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Becoming a Game Designer

by johnmasterlee   //   1:55 PM on 03.08.2013

Today is the beginning of the rest of my life. Which is an inspirational way of saying that last week I quit my job.

I been in the game industry for +18 years now, and considering I broke into the industry as a game designer, I havenít designed squat. Iím not complaining or anything. Itís been an amazing ride. Early on in my career, I moved over to the business side of things back when Eidos (Better known as US Gold then... anyone remember? Anyone? No?) had no one on the business side that actually played games.

Since then, I got to work on some of the most amazing launch campaigns over the decades. I saw the birth of Tomb Raider (The game originally ran on the Sega Saturn.) I got to work on one of my favorite RPGs of all time - The Elder Scrolls (back then, Bethesda nearly ran out of money trying to make Daggerfall, so luckily it was successful.) I got to work on both Sonic and Mario (Hudson Entertainment pretty much created Mario Party.) I got to work on my favorite game of all time, Bomberman. And I got to check out Skywalker Ranch when I was involved with some Star Wars games. The gaming industry has been good to me.


Just some of the games I had the distinct honor of working on over the years.

But as the games got bigger, the more distant the sensation of satisfaction. And the more I realized that I still hadnít designed anything, the more that itch turned into a burning sensation. The kind you canít solve with Gold Bond.

I felt restless enough that a few years ago, I decided to start creating again. I picked up coding again, building a simple flash game that was a simple parody of Pokemon. I hacked it together in a few months, and with the help of others who contributed to art, code, and design, I hoped that the the output wasnít as bush league as I figured it would be. And it was barely good enough to get published on a few Flash portals, and build a small following that wanted more content created. Making a simple game was just enough to get my creative juices flowing again.

So I recently created a new indie dev studio with some fellow game creators. I can finally announce that we also are joining an accelerator program. Whatís an accelerator? Itís a program designed to help fledgling companies get off the ground. They provide you with a bit of cash, in this case $20K, and connect you with mentors and advisers who help guide you in shaping the business. Itís exactly the sort of boost I need to take the plunge back to game designer.

And it does feel like a plunge. Off a cliff. After climbing the corporate ladder for +18 years to become a senior exec, Iím going back to square one as a game designer, throwing away a fruitful career and secure paycheck along with it.

But I already know in my heart that to make great games, I gotta embrace the game designer in me first and foremost. I changed my LinkedIn profile to reflect this career change as well. Today, I am Junior Game Designer at Wicked Loot.



So why ďJuniorĒ game designer, especially since I founded the company? Because Iím humbled by the fact that I still havenít created anything substantial, and I have a ways to go. The adventure game I created in 8th grade doesnít count, and neither does few Flash games I cobbled together. I want to be in a position where Iím constantly learning, absorbing, and that means starting from the bottom rung.

Over the next few months, Iíll share with you my adventures in building a new game studio, creating a game and living in Hawaii. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: The accelerator is based in Hawaii. So my partners and I are moving there to soak up the sun, the beach, and hula lifestyle all in the hopes that it inspires us to make better games.

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