Wednesday, January 7, 2009

WTB Game Industry Employment

Hi, my name Ixobelle, but that's not my real name. It's almost a better definition of 'who I am' than anything my given name (Richard Ericksen) could tell you. I'm an English teacher at 7 different elementary schools in Japan, but I also slay internet dragons, and blog to the masses in my spare time. It's who I am. It's what I do. I've reached a point in my life where it's time to make a change, but frankly, I intend to continue slaying internet dragons, and blogging to the masses. Odd, right? You'd think those would be the first things to go, and that's the big topic for today. I'm basically tired of teaching English in Japan, for a few basic reasons, and am looking to take active steps to do what I've always felt I really wanted to do.

I want to help maek teh gamez.

This is something I've always wanted to do, but I think until just recently, I never really took it very seriously internally. When a five year old girl says they want to grow up and be a ballerina, you just nod and smile and think it's cute. Chances are they aren't going to feel the same way when they're 15 or 25, but I think it's time I come to grips with the fact that it's my real desire to do so. I've sometimes felt like it was a silly aspiration, like wanting to grow up and be Superman, because honestly, who makes video games, right? Um, it's actually a pretty huge industry, and a metric shit ton of people make games, that's who.

Japan is ... well let's just say it's neat-o. I came here after my office shut down, with my last severance check intending to just check it out on vacation. That I would be blown away by Japan, and need-to-work-and-live-here-like-right-now took me by surprise. I had never taken a trip to a foreign country on my own (I've been to Italy with an ex), and intended to just sit around in Japan and soak it up while I decided what I wanted to do next with my life... get another IT job? Go back to school and finish a degree? I putzed around in art school for a while because my father is an illustrator, but he works freelance (albeit very successfully until just recently), and I didn't have the natural talent he does. I also didn't really want to be an illustrator; so the drive wasn't there, and I was in a pretty listless point in my life (this was about 12 years ago, mind you). So I took classes in Photoshop and the like, and used that knowledge to land a full time job in a small PDF conversion company in Oakland, then stopped going to school.

The company I worked at did endlessly repetitive work day in and day out, just scanning legal documents, cleaning up the scans, and OCRing them. Then we'd go through and proofread what the computer thought it read, and output final text searchable PDFs from these filing cabinets full of paper. It was tedious work, and I immediately came up with more creative ways around the tedium of almost every facet of our workflow. I showed them how to use Actions to automate certain operations using Photoshop, and generally got the staff using shortcut keys whenever possible. Many of our staff were basic people who weren't afraid to use a computer, but weren't very proficient in their usage either, so I began reaching out to those around me and showing them better ways of getting simple tasks done. You didn't NEED to click here and there and there and there 12 times in the exact same way for every document. Point this automation at the folder first, and THEN start from step 6 at least.

When something didn't have direct shortcut keys (in Photoshop, for example, to this day there's no shortcut for Brightness / Contrast, something we would regularly adjust for greyscale photos... you have to click Images, then mouse over Adjustments, then select Brightness / Contrast) I actually convinced the management to buy Belkin Nostromos for the staff, and taught them to make a keystroke macro that went like "Alt, I, down, down, right, Enter", and have it play out in a split second, and be bound to a certain key on the Belkin. Klunky, but effective, and simpler for the crew to get used to, plus it sped up repetitive motions. As silly as it sounds, I basically introduced the office to the concept that if something is being done over and over in the exact same way, let's stop, take 5 minutes and think of how it can be done better.

That, I feel, is one of my defining traits. Everyone else in the office was fully content to just click the same buttons over and over, because they didn't bother to see if there was a better way of going about it.

Management eventually realized I was being somewhat wasted just putzing around cropping images and cleaning up scans, and began to put me in charge of individual client projects. I'd be in charge of converting the Endoscope manuals for Olympus, and would handle the project from start to finish. Or I'd be used for more elaborate work that actually required knowing how to use Photoshop (reproduction in PDF of full color brochures, etc). I moved up in the company, and due to my knowledge of computers, began actually building new systems for the workfloor with the help of the IT guy, Jon. Eventually, when Jon bailed out to work for a Linux company with an office in Oakland, I stepped up and basically took over the IT side of things, maintaining the servers and troubleshooting workstations.

