Hello! Welcome to what I hope is a well-read blog about game development and design. My previous portfolio, at the same URL, suffered from a ton of malware due to age. It became apparent that nuking the whole thing was probably better than trying to either spend tons of time or money fixing that, so here we are (which is why, as of July 2022, there is a paucity of projects and other typical portfolio content. That’ll slowly come back online at some point).
What to expect from this blog:
- Articles about game design topics that are of interest to me.
- Development updates on games I am working on or involved with.
- Possibly other stuff, but whatever that ends up being, it’ll probably relate somewhat to 1 and 2.
- For most entries, proofreading is probably limited to a grammerly check, so my Purdue students might just find the kind of typos and errors I mark them down for on their design documents! Full disclosure: anything I’m really serious about is going to get looked at by the amazing Erica Howard, which explains my grammatical prowess far more than any effort I make on my own. If you spot a mistake, it is because she didn’t look at it first.
For this first entry, however, I’ll focus on my career so far.
My journey into video game development began with the modding scene of the early 2000’s, as well as classic video game message boards like this one. Unlike today, you didn’t start with a commercial game engine. You started with a game you liked that provided some development tools. This was very important for me, because one issue with game development before this was that you didn’t really have any tools at all. I went to various computer camps and learned BASIC, HTML, and a little bit of C and Visual BASIC in the 1990s. This was great fun and taught me a lot of useful things, but those things felt a million miles away from creating anything like what I saw on my Nintendo. Zelda let me explore a colorful, dynamic world. BASIC let me write quiz game apps and text adventures.
If you were a kid in the 1980s and 1990s and loved video games and were curious about developing them, you usually found yourself in a library or bookstore looking for some help. In the early 1980s you might have a magazine that actually printed source code for simple games. This was probably an awesome time to be alive, since the games commercially available then weren’t so far removed from these simple games you could code yourself. Unfortunately, this was mostly before my time.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the gap had widened. So going to the bookstore usually got you something titled “LEARN GAME PROGRAMMING IN 30 DAYS!” or “MAKE VIDEO GAMES NOW.” These books meant well, but they weren’t meant for me. They were really meant for burgeoning game engine programmers. You did a lot of work to end up with a little 2D game engine making some simple early 1980s arcade game. For some kids, I’m sure this unlocked a world of possibilities. It did not for me.
Fast forward to the early 2000s. Game modding enabled an artist (let’s avoid the games as art argument, I’m here referring to a mindset only) like myself to actually have a palette to work from. A painter doesn’t have to invent paint each time. A builder doesn’t have to recreate a nail gun for every house they build.
Therefore, I took to this much better than previous game development attempts (note: I actually really enjoyed programming- I made all kinds of little note taking apps and little things like that- I just couldn’t square how to get games anything like what I wanted to play with those early programming languages). The Neverwinter Nights engine and Unreal 2 were both really fun to work with, still used some programming, but provided me with things like finished art and AI to work with. Again: I was given a paint brush, paint, an easel. Finally.
I should also mention that my bachelor’s degree was in music performance at Bowling Green State University. My first inclination was to try to somehow combine this and go into video game audio and music composition. I did a little of this, even for money, but two things became apparent to me: music composition was (and still is) insanely difficult to make a career in (and I was in my mid 20s already and missed critical years of network building that is so vital to game audio freelance work), and that I actually really liked game development and not just audio.
From there I went to grad school at Southern Methodist University. This seemed like the best warp whistle at the time, and I was right. 17 crazy intense months later, I was working as a level designer in the video game industry. I loved it. I never wanted to do anything else.
I continued on for ten years having a pretty typical career. Some highlights include working on Bioshock Infinite (this is worth its own post someday) and Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, but there were a ton of other games.
In 2016 I moved to California to work at Cold Iron Studios on the game that eventually became 2021’s Aliens: Fireteam Elite. That was a fun experience, mostly because my co-workers were some of the coolest dang people on the planet, friendships I cherish to this day (though I do consider all of my co-workers to be really cool. Seriously: I love game devs, they are my people).
After ten years of forcing my family to move all over the United States, quite literally from coast to coast, I decided I needed to make a move for them. Having a master’s degree, I had the ability to do something many could not: be a college professor. I promised myself that if I did this, it would be for an institution I respected. When the Purdue gig became available, it was exactly what I wanted. It was close(ish) to extended family. It was a respected institution. West Lafayette has good AYCE Korean BBQ. Yep, it was just right.
I became a professor of practice at Purdue in 2019. I teach game design, history, level design, game scripting, game audio (that music degree of mine coming in handy!) and whatever else I can think of. How does it compare to working at a game studio? Here are some pros and cons:
- I still work in Unreal and Unity a lot. I still do a whole lot of stuff that is just like what I did in studios, just for classes. My skills have not only been maintained, but they have improved and expanded. I’m a better developer now than when I took the job.
- Related to point 1, I also have more time and energy for my own personal work. I’ve learned a lot from doing this and this blog will feature regular updates on my personal game development.
- The students are a lot of fun. I really like them.
- Just about everything I hoped for my family has come to fruition. The schools, the neighborhood, living in a house (not possible in the Bay Area). Being able to spend more time with extended family. This is a win.
- I miss the wonderful consistency of the standard game development life. You show up and do something you love to do for 8 hours or so. You get to do it around zany cool experienced game dev people who are fun to be around.
- Academia presents a unique set of challenges that aren’t always fun. A professor of practice like myself is hired to mainly teach and to maintain industry contacts and skills. It isn’t a research position. But Purdue really wants you to do everything. It is stressful to mold yourself into these areas that you didn’t even expect you would have to when you took the gig. Fortunately this has gone well for me, and I do enjoy some of it. Writing is enjoyable and research is interesting.
- A huge reason why I decided to do this has utterly and completely changed in a revolutionary way. The covid19 pandemic has caused remote work in game design to go from “will never happen, ever” to “it is now almost standard.” Had I simply been offered