Saturday, September 6, 2008

Playing Video Games for Money Pt 2

Getting a job playing video games is definitely... interesting. For one thing, it is not a way to pick up chicks (but more on that later).
I got the job at Activision through an artist (Jo Chen) who referred me to a friend who got me an interview and the rest is resume fodder. That's where we left off the story last post.
Once in the company, the orientation was pretty basic; here's the game console, we play games and look for programming problems, and go to it. It wasn't long before I learned some fairly elementary things:
1- being in Quality Assurance (QA) is not a career destination, more of a waystation to becoming a Producer;
a) there were a LOT of ex-lawyers in QA and, as far as I could tell, all of them
were aiming at being game producers;
b) not many people lasted long and those who did either moved into supervisory
positions or moved up the chain;
2- playing games all day will kill your hands until you get used to it;
3- everybody in the room knows somebody cool, interesting or famous;
4- $10/hour is not much dough

But the work was interesting. You'd be amazed how many bugs a video game has during development; upwards of 300 was not unusual, as far as I could tell. There are some basic types of bugs: "showstoppers" (things that freeze the game), rubber bands (colored strips of light that either look like scratches or rubber bands zipping around the screen), and miscellaneous breaks between the control and the gameplay (like you try to shoot your weapon and it doesn't shoot IF the game figure is standing just so or aiming this way, etc.).

It's time consuming to debug each new build of the game but the end result (once it's finished) is cool, and you do get your name in the credits. My first game was BLAST CHAMBER, which had some cool gameplay to it-- you race through a series of rooms which have ever-changing challenges, alone or with up to three other players. No idea how it did in the market, though.

After BC was wrapped, I bounced between projects for awhile and ended up subbing for our office admin assistant, who was moving to Arizona with her husband. (Foreshadowing!) My job turned into managing timesheets and a lot of other miscellaneous tasks. They asked if I would take that job permanently, but I viewed it as a career deadend... and it also suggested that my gameplaying skills were either not up to par (and this would avoid them having to fire me) or that they needed someone immediately and I fit the bill well enough.

Ah well.

I qualified for a raise after a few months on the job and was wondering what the hell to do next.

Our group, which was the day shift at Activision, was pretty sociable; we went to a few movies together and hung out a bit. A couple of the guys, it turns out, were from Gulfport, MS (my mom's hometown) and so we shared thoughts about the Gulf Coast and our favorite places. Turns out they had made a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark (which they showed all of us one night after work). Their film and story got some attention and I believe it was optioned for a movie.

Another guy left shortly before I did. He'd sold his first screenplay-- you might have heard of it: Elf. Can't say I knew him as more than a nodding acquaintance but I wished him well. That was about the time I got a job offer of my own... but more on that later.

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