Even here in Japan, surrounded by other teachers that demonstrate no inititiave on any front except where they'll be clubbing that weekend, I consolidated and standarized the teaching materials, so that when we change schools (every semester), we can know what the teacher before us taught. Also, and more specifically, if they taught Vehicles, that it was "taxi, bus, train etc etc" and not just 10 random vehicles they chose ('blimp' is fun, but probably not horribly useful). About every other teacher in my district has a huge "who fucking cares? I'll probably be back in my home country next year anyway" attitude, which is another reason I'm just tired of teaching here. That, and the contract never changes. I've been here 5 years, and have the exact same 1 year contract as someone hired tomorrow would be offered. Eventually, one year they just won't offer me a contract, as they like to have fresh faces that the children haven't seen before to keep English classes fresh and fun. :/ There's nowhere to move UP to, and no point in staying longer than it takes to 'get your fill'.

None of this is horribly interesting except that it leads to the following point, and herein lies the biggest concern I have in my immediate future: I don't have a degree, and no form of specialized training. Without it, though, people I come into contact with are able to ascertain that I'm an intelligent individual, I learn quickly on the job, and want to put me to use in solving problems. With the exception of very technical industries (I think you should probably have a degree in engineering to build bridges), I find that I come across a lot of people that really have nothing to do with what they studied in school. My manager at Document Solutions was a French Major if I recall correctly.

I don't want to design the next client server TCP/IP net stack for Diablo 3. I want to be a part of the brainstorming sessions where they come up with stuff like having 10 and 25 man equivalents of dungeons. Where they design raid encounters, or entire dungeons. I think that after having done the number of quests I have, I could design interesting quest chains. It begins to feel silly again when you put it that way, but it's true! Who knows WoW better than someone who plays it? It leads back again to what I said a few posts back... that a few of the top players from EQ were hand picked to help design WoW from the ground up, based on what they had played and seen. They knew what was fun and what was stupid (scroll to the very bottom of the page, and read that entry, then read the entry at the top, dated 5 days later).

The problem is: how to get it across that you think you have good ideas?


Yeah. Hrm. So my plan is to start at the bottom (as a tester or QA or something), and wow thier friggin socks off every opportunity I get. I mean seriously, that whole crap about "you only get one chance at life and blah blah blah" is pretty much true. It's time to stop dicking around in "Where are you GOING? I'm going to the ZOO!" mode over here in Okayama, and head on back to Cali.

I've discussed this with my wife, and decided that this is officially my last full contract year in Japan. I'm putting it here on the blog with a bullet so I can look back and take inventory as time goes on. I obviously can't move back to America tomorrow (as much as I'd really, really like to), but I'm in the third semster of a school here right now. I think when offered my next year's contract I'll politely refuse, then tell them I GUESS I could finish out one more semester while we sell all our crap and wrap up the paperworks. It will have the double function of giving the Board of Education a panic attack that they're losing the one teacher on staff that actually gives a shit about the curriculum, as well as driving the point home of "well, what do you expect when you refuse to give us ANY incentive to stick around with this one year contract every year bullshit". August is an especially hateful time in the Japanese schoolyear, and if I can make it back to America and on the job hunt by then, then I think I'll have made good time, and have something to be looking forward to.

I spent 5 years in Japan, and it was a good thing. While it isn't over yet(!), it's coming to a close. Picking up, selling all your stuff and moving to a foreign country where you know nobody and hardly speak the language is a pretty big deal. I reckon if I can do that (and emerge on the far side of it with an awesome wife and son), then I've got it in me to do anything. Heading back to the motherland in search of the next big thing sounds easy at this point.

