I've been working on developing video games for a few years now. I put up a blog on here to share what I hope will be sensible and interesting articles about game design. The "Fame Design" name came to me when I thought, "I want to be famous for only one thing: video games".
At the moment I'm developing new games in Flash. So I expect to share experiences in being an indie game developer. I often find myself wondering if I should be working in Flash, HTML5, XNA, or the iPhone/iPad SDK. Time will tell.
Andy Dixon recently blogged a 'state of the c-blogs' found here. And I realized that I've wanted to see some improvements here as well. There are actually plenty of people here that I enjoy. Elsa still stays pretty consistent. Knutaf still rolls out his Dark Souls blogs. Occams Electric Toothbrush, Corduroy Turtle, and Knutaf have a new podcast. VenusInFurs, Xander Markham, TheManchild, and Patrick O'Rourke give pretty solid posts. There are other people I like on here as well, and I'm sorry if I haven't mentioned you. But lots of other people I look for haven't been back until very recently or haven't produced a whole lot of content. And even my favorites that I have mentioned aren't writing nearly as much. Things were very different a year ago. And honestly, we were at our best before Destructoid tried to that 'new Destructoid' beta thing. I haven't written much lately either except for a spoilerific Mass Effect 3 blog that understandably not a whole lot of people will read. Anyway, I think it is high time I started writing here again because I still do love the community. And when it comes down to it there is still a huge canvas here for us to use for our creativity. It just has to be harnessed. Thank you Andy Dixon for the inspiration.
Before I begin, let me say this: I hope I see many of you at PAX Prime this year. PAX 2011 was fun. It was fun like dropping into a fantasy world where friends on the internet were friends in real life. Every moment I spent with you guys was like having an encounter with a double rainbow. I kept saying to myself that I wished I had a cul-de-sac where all of you guys lived so that I could come over and hang out - like, whenever man. *sigh* Well... I should write some more blogs. I've been neglecting all of you. So, since I'm starting back up again, this is probably a good time to fill you guys in on where I have been the past few months. It is video game related for the most part.
I have to preface this with something: I have always wanted to make my own video games. For around five years I have been making them for someone else in an attempt to make a living. I've racked up some good experience here and there, but have been mostly disappointed with the industry. Even the most inspiring companies I've worked for have fallen through the cracks and went out of business. Granted, I've only worked for four game companies, but two of them closed up shop or had massive layoffs because of their lack of sales. Could it have been partly my fault? Sure? Maybe? I honestly don't know, but never-the-less I tried my very best. It is only recently that I have felt truly burnt out.
Since the beginning I did my very best to code and code and code. I stayed at work until I had to sleep. I slept there and woke up to people walking into the office and then I started coding some more. Even five years of experience has brought me no closer to security. I'm consistantly paid less than I am worth. (My friends and ex-coworkers know what I'm talking about.) I feel like maybe if I had tried to get in at a company like Microsoft, that I would have at least been spending my energy on a company that wasn't going to go out of business in the next year. But, for a lot of different reasons I kept trying to work with small companies. And I think that is because someday I want to be in the driver's seat. I always had this feeling that Microsoft would own my ass. But I've heard recently that it isn't a completely valid feeling.
But regardless of my choices in the past, my recent experience with the game industry just flat out blows. I'm not saying it is going to keep me away from trying to make a living in the industry, but it makes me angry enough to write about it.
I got started at my last job right after PAX Prime last year. And, as I said, I saw a lot of you there. And as amazing as that was, it took a lot out of me. I started up my new job being sick with a cold and severely exhausted that following Monday. I didn't really have enough time to recover and I had neglected to prepare to use the software they were using. It wasn't a big deal at the time, I guess. I got there a little late that week because I was getting used to bus schedules. The tardiness wasn't necessarily my fault because the buses were late. But it's still not good to make excuses. You are late either way according to your boss. So forgiveness depends on what kind of company you work for. Mostly small companies are nice about that stuff.
And I was mostly okay. The first month or two were strange because I had never taken buses to work. I also didn't do a whole lot of coding. I'm a programmer, so this was a bit strange. I was there for the most part, at first, to do animations and design levels. Now, I thought that this would be good for me because that would mean that I could catch up on the technology before it was time for me to code again. I did the levels and animations for them as best I could. And to my surprise there was a question of how productive I was. I was shocked because this was very early on in my employment there, and they were questioning my value on something I was not hired for. My immediate boss was more understanding but our CEO was complaining. All I could say to him was, "You hired me as a Software Developer - a Programmer. I'm okay with doing animations, but please don't judge me on something I am only just starting to learn."
