Chris Shankland: The Invariable Lightness of…Games | Casual Connect Video

“Believe it or not, even in a magical language like JavaScript, you can still leak memory,” said Chris Shankland during his detailed session on the Technical Challenges of HTML5 Development at Casual Connect in San Francisco.

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Christopher Shankland

Chris Shankland

Big HTML5 Commitment at Big Viking

Chris Shankland is the Lead Developer at Big Viking Games. He came in with some experience in large scale web development, which proved extremely advantageous as Big Viking approached Mech Force, their first HTML5 title. Chris also had some experience working on large backend systems, allowing him to avoid common pitfalls while quickly creating a backend. He has discovered, “There is no experience that isn’t useful. The diversity of my past experience really helps me tackle any problem that might crop up on any given day.”

There is no experience that isn’t useful. The diversity of my past experience really helps me tackle any problem that might crop up on any given day.

Besides his interest in games and the game industry, Chris enjoys playing soccer, bicycling, tasting new and interesting beers, watching hockey and occasionally playing the oboe. His taste in music is eclectic; while programming, he prefers listening to little in the way of lyrics, but at other times, he enjoys all genres with the exception of country.

Chris’s interest in the game industry began through playing games, leading to a growing fascination with what made the games function. Early on, he was involved in games that had in-depth mathematical backing and room for min/max play styles. His start in the industry came during high school with a summer job with a company doing 3D graphics and simulation software; what Chris would now call “serious games.” Several high school projects allowed him to continue exploring his interest in games, culminating in a version of Hunt the Wumpus and a programmer art racing game.

Chris Shankland

Chris is never bored at Big Viking Games

The Lightheartedness of Games

The lightheartedness of games is what supports Chris’s continuing involvement in the industry. He says, “People really do find great escapes in games, and I’ve heard and read stories of how games literally keep people from becoming depressed. It’s nice to have that potential upside.” At the same time, he claims he avoids the risk of being in a textbook on how not to do software engineering.

Another aspect of the industry that attracts Chris is the rapid pace, keeping him from ever being bored. Instead, he is almost overwhelmed by the breadth of the topics he needs to know to excel at games creation. As he sees it, this industry is unique in requiring expertise in all areas.

Big Viking Games' upcoming title: Tiny Kingdoms

Big Viking Games’ upcoming title: Tiny Kingdoms

If Chris was not in the game industry, he sees himself becoming involved in software endeavors related to healthcare. In the meantime, he has considered how games can be used in a way to enable doctors and other healthcare professional to save lives.

Big Viking Games is already heavily entrenched in HTML5 and are working on several titles with the technology, across multiple platforms.

Big Viking Games is already heavily entrenched in HTML5 and are working on several titles with the technology, across multiple platforms.

JavaScript Runtime – Ugh.

The biggest challenge Chris faces is ongoing: the language and runtime of JavaScript. The developer has little control in areas that are very important for game programming. There are also techniques that make little sense, but must be employed to squeeze out performance. As a result, Chris has acquired an appreciation for how sensitive platforms are to different implementations and has realized the advantages of more traditional programming languages and tools.

Chris, like many of his peers, expects HTML5 will be trending upward over the next three to five years. Exciting developments are occurring now, including WebGL, asm.js and the high level of competition between JS engine providers. “All these advancements can culminate in a more unified mechanism for distribution of games,” he adds. “Specifically, a single link should be sufficient to distribute a game across many platforms.” He assures us that Big Viking Games is already heavily entrenched in HTML5 and are working on several titles with the technology, across multiple platforms.

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