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volume 1, issue 32

Today in loonygames:

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Behind the Curtain:
So You Wanna Make Games?






By Matt "Thraka" Gilbert

nce again, welcome back, and, as usual, thanks for the comments. I am guilty of not replying to a few letters this time, not because I didnít want to, but due to some problems with my machine. Now I have a new hard drive, but some of my mail seems to have been lost in the transition; I had read it, but hadnít gotten around to responding. So, if you sent mail, and you were expecting a reply, send again.

One question that comes up again and again in the mail I get from readers is this: "How do I break into the field?" Usually, I dash off a few lines of suggestions, but the truth is that the topic deserves an entire article of its own, so thatís what weíre doing this week. I know, I know, you current developers are thinking, "Jeez, Thrak, lay off the newbie shit and do something for us, huh?" Yeh, yeh, shaddup, E3 is coming, and you have enough work to keep you busy for the next couple of weeks. After E3, weíll move into some of the heavy issues. Theyíll be fresh in our minds after the death march for stable demos, after all.

So You Wanna Make Games?

You know, before we go any further, thereís something you need to ask yourself. Well a couple of somethings, actually. First, are you sure you want to do this? And second, what makes you think you can?

Look, weíve been through this before, way back in the pilot for this column, but for the sake of completeness, letís put it all together in one spot. The hours suck. This is not a nine to five job: itís a lifestyle. Nothing you ever do is good enough. You never have enough time to do everything you need to do, and things never come out the way you really wanted them to be. The money can be decent once you pay your dues, but in the beginning, you might well be a monkey working for peanuts and T1 access to feed your Quake habit.

This is all fine and good for young people just beginning their careers, but for people who want to make a career change, these are serious issues. Every few months, there is a crisis, a major deadline, or some other push that demands a huge chunk of your time. How will your significant other and/or children react to the occasional week of your dragging in at 3am and collapsing, or, worse, your not coming home at all? Who will feed your dog (or cat, or goldfish)?

More importantly, how will you hold up? The pressure can be crushing, at times. Do you have the confidence to persevere in the face of seemingly hopeless situations? Quite often, more will be asked of you than you might imagine is reasonable. Can you step up, roll up your sleeves, and do it anyway? Or are you strictly a nine-to-five, leave the work at the office kind of guy? If itís the ladder, youíre making a mistake.

Still want to be part of this? Okay, letís get you some shoes.

Step One: Show Me What You Can Do

Before you even bother with anything else, make something. Programmers have demo material and code; artists have portfolios; designers have designs; writers have samples. If you donít have them, then you are not ready, and youíre wasting your time to go further. Only when you have something in hand that you feel is at least representative of your skills can you even think of approaching a potential employer

Step Two: Make a Resume

This is discussed in great depth in any number of places, but generally, the things you hear are expert bullshit. Here are some very simple dos and doníts, so listen up.

First, foremost, and above all, do not lie! You wouldnít believe the number of posers I have run into in interviews. I mean, I understand that a lot of people regard lying as a sport, rather than the filthy, repulsive behavior that it is, and a lot of losers think that lying on a resume, or anywhere else they can get away with it, is a good idea. (If you buy into the lying thing, by the way, donít bother crying to me about it, because Iím just going to tell you to go fuck yourself. Liars and whiners suck. Period.)

But even allowing for the large number of lying scumbags in the world, itís a shock to run into one in an interview. I mean, itís one thing to tell Bubba and Alís Roofing that you know how to shingle, banking on the fact that you can pick it up on the job. But what moron thinks he can just Ďpick upí art or programming? Itís ludicrous, but believe it or not, you get a number of people who seem to think they can do just that.

Here is a clue: this business is small. Development houses change direction and some people change horses. Some houses go out of business. And some people just bounce around looking for more and more money. It all boils down to this: people know each other. Lie to me and get caught, and the next place you go may have already heard of you. Itís not as if I even have to deliberately Ďput the word outí. I might just be talking at a poker game and mention this moron I interviewed who tried to scam me.

Second, get to the damned point. I donít want to read your life history. Tell me pretty damned quick that youíre looking to break into the biz, and youíre willing to work hard. If you start out with your curriculum vitae, my eyes glaze over. Go with your name, a brief pitch, and then get into the details. Donít make me wade through tons of meaningless dates and coursework, only to find out that you really think I am a pizza delivery service in need of database programmers.

Finally, and boy I expect to catch shit about this, but I really think this is worth doing. If you have a long and hard to pronounce name, chop it to something shorter for first contact. Why? Well, imagine yourself in the shoes of a resume reader. Youíre tired as hell, you have a deadline, and youíre wading through a stack of two hundred resumes, trying to find someone who might be your man (or woman). Youíre on your tenth cup of coffee, and, fuck, you wish you didnít have to deal with this, but you do. You make a pile of possibles. Now, somebody has to get called first. If you see a name like Jeheramawhari, and Bob, you may well think, "Oh, man, Iím going to botch this guyís name for sure and I am going to look stupid, and what if he doesnít speak English, and even if he does, what if whoever answers the phone doesnít, oh man, lemme call Bob first. If he sucks, I can always call J later."

See my point? If you really feel strongly about not using a shorter name, by all means, when you arrive for an interview, make that clear. But get the interview first. Of course, then youíll find out someone named Jeheramawhari already works there, and youíll use your middle name anyway.

Step 3: Send It To The Right People

A great place to find ads for the industry is in Game Developer Magazine, which can be found at most decent sized bookstores like Barnes and Noble or Borders. An online resource you might try is http://www.gamasutra.com. This is sort of a no-brainer, so there isnít a lot to say here. Find adds for positions that you think you qualify for, and send out your resume.

Step 4: The Interview

This is where it begins to get beyond the scope of how-to, and more into the realm of ballpark suggestions. The big one is, as with the resume, donít lie. Donít embellish either. The logic is simple: you will get caught, either in the interview, or, failing that, in the first week that you start any job you manage to scam. And getting caught lying about what you can do is, as I noted earlier, really bad. If youíre in doubt as to whether you can do such and such thing that youíre asked about, say so, but note that youíre confident that you can learn to do it, and that youíre willing to put in the effort necessary. Especially for an entry level position, being willing to put in the extra effort far outweighs any knowledge you bring with you, anyway.

Now, for the minor stuff. Be cool. Have a sense of humor. If youíre stiff and geeky, then you will put people off, no matter how great your credentials may be. Remember, youíre trying to get into a position where you will wind up spending long, often stressful periods of time with these people, and being cool under pressure is a real issue.

The interview may last a long time. Deal with it. Youíll work some long days, too. Donít schedule a morning and evening interview on the same day, or you may find yourself cutting one short, and being late for the other.

Donít whine about how you already answered these questions when you talked to somebody else. Whining is bad, remember? Besides, if you canít deal with answering the same question over and over again in an interview, you canít deal with answering the same question over and over again when asked by different producers.

Dress casual. You donít have to go in rags, but skip the tie and button up shirt. The games business doesnít work that way. Jeans, T-shirt, and sneakers are the norm, and while youíre not trying to convince anyone that youíre a pro, it certainly doesnít hurt to dress the part. At the least, it gives the impression that you have some idea about what youíre getting into.

Thatís all I can think of. So get started.

Next Time: why you are not ĎDa Maní


- Matt 'Thraka' Gilbert is a console programmer, currently working at StormFront Studios. These are his own ravings, and have nothing whatsoever to do with his employer.


Credits: Beaker's Bent logo illustrated by and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Behind the Curatain is © 1999 Matt Gilbert. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it. And ignore the man behind the curtain. He's just got a shotgun aimed at your head...nothing to get alarmed about.