Shaping the Virtual World: An Inside Look with APB’s Key Innovator, Sjoerd Grevelink

Shaping the Virtual World: An Inside Look with APB's Key Innovator, Sjoerd Grevelink

Sjoerd Grevelink carries the unique combination of an inquisitive mind and an imaginative spirit, both of which have propelled him to the forefront of the gaming industry. With an extensive background in computer science and embedded real-time systems, Sjoerd has chiseled his legacy into the bedrock of the game development world through his role at Reloaded Games, Little Orbit, and CCG Labs.

As a game programmer, Sjoerd has embraced a diverse array of challenges, applying his deep knowledge of gameplay programming across PC, Playstation, and Xbox platforms. Sjoerd’s pursuit is not just about conquering technical hurdles; it’s about fostering a collaborative environment where creativity thrives.

His mission has been to advance his professional skills and to blossom in the game programming field, continuously seeking to contribute to a company with a broad palette of experiences. Sjoerd’s educational journey fortified his technical prowess but it’s his dedication to making enjoyable games alongside a harmonious team that underscores his professional narrative.

The heart of his story beats strongest in his work on the game APB—a labor of love where he has funneled his most innovative efforts. Today, we peel back the curtains to reveal how his multifaceted contributions have shaped APB’s success and how he has helped maintain its competitive edge.

Sjoerd, throughout your tenure with APB, you’ve been involved in a broad range of tasks. Could you highlight some projects or initiatives that you believe had the most significant impact on the game’s success?

I believe the most well-received system I worked on involved the seasonal events and minigames. These additions brought a sense of fun to a game primarily focused on competitive play. It also enabled us to explore different modes and gameplay types and facilitated easier playtesting of new weapons without distributing them to all playtesters individually.

Another significant project I tackled was developing a tool to automate game builds. Many off-the-shelf tools are designed for smaller codebases and struggle with a game as complex as APB. Our previous build system, crafted by a colleague who had since left, became challenging for the remaining team to maintain. Creating a maintainable, user-friendly tool was crucial for our ongoing development work.

Developing new game modes is quite challenging. What inspired the creation of the Survival aka RIOT mode in APB, and what challenges did you face during its development?

Before I started work on RIOT, I worked on a system that facilitated seasonal events, as previously mentioned. We experimented with smaller game modes themed around the seasons. For example, we introduced several snowball-related game modes around Christmas and a headless horseman event for Halloween. After creating these, we began exploring next steps towards developing a new and interesting primary mission system for APB. We considered several potential events/modes that could serve as stepping stones in that direction. One idea was inspired by the survival modes gaining popularity at the time (ca 2018).

This initiative required a significant redesign, incorporating not only the new game mode but also adjustments to the map to accommodate it. Ensuring everything was set up correctly in the game mode while maintaining the integrity of the normal gameplay presented challenges. A lot of other challenges, like ensuring the parties joining end up together, and being flagged correctly, have been tackled in those seasonal events.

Can you walk us through the process of integrating the Anzu advertisement framework into APB? What do you think this innovative approach brought to the player experience?

Our cooperation with Anzu began on the business side. When the project was passed to me, they provided me with an API and some implementation examples, which made the initial setup relatively easy. We decided that utilizing the billboards already scattered throughout the city was a good choice, as this would add more realism to the game. However, this did require some modifications to the billboards since they weren’t originally set up to be dynamic. I then went through the billboards, configuring them with the necessary data to display the Anzu advertisements. Additionally, there are some screen props that can feature rotating advertisements.

This enhancement really contributes to the ambiance of the city, making it feel more lived-in and less static.

Upgrading a game’s engine involves a complex interplay of technical skill and foresight. How did you approach the task of enhancing APB’s engine, and how has this upgrade improved the game for players?

We approached this in stages to ensure we didn’t break anything along the way. Given the magnitude of the task, it was too large to tackle all at once, so we began with the integration of the Scaleform UI, gradually adding features one by one until we approached some of the more major systems. These were incorporated in a separate version of the game. Certain components, such as the rendering changes in the engine, required us to optimize some of the code to accommodate the changes we initially made to the engine, like adding the day-night cycle.

However, by doing this, we were finally able to release APB: Reloaded on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, including features like controller support.

Your efforts have consistently improved APB’s quality and playability. What are some of the methodologies or principles you apply when working to elevate a game’s appeal?

Dealing with the game’s appeal largely involves an interplay between the design, art, and the audience’s desires. This wasn’t my primary focus on APB, where my role was more centered on programming. However, I worked closely with and aimed to empower our designers, artists, and production team to produce their best work. This involved creating prototypes to test the viability of our ideas, developing tools that enabled them to experiment with various game aspects, and adding features and functionality that they could use to incorporate their contributions into the game. We also maintained a test group of players who provided feedback on changes before these were rolled out to the broader public, or even when the changes were still conceptual. Additionally, I collaborated with our customer support team to provide them with tools for managing problematic players and assisting those encountering issues with the game.

As someone deeply involved in game development, how do you balance the technical demands with the creative aspects to ensure a project meets both operational and experiential goals?

This primarily involves providing the appropriate tools to the right individuals, coupled with some optimization. Enabling designers to make and test changes independently allows them to enhance the player experience. Equipping artists with the tools to assess how their art affects game performance enables them to meet targets. And when these measures are insufficient, optimizing the underlying code becomes necessary. Maintaining the game’s manageability is crucial for a live game, ensuring the ability to continually introduce new experiences.

You’ve worked on APB for quite an extensive period, innovating and pushing boundaries. What has been the most fulfilling aspect of working on this game for you personally?

There’s no feeling quite like the one you get after working on a big project for a long time and then watching people enjoy what you’ve built. However, collaborating with a designer on rapid prototyping, trying to figure out which ideas work and which don’t, is also incredibly fulfilling.

Looking ahead, what are your aspirations within the realm of game programming, and how do you see your past work with APB influencing your future projects?

I’m definitely looking forward to making more awesome games, and I’m currently working on a new title that has yet to be announced. I maintain the mindset that creating a good development environment for the team ultimately leads to better games, emphasizing that communication between teams is essential.

Sjoerd Grevelink’s tale is one of passion, versatility, and dedication. As he moves forward, his previous work on APB serves as a testament to his ability to adapt and innovate within the gaming industry. His narrative extends far beyond lines of code and in-game events; it’s about the human touch that transforms a game into a living, thriving universe enjoyed by many.

For those inspired by Sjoerd’s journey or eager to learn more about his craft, we encourage you to dive into his extensive portfolio and follow his continuous evolution in the gaming sphere. Who knows, you might just find yourself amidst the next virtual world sparked by his creative genius.