Archive for September, 2007

Living the Dream

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

Life. Having a life is a rather interesting experience. I sort of fell in to the whole prospect, getting a fantastic job without any real effort on my part (other than that which I was already expending), finding a great place to live in the first place I looked, and being able to keep in touch with friends. I therefore am unable to really comment on the process of becoming an independent person with a life of my own, but I feel that it is a topic worth discussing. You see, life, as it turns out, is not all that big of a deal. Of course, as the size of the change grows, the difficulty in accepting it grows, and this particular step was no exception. My parents came up, with a trailer full of my stuff, and they were an invaluable support, not only with logistics, but with the stress of gaining a life, as well. That process is well enough behind me now, that I am able to reflect.

Things go pretty much the same way they did before, slightly different routine, but still a routine. I want to mention that doing the same thing for eight hours a day is surprisingly productive, but this post is not about work. That is related, however, because the biggest thing about life that is different from anything that went before is that I am now the only one responsible for my actions. That is to say, if I don’t do something, it will remain undone until I do it.

When I graduated from Cornell, the slate was wiped entirely clean. Every class I skipped, every homework I didn’t do my best on, every test I bombed, suddenly didn’t matter. My diploma was just as diploma-ey as everyone else’s. The relief was tremendous. Naturally, I forgive myself for any negligences, but to have them truly not matter was still-forgive though I might, I did not forget, until this allowed me to. It seems such a wonderful thing will never happen again. Every thing that needs doing will continue to need doing until I do it. All in all, a rather interesting situation.

The House of Game Design

Saturday, September 8th, 2007

Last year, after a particularly witty jab at a teammate, I remarked that I was like the ‘House’ (as in Dr.) of game design. At the moment, it was merely a comment about my rapier wit, but upon further reflection, the House of game design is exactly who I want to be. I don’t mean in the lonely drug addict sense, but rather the other aspects.

Primarily, House is good enough at his job that people, the hospital, put up with an amazing amount of crap (drug habit, etc.) in order to let him do his job. He does the work he wants and only the work he wants. He fills his specialized role and fills it expertly. I am for that reason cultivating a position of a specialist. I am focusing on gaining prodigious expertise in the area of motion control for games. I am making a wide variety of motion control mechanics, and also perfecting a few of them, so as to maximize my ability to devise and improve.

House also heads up a team of skilled doctors, that he can then have do all of the mechanical work that requires little thought, leaving him even freer to do exactly the work he is good at and enjoys, and no more. As I am the only member of a team that is slated to expand, I hope to leverage my seniority to, in time, have a similar position. Whether it is indeed a team of my own, or if I am a contract specialist, moving between teams and building their control mechanics, either leaves me free to not get stuck doing work that I enjoy less. (While I enjoy all game programming other than graphics, there are some types that I prefer to others).

Finally, House has exactly the right amount of autonomy. He chooses his own cases, but is occasionally forced to take one for the good of the hospital. In this aspect I am already there. My most skilled and excellent boss allows me fairly free reign to do the games that I want to do, while only three times so far giving us a design that was not our own to make. (Meaning that three out of the ten in progress concepts are not home grown)

All in all, I think that I’m on my way to awesomeville.

Take Two

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

I realized after I read over my last entry that that wasn’t what I intended to write about at all. I intended to write about my activities over the summer, back when there were three two of us. I wound up simply waxing rhapsodic about how wonderful it was. Well, we wonderfulled up four complete motion-based casual games, and a demo, showing off my most awesome accelerometer-based gesture recognition system (eight independently recognizable gestures). They’re fairly short games, but, like all good casual games, have a high degree of replayability.

Since the summer’s end, or, rather, the end of the internship, I’ve been working on my own, making shells of games, creating the mechanics and a simple graphical representation, and have done that for a further three games. Also, in the ‘not really anything exceptionally useful to do’ category, I found that I was in the mood to do some tools work, as well, and whipped up a nifty little program that watches movement of the motion controller and builds a gesture signature that can be stored (for the moment) as an XML file.

