“Fulfill Your Destiny”: My Long Road to the EAE Program

My path to this program is unique like many in my cohort. The road that led me here has been a bit unconventional, but in the same instance, has shown how becoming a producer and a game designer is my calling. Personally, I do not like sounding fatalistic or appearing as if my life is one linear fantasy game. Nevertheless, after you read this blog post, I hope you will see how much gaming is not only a part of my life, but truly a part of me.

The adventure began in the summer of 2004. It was the summer that I started playing games after a 5-year hiatus. Even though I did play games before this summer with friends on occasion, and religiously when I was in my adolescence, this summer awakened the sleeping giant that had slumbered for half-a-decade. What created this renaissance was after my wife and I purchased the Nintendo GameCube from Costco. They had a wonderful bundle deal at the time, and even though I was tempted to buy an Xbox, the GameCube was just the right price for this struggling graduate student trying to make ends meet in Hawaii.

It was because of this purchase that I began researching the latest games and information about gaming. But where could I turn? To ascertain the information, I began watching X-Play, Attack of the Show (before Olivia Munn spoiled it for me), Cheat, and any show G4 generated. I still remember waking up early before going to my summer job tuning into G4 to catch up on the latest development in gaming and in tech.

It was in 2005 that I finally purchased an Xbox. This allowed me to play great games such as the Halo series. But what I really enjoyed was experiencing my first RPG, and one of my all-time favorite games, Knights of the Old Republic. Even though I had been playing video games since my brother sold his mini-bike to purchase an Atari 2600, I had never once really played through an entire RPG. And boy was I in for a treat. I remember playing the game hoping not to disturb wife while she slept. It made those hot, Hawaiian summer nights something to look forward to. I still recall how shocked I was to learn the game’s twist (I won’t spoil it if you haven’t played). My jaw stayed open for the rest of the night and into the morning. And I also remember playing for more than two hours fighting the game’s antagonist over and over in order to finish the adventure. I teared-up when the game came to its conclusion. I never knew a video game could be so moving, that video games could touch my soul in such a way. KOTOR showed me how far games had come in the decades in which I had been playing games.

Later that year the Xbox 360 made its way to the market. While coming home to visit family in Southern California, I did my best to locate one of these marvelous gaming machines. I recall searching through forum posts for the hope of determining the nearest shipment. Luckily, I discovered that a local Best Buy close to my parents’ home would have a limited shipment of the console. And I came away with a new, shiny Xbox 360 before many people had the opportunity to purchase one. It was a dream come true.

The next year I spent it composing and completing my master’s thesis. When the summer came rolling along, it was difficult obtaining responses from my professors since during the summer most professors escape the university campus. Because of this, I purchased Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion to fill the void between writing a book and waiting for my professors’ replies. Oblivion is still one of the greatest gaming experiences I have had to date. After spending the day writing, I would play deep into the night and early morning, spooking myself through every dungeon crawl, trying to hold my screams of delight when finding that special loot. It was a great time and one I will never forget.

After I had completed my thesis, my wife and I returned to California in order to help care for my ailing father. It was at this time that video games became my escape. In May of 2008, my father eventually was overcome by his illness. To cope with the loss, I spent that summer playing through the entire Metal Gear Solid series as well as FIFA. Video games were not only entertainment for me, but it also became a great comfort throughout this gloomy time in my life.

Games helped me to move on from my loss and my focus eventually returned to my future goals. My aspiration at this time was to obtain a Ph.D. Consequently, I began applying for doctorate programs around the country. Since I love video games, I decided my emphasis would be examining how video games reflect culture. The University of Utah accepted my request, and in the fall of 2011, I began my doctoral studies.

But as time moved forward, I started to feel confused. I began to sense that my calling was elsewhere since the more I studied gaming and played games with my wife on the weekends, the more I wanted to be a creator rather than an observer. I yearned for becoming a part of the art, but since I never thought that I could ascertain a job in the gaming industry as a producer or designer, I didn’t think it was possible. As a result, I had to suppress this notion as hard as I could.

This desire came full circle when part of my doctoral studies, I enrolled in the EAE’s Game Design I course with Roger Altizer. The course introduced me to game design, the EAE program, and others who shared my deep passion for games. When the course was coming to its quick end as great classes often do, I was very depressed. I kept telling myself that if there were a program like this when I was younger, I would have jumped at the chance in a heartbeat. The time in the class activated an obsession to join the program.

This past spring, I acquiesced to this longing, and I resolved to take the leap and apply for the EAE program as a video game producer. When I was accepted to the program I was ecstatic. Even though I had already completed two years in my doctoral studies, I had little reservations leaving the program. I felt that I was finally on the right path for my life. I knew that something had brought my life to where I am supposed to be.

