Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Career Driven

I’ve been having a really productive week at work so far, and it made me reflect on why I love what I do…

When I was younger, I worked a minimum wage job at a pita shop.  I felt, at the time, that my life was decent.  I had some good friends, I had a decent apartment, life was stable.  That’s all I wanted.  I used to tell people I was ok staying where I was for the rest of my life.  I’d reached a minimum level of comfort, now all I wanted to do was maintain.  My friends and family, rightly, called me on my bullshit.  They said it was a cop-out.  I was too afraid of failing to even try.  So instead I was trying to get comfortable at bare minimum.  Thankfully I eventually outgrew that outlook on life.

By the time I was working QA at BioWare I knew I was ready for more.  Throughout my time in QA, first at BioWare, then at Longtail, I always sought out more responsibility.  Ironically my favourite days were the weeks before sending a game off to Certification.  This is the last phase of a game’s development, and for QA it’s the last chance to get every fix in, every bug addressed, etc.  And when a bug shows up at the last second, as they tend to do, you pull some late nights getting it sorted out, because if the game fails certification, it doesn’t look great for the QA team.  Those late nights were the most rewarding times of my time in QA.

Now that I’m in Design I find my job even more rewarding more often.  Even the bad days.

At first I wasn’t sure exactly what it was I loved.  I figured it was just “I make video games, that’s objectively awesome!”  But I knew that wasn’t it.  Sometimes games get cancelled, sometimes you work on games that aren’t a game you’d play on your own time, sometimes you have to work a lot of overtime, etc.

Then I figured it must be the creativity.  When I was at BioWare, I worked on games I felt were striving to be art.  I know a lot of the Designers there, and know they find immense creative satisfaction with their jobs.  Even when I was in QA Design there, when my feedback would lead to a design change it was incredibly rewarding to have an impact on something I considered a step forward for gaming.  I don’t work on AAA hard-core games anymore though.  I’m a Game Designer at a studio that makes casual games.  Don’t get me wrong, I think casual games can be fun, high quality and satisfying.  But generally speaking they don’t strive to be art.  I get to be creative on these projects, but the limitations are often strict.  So I was left with the conclusion it wasn’t creative satisfaction that was the main driving force behind the love of my job.

Today I was working with a Programmer on a game mechanic.  The number of Designer Variables was intimidatingly high.  This meant to get the mechanic feeling right I would have to tune over 30 variables, and each variable could potentially affect the others.  This fragility also made iteration much more costly.  Instead, the programmer and I spent an hour thinking about what the design of the mechanic asked for, and how it could be accomplished with less complexity.  After studying the common relationships between all the variables, and clarifying the design intentions of how the mechanic would work in conjunction with other mechanics in the game, we were able to reduce the number of variables from 36 to 7.  This will save us countless hours of iteration work later in the project, and didn’t impact the design negatively at all.  Problem solved.

And that was the eureka moment.  “Problem solved!”  This is why I love my job.  Every day, every single day, presents a brand new problem to solve.  I’ve always sought out mental challenges, things to devote my mental faculties to.  Now I get paid to do it. 

In my short career I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many people much more experienced than I, some with experience dating back to the “beginning” of the industry itself.  And the one thing I’ve been able to gather is that the challenge never fades.  Nothing is ever a given.  Like most jobs dealing with technology, the advancing tech means new challenges.  And Design is a fuzzy, subjective field.  Yesterday’s “right” answer, may be “wrong” tomorrow, depending on trends in gaming.  And if you’re ahead of the curve, you may even have a part in starting that next trend.

No two days are ever the same.  One day you’re trying to implement branching paths in a level, the next you’re learning a new scripting language for the new game engine, another day you’re working with Programmers to find a low-cost solution to a Design request, then the day after that you’re working with the Art Department trying to decide how to convey danger zones in the level.  And the answers are never the same.

The younger me, the kid working at a pita shop, was afraid of change.  Afraid to try in case he failed.  He preferred a safe routine.  Thankfully eventually change did come.  Now every day brings a new challenge, new limitations, and new solutions.  Every day I get to apply my mind to a new puzzle.  I get to work with intelligent, creative, passionate problem solvers.  I get to watch something eventually rise from nothing.  I get to have a growing body of work, evidence of countless problems solved. 

That’s why I love my job.


New Room

Rearranged my room a bit to make room for a new dresser, and bought a moon chair for 20$!  Best purchase ever, so comfy!



Flames by notme2000
Flames, a photo by notme2000 on Flickr.

When There's Nothing Left To Burn, You Have To Set Yourself On Fire

The Return

I don't know how many people still check this, or how many people ever did...  But I'm going to start making a conscious effort to write in here again, if for no other reason than just to get some of my thoughts down in writing.

One of the mains reasons I slowed to a halt in writing these entries was that I've become rather career driven, so much of what is going on in my life is related to my career.  But the nature of what I work on, the fact that this blog can come up as one of the first sites when my workplace is googled, and the fact that the people I work with may read this site means I have to censor myself more than I like.

That being said, I still like getting my thoughts down in writing, and like the feedback I sometimes get from readers.  So while I can't write the vast majority of specifics, I can still write my more conceptual thoughts here, and the more trivial stuff as well, as well as pics and the like.  So you should start seeing semi-regular updates again!