That was just the start of my troubles there. I had some attendance problems and I didn't know why it was happening. I should have completely loved this job. But for some reason, I hated it. I was unhappy. I was getting paid enough, but somehow I couldn't wake up to get there. I felt extremely depressed because of this and I constantly worked on trying to have a better schedule for myself. I would try and go to bed at 10:00pm to wake up for my bus early in the morning. The problem was that sleep, commuting to work, the work itself, and getting ready for work left me with very little time for anything else in my day. Mostly all I could stand to do was eat dinner and fall asleep. Where was my energy? I'm only 30 years old. Where was my will to survive? Where was my killer instinct?
The attendance problems were usually okay because I would always work on the weekend or make them up somehow. But, there was other things going on too. I was filling the position of some other guy that left the company and he was supposedly a genius programmer. So there was a standard of work that I was held to that I'm not sure I could have necessarily achieved without the proper energy to step up. This guy also made coffee every morning and brought doughnuts weekly, so people would joke around about what I was going to contribute. I started making lattes for everyone, but in hindsight I should have told them to shut the fuck up and let me do my job. They weren't even telling me to program anything for the most part. I was doing 20% programming, 50% design, and 30% art (which, again, wouldn't have been bad except they were expecting me to 'be an artist' and meet a schedule).
Later on they started getting on my case for taking sick days. I didn't know what was going on with me at the time, but in November and December I was sick a total of 4 different times, once every two weeks. My colds were lasting for about a week, so every other week I was miserable. I took some of those days off, but we were on a wellness day system. I was supposed to be reporting a wellness day quite a bit before I needed to take the day off and we had about one wellness day per two months. When I was really sick and didn't want to come into the office they started taking that time out of my vacation time. And I thought, "Don't people wake up in the morning sick anymore? People that get sick overnight have to take time out of their vacations?" I started getting angry. And it made it even harder to drag myself into work. Maybe I should have tried to change my contract? I asked my CEO why they were getting on my case even though I was making up the hours. He just said, "That's not how things work around here."
But that's how things were working. Other people there were coming to work sick or late. At least one of the times I was sick was because of that. No one ever said anything about anyone else being late or when they took two hour lunches and went home early. People only seemed to pay attention when I wasn't there. It was easy to see that my first impressions were screwing with my reputation. There was no plan for when I was going to be forgiven for sick days or tardiness. But near the middle of December I decided it was time to suck it up and prove them wrong. I spent around a month doing that with only one tardiness where I called in and had a valid reason. (Not counting Christmas vacation.) I was early to work, late to leave. Everything was good even though it was still rough waking up in the morning. Then snowpocalypse happened.
For about a week there was snow covering a great deal of western Washington. If there is even an inch of snow at my house it is dangerous to drive to work because of the hill I'm on. The buses were running on snow routes but my particular bus stop was cancelled. The previous weekend I had forgotten my laptop at someone else's house, so I couldn't work from home. I couldn't take either of my cars out of my driveway. I thought it was only natural to be safe and stay at home but I heard that the other people on my team made it into the office. I felt horrible after that and tried making it the next day. But I had to pick up my laptop from my friend's house using the bus system using snow routes, and I wasn't familiar with the routes. I tried to do it anyway, but found out later that the bus stop I was waiting at was shut down - even though it was part of the snow route. So, try as I might, I couldn't make the snow days work. The snow picked up even more after that, so I told my co-workers that I had to stay home until it was over.
People on my team showed up every day. And they sure let me know about it. I let them know how treacherous the conditions were for me, but they were still jerks about it. I thought this would all blow over in time. They couldn't fire me for being stuck in the snow, could they? Would they?
I woke up the following Monday early. I was ready well before I needed to be there. The morning was fresh and I felt like the time off had done me some good. I was still proving myself with the CEO and the rest of my team so getting there on time was still very important. I was ready for work so early that I sat and checked Reddit for a while before I left. I slung my laptop over my shoulder, tied my shoes and went outside to my bus with a confidence that I hadn't felt in quite a while. I was ready to take on... well I wasn't ready to take on the world. Maybe I was ready to take on my company. I was ready to continue proving myself to them. Plans were being set in motion.
I was thinking all of this right up until the moment I stepped outside onto my driveway. I slipped on black ice and fell backwards onto my left arm. I heard all of these strange popping sounds. I had never heard popping sounds like that before. My butt hit the ground and I had to pull my arm around as hard as I could to prevent more damage. I know my arm over extended but I didn't know how much, and I didn't want to think about it right away. I just sat there and held my arm close to my body for a while. I had pulled muscles plenty of times and I had this feeling that I may have pulled a tendon right off the bone. It felt worse than normal. Had I broken it? No... No way... I hadn't ever broken a bone in my body before. Shit.
I sat there on the ice in excruciating pain. I tried to get up but I was surrounded by black ice. Every attempt to get up was futile because I would just slip again. I had to struggle and shift to the lawn nearby to have any traction. I groaned as I stood up and parts of me were numb from being out in the cold on the pavement so long. I made my way back inside and sat there for a moment, letting my body get used to the pain.
