20 Questions Features Interviews

20 Questions with DICE’s Ryan Duffin

Written by LevelSave

This weeks 20 Questions will be with Ryan Duffin (Senior Animator at DICE) @AnimationMerc

You can not look anywhere today without seeing some sort of animation. From a logo on your phone to a commercial about car insurance animations are everywhere and in everything. Animations or the process of creating motion thru a series of pictures has evolved from simple pictures to clay motion, puppet, model, pixilation, 2D, 3D, mechanical, and special effects among many variations of animations.

Animation of drawing on a pottery vessel found in Shahr-e Sookhteh


From almost 5000 years ago, starting with a bowl that has five images of a Ibex jumping up to eat leaves from a tree to the new HoloLens from Microsoft, animations continue to get more realistic and integrated into our lives. The future for animations is very very bright!

Moving on to the 20Qs with Ryan Duffin [RD] (these are his opinions!)

My name is Ryan Duffin and I’m a Senior Animator at DICE. I’ve been making games professional since 2001 and playing them since the 80s (Atari 2600, NES and arcades.) 
Obligatory disclaimer: these are my personal answers and opinions. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer.

1. What was your first job in the gaming industry? 

[RD] I was hired by Treyarch in 2001. I was originally hired to work on Kelly Slater Pro Surfer and later moved on to the Spider-Man games.

2. Just car parts or do you collect those to rebuild cars, what is your “Eleanor car”? (gone in 60 seconds)

[RD] I collect to work on my cars, which I’m overly attached to. I already own my “Eleanor” (A 1955 Chevy Bel Air) but it’s far from being in Eleanor condition. Yet.  But I like a lot of different cars; mostly old American musclecars updated with modern performance (Resto-mod or Pro-Touring is what the car people call this.)

3. What was your favorite animation to make work on? 

[RD] The Ultimate Spider-Man game was really fun to work on for it’s keyframe animation and comic book art style. Alan Wake was fun to work on just because it was such a unique project and such a great team. I’ve also really enjoyed working on Battlefield 4 Premium’s weapons, though the bow and shield came with some major technical challenges (and person growth in overcoming them!)

BF4 Homework by Ryan Duffin

3. What was the hardest and most challenge animation work you have done in your eyes?

[RD] The hardest ones are always the ones you or your director don’t actually know what you’re actually looking for out of the animation. Exploring can be fun under some circumstances but sometimes you will get the direction “I don’t know what I want but it’s not that” and you keep iterating and iterating to see what sticks, without a real goal you can latch on to. Those situations can be hard. 

4. Any project you wish you did not pass on or had? 

[RD] Nothing I can think of. I would’ve liked to be involved in Battlefield 4 a bit earlier but I’m happy with what I got to work on for Premium. 

5. Do you get to test every thing you animate? or some you wish you had? 

[RD] These days, yes. Animators at DICE see our animations from content creation software (Maya) through into the game, which is fantastic. It’s probably still more the norm at many studios to animate something then hand it off to a designer or coder for implementation in game, which gives a non-animator final control over the quality of the animation performance. It means animators here need to be very technical but I like that that we are the ones to shepherd it through the whole process.

6. Tell us about your worst testing experience?

[RD] I’m not a tester and I don’t have the patience they have, so I’d say testing single player components are the worst. Watching the same cutscene a trillion times, listening to the actor’s Voice Over until you can guess just what he drank the night before to get as hungover as he was in the recording booth, though that only happened once, a long time ago.  Gameplay animation is much more fun to test (“Ok, now play Battlefield! Use the Bulldog!”)

7. We all had that first video game experience that hooked us in one way or another, what was your first video game moment?

[RD] Hmmm. I don’t know that I did. I’ve been playing games since they were unrecognizable by kids today, on a Sears brand, faux-woodgrain clone of an Atari 2600 and on PC since my Mom’s 386SX-20. So I’ve been sucked into games for most of my life but I think it was interest in other creative fields (film, TV, special FX, storytelling, creative writing, pen and paper role-playing games, Legos… creating things) that had more to do with pushing me toward game development then it was actually playing games.
But that’s a cop-out answer so here’s a fun, old-school video game story:  My cousin was visiting from Utah and we were playing Super Mario Bros on the NES. We told him that some of the 1UP mushrooms were poisonous and you could tell by the pattern of the spots. He’d get one and we’d say “nooooo, that one was poison!” then when he’d get up to go to bathroom, we’d unpause it, run him to be midair over a cliff then pause it again, which interrupts the jump calculation. He’d come back and unpause it, only to see Mario fall right into a hole and die. We did this 2-3 times.  Kids can be such jerks.

9. Social media is shaping the way we play and interact with games, what do you see as biggest advantages and disadvantages may be?

