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Industry Q&A: Zachary Cieslinski of Pipeworks Studio

Last month, Mister Teal streamed his experience playing Prominence Poker with Head Designer Brandom Ulm and Assistant Producer Zachary Cieslinski of Pipeworks Studio on the Xbox Twitch channel. This month, Miss Valentine chatted with Zachary further about the game and its development. Read on to learn about Zachary’s favorite cosmetic items, tips for getting started in the game as well as features still to come for Prominence Poker.


Those interested in honing their bluffing skills can download the game on Xbox One and experience the world of Prominence today.

V: To start, I’d like to hear a little bit from you about your involvement with Pipeworks, as well as Prominence Poker specifically.

Z: Absolutely. So yeah, I’m Assistant Producer on the project. I got started at Pipeworks about two years ago in the Quality Assurance department. But on Prominence Poker, I help with project scheduling, I help with first party relations. It’s sort of a catch-all job. You just do a bit of everything.

V: Yeah, you seemed very knowledgeable about a lot of different aspects of what went into the game.

Z: Oh, I think that’s just a reflection of the talent on the team. We have incredibly smart and skilled individuals producing it, like Brandon Ulm, the lead designer on the project. He’s really the architect of our dreams here as far as Prominence Poker goes so all I can do is try to represent what everyone else has put forward as best as possible.

V: Speaking about what people have put forward, one thing that I really loved is that [the feel of the game] was a lot of fun. Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration? Is the team just really into The Sopranos – why the mafia, mysterious, underbelly angle?

Z: Oh yeah, I think it’s a little bit of everything. You know, our lead designer and our senior producer on the project, Mike Kruse, and all the leads on the project got together at a very early point, and there’s this whole iterative process of developing both the design – how you want the game to play – but also how you want the game to feel so there was bouncing people’s favorite movies and works of fiction, like you mentioned The Sopranos. I think there’s also a lot of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” There’s a whole lot of inspiration you can find – lots of celebrity references – that also feed into the visual design of the game.

But so much of this is just really talented people who are just really good at working together and kind of refining a very general standpoint of what’s fun about gambling and where does that intersect with these works of fiction that we all enjoy and how we can create this air of mystery about where the city came from.

V: So you mentioned some celebrity references. Could you call out a few that you particularly enjoy?

Z: Oh, jeez. Well, I think, again, that Brandon set up some really fantastic reference Avatars. Uh, I don’t want to give too many away, but there’s a Zach Galifianakov, who’s a member of the Spades affiliation.  Then there’s Ozzy Osblack, and he’s a member of the Clubs, the biker gang. You know, our artist set up just a fantastically robust Avatar creator that really let the Design Department just go wild on fiddling around and creating lookalikes and people all their own as well.

V: Yeah, you guys issued this challenge in the stream for people to go out and recreate their Xbox Avatars in Prominence Poker, so I’m definitely going to do that. I’m not sure it’ll fit into the style of the game, but we’ll see.

Z: There’s definitely all sorts of types for Prominence. That’s sort of the fun part of starting as a Tourist – you know, you start off very, I suppose, you could say you start off very non-descript, but you also stand out like a sore thumb because you’re a tourist, you’re from out of town. And we certainly have a ton of different Avatar customization options and stuff at the shop so people can fill out the image of what they think their character should look like.

V: Cosmetic items seem very important to this game – or like they can be important, depending on what kind of player is playing the game – can you give me a sneak at some of the really cool ones?

Z: Well, yeah. I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s what people feel is important. We generated this very vast amount of content – it can be a little intimidating – but the goal is really to just create this [environment that] if people want to get in and play poker, they can. If people want to get in and create this incredibly robust and filled out Avatar, that’s absolutely an option, but it doesn’t impede their ability to play poker. It’s just sort of a status symbol.

Gosh, I really like […] the rings that you can wear. There’s a ring that looks a little like a brass knuckle that tickles my fancy. You can be very bombastic; my characters always wear a big cowboy hat or they have very strong facial features that you can sort of dangle earrings or beards off of.

V: Maybe a better way of answering this, is how do you tell your story in Prominence?

Z: Back when the game was in development, I found this chin that I really, really like. I made a character named “Square Jaw,” and he was called Square Jaw because his head was just enormous – looked like a big cube – and it kind of reminded me of… a Dick Tracy villain. And that got its hook in me. That was my persona: this sort of rogue that was gonna work his way through all of the affiliations and end up on top eventually.


V: Say you just run into someone in a grocery store and somehow the game comes up. How do you describe the game Prominence Poker to this stranger who maybe knows nothing about poker, maybe knows nothing about the game.

Z: Well, I’d say it’s highly customizable characters playing incredibly solid Texas Hold ‘Em. Unfortunately, if you don’t know what poker is in the first place, you kind of need to start with what Texas Hold ‘Em is and build from there. We think that everything we built on top of that will draw people in, but it does require a certain understanding of what poker is in the first place… You don’t necessarily go hit the tables in Vegas without knowing a little bit about what you’re going to be playing in there.

V: I guess I’ve played poker a few times, but in a handholding way.

