- Contents
- About
- Submissions
- Feedback
- Archives

volume 1, issue 20

Today in loonygames:

New!! The Archives have been cleaned up, fead links fixed, and printable versions restored! Also, don't miss the new comments on the front page!

Livin' With The Sims: theAntiELVIS explores the wild and wacky world that is Will Wright's The Sims, asking the inevitable quesiton, "is The Sims the first step toward a virtual life where everyone is Swedish?"

Pixel Obscura: Josh Vasquez on Omikron: The Nomad Soul.

Real Life: Check out our newest comic strip, Real Life! Updated daily!

User Friendly: Updated daily!

T-Shirts: Stylin' loonygames t-shirts from Berda Compugrafix!

Artwork: Hey, dig the artwork on loonygames? We're selling some of the original art.


You've got an opinion...voice it! Drop a line to our Feedback column...you could end up with a free T-Shirt!

Random Feature :

User Friendly: the comic strip for geeks. Updated every day, right here at loonygames.

Search the Archives!

Behind the Curtain:
The Whirlwind






By Matt "Thraka" Gilbert

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"
The Wizard, The Wizard of Oz

hen you sit down and fire up the latest mega title, what goes through your head? Most likely, unless youíre a developer yourself, the time and energy that went into the creation of the title is not foremost in your mind. Maybe later, especially if youíre interested in making games yourself someday, you think to yourself, "Man, it must be the coolest thing in the world to get paid for this!"

Well, it is and it isnít: it depends on who you are. For those who have what it takes, it is a dream come true. But it is a grueling, difficult trade at times: the making of fun and games is not, oddly enough, all fun and games. You have to have a firm grasp of where you are going, or you wonít endure the trip. You need passion, drive, and ego. In short, instant gratification types need not apply. If Ďgood enoughí has special meaning for you, again, go elsewhere. Only Ďthe bestí is good enough.

Well, now that half of you are slashing your wrists or mailing me bombs, letís move on.

The idea of Behind the Curtain is simple, really: no nonsense commentary on the life of a game developer, from someone who has been at it a few years. If youíre thinking of trying to be a part of this business, youíll find out some things you didnít know, and maybe some of those things will bum you out. You may even change your mind about your intended profession, and thatís a win-win scenario: if you donít have the desire to step up and do what it takes to excel at game development, you would only be hurting yourself and your future teammates by carrying on. On the other hand, there will be those who are not merely confident about their ability to handle the scene, but energized by the challenge: if you fall into this category, and you have talent, youíll go far.

But donít get the idea that this is merely a column for neophytes. There are plenty rants to interest the pros: the zombie project that never ends, but keeps mutating enough to keep you in crunch mode for six months; compromising your design because of standards and various legalistic bullshit; keeping the peace with your SO when the crunch is on; etc. You know the issues well enough by now.

So who am I to shoot off my mouth? Iím nobody special: just a crank, another Joe like you with something to say. Keep that perspective, and weíll get along just fine. Call me Thraka. Everyone else does, so you might as well do it, too. Iím a console programmer by trade, and thatís a coded way of saying that every couple of years, I go from guru to complete moron, and start the process of fighting my way back up the ladder all over again. No doubt, some of you will eventually conclude I am a full time moron, but Iím used to that. It comes with having a big mouth and little patience with things that I think are stupid. Youíll love me or hate me; either way, you wonít be bored.

There are a million topics to cover, but the best place to start is a reminder of the fact that weíre talking about a business. Like every other business, it has itís ups and downs, and it is subject to the whims of the economy and the market. Not every job you take lasts. Not every project you start gets finished. The best way to illustrate this is with a personal history. I wonít claim this to be typical, but itís certainly not unique.

The Whirlwind

Hold it nowÖ
Wait a minuteÖ
Come on!
Just let me catch my breathÖ.