The blog will continue to be a shitstorm of ideas and random whatevers. I fully intend to further flesh out and use my Baron Von Lupus as an example of something that I can just sit down and crank out at a moment's notice, and will probably be doing more thought experiments like those in the weeks and months to come as I gear up for Jobpacolypse Now. I think the very fact that I write here also gives credence to the notion that I tend to think of myself as a creator, and not just a consumer. Like my 'create a raid encounter' thing, I think it's easy for someone to just play a game and then later say it sucked or whatever... but it's harder for the average person to do the creating, or even offer useful informatin as to WHY they felt that way, or nail down what could be done to take it to the next level.

Many people sit around and complain that their life isn't as awesome as it could (or should) be, but very few will pick up and affect the change themselves.

Wish me luck!


Anonymous said...

On a completely different note, Ixo, do you plan on trying Darkfall IF it ever comes out? Apparently they have a launch date of the 20th of this month. I can't say I believe that will ever happen, but it might be amusing. I'm just afraid to try it alone if it EVER comes out.

Anonymous said...

Have you thought about finishing out your Bachelor's? I really think it's going to hamstring you not having one.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, Ixo? Try your hand at here and wow them with a CV/portfolio. You never know what catches their eyes.

Rich said...

mordiceius: yeah, i pretty much try everything these days. I haven't read up on Darkfall other than a few snippets here and there about how you won't be able to look behind you with just the camera (you'll need to turn your whole character around to look), and how you'll need to 'aim' melee swings downward at gnomes and the like, which both sound awesome. The melee aiming thing just makes me hope they don't pull a Conan with the combat engine, but yeah, i'm gonna peep it out for sure.

geoff: if it comes to that being the cockblock, then I suppose I'll have no choice. As I said before, many times the area of study, and the resulting job tend to not line up in many cases, and I'm not sure if they have "raid encounter" or "quest development" classes outside of somehwere like Digipen (who knows, maybe they do). I basically intend to go into interviews with the request that if i AM turned down, to please let me know what would help my chances if i reapplied later.

Metro: yeah, I'm going big willie. I pretty much have my laser sights targetting Blizz. If you know what you want, you may as well go for it, and from what I've heard from a few friends that know people working there a "i'll bust my ass and do whatever it takes to work here" attitude really helps getting the foot in the door. If that doesn't pan out, then I'll go from there, but my goal is Blizz or Bust as I type this here and now.

David said...

As a little advice from a fellow dood in Japan, I think you're making the right step. It's hard as hell to get into the games industry in Japan. My friend who is fluent in Japanese, got a job at Square-Enix, but even there he only translates and writes English bits for FFXI - they would never dream of letting him in on design meetings (as if they have design meetings at S/E, they just remake the same game over and over again with better graphics.)

I have my own experience trying to get a job at Level-5 that got to an interview but went so poorly I wont say anymore that there is no way in hell they will hire a foreigner unless you were raised in Japan and think like a Japanese.

It seems at Blizz they urge people to apply if they have good ideas, so go through with it (and they will dig up all your old blogs and throw them in your face, if it ever gets to a serious interview. They might not enjoy the creative abuse you heaped on players in your N/A days!)

On a serious note, if you are thinking of moving back to the states with your wife and kids, start doing visa stuff NOW. Like now now. Its not guaranteed, it takes forever and you have to wade through so much bullshit it will be filling this blog for the next year.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ix,

I've been in the industry for about 6 years now, and I just wrote a blog post (somewhat in response to yours) that you might find interesting here:

Salient points: You don't necessarily need a degree, but if you are planning on starting at the bottom, you'd better be prepared to shovel the crap that goes with it.

Really, the best thing you can do is write well and get experience however you can. Familiarity with scripting languages and game development is a huge plus. For example, create your own Warcraft 3 custom map, with a storyline, camerawork, etc. Create a flash game, and/or a FPS map. Do things on your own time to show that you can do this stuff if given a chance, and clearly document it every step of the way to prove that you can not only do it, but also accurately convey your ideas to others.

