Creative Director and CEO, Ninjaneering
Contracting on various projects, including Sims Online (Maxis) and an
unannounced project for Kalisto. There are numerous companies with a wealth
of design and technical talent creating single player games who desire
advice while attempting to bring these lessons to the massively multiplayer
arena. Our company is made up of those who can give this advice.
University of Texas at Austin
Were there any particular projects or areas of study that you pursued?
I strongly advise any would-be designers to get a very broad liberal arts
education. While it doesn't look as impressive as a major, I've found
my classes in sociology, communications and medieval history to be indispensable
in my background of creating massively multiplayer roleplaying games.
Did you do any
Not officially. I spent the free time I had at college building a history
of experience with freeware MUDs (Multi User Dungeons). I strongly advise
any would-be designers to use this time to build up their portfolio and/or
their knowledge base so they can demonstrate their expertise as well as
their passion and ability to get something done.
Tell us about
your first job in the industry. How did you get the job? What was it like?
What were your responsibilities?
My first job in the industry can be traced back to the MUD days, where
I was a designer on a text MUD that was frequented by Raph Koster (of
Ultima Online and Star Wars: Galaxies fame). Once he broke into the industry,
he heard of another job opportunity, and used that connection to help
me get a foot in the door. Personal connections are the most common way
to get into the games industry. I can't stress the importance of making
personal connections - even in the volunteer 'mod' community, you never
know who will manage to turn that experience into a job, thus giving you
a backdoor into the company. But also know your stuff, and be prepared
to be a hard worker. Getting your foot in the door won't guarantee it
will stay there.
What jobs have
you held in the games industry thus far? Briefly describe the career path
you took to get where you are today.
I was a designer on Meridian 59, ascending to the role of Lead Designer
shortly before ship. I held this position for more than a year, up to
and including the shipping of a couple of mission packs, before working
on another project that was cancelled. Soon after that, I moved to Origin,
where I worked on Ultima Online very briefly before moving to a position
of Lead Designer on Ultima Online 2. Upon the cancellation of that project
in 2000, I started up my own company with several other former UO2 team
of study, specific courses, or life experiences would you recommend to
students interested in your field?
Any hobby where you can prove to yourself your ability to be truly passionate
about games and to finish what you start. There are many communities around
building games, including map building, mod building, community development
and even good old text MUDs. Such experiences are excellent for networking
with other people, building a 'portfolio' of what you have to show, as
well as exploring whether or not you have the dedication to stick to a
project all the way to completion.
Is there anything
you wish someone had told you before you got into the games industry?
Is there anything you would have done differently?
Probably my biggest mistake was not always maintaining a good programmer-designer
relationship. In the case of designers, we depend on programmers to be
our hands. By not placing enough importance on communication and mutual
design, countless hours were lost as designs were misunderstood or misimplemented.
You can be a tremendously brilliant designer, and that trait would be
worthless if you can't communicate that vision to your engineers. That
goes double for those of us who are less than brilliant. ;-)
As games increase
in complexity, what are the various kinds of jobs that you foresee development
companies needing in the next five years?
The biggest growth field is going to be in project
management, as more and more projects go above the 20+ person size.
I expect more pure designer (i.e. designer with no coding or world building
responsibilities) to arise as well, as the teams get large enough that
a designer wearing two hats is nearly impossible. I advise any coders
to examine closely advanced code architecture techniques, as well as advanced
code modeling techniques. Lastly, as games continue to move onto the Internet,
the importance of server
programmers and database administrators will rise.
Do you have
any other advice or recommendations to share with students who are interested
in doing what you do?
Don't join the games industry because you want a fat paycheck. Programmers
in other fields make far more. Don't join the games industry expecting
to make your game. Every person thinks they have a brilliant game design
in their back pocket, and you will be lucky if yours gets a chance to
shine. Don't join the games industry if you can't work with other people
well. As code complexity rises, the need for larger teams will also rise.
The days of the garage developers are very nearly gone. Lastly, don't
join the games industry if you think game design is an art. It is an art-
the art of balancing what is fun for the player, possible for the coder,
and affordable for the company. Designers unable to sacrifice their vision
in favor of these three factors will find themselves continually frustrated
by the realities of making games in the real world.