March 6, 2006

When I grow up...

What do you want to be when you grow up? The question appears to be innocent enough but the answer will fundamentally alter a person’s course of life. The question is usually asked during youth to determine the interest of child so that parent’s may indulge and nurture this fragile ideal. For some this ideal may never be decided upon. Yet for others it will become the cornerstone of an educational focus which is later transferred into a career. However for most it continually changes often during high school and well into college where the question becomes painfully overbearing as the real world is looming just over the horizon of adulthood.

We all have our stories of how we got to where we are in the world and why or why not, so here is my little tale of how I became one of the lucky people in the world that gets paid to do what they love for a living. If any aspiring designers are out there reading, this one’s for you!

The first time I even thought of being a game designer was in 4th grade (1986-1987). We all know what came out that that Christmas, NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (NES)! The Atari was tossed under the bed to collect dust forever while Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda took over my huge ass 27” wooden cabinet Zenith hand me down TV for the remainder of my Christmas vacation.

The Cadillac of Televisions!

my old school tv

I remember my friends and I throwing snowballs at my kid sister like Mario’s fireballs as we hopped and jumped through the snow that first day back from winter break, it was a great Great GREAT time to be a kid! The teacher was quick to bring us all back to reality with our first assignment being a book-writing contest across the state. I selected that oh so important question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” as my topic. This book is what got me started on this post because oddly enough in 4th grade barely knowing what a designer was let alone a game designer I said I wanted to be one near the end of the book after all the cheesy typical clichĂ© type answers like fireman and athlete filled the first few pages. I know many of you are saying, “yeah right you fucking loser” but here is the picture to prove it since I still have the book!

Point and laugh!


OMG look at that horrible artwork and damn that hair! Sadly neither has improved at all over the last 20 years… but HELL YEAH anyhow because I made a little dream come true, which is pretty rare in life so I enjoyed this immensely. I was going to post the whole book but it is a train wreck and I get enough shit from the other designers on a daily basis. The final page has a picture of an F-15 fighter jet because I wanted to be in the Air Force. As I grew older and learned I might have to drop bombs on land that might be populated with innocent people all in the name of war. Well I sort of had issues with that which I had never really thought about before so I started thinking I like stars maybe there is something there for me, look out Astronomy here I come.

So it was off to college to enjoy the stars and some numbers. Long story short 3 years – 3 colleges – 3 strategy guides later – I quit to chase after the dream of being a game designer. Just at the time that I decided to quit school an old contact, which I made at E3, helped me in landing a job at a small game studio called Paradox Development. I completed 4 games while 6 others projects were cancelled during my 4 years of employment, in the end those 4 years turned out to be my real college experience for game design. Life there was hard, because I did not know shit but was quickly moved into a position that was way beyond my skill set by default of others moving onward that were my superiors. The games were all kind of bad and the company was more concerned with finishing a game then making a great game but that is the nature of being a 3rd party developer. Milestones dictate if you are going to get paid or not so that game is created to get milestones approved instead of doing what is best for the end product. I learned all this while trying to learn my craft over exhausting hours for a peanuts wage due to my experience level. REMEMBER it’s not all getting paid to play games! So here I was transplanted from the Midwest for this dream job and it was really bummed me out. This did not compute and I felt close to short-circuiting and quitting the industry altogether. I had many heart to hearts with family and close friends before making the decision to leave Paradox. It was all aboard - next stop, Sony Santa Monica where it seemed like they wanted to make a great game and wanted to teach me how to be a strong designer. The short of it is, the team there under David Jaffe did in fact create a great game in God of War and well I am still learning how to be a strong designer in the company of some remarkably talented people. I want to thank everyone for giving the Midwest kid a shot, Fighting Game Community - Video Game Exchange - Brady Games - Paradox Development - Sony Santa Monica!

To all you youngsters out there, I have found that every game I played, every movie I watched, every comic I read and every toy I created a fictitious world for in my bedroom came together to create some kind of catalogued information which allows me to succeed at this profession so be a sponge and soak up the world.

P.S. Finish school I got lucky and I do not think people without degrees are going to be able to break into the industry much longer, plus your parents will be proud of you and stuff or something.


Anonymous said...

Sweet story dude. I didn't know the whole history of you wanting to be a game designer, but now I do! Now, you gotta start hooking me up with some opportunities, right? Haha. Right after I come back from Japan. :) If you're ever out in Tokyo, let me know and we'll chill!

Andrew (Reno)

Michael Cheng said...

Much respect for your perseverance. I'm glad that there are designers out there that are dedicated to making the best game possible. Thanks for making God of War.

Anonymous said...

nice to see your story in print.......dont feel quite so bitter about the NES as once before because you SOOOOOOO tricked me into asking for that as our "big" gift that year!!!! "tell dad you really want one!!!" hell i didnt even know what nintendo was but i asked for one anyhow! glad i did! and as for the snowball=fireballs, dont forget to metion they had rocks in the center!! OUCH! anyhoo bub i am super proud of what you have accomplished, for making your dream come true and can only hope my path in life (whichever direction it leads me) leads me to the level of greatness you have achieved!! sorry to sound so cheesy but...... p.s. love the illustrations! i remember that book AND more importantly the T.V!!! think that was the first T.V i rocked Chun Li on!!!! you're the coolest!!!