Well, we did it. 404Sight has successfully defended itself to the faculty and we’re all officially graduates of the program. It definitely feels a little surreal to look back on this blog and the journey I underwent… To think on this date I found out I had an internship with EA to work on NBA Live 15, the same time we had a relatively successful time on EAE day but with a long amount of work ahead of us. I feel I should reflect a bit about how I ended up where I am today…
This is going to be a pretty long-winded story about my whole two years here, so buckle it up.
For the first time ever, I’ll be removing my classic exaggeration of the facts and trying to stick straight to the story.
It was nearing the end of my undergraduate time at Michigan State University where I got my degree in Media Arts & Technology, with a Game Design Specialization. I had sent out (not even joking, I have the spreadsheet and email archives to prove it) 267 applications to any company that spoke English. This narrowed down to simply 5 interviews, 3 of which were design tests that became nothing, a job offer to work on a kids game in New Jersey (I declined, it didn’t feel right to do it, I wouldnt’ve loved what I did.), and a long journey through trying to get a job at NetherRealm studios.
Obviously, I didn’t get the NetherRealm opportunity but I had been accepted to this program, I explained to Corrinne that I might have an opportunity to take this job, and she said the program understood, it was fine with being a “plan B”. When NetherRealm fell through, I packed up for Utah. I was livid, I had turned down the undergraduate program there for Michigan State due to in-state tuition. I still wonder what life would be like had I made that choice in the fork of the road of my life… But anywho fast forward two years ago.
I had driven from East Lansing, Michigan to Ogalala, Nebraska (with my father) when I managed to hit a rather large elk (who sprinted out in front of me.) I then spent several hours without a vehicle or a plan until I walked 5 miles to a UHAUL dealership which was closed for an additional 3 more hours… I then rented a one-way trip to Salt Lake City, I unpacked my car and threw everything into that damn over-sized bed (they only had one size, massive) where everything I owned fit in a about 1/500th of the bed, I then drove through the mountains and unbelievable gusts of wind with no air conditioning, no radio, no cruise control, a governor that didn’t allow me to exceed 55 MPH, and spending hundreds of dollars in gas. I almost felt like this whole journey was a mistake. I spent the night in a hotel, sleeping in glass covered clothes, with class covered suitcases, and glass covered pillows. It was the most rough sleep I ever had, I couldn’t help but wonder what this meant.
I woke up the next day and moved into a horrible apartment, which during my time here was just a pain to deal with, with no luxuries most other places had like a dish washer and a proper stove to name a few. I went to the orientation and silently listened to the pitch, we toured the campus and headed to the union where they had rented the bowling area and we played a few games. It was enjoyable to meet new faces I would come to consider friends and classmates over the next two years (Hailin, Samuya, etc.) But I still had this nagging feeling, this struggle in my mind of how awful that trip to here had been… Did I make the right choice?
I did what I always did during that first semester, I put my nose down and worked as hard as I could. I just wanted to make a great game, that’s all I ever wanted. I loved creating all these games in my lifetime and I just wanted to make the next thing people truly appreciated. I wanted an internship, after all that’s why I came here, I felt I stood the best chance of getting one. If I just got an internship I knew I could prove myself to whatever company that was and everything would be just fine and I could finally achieve the dream of being in the game industry… But first I needed to just keep making great games, and sure some of them weren’t the great, I was still (as I was with every project) damn proud of everything I did. Every project had a new challenge to overcome…
– Petland Creations, a game about creating various animals and selling them to customers and running an awesome pet shop.
I had to do the UI and figure out how everyone worked and get a feel for becoming a “producer”. I met Brenton and worked with some awesome people.
– Bounty Blast, a top down remake of asteroids but with piracy and boats.