So, basically, I’m hopping from project to project, doing what I consider the fun part, and then moving on to the next one, and, because my boss has been gone much of the time (some spent showing off my work to rather important people) I have had lots of time to go back and do follow-up and refinement passes on just about everything, so the next round of engines that come out of my ‘shop’ will be a good chunk better than the for the most part single- or one-and-a-half-pass stuff that we banged out during the summer.

That’s pretty much the whole story, I’m working hard, but having a blast. I’ve been purposefully vague to avoid violating any NDAs, especially those that we might choose to create in the future, as much of the stuff I’m working on is still very much in the planning stages, ’cause it turns out the game industry is very secretive (who knew?).

Kicking Ass & Making Games

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

I have the best job in the world. I make computer games for a living, but more than that, I do it as part of a small team (regrettably, at the moment, composed of only myself). Being part of a small, agile team has both advantages and disadvantages, but the former far outweigh the latter. As a large contributing part of the team, I am involved with all stages of design, development, and production. I get to have a say in everything from the box in.

At an interview for an EA internship, the interviewer was trying to find a placement for me, and she was talking about an object script writer for the Sims. The job, as she pitched it, was about writing the code that determines how chairs behave, enabling them to be sat in, pulled out, etc. It sounded like pretty much the most boring job in the universe, and like all of the bad stereotypes about working for a giant, that is, you get to work on your tiny, meaningless piece and that’s all. When Sprattler came back from his summer of doing that job, he put quite a different spin on it. His little meaningless piece was a garden gnome, but the code he wrote set it up so that if you had two there was a very small random chance that they would reproduce.

The way he described his work, it wasn’t meaningless at all, which isolated for me the source of the meaning that I glean from game design, and the reason I now hold the best job in the world. The satisfaction comes in putting some of yourself into the game. Taking the work you are doing, no matter how small, and making it your own. Some people will realize that this is obvious, as is the immediate conclusion. Namely, the way to get the most of yourself into the games you make is to have the maximum amount of creative control possible. The small team development approach does exactly that. It allows every person on the team (with a balanced, well chosen team) to put their full passion, effort, and creativity into the game without being at all stifled. Each person makes their game, and not someone else’s game. I get to make my game, again and again (the disadvantage to working in a small team is that you do not make games that are fantastically large in scope, but to me, that just means I get to make more games).

Blog? Wtf?

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

I have often made fun of the concept of blogging, and the people that do it. I can understand things like technical blogs, where the user manual writes itself as the engineer muses about his features and why he included them, but personal blogs, diaries published on the internet for all, have never made sense. A good example of reinforcement for my misconception was a friend last year who started a diary-like blog, and then, whenever he made a post, told all his friends about it when he saw them next. Yes, he really walked up to them and said ‘I made another post on my blog, you should go read it.’ Almost as inane as telling someone that you left them a voicemail, and then leaving.

The sort of person who blogs, thought I, is the sort that so fears human contact and conversation that they will expose their whole life to the world, hoping that someone will stumble across it and that they will be able to get to know each other without all of the messy process. Then they can have friends without having to try to meet new people.

The change in my idea of ‘why blog’ came when reading someone else’s blog. Why was I reading a blog? Because I had been unable to get in contact with him via phone or e-mail, despite several attempts. I found that I was enjoying hearing about how things were going (albeit less than I would enjoy hearing it from him) by reading about them. The internet is a wonderful thing, allowing me to have a third of a conversation even though the other party is out of touch (the third is the part where I say ‘sup? and he says all the stuff that he wrote in his blog. The other two thirds are me telling him what I’m up to and then the ensuing comparison).

So I’m starting a blog, not for myself, although it can be helpful to keep track of all of the awesome running through my head, but for others, who are afraid to or don’t want to or can’t talk to me, so that they may, if they wish, still satisfy their desire to know what I am up to. If this sounds like a guilt trip laid on anyone who reads this and doesn’t call me, it is, a bit, but to make you feel better, dear reader, I’ll point out that it also sounds a bit like a cry for attention from a lonely, lonely man.