Indie Hiring with Me (Jonathan Ribarro), An Interview
Today I'm charmed to have had the opportunity to speak with Jonathan Ribarro, otherwise known as RIDENTEM online! It's been a long journey getting to this point, and there's so much more to go. I'm happy to bring you my thoughts and processes on how I've done hiring for the last couple years, so please enjoy!
What is your company name, and why did you start this company?
Jonathan: My company is called Ridentem Games, and we have pivoted into creating horror experiences in the form of a series called 'Playback Trauma'. I formed this company the month after the pandemic hit and I left my job to get serious about creating a portfolio of commercial games, but this has evolved beyond that now. I'm not creating anything with the expectations of making a return, what I'm really in this for is the knowledge that comes with making games. With each game I ship and each conversation I have I learn a little bit more, and my desire is to share everything I know so the devs of tomorrow avoid the mistakes I make today.
So, you've been up to a lot lately. What are you working on currently?
J: I'm working on the next entry of my horror series, Playback Trauma! I've titled the newest entry 'In Sickness', like that line that the priest says when two people are getting married. I decided to completely change the art style and genre of the game because 'The Beach' didn't sell that well as a walking simulator, I really liked the idea, and I wanted to explore a new genre so I could help other visual novelists effectively in the future.
What positions have you hired for?
Art, Audio, and Design mainly. Since I'm a college-educated programmer I tend to not budget for that job since I can do it for 'free'.
How do you generally go about hiring people?
J: I don't really know how it's done in a corporate or even a professional environment, so take this with a grain of salt. So far, I haven't really put out any posts or communicated to the wider Internet that I am looking for hires. To this day I've just stumbled upon everyone I've worked with! For the first Playback Trauma entry I had 3 artists who completed various tasks for me, one of which was a friend, another was a coworker I found on LinkedIn (But never spoke to prior), and the last was a contractor from Fiverr. I also found a designer through her work in horror, and I worked with the same musician who helped me with my first game, Altidudes.
How do you even hire for a visual novel?
J: Well, there's two massive things you need to make a VN work I think. Art and Audio! I have once again been very lucky with the people I'm working with currently, and just happened to either know them already or found them through 'unconventional' means. So far I've hired 4 people, the most recent I met while volunteering at an anime and video game convention near my home. My favorite hiring story so far is how I met my other artist. I went to GDC (Game Developers Conference) for the first time since before the pandemic, and I was running around trying to meet new people. My best friend and I were walking towards an event called 'Speed Networking' and I decided to jump in, even though I had never done such a thing before. I met a lot of talented and interesting people in there, and I even talked to someone else from New Jersey! When my artist Simran and I met we clicked instantly. I told her about my work and how I'm doing horror games and she gave me a business card that actually said "I love making visual novels!" I was sold, and I asked her right there if she wanted to work with me.
How important is a portfolio for you? Is it okay to receive one that may not be as dense as others?
J: Projects are a super important thing I look for when I size someone up for a job. But even more than the number of projects you've worked on I really look for how similar your work is to mine! If I'm working on a visual novel and your main area of expertise is 3D art and animation then there's a disconnect there. Additionally, if my game is also in the horror genre and you've made it very clear in your work that you do not work in horror then it's less likely that I'll reach out to see if you want to work on my violent, gory, explicit, traumatic game about New Jersey.
To what extent do you interact with portfolio pieces?
J: For artists I'll always look at the usual portfolio sites (Artstation, all the other ones, etc.) to see if the art on there kind of matches what I'm going for in my current project. It doesn't have to be exact, so long as the skills you've showcased can be transferred to the work I need done the portfolio has done a good job. The process for Audio Designers and Musicians is much the same, I want to see everything you've done and feel what resonates with me. After that, I want to hear if the skills used in those pieces can be transferred to my game (Most often the answer is yes). Lastly, I normally will not download or play games that are in a portfolio, it's kind of time-consuming and I'd rather just see a highlight reel or something I can consume quickly.
Do I need a degree to work with you?
J: Not at all. I don't focus on this area of a resume because I have no clue what colleges teach these days or what skills a graduate comes out with. All I want to know is what you've made and the tech you used to make it, and from there I determine if you can do a job.
Do you have a question you want me to ask in my next interview? Send it here!