Here I met and worked with Matt. Sidd, and Cory some more awesome future Retro Yeti teammates, here I dropped the ball and thought we could use Unity until at the last second “surprise” we couldn’t… Man I felt awful about the whole thing, it was the first time I truly felt like I messed things up for everyone on the team. But somehow Matt held us together and challenged Siddharth and the rest of the team to finish strong and he’ll come dressed as a pirate, wouldn’t you know it within 48 hours turnaround Bounty Blast was re-made in Construct using Flash.
– Button Game, a “indie experimental game” in which you solve various puzzles through “outside the box” methods.
How indie can you be? No idea, it started out as a ridiculous game with a ridiculous idea. Here I worked with Rachel and James, two more additional Yeti’s. This game was crazy, it was crazy random and open-ended from the beginning and somehow I managed to pitch it really well and really sold the game as something amazing… I still don’t know how my improv “wing it” style worked and Mark Breeden’s ability to play the game perfectly as I narrated over him.
– Rumble in Rome
Here I worked with James again and we met another Yeti, Kyle. We were in a mad dash to make a decent mobile game and we were all over-worked, this game was definitely rough, but I was still proud nonetheless and I was very excited to work with Kyle and James (yet again)
That was the semester, man it was rough and I learned a ton and made an equally large amount of screw ups… But I felt pleased, everyone I worked with was awesome and I really felt like nearly everyone in this program was out to the same ideal I was, make something amazing and get a job doing something they love!
But the next semester was the beginning of madness…
Our team formed so fast, it was a whirlwind, (our final team was missing three initial members, and Kyle joined us a bit later). We split into two groups, continue making Button and begin a second prototype, code name: Robot Game.
If you want a disaster look no further, we tried to think of anything and everything to make that idea fun, but it just felt like a constant uphill battle that we never felt like we were coming close to winning. Just one day, while I felt everything had yet again continued to become a disaster I got fed up… “Let’s just kill robot…” everyone looked around shifty-eyed, was this a good idea? Should we stick this out? Well, we didn’t, we were dead from this game, it killed us… The other half of the team was making Button game look pretty damn cool and here we were looking at a awful whiteboard list of “good ideas” that weren’t really good…
Once Robot was announced dead, a flourish of ideas flew out of everyone, but we hung around one simple statement which I believe Kyle said first “Can hints be a mechanic?” We did stumble along the way but our decision to kill Robot happened near the end of the semester, we had virtually no time left and I was staring at the monitor with an extremely unfinished game and a completely broken spirit. This was the moment that could define ourselves as students and I just… I was broken, all of my past events cascading over one another, my poor experiences throughout my life and other projects had been seeded into my mind since when I first started in my undergrad. Maybe, maybe it wasn’t meant to be, maybe I wasn’t supposed to be a designer… Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be in the industry…
Matt saw it in my eyes and pulled me aside, he gave me a much needed winger speech, there’s still time, it’s not yet industry pitch day. We can still pull something off… Brenton gave me the go ahead and in the middle of the night I worked until long into the morning (I think I went 2 days without sleep) to get a whitebox together… I used so many things and threw them all together, Rachel busted out a solid environment and with less than 24 hours to spare we had a video.
The industry panel went great and the following semester the team agreed to go full speed on Room 207 and pass on Button. But the theme and the concept took another big pivot to Superheros and Unreal 4.
Yeah seriously, the hell was that about? We wanted the challenge and we felt the horror aspect was too much, the new technology sounded TOO GOOD to pass up for our team! I think it worked well and we built something pretty interesting for the most part but it still felt… “off”.
Around this time I got my internship at EA, it was the validation I was looking for. With the help of my connection of a fellow undergraduate and the connection and recommendation of a Utah graduate (and the faculty here) I was given an interview, which I was promptly told “destroyed it and really impressed” them. I to this day have no idea what happened, but the Utah grad at EA called some faculty and they said kind words, they recognized all the hard work I had put in and truly understood that I wanted an opportunity to be in the industry. Man it was a great experience, I was blue eyed and bushy tailed ready to make an amazing experience out of it and really do something I dreamed about doing since I can remember, make a game and be paid for it. Suckers, I would’ve done it for free!