[RD] Advantage: direct contact with the fans. I think before the practice was acceptable, some players though devs were these lazy, money-hungry, puppy-kicking jerks in some ivory tower, doing everything they can to exploit them and their silence only confirmed it. Now we can get on Twitter and explain exactly why we decided to let the Defensive perk affect the Phantom Bow. 
Disadvantage: Not every developer is good with people. Not every developer has a good filter. The Internet remembers forever and context is easily lost, especially in tweets. Sometimes developers jump the gun and make statements about the game that are just personal opinions and aren’t aligned with the team.

10. What is your favorite Easter Egg in Battlefield 4? and in all of BF?

[RD] Does CTE stuff count? Because getting killed by a reindeer-headed Support then knifing Santa was a pretty cool experience.

11. What was your first Easter Egg in any game? 

[RD] Easter eggs are actually discouraged at a lot of studios where I have worked. Or at least, they were for a long time.There was a lot of paranoia from legal departments about putting content in the game that was hidden and how it would all need to be presented to the ESRB to make sure it wouldn’t affect the rating. Basically, many game developers are afraid to put in easter eggs. The Unica reload is my first because thankfully, DICE is pretty cool about adding fun things. Also, when they happen, easter eggs are kept very secret around the studio. Only the people who need to know, know. Maybe there are easter eggs I don’t know about. Probably?

My First Easter Egg

12. Personally do you prefer the simple locate on the map or multi layered (searching websites and history) Easter Eggs?

[RD] When I see how crazy people go for the complicated easter eggs, I think there’s no doubt that the more involved ones are more special, both in their discover and in the hunt for them.

13. Pick one Beasts (Yeti/Megalodon) or Tag/Camos (Phantom Program) 

[RD] As a gamer? Beasts. As a developer? Tags & Camos. Adding an actual creature with a mesh and skeleton is a huge job and not always the best investment of time for an easter egg. Those are the kind of luxuries you can do when team members have free cycles (like the Christmas heads in CTE.)

14. If you could pick the next thing to be a Easter Egg what would it be?      (ie Bear,T Rex,Clown) 

[RD] I could never seriously answer this question because it would ruin any future surprise. Maybe an exclusive unlock? Something to do with unicorns? Or the tactical potato: it restores one health when throw to a team mate and does 3 damage when thrown at an enemy.

15. How would gamers trigger your Easter Egg? 

[RD] Everyone on a 32 player server would need to deploy with an M60E4 and the Unica. After at least one player triggers the “special” Unica reload, every member of that team must score a kill on an enemy at such a range that their body is completely occluded by the M60E4’s rather large front sight at the moment of death. Once all team members have successfully done this, a flaming unicorn will appear from the ground and run a circle between all capture points, impaling all enemies who stand in his way on his unicorn horn before he leaves the mortal coil in a fiery supernova that kills everyone, friend or foe, within 100 meters. The team to trigger the event would unlock the tactical potato (a replacement grenade), the “unicorn horn” as a knife option as well as the mechanics coveralls from Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” music video as a wearable camo.

16. What do you think the future holds with social media in video games?

[RD] I hope it makes it even easier for people to squad up and PTFO. Seriously. There is so much potential gameplay being left on the table because you can’t count on people to cooperate. If social media can be used to humanize your fellow players, maybe people will be less skeptical of each other and more willing to cooperate.
Along those lines, I hope that social media can promote more civility and accountability, whether it’s curbing online harassment and catching cheaters. I think a lot of what Riot does with League of Legends, which encourages the community to police itself, is where other online games should be aspiring to.

17. What is in your console right now? Last game played?

[RD] I play mostly PC these days. I live with my girlfriend and I’m able to game more if I leave the TV free for her. Last games I played (besides BF4) was Gods Will Be Watching, which was fantastic. The last game played on my 360 was Rayman: Origins with my girlfriend last month and on my PS3… wow, it was probably The Last of Us. 

18. What is your favorite non-online game to play?

[RD] I don’t do favorites well. I’m more of a top 10 kind of guy. And even then, it’s easy to have rose-colored glasses about games you played 10-20 years ago. Some of my all time favorites are Okami, Valkyria Chronicles, Metal Gear Solid 3 and Fallout 1 & 2.

19. Pick one Mario or Luigi? 

[RD] Mario

20. What do you think is more important functionality or looks? 

[RD] How it feels it’s what is most important and that is a combination of functionality and aesthetics. 


Thanks for reading folks, till next time plug in your mic and play with someone!

Editorial Note: Every few weeks I will be doing a 20 Questions piece, with some questions from you and some from around the net. If you have some suggestions for questions or folks to play 20Q with, please let me know. 

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