Z: Really the cool thing about Prominence, and what makes it different is that, with poker you’re playing the other players as much as you’re playing the game, and with our Bluff and Tell System, you really get the opportunity to have more of that table play in a video game than anyone has ever been able to represent before. Whenever you see poker represented in fiction, it’s sort of steely-eyed poker faces glaring at each other from across the table. You know, there’s usually someone who’s really nervous, constantly looking at their cards. A lot of other poker games don’t necessarily represent that, and that’s the part of the game that I really relish in explaining to people. This isn’t just a card game, it’s a social interaction you’re having with other folks.

V: When you guys were working on this game was there anyone who proved especially tricky [when played against]?

Z: Oh, man. Yes. [H]e was one of our backend engineers, and he would go “all in” every single hand, and I could never get a read on whether he was bluffing. Because the other thing you have the option of doing in Prominence that you can’t do in a lot of other poker games is muck, and when you muck, it’s making the choice, if you win before the end of the round, to show what you had or not. So, he would never show. He would always go “all in,” and he would never show so you had to have something – you had to have a pair of something or really high matched cards right out or you would be betting everything on a guess.

V: Are there any differences between your typical Texas Hold ‘Em and the Texas Hold ‘Em you guys have built in the game?

Z: It’s definitely a super solid Texas Hold ‘Em game. We just put a lot of emphasis on fleshing out the other parts of poker that you don’t normally see in other Texas Hold ‘Em games that are represented in the digital universe – like mucking and the bluff and tell system. We definitely wanted anyone who is comfortable with Texas Hold ‘Em to just be able to immediately drop in, or you know, if you’re not familiar, drop in and learn a little bit.

V: I was going to ask for tips for a first timer, actually.

Z: The best tip I can offer is in the game go to the “How to Play” section, go to prominencepoker.com, and just hop right into Practice Mode because you’re not risking chips so you can just make as many mistakes as you want to before you go and take other people’s money. It’s easy to blow up your expectations of how good people are going to be online, but since we have different levels at a 100-chip buy-in, you’re going to be playing a lot of other people with similar experience.

V: The stream showed off The Laundromat. Can you name another fun environment you’d recommend people try out?

Z: Oh, I absolutely recommend all of them, but […] I think the Renegade is just so lovingly tailored. I’m sure this came up in the stream a little bit, but The Renegade Bar is actually modelled after a neighboring bar to our development studio.

V: The Starlight Lounge!

Z: Yeah! I would absolutely recommend The Renegade. There are so many bits and pieces – if you look closely, you can find that some of the developers have wanted posters in the backroom, we have shout-outs to beloved past employees, we have all sorts of little Easter Eggs.


V: You talked about “Ladies Night” and “Dudes Day” in the stream. What are some other events you’ve talked or joked about for Prominence Poker?

Z: One of my favorite events is “Fanny Pack Fridays,” which is [that] every Friday you get a 50 percent bonus when you’re wearing a Tourist outfit. Through the rest of the week you see people wearing their really nice suits or dresses and biker gear, and then on Fridays you just see tables of people playing their Hawaiian shirts and fanny packs. The other side of the coin is “Suave Sundays,” where you get a bonus for wearing a dress or suit outfit, which makes it all that more fun if you want to stick out like a sore thumb [and] sort of defy expectations.

V: Some of our Ambassadors are pretty proud of their Achievement collection. What’s a particularly difficult Achievement to earn in Prominence Poker?

Z: I’m going to say as far as achievability, I think there’s one called “The Tough Guy,” and that’s to gain Rank 3 in any affiliation. That’s a lot of play hours because you have to effectively progress through an affiliation three times. When you hit the top of an affiliation, you sort of “prestige” – there’s a lot of shooters where you hit the top and then start from the bottom again, so you have to put in a lot of work to an affiliation to hit Rank 3. But once you hit that you’re sort of considered the cream of the crop.

V: I believe in the stream you guys mentioned that a ranking system is on the way. Are there any other features Prominence Pokers fans can look forward to that are coming up?

Z: Oh, sure. More affiliations. There’s two other affiliations that we’re hoping to put out eventually, including the Spades and the Diamonds. There’s higher ranks for the existing affiliations – so there’s Rank 3 right now, and we’re hoping to add a Rank 4 and above. And then just that much more store content, so Avatar customization items like face pieces that are all free that you can add or items you can buy in the shop that are maybe themed for the new affiliations… so for the Spades, I would expect some Russian peacoats and Ushanka hats.

V: It doesn’t sound like you knew about poker just because you happened to be working on this project. It sounds like you already knew about poker. If that assumption is correct, how long has that been a part of your life and how did you get into it?

Z: I’m incredibly flattered that you think so, but I’m going to lay all my cards on the table. I played Texas Hold ‘Em infrequently before I started here, and it’s really again a credit to the passion of the team and the infectious passion of working on this project that got me into poker. And I absolutely love poker now; I play it at every opportunity that I get because I didn’t appreciate a lot of the nuances before.

[Ed. note: This interview was edited and condensed. For more information, view the Prominence Poker stream here.] 


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