I never understood just how well I did during my internship at EA, but we’ll get to that later in my story of EAE.
During my internship over the summer we iterated and tried to find different ways of making our game more fun. When we returned it was a rude awakening, it was clear our iterations didn’t work over the summer. I failed to find us the fun once again… I took it pretty hard but I knew we needed to bounce back even stronger than before, we met again and really honed in on yet another MAJOR pivot, we remove premonitions and go to fast and slow lanes… That’s where everything began to look up for us.
Suddenly we had struck gold we felt, it was close to becoming what it was today.
Mmm, look at that, ready to ship! But no we still had a long way to go to get to 404Sight once and for all, but damn it felt good the direction and decisions we started making, and we still maintained total team buy-in up to this point with the method of “benevolent design” (as Jose coined during our thesis defense), I was Lead Design and was final say, but I encouraged everyone to pitch any and all ideas. With Unreal 4 being as flexible as it was with the Bluerprint system it allowed us to iterate and try a million and one different things.
Then we got another step further, and another, and another, things were finally coming together. Then I got the most abrupt phone call of my life, where everything paused for a brief minute. It was EA, they weren’t lying when they said as soon as an opportunity arose I would be the first to be called and wow. I still recall my first day back at EA, everyone complemented my work as an intern, even some of the more senior engineers really appreciated and loved the effort and bar of quality I had raised NBA Live 15 through my various efforts within the game. But this opportunity to work couldn’t wait until I graduated, their cycle was different than most and they needed me as soon as I was willing to start, preferably around January. I was SO close to getting my degree, but this was it. I came to this program for an opportunity to prove myself and get my foot into the door and here’s the door wide open! I told EA my situation, they said “go ahead and do school at the same time, if your faculty allows it, we will support their conditions for the sake of you getting your degree.” I hung up and talked to Corrinne, she congratulated me and said the last thing I should worry is how I’ll work things out with the program. I should take the job and worry about EAE later, as long as my team signed on, which they did and I appreciate every last one of them for giving me the convincing shove to finally accept my dreams. I was so hesitant, I didn’t want to let the team down and I knew we were close to something special.
The night of my life we met up in the lab one last time and discussed final iteration plans for our game and sure enough those were some of the last ones we made before things locked down for launch…
This semester is still fresh in my mind for the most part, but it’s all one giant blur. I truly owe my team a great amount of gratitude for forgiving my impaired ability to keep working on this project. I was a smaller piece of the puzzle and sat in the back, it was rough for me. I went from Lead design back to a smaller role and the time I wanted to contribute to the project just wasn’t enough in comparison to everyone else. Trying to balance a full-time position in the game industry working on a AAA title which was in the epicenter of production while at the same time trying to work full-time on a indie game for a masters degree and juggle two other additional classes? It was pure madness and something I would never suggest to anyone ever. If it wasn’t for the understanding of the faculty and my team I wouldn’t be writing this blog today.
I asked myself the question the day I first got to Utah in that UHAUL of hatred and sadness, was this a bad sign? Should I have turned back? — it’s clear this was more than worth it and I wouldn’t trade in this experience for anything in the world. I’m so grateful for everything and everyone around me and I truly felt like I was constantly put into a position to succeed and everyone around me too succeeded alongside myself. We all worked together to one common goal, making a game people would enjoy playing, and wouldn’t you know it 404Sight was a game people enjoyed.
Thanks to everyone at EAE, faculty, friends, and family. I may not have named many of you but each and everyone you deserves great success.
There was many times where I was on the verge of giving up, or at a cross roads where I needed the right words said to me, and every time I needed it someone was there pushing me towards the positive paths and helping convince me what I was doing was worth it, and they were right every single time, even if I didn’t want to listen to them at the time.
hope this story entertained you and showed you that when times are tough that as long as you’re surrounded by the right people anything is possible, and that this program helped surround me with some of the best and brightest upcoming developers in the industry, and for that opportunity? I am forever grateful.