I decided to go into work still. My girlfriend helped me a bit with it and we used my coat pocket to basically put my arm into a sling. I went to work explaining that I had hurt myself really bad and was trying to decide whether or not I was going into the doctor. And after a while talking to my co-worker I knew it would be best to see a doctor the next day. I made my way back home. Everything was harder to do. Going to the bathroom was hard to do with one arm. It's easy to take for granted what you can't do once you only have one arm to use.
The next day I went to the doctor and I was still in a lot of pain. Moving my arm wasn't possible at all unless I wanted to feel like a hammer was smashing my elbow. We talked about what could be wrong with my arm, and the doctor said one of my tendons might have come off the bone. She also mentioned that I have constant congestion and have all the symptoms of someone who has sleep apnea. She said it would explain why it was hard to wake up in the morning. Then the doctor took ex-rays and told me that my arm was broken. And then the dreaded word... Surgery.
I had to go into Seattle for surgery at Harborview Medical. I was out for another week of work to take care of my arm. The surgery went well. All of the people there at the hospital were great. I was taking all kinds of pain medication. I eventually got pumped up with morphine and it was a high that I never had really felt before. (If you ever have to get 5mg of morphine pumped into you, please brace yourself. It's like a roller coaster.) Anyway, all of the doctors and nurses ended up looking like characters from popular medical TV shows, like from House, ER, General Hospital, and even St. Elsewhere. I believe George Clooney was there. That's how I choose to remember it.
Fast forward to the next Monday after my discharge from the hospital. My CEO calls me and tells me that he is terminating my employment. I thought he was calling me to arrange how I was going to go about working from home after my surgery. I could only type comfortably with one hand, but I could work. (And now look at me, typing with two hands!) At first he complained about the snow. I told him I had never worked for anyone who was going to require me to travel in treacherous snow conditions, so he let up on that. And even though he said he wasn't taking my termination lightly, he wasn't presenting a very good argument for firing me. He said that he was going to fire me before I broke my arm, and it was very likely that he was lying about that. But if it was true, I would have liked to know that he was going to fire me before I stepped out onto the black ice that fateful Monday morning.
I was enraged. I mentioned that my sleep apnea was a valid reason for my lateness and being sick. He didn't care. He said, "At some point we just have to call it."
I've spelled out mostly what was going on my head at the time. I'm going to fast forward one month and tell you what is going on with me currently. Most of the past month, I've been soul searching. Because, I mean, I know what I sound like to some people. In Washington I can be fired for any reason. Maybe it was because of the attendance issues and maybe it wasn't. I was still partially in the wrong for being late to work and taking so many sick days. I believe I was still a good employee and got my work done, but fuck it. This stuff only matters to me as a cautionary tale now. Yes, I may have been able to avoid getting fired if I wasn't sick or late to work at all - ever. (No one there at work was beyond reproach for that.) But even if I had been on time all the time, I was still working for an ass hole that wouldn't take care of me after my surgery. What the CEO did was illegal for bigger companies.
What I'm trying to say is that I'm fed up. Not just with the video game companies I've worked at, but also with myself. I've poured my energy into these companies, and for what? Apparently for my managers to drive their company into the ground, for me to get paid shit, for me to get little respect, and for my time to get fucking wasted. And perhaps the worst thing is: I will not quit. I have let this happen to myself.
I have come out of the last month realizing something. I kept trying to think about if I was ready to be a genius programmer, like the one I was trying to live up to at my last job. But, I am already that person. And what has been happening to me emotionally reaches way back to when my brother passed away nine years ago. There are a lot of people who think I'm a bright person. I've been told that for most of my life. My girlfriend, my family, my friends - they must see something in me too. It is very hard for me to display that brightness since my brother died. It's also really hard to remain humble when I'm so angry. Most of the time I disappoint people and give the impression that I'm just getting by. But I have so many amazing people around me, especially in the Destructoid c-blogs, that have seen some of my work. And even though my blogs are rushed and I don't often put my best foot forward, people seem to like what I'm doing. It is nice to feel that because depression still hangs over my head.
I remember doing the c-blog fan fiction chapters. I remember wishing I could do more. I remember wishing that I could add other people to the story. And I remember reading the last chapter to most of the people that were in the story at PAX. The reception to the story was absolutely something that is saving my ass from being depressed with my work. There were quite a few people reading my blogs that said that they would buy a game from me if I ever made one. You guys have no idea how important that is to me. The c-blog fan fiction is something I have been more proud about than anything else that I've done in my career. I've finished a Facebook game, seen a handheld device on Bestbuy shelves that I worked on, and I have two mobile games on the iPad and iPhone that I have had influence on. And I still feel nothing for those projects. The c-blog fan fiction, however, warms my heart.
And so, in my soul searching I have figured out that I need to make my own RPG game. I can make my own engine because today's technology makes it easier to do that. I will keep you all informed. Thank you for your time.