Michal Staniewski

Students & Alumni. Computer Games

Michal Staniewski in front of pc

Michal moved to the UK from Poland when he was about 8 years old. He graduated from our BSc Computer Games Technology with a first class honours, and is now a game developer at Jagex.

What have you been up to since graduating?
After graduating I worked at Nandos and computer gaming related projects, trying to get into the games industry. After about half a year of that I managed to land a job at Jagex.

Did you always know that you would go to university?

Initially, no. I think I wanted to just go straight into employment purely because I didn't get very good grades at Sixth Form and I didn't think I had a chance of making it to university. But I actually had a family friend that had a - I wouldn't say a serious talk, but he sort of sat me down and said: “Are you sure you don’t want to go to university? It's a really good opportunity that could help you in the future, and it's a great experience.’ He convinced me to at least try it out and apply, and with his help with writing a cover letter, I got in to Anglia Ruskin. I had to do a Foundation Year because I messed up my A-Levels.

At A-level, I studied Computer Science, Applied Physics and Maths. Computer Science always made sense in my head – code always made sense in my head – so I thought I’d continue that. I was decent at maths, and I thought maths and computer science go very well together, and I have this fascination with space, and physics, and how things work.

Is there one thing that inspired you to do what you do now?

I always remember when I was a kid, I played this game called Age of Empires 2. I got it on PC for a birthday or Christmas present, and I always played against the AI and they would always destroy me. I would always lose against them and as a kid I got really frustrated at it because I was so confused as to how a metal box could beat me at a logical game. That kind of stuck around in my head and, as I got older, I started researching it more and found out that “Oh - this is how games work, and this is how you can create games,” and that little frustration as a kid, “Why am I being beaten by a computer?”, led me to want to create it myself and programme it.

Michal Staniewski working on  pc

What’s the most valuable thing you took away from your education?

During university I figured out how to learn. My secondary school and my sixth form, I feel like they didn’t do a very good job of teaching me how to learn. I was attending classes, I had good attendance, I wasn't messing around. It was just that I wouldn't soak up the knowledge that teachers were presenting. At university, I think that's when I figured out how I learn well.

It was also quite nice to interact with other game developers, and get an interpersonal understanding of how people think and how they feel about games. People from different walks of life, different gaming genres. Talking to them and seeing how they feel about certain games and the politics of games. I enjoyed that as well.

Which aspects of the course most helped your career development, and why?

Specifically for my job, the course stuff like portfolios and the CV. We had a bunch of modules which were just making portfolio pieces, to help get us noticed, and I think that really helped.

Another module was to then take all of those pieces or games and create a little website, a presentation of your skills and what you've worked on for the university, and I think that was quite an attractive thing for employers to see.

Michal Staniewski using phone

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

I feel like I could have got a lot more out of life if I just focused on things that I should have been focusing on, as opposed to playing a lot of games. I feel like if I put half of the time that I spent playing games into, I don't know, learning a language or learning more about programming or whatever, I'd have this interesting new skill, but I didn't because I wasted my time. So stop wasting time, I guess.

But now that I know how games are made, I can play one and I have a general idea of how they programmed this part or how a developer might think. I find it quite funny. In games like open world adventures, there's little hidden areas. I find them easily because I think: “Oh, if I was a developer, I'd put something here. I'd hide something right here.” And then I go and investigate it, and it's there.

What was your favourite thing about studying in Cambridge, and what did you learn about the city that you didn’t know before?

Before uni I lived in Ely, which is a 30 minute drive away from Cambridge. Through sixth form I would go there with my friends on the weekend, and that was like a sort of adventure. I already knew Cambridge and I already quite liked it. It’s a beautiful city.  I think during my course, it just made it more obvious to me that I do genuinely really, really love that city and the surrounding area.

I think something I learned was there are all these little hidden shops that I didn't know about before, like little family-run restaurants that are sort of hidden away in an alleyway, and they have amazing food. I ended up stumbling upon them with my course mates. After a lecture we went out and found this little place and it became our favourite restaurant.

Michal playing Runescape on phone

What projects are you currently working on, both at work and outside it?

You know, I'm not allowed to say, but it’s a fun project.  I'm working on something new in Runescape.

What is it like, working on a game that’s already so well established?

It's interesting because Runescape already has an enormous community around it. It almost feels like when I make a change, I'm making a change to the players' game as opposed to a game that I'm working on. I mean, a good example would be the very first thing I worked on when I finished my training. I did a bug fix. There was an issue with some item in the game, and the teleport locations. You can click on the teleport locations, and it will teleport you away. I rearranged the teleport locations because they were meant to be in a different order and instantly the community erupted and they were like “Why would they change that? This is horrible. I'm so used to this.”

That was my first interaction with fans. They have very specific preferences and some things you shouldn't change because there's no need to and it will just annoy people. So it's a little bit scary at first, but as I learned about the community and started interacting with them I learned to love it, because the Runescape community is amazing. It’s just a bunch of incredible people. There's so much culture and it can be scary, but I find it quite exciting and interesting that so many people have played this thing that I’m working on, and I get to hear their opinions on it and whether they like it or not.

I find it quite amusing sometimes, looking through the code, because you can see the time stamps of when the scripts were created, and some of them were created in 2002 when I was still a child!

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