Dream Theatre, "Take the Time", from "Images and Words"

If I were to sum up in one sentence what itís like to work in game development, I couldnít do a better job than this quote: "Things move fast in this business, bra; if you sit around and think about it, it passes you by."

I started my first job in the industry with a brand new company in Chicago; three months later, I was unhappy enough there to leave. I wonít go into the reasons; thatís the stuff of another piece. Suffice it to say that startups inevitably take some time to get their shit together, and during that time, management and employees alike can get off on the wrong foot. Itís a learning process.

I had flown into the Bay Area for an interview two days before, and I was being made an offer to join up with a small, energetic development house named Illusions. The two owners of the company, Darren Bartlett and James Coliz, were, unlike big corporate sceners, part of the team, an artist and a programmer, respectively. They were real people, not phony, suit types. I had hung out with them and the company producer for the weekend, a sort of summing up process designed to answer the intangibles that can make or break a team. Is this guy cool? Do we get along? Is he going to crack under the pressure and bail mid project? Is he leaving the job he has because the boss is a jerk, or is he the problem? As it turned out, the answers we all came to were the right ones. We were all pretty comfortable with things, and they hit me with the hard figures and dates. It was Sunday night, and they wanted me to start Friday. For an unpublished programmer with little but raw talent, the offer was pretty good, but Friday? I would have to fly back to Chicago, pack up my entire life, what little there was of it, and make the trip in five days. Wasnít that awfully soon?

That was when Matt Seymour, my future producer and friend, hit me with the line I quote above: "Things move fast in this business, bra." Itís one of those sound bites that sticks with you, because itís so damned true. (And yes, that was "bra", not "bro". Heís a Howlie. Ask someone from Hawaii.)

We sealed the deal with a toast of margarita glasses. We were going to do great things, and we were going to see our products in the stores. That was what mattered.

Over the next three years, we laughed, we cursed, and we spent many a sleepless night along with the rest of our ragtag team, hammering and polishing and sweating deadlines. It was hard work, but we kept our noses to the grindstone, and we shipped two products during that time. We also managed to squeeze in a hell of a lot of drinking, adventuring, and game playing into the mix. Ah, the stories I could tell about late night Doom and Mario Kart sessionsÖ.

But it is a fact of life that things change. Over time, more people came onboard, as they inevitably do when a company is successful. One day, I looked up from my monitor and I thought, "Hey whatís that guyís name again?", and I realized, with this sinking feeling in my gut, that it was no longer a family: it was a company. There were new things, like filling out paperwork for sick days; Ďofficial work hoursí; an employee handbook; office politics; and, worst of all, a distance between management and the teams: there was an us and a them.

It was time to move on. Next stop, another small developer called Abalone, with a brief 1 month hiatus to get married in Vegas and introduce my new wife to the psychos I call my family. After that, I rolled up my sleeves and settled in with the new folks at Abalone. It was a bit like going back in time to the old Illusions. The company was run by a Glenn and Janine Anderson, a husband and wife team, both programmers. Glenn was an old school guy; he had been in the business since the 2600. He was wise and patient, and resolved technical disputes with an ease I have never seen duplicated.

All was good for three months. My wife and I bought a house close to work. But, for the industry at large, things were going south, and in September, they began to hit home. Projects were being cancelled; some publishers werenít even paying for milestones: Abalone got hit with both. Glenn never kept the problems from us: we knew finances were a problem. Of course, the day came when there were no paychecks. We worked for two months without pay on his promise that he would catch us up. I was lucky enough to have some money in the bank, so I could make the payments on my new house. Some of my coworkers werenít as fortunate. Some had kids in addition to everything else. Iím not even sure they were all eating regularly, much less paying the bills. But we stuck with it: we had a vision, we had team spirit, and we knew we could turn out a good product.


(Continued on next page)



Credits: Beaker's Bent logo illustrated by and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Behind the Curatain is © 1998 Matt Gilbert. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it. We have ways of making you talk.