I got into the industry because I did much of the stuff I mentioned, but you should also keep your eyes open as wide as possible. Don't focus too much on a single company, focus more on getting experience.


Larísa said...

Oh how I wish I was in the gaming industry and could give you a job! You're constantly showing high class through your writings - both in ideas, concepts and creativity and in your fluent, easy-to-follow language. Your latest raid design thing was just one example of many.

By the way I always thought you were a female. Guess it's that animated little picture that deceives me. Not that it matters, really.

Crimson Starfire said...

Dude!! You already have teh writing skillz! Come up with an awesome game idea and build a game design document. I've been building one for nearly 3 months now. It will give you something to show in the interview as well as provide a minor insight into working as a game designer.

Recommend reading:

Game career guide.

You'll find everything you need for building a design document from here: Design Guides

Also to keep the brain pumping, I recommend entering a few of the design challenges run by Jill Duffy:

Game Career Design Challenges

I've entered a few. They're good fun.

Best of luck with it mate.

Ulfblud said...

Come on home, Ixxy. :)
Long time lurker here, stalked you from back when NA was NA. Tremendously enjoy reading your views/rants.
As a Californian myself (live/work but a few miles from Blizzard's HQ in Irvine), allow me to caution you on the current state of living here in good old Cali.
Bring cash. Lots of it.
Rumor has it our state tax checks will be and IOU written in crayon, cost of living is terribly inflated, including housing - though gas prices are currently very affordable.
Living in Japan, however, you're probably used to tons of traffic and people everywhere, but definitely pack your patience when coming through the OC.
I've applied numerous times at Blizzard, and haven't received anything but the canned and automated "we're not interested" responses. Best of luck to you in your attempts (TAKE ME WITH YOU!!111).
I certainly hope your goals are realized - you certainly deserve it.

Rich said...

@Larisa: you're not the first to have fallen for my cleverly crafted internet disguise, muahhahah! although when i get on vent, it sometimes spooks the guild noobs. I never really hide the fact that I'm a guy (or actively pretend to be a girl), i usually let people work it out for themselves. All of my toons have been an "isobel" in one form or another, i just think that's who i am when staring down the character creator.

Tobold mentioned he had a hard time deciding how to phrase links to my blog (my emails come from "richard ericksen", but ixobelle is obviously feminine), was it 'over at his' or 'over at her blog'. frankly, either works for me, I'm easy like that ;)

Anonymous said...

Same here as Unter, Iso. Been reading your stuff for years over at N/A. It was pretty cool to see someone articulate and condense so much of what we gamers, and particularly WoW addicts, have seen/thought/bitched about for years.

Come back to the states bro.

-Kaafir (Aerie Peak Server)

Anonymous said...

Fair play for wanting to try something new.

I think the degree could be a bit of sticker, simply because HR drone these days simply trash cvs for people who dont meet certain conditions.

That being said, I`m sure plenty of people get work without them, but I think the biggest problem is when you move on and dont have them employers still tend to be suspicious. The fact EVERYBODY seems to go off and do a degree seems to have turned it into some right of passage instead of the golden ticket to a good job it used to be.

The other problem is that I imagine that game design is one of those hard to get jobs, simply because everybody wants to do it. Id imagine most designers worked there way up, probably in the project management area.

But hey, I think tigole pretty much got the job by nerd raging on internet forums, so maybe your off to a good start.

Tesh said...

You might want to prowl the forums. There's a fair bit of useful information there, and Erin, the site admin, is the lady behind ea_spouse. The IGDA forums are another good research outlet.

I work in the industry, but I'm an artist with a BFA in Pixar-quality computer animation. I'm not keyed into the design side all that much. At the small company I work at, I dabble a little with everything, but I'm still primarily an artist.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I also hope to see you in game design and soon Iso. If it helps you to feel more confident, I moved to the tech industry with a masters in ed. administration and 3years as a teacher (two more as a principal). Like anything else it seems that you have to have an "in", hopefully the little light you share with us in this space will give that to you. Good luck.