It has occurred to me, since many of you have asked, that it's been a while since I've posted what I've been doing with my life. So.
Have I found work? The answer is a resounding sort of
. Remember last May, when I flew out to Cupertino to do speculative work for a possible video game startup? Well, it was a bit of a crazy move, but it is already starting to pay off. Now I'm doing part-time speculative work for two
(For peanuts, mind you. Startups, almost by definition, struggle to get the funding to will themselves into existence, much less pay their would-be employees. Cormac, for his part, paid me in a month's worth of food and lodging. My current employers aren't even offering me that much.)
One of my employers found me at the New York Gaming Meetup--apparently word had gotten around that an aspiring young programmer was showing off a homebrew DS game, and they'd fruitlessly gone looking for me at the last few meetups while I was in California. They are the people who do Yeti Knight
--a goofy, cynical little interactive animated series that has already developed somewhat of a cult following. Ben is an artist fresh out of grad school and Donnelly is a business guy fresh out of business school, so all they needed to make a game, at bare minimum, was a programmer--and I ended up completing the game developer fetus trifecta. We are working on what will hopefully become a new Yeti Knight
game; it will look a little like this
. I'll link to more preview material as the project develops.
It's worth noting that Donnelly (I haven't met Ben yet) stood out to me as one of the few people at that month's NY Gaming Meetup who was serious about making good games, not making as much money as possible off mediocre ones. (I guess it didn't help that that month's topic was social media and gaming, meaning that half the people present that month were SEO and marketing types interested in coming up with their own Farmville. Which, basically, means they seek to engineer exactly the kind of tedious, repetitive Facebook games that give social gaming a bad name, the Pavlovian bell-ringing kind that keep you playing long after the enjoyment is gone.) So Donnelly is one of the good guys, as far as I can tell, and Ben--he really knows what he is doing; I am thrilled to be working with his art and his wry sense of humor. They've both met no success breaking into the mainstream games industry, so they're starting their own. A gutsy move--but they know their dreams. And so do I.
The other employer, geakStudios
, heard of me via my Oberlin connections. They are an Oberlin-based startup, funded by a grant from the college, comprised entirely of recent Oberlin alumni! (If I had been smart, and a little less risk-averse, I would have done that when I graduated, rather than getting all worked up sending dozens of resumes and code samples to every company I'd heard of in a shrinking mainstream game industry, hoping they'd hire me to be the industry equivalent of a chimney sweep despite laying off seasoned professionals by the bucketful.) As a team of six, geakStudios is marginally bigger than the Yeti Knight dudes, allowing it to enjoy a small amount of mainstream-style specialization. We have a dedicated designer! And two programmers! And a full stack web guy who is doing only web stuff!
And, since geakStudios actually has a small amount of funding, we can afford to be a little more serious about our work. Not serious like my previous employer--I am delighted by how familiarly Oberlinesque the geakStudios team is, and how in many ways they are the exact reverse of Wall Street's very image-centered corporate culture--but truly and passionately committed, in that way that only a company of six or fewer people can achieve. Right now we're in the prototyping phase of the "fail-fast" model, in which, knowing that 80% of the projects we begin are going to be untenable, we seek to accelerate the process by churning out lots of crude gameplay prototypes over the summer and then culling all but the most popular ones for development to completion. We already have two initial prototypes done (a silly quicktime event game and a not-quite-shmup) and we're making great progress towards a third. Getting a team of six to work together is a bit of a hassle, especially with two people in Oberlin, one in San Francisco, and one in New York. But with weekly Skype audioconferences and regular Google Wave, we're somehow pulling a decent production schedule, even with the entire team only working part time. (I am proud to say that I have been slow in updating LJ lately because I have been so busy being productive.) I can't say when our games are going to go live on the site, but it looks like very soon. We're making this shit work, where doing it man, where MAKING THIS HAPEN
I guess I'd better not self-advertise any further, lest I go broke doing nothing but free work for embryonic game companies. :b
But, this is real experience, I am learning new things, I am meeting motivated people my age with big dreams, and I am doing what I love. If this were even remotely sustainable this would be heaven. I could do this forever. Fuck it, pay my rent and groceries, cover my healthcare, toss me a small stipend for books and video games and theater every now and then and I'd do it for nothing else.
And yet. Oh man. Not even close to sustainable. This is a vacation in which instead of relaxing I am working very, very hard, that nonetheless burns through my wallet like a one megawatt laser through a CD case. I'm already living like a hermit, for a couple months I was even eating only one meal a day (bad idea), but saving money only goes far.
My raft from my Wall Street job and my last paycheck from Emily are close to running out, so I had to ask my parents for money. They've been trying to push some on me for ages--an absurd sum, more than they really can afford to be giving me--so I finally caved and took some of it. I feel horrible about taking it, in part because my parents have given me enough and they can't afford to support me like this, in part because money from parents is never free--there's always an implied debt of reciprocation. (Already you are so ungrateful for all the things your parents worked so hard to get you! That you never asked for and never had any say in receiving any of it, least of all the fact of your birth, is inconsequential.) But now I have another raft. It won't last me forever, but hopefully it will last me until I can turn my game-making addiction into a rent-covering, food-buying full-time job. My father, a self-made businessman himself, is very encouraging. My mother...well, how supportive she is depends on whether she's taken her meds lately, whether my father is away on business, how scary the mortgage on my parents' new apartment is at the moment, and whether the cat is thirsty.
I'll pay them back. On my own terms. Somehow.
Games. It's amazing how much I've invested in the craft of so frivolous (yet beautiful!) a luxury, something I myself can no longer afford. How many current-gen mainstream titles have I bought in the past two years? One? One and a half? Were it not for freeware and independent games--of the very sort I am making!--it'd be almost tragic how working on games means I can't afford to play them.
But, you know what? You see that part of my resume that lists my job experience, where I list all this impressive but ultimately gaming-irrelevant programming bullshit, a decent one-month residency, and that one game I did as a side project at the top? (Which, amusingly, has done far more for me than any of the more traditional resume hooks. It's caused some interviewers to skim past all this hardcore network I/O and multithreading stuff I've done for a multinational corporation and say to me in phone interviews, "Gee, it looks like you don't have a lot of experience, but this homebrew thing you threw together in your spare time looks promising!") By the end of the summer all of that is going to be game industry experience. All of it. My resume is not going to say "snivelling self-entitled web engineer who thinks video games would be more fun than doing enterprise applications," it's going to say "snivelling self-entitled game programmer with plenty of relevant experience WHY HAVEN'T WE HIRED THIS DOUCHEBAG YET."
And, well, if the unthinkable happens? If geakStudios or the Yeti Knight people somehow manage to beat the odds, and become one of the something like 10% of independent game companies to survive to the launch of their first title?
Then there's no point in breaking in anymore. We ARE the games industry then, even if we are just the newest face in a tiny niche market. And then, we get our say, in our little corner at least, in what corporate America is supposed to be. Our own gentle tug against the tide of the great beast of capitalism, and a chance to redeem one shining speck in its long, terrible history. (Remember, alma mater, your old motto: Think one person can change the world?)
Or, more likely, we'll all sell out and blow it all on skyscrapers, suits, and cocaine.
Only time will tell.