own tail as all the variables interact with each other, but by fixing some simple points at times we manage to dig into the more complex points.
The last word ?
I have a lot of random things to say! For example, people probably think I love cars...and I do! I love cars. But ”Fuck cars”! (Editor's note: A movement of more than 380K people, against car-centric urban design, which tries to propose alternative solutions. Details here: /r/Fuckcars) Give us trains and public transport!
On a more serious note, the car itself, as a sport, as a piece of engineering, is a wonderful thing, and I am the first person to be interested in it. It's even one of the main bond I have with my little brother who is a mechanic, it's a passion we share and it's something that is really important to me. But I think that you can't really appreciate cars and motorsports if you don't realize the ecological disaster that is the daily use of the car. I'm not talking about people who don't have a choice, who have to use their car to go to work etc. I'm talking about thinking on a global political scale about the use of the car as a means of massive transportation, which we can use as we please, and which will remove the need to build public transportation. But we need it! For me, the car should be a hobby. I'd love to drive a Miata around the track on the weekends and take the train to work during the week. And I'd like this hobby to be long-lasting, so that people who want to dig up asphalt can continue to do so. That's why, as a racing enthusiast, I'm committed to supporting the "Fuck car" initiative..
And otherwise, the real final word: Bombarde (french slang for going really, really fast).
WRC is available from November 3 on PlayStation®4, PlayStation®5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Steam PC and on Nintendo Switch™.