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Archive for February, 2012

The Quest

February 21, 2012 8 comments

Today’s post is a bit significantly less about game development and the game community, and a bit significantly more about me.  If you’ve taken the time to read the About section, you may have seen that I aspire to be a game developer.   I’ve undertaken a personal quest to eventually break into the game industry and I’ve decided to chronicle that journey.  Periodically, I will make posts like today’s categorized under “The Quest,” which will highlight my progress and hopefully celebrate milestones on the journey, though they may be few and far between since I have a sneaking suspicion that that this is going to be slightly more difficult than killing 10 boars for a little bit of gold and experience.

My educational background is – shall we say – less than ideal for making a transition into the gaming industry.  I have yet to see a single job listing for someone with a bachelor’s in history (if anyone reading this finds one – let me know).   I’m not without hope, however.  While most job listings call for an educational background in computer science, graphic design, web design, networking, public affairs, or marketing, every now and again a very successful developer sneaks into the mix with a much more colorful background.  For instance, Greg Street, a lead systems designer for Blizzard Entertainment, has undergraduate degrees in biology and philosophy and a PhD in marine science.

While I don’t have a PhD, my master’s degree in intelligence studies at least has the potential to be as useful as marine science.  Being able to do analysis and understand complex problems definitely would be an asset to a game designer.  But these are soft skills that can only augment existing knowledge.  They don’t stand up well on their own. To that end, I’ve recently enrolled in a local information technology retraining program.  I’ve been focusing my time and attention on software development and programming languages.  While the course has me working on some programs with more business and commercial applications, I am also working on some simple games.

The current short term goal is that in a few weeks/months you may see some of my early attempts at game development  hosted here on the site, and maybe eventually on your own mobile device.  We’re still a long way off from that, but there you go – quest accepted.

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See spot game…

February 15, 2012 10 comments

When you first tell someone that you’re a gamer, one of the questions that usually seems to pop into people’s heads soon after is “why do you waste your time playing games?”  I don’t think I have to explain that to anyone who found this blog on their own… most of you probably get it.  However, in the event that someone stumbles in here and doesn’t understand, I thought it would be appropriate to start off with a few thoughts about not just why I enjoy games, but what I feel I’ve gotten from them over the years.

The short version is that games taught, teach, and continue to teach me to solve problems.  Too often, the act of playing a video game is lumped in with activities like watching T.V. and eating junk food.  While it’s true that plenty of gamers do also watch T.V. and eat junk food, I find the grouping a bit naive because even the most basic games designed only for entertainment can impart some  educational benefit on the player.   Unlike watching T.V. r even a movie where you are just the passive recipient of a stream of information, games require complex interaction that can teach lessons.   These lessons will rarely be the same between games, but if the player is observant enough and internalizes what he or she is doing, very often those experiences can help solve real problems outside of virtual space.   There are very few “healthy” pastimes that I can think of offer anywhere near that level of potential positive impact.

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying you can learn anything you ever need to know from a healthy sampling of various video games.  There is no substitute for real experience.  In the absence of real situations to learn from, however, games provide a laboratory of scenarios that teach a host of problem solving tools.  Social games can teach group dynamics.  Puzzle games can teach problem solving.  Word games teach language.  Difficult games teach trial and error and perseverance.   Many games combine lots of these lessons to provide fairly complex lessons.   As a personal example, massively multi-player online role playing games taught me leadership.

Towards the end of college, I was charge of two organizations.  The first was the Air Force Reserve Officer training program at my school – a formal leadership training pipeline approved by the U.S. military.  I was responsible for designing and executing a training program over the course of a semester for 50+ cadets.   Once a week we met as a group to execute our training, usually performing some kind of prescripted exercise as a group; during the rest of the week, my peers and I worked on the upcoming weeks.  Shadowing my real world leadership training, I was also gaining virtual leadership experience as a raid leader in a guild of players for World of Warcraft, a massively multi-player online role-playing game.  Our guild had to bring together 40+ people from around the world multiple nights a week to a single location in the game and then coordinate their activities to defeat challenges presented in the game.   I had to get very comfortable not only solving the problem presented by the computer game opponents themselves, but also the problems created by having over forty personalities all competing for very scarce rewards following sometimes fruitless nights of “work.”    Toss in a bit of complexity in that we could only use chat tools and voice-software to communicate and it gets even harder.

After graduation, I commissioned into the Air Force and was put into a variety of leadership positions.  I also went onto  additional leadership schools.   I performed very highly, often ranked in the top 10% of my peers.   But throughout my time in the Air Force, when faced with new problems, more often than not, it wasn’t my AFROTC experiences that I leaned on.  Instead, I found that the experiences I had leading World of Warcraft raids offered me the answers for how to diffuse conflict, solve problems related to resources, manpower, and time, and generally keep organized in the face of a changing work environment.  It’s not fair to say that WoW was my only source of experience… but it certainly augmented and framed my experience in  ways I  found — and continue to find —  useful as a metaphor and template for real-world scenarios.

In an increasingly digital and networked age, many of the problems we face on a day to day basis start to move into virtual space and the lessons games teach become even closer to real life.  Where I had to use voice-software to communicate with friends in WoW, companies now have to organize virtual conference calls with partners all over the world.   Simulators are used to teach people real skills to do important jobs (which may make for an interesting future topic).   As long as games continue to become more complex, I see myself always playing them because I think they will always have something to teach me.   And if someday I have to choose between letting my kids play a game or watch T.V, you can bet there’s going to be a controller, keyboard, or mouse in their hands and not a remote.