It has definitely been a long road to get here, but even though it’s been quite a journey, I am happy to reflect and see how fate, how destiny has taken me home. I am excited to be a video game producer as well as designer. And I hope through this post you can appreciate my love and passion for gaming as well as why I desire for a long career in the gaming industry. I hope you will continue the journey with me through my blog posts here.

Challenge Accepted: What I Learned in My First Week as a Video Game Producer

Typically when playing a new video game there is a detailed tutorial level that helps the gamer acclimate to the gaming environment. However, if the first week as a video game producer is indicative of an MMOG, the tutorial lasted a few seconds and afterward I began tanking a series of level-40 dungeons. Despite this initial shock, my first week allowed me to jump into the fire and start to learn what it means to be a producer. And I am happy to say I loved every minute of it.

Because of being refined by the fire, this first week enabled me to learn a few things. First, I discovered what it means to “control the scope of a game.” As my newly formed team and I began to contemplate our initial game ideas, we noticed that these ideas were just too large for our small team to adequately complete, let alone make a great game. Even though they were not very large in scope, the thought of having our engineers learn a new engine, the artist envision how the game will look, as well as focus on strong level design would have made it difficult to churn out a strong prototype in just four weeks. Our initial idea, however, seemed to control this idea of scope. In spite of this, when we introduced it to two of our professors, they suggested that we should revisit the drawing board – more on this later.

Nonetheless, after our first idea crash and burned, we returned to a game in which we felt strongly about its prospects. Since we were in a crunch, we deemed that it would be easier to fall back on one of our original ideas than to create a completely new one. But as time began to weigh on us and we were developing our pitch for the game, we noticed that this game was too large in scope for us to create a viable prototype. To give a better perspective as to why the game had problems with scope, the game was designed to be similar to Sim City in which we were focusing on the disaster aspects of the game, but instead of the disasters being prevented, the player would create these disasters. Although this was in many respects a fine idea for a game, the time required for us to create calculations and probabilities for the destruction of the city would have caused our group to leave the game for the most part incomplete.

As we were closer to the day for our pitch, consequently, we made scope an important factor for our game. We finally were able to formulate a game that would allow us not only to prefect a simple game mechanic, but also permit us to create a wonderful narrative for the game – which was inspired by a rain storm that passed through as I sat stressing about the lack of a game idea. This game focused on a young girl who loses her favorite toy, a boat her deceased grandfather gave her, while it began raining heavily. The player takes control of the boat through controlling the environment with the duty of helping the boat survive hazardous conditions so it can be eventually reunited with the little girl. This game would enable us to overcome our earlier problems with scope that would have created chaos for our team. I was glad to have noticed this lesson before it was too late.

Second, I realized the importance of taking risks. As noted earlier, the first game we were pushing quickly crashed and burned. As one of professors euphemistically remarked, “Let me just say: I don’t hate it.” We read between the lines and decided in an instance to write off the game. But what pushed me to reconsider our idea was after Amy Adkins (a former producer for EA, and now a professor and producer for our program) spoke to me about our initial idea. She said, “Unlike what you’ll experience [in the industry], this program allows you to take risks. So take risks.” Amy was correct. We needed to take more risks and attempt to create a game that was unique rather than something that was more of less run-of-the-mill. Therefore, I took her words to heart and felt that if we were to move forward, we needed to create something much more novel and moving. Hence, we saw the need to take risks if we were going to be successful in the program.

Finally, I learned that there are no secrets to being an effective producer. Last Thursday we were lucky enough to tour EA’s studio here in Salt Lake City. Despite all of us in the program being full-grown adults, we couldn’t help feeling like a child that just woke up Christmas morning. During our time visiting EA, we met some artists and producers. After they presented themselves, they allowed us the opportunity to ask a few questions. Since I am a future producer who is very curious as to how appropriately manage people, I asked the producers if they learned any secrets during their time in the industry to ensure worker satisfaction, but at the same time, have them highly productive. Rich Reagan, a producer for EA, replied by using famous films and their characters (such as Harvey Keitel’s character “The Wolf” from Pulp Fiction) to illustrate that a good producer is one that does not focus on what caused a problem or predicament, but instead concentrates on tackling the issue. Instead of laying blame, the producer becomes Mr. or Ms. Fix-It and does what s/he can to find a solution for the dilemma. Thus, he believed that there are “no secrets” to being a producer; therefore producers are there to ensure that everyone is able to perform at their highest level.

My first week was definitely a learning experience, and by the end of the week, I needed a good night’s sleep. Nevertheless, through the intensity I learned valuable lessons I hope to refer back to throughout my studies in the program. And this was just the first week, I can’t imagine what I am going to learn in the coming weeks and months. So stay tuned…