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July 21, 2008

On this day two years ago, my life changed in the best way possible. It was my first day of employment at Harmonix Music Systems. As a then-22 year old who was more obsessed with Rock Band than the majority of people on this site, I was like a kid in a candy store as I was shown around the office, and introduced to a seemingly endless number of people whose names I wouldn't remember for at least a week or two.

It was awesome, to say the least.

My job? Well, it was entry level. It was the best pay I had ever made in my life, but I wasn't exactly going to start living a life of luxury. You can find average salaries of QA testers - draw your own conclusions if you're really curious. I was grateful, though. I always felt like I was treated well. Hell, the fridge full of free drinks made me feel like I was working in a dot-com era office. The only thing missing was a toilet paper roll of stock shares.

I got to meet people whose names I had seen in news articles, in the credits, interviews, or wherever else I may have seen them. Generally, I was floored at how intelligent these people were. Be it about game design, art, programming, or just general smarts, it always felt like I could have had any question answered while in that building.

My team was particularly awesome, too. I worked on the weekly DLC for about a year, and was mostly surrounded by students from schools like Berklee, Tufts, NYU, and a handful of other places. As I've mentioned, I've been a musician all my life, and at one point, I was studying music for school, although I never finished. These guys made me feel like I couldn't even play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on a piano, and I mean that as the highest of compliments.

There are a lot of DLC songs that I feel go unnoticed for whatever reasons that are very awesome. It's hard to pick just one song out of that group, but if I had to, I'd probably go with this one. Outside of being an awesome song, it is very fun to play in the game.

I ended up becoming friends with that entire team, basically. Oh sure, I argued with them and told them about how they were doing permanent damage to the Rock Band franchise, the likes of which the series would never recover from, but it wasn't out of rage or anything like that. They were just doing permanent damage to the Rock Band franchise, the likes of which the series would never recover from (not really).

I learned a lot from them. Not just about the task at hand, or music, or whatever else. They were and are great people, and part of me feels like I never really made it clear how much I enjoyed their company.

I ended up working on the Rock Band Network after that, and got to work with even more awesome people, and make even more friends. RBN was a project I really thought was amazing, and the level of involvement I had in it struck me as kind of stunning. I was still a tester, but I felt like I was doing so much more than that. Maybe this was just an illusion designed to make me feel like I was doing more than I actually was, but I seriously doubt that.

...and this was my least favorite.

Of course, as I've mentioned, I'm unemployed. Layoffs hit the company on December 10, 2009. 39 extremely talented people lost their jobs.

I'm not here to say this or that about it - I already went through the seven stages of grief over it. And yeah, I hit all seven. And really, layoffs at a game company (especially as a tester) is not exactly uncommon. The fact that my job was as secure as it was for so long is kind of surprising to some people, really.

It really hit me the worst with my Dungeons and Dragons session, actually. It was made up primarily of my co-workers (most of whom I worked with directly), and our DM was someone who taught me how to drum in Rock Band, although he doesn't actually know that*. After our sessions, we used to walk back to the subway since we were going in similar directions, and we'd always say "see you tomorrow", or something along those lines. The first time he said "see you next week" is when it really hit me.

* - When he was playing a song for testing, I used to watch what he was doing and mimic it as much as possible, asking questions when I could. When I got hired, I mostly played drums on hard, with a few expert songs here or there. I credit him that I can play all but the really hard stuff on expert now.

Nerdy as hell, right? Well yes, I am a nerd. Perhaps you've noticed this?

...and this is my favorite from The Beatles: Rock Band. That dreamscape always puts a goofy smile on my face.

It really did take a long time to come to terms with the fact that it was over. I even tried to stay involved with RBN as a member of the community, but I realized this was just doing me more harm than good. I liked RBN, and I liked the people I was working with, but it just wasn't right. Part of me was convinced I was only doing it to grasp on to Harmonix, even though they had shown me the door.

If any of this makes me sound regretful, it shouldn't. Everything about working at Harmonix was awesome. Sure, I had bad days, but everyone has bad days. I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Even the layoff had its silver lining. I ended up going to GDC in March, meeting a bunch of great people, hanging out with the Destructoid staff (and man do I miss their HQ), and well...that was my first trip to the west coast. It was fun, to say the least. I even chatted with Michael Pachter while waiting in line for a party at one point. I'm pretty sure I said "Oh, you're that guy from all of those Joystiq articles!" when I realized who he was. If I'm recalling, he seemed to get that reaction a lot.

When PAX East rolled around, I had a similarly great time. Met more people, made more friends, got to hang out with friends I had not seen in years (or in some cases, had never met face-to-face), and really, I was just having the time of my life.

After that, though...things kind of slowed down. In general, I am a rather extroverted person, but I entered a phase where I became very insular. I wouldn't really describe it as a depression or anything like that, as I wasn't just lying around moping all the time. I put in very major steps into improving myself.

While I was at Harmonix, I tended to put most things outside of my job as a secondary concern. The job almost always came first, be it over friends, family, or myself. I barely had any hobbies at all at the time (and when I first started working there, my commute was two hours long - one way). I always put as much effort I can into a job, even if I don't particularly like the job. With Harmonix, though, it was an obsession. It was my first industry job, and with a company that made a game that is in my top three favorite games of my life.

Even when I was first hired, I knew so much about the game, but I spent a lot of time learning even more. Now that I was seeing how the sausage was made, I was borderline addicted with soaking up all of the information. It was amazing to me, and it didn't go unnoticed. Inside or outside of the office, I've had a reputation of being somewhat of an encyclopedia about the game on various levels, and I'd say that reputation is fairly solid.**

** - Thumbs up from me if you catch that reference.

...and for Rock Band Network, gotta go with this one, although that's a tough choice. This song is just too much fun.

Like I said, though. I was putting it ahead of everything else. So, a few months back, I decided it'd be a good idea to enter somewhat of a woodshed phase (though not quite to the extremes of the most common usage of the term). I was mostly happy with who I was, but I wanted to become a better me. I started with myself, putting more care into my bad habits, revisiting old hobbies (music, various forms of entertainment, even this cblog is an example of my hobbies), and the very generic, very unspecific "soul searching" that people do oh so much.

From there, I started accepting just how much I was ignoring my family while I was working. I've never hated my family - far from it. I just always convinced myself that I was too busy with work to have time for family while I was working. That was never really true, but asking for a day off was not something I would have considered last year. I had personal days, but I'd be damned if I'd use them. In a year and a half, I didn't use a single vacation day.

For the past month or so, I realized I had not talked to most of my pre-Harmonix friends for the better part of two years. I went to a party on Friday where some old friends were in disbelief that I still existed. That is just not right. Yes, I have had issues with my friends, and part of me was so excited by my new and awesome friends (who, again, were and are awesome) that I felt like they were just dragging me down, but they're still my friends. I'm glad I caught up with them.

Now, I do feel like a better me. Maybe I'm not the best me possible, but I'm getting there. Regardless of how happy I was during 2009, I feel like I am happier now. I am still unemployed, but now I feel prepared for my next job (whatever that may be), and will be ready for it to be a part of my life, and not my entire life.

I have no nugget of wisdom in this entry, no thought I want to share, and it's possible this is of no real value to anyone but myself. I'm not looking for sympathy, attention, or anything else - I just want to share my story. For me, writing it down isn't enough; I need to know that someone read it. Yeah, I'm a bit egotistical like that.

Now if only I could've done all that during a musical montage. That would've been so much easier. And way more badass.

(This is a lot more about my personal life than I am usually comfortable sharing on something as public as this blog, but I really do want to share all of this. Do not get used to it. Also, this is really long so I'm going to end with one last video, from my favorite album in Rock Band, which is also one of my favorite albums ever. Enjoy. Oh, and if you're wondering why I'm posting this two weeks before the actual anniversary, it's simply because I know I'll forget otherwise. Deal with it, huh.)

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About Alakaiserone of us since 1:32 PM on 03.15.2010

The name's Tom. I used to work as an industry guy, and am currently on the hunt for my next paying gig. In the meantime, I'm working on a bunch of different projects that don't help me pay my bills. I write a lot. I'm a musician, although certainly not of the professional variety. I like trying new things and meeting new people. I'm still somewhat new around Destructoid, so sorry in advance if I don't know something I probably should.

About my blog:

I update daily (not really, but I like to pretend). Generally, my updates get pretty long-winded, but hopefully not to the point where they're unreadable. I'll wax poetic about whatever's on my mind, like current events in my life, things that are happening in the video games I like, or whatever happens to pop in my head that day. With a few exceptions, I write my entries the same day I publish them, so they're pretty fresh content-wise. It also might help explain the occasional typos. I do my best to avoid any errors, though.

About my work:

I worked at Harmonix Music Systems as a tester on a year's worth of DLC, The Beatles: Rock Band, Lego Rock Band, and Rock Band Network. Feel free to ask me questions about it, but remember: I'm still under NDA. Also, if you know of a job opening, please tell me about it. I'm flexible.

About my contact info:

Want to collaborate with me on something, big or small, related to the site or not? I'd love to. I like working on any project that I'm even remotely capable of working on, and would love to help you in whatever way I can. Feel free to PM me here, or otherwise send me an email at alakaiser(at)gmail(period)com. Even if you don't want to work with me on something, I'd love to just chat. I'm a pretty friendly guy!

What happened to that thing you did? You know, that one thing?:

I wrote an article that ended up getting promoted to the front page of the site, which is pretty damn cool. It removes it from my cblog archive, though, so I'm throwing a link in this here sidebar for the sake of an archive (and in case I lose the link myself).

The Great Escape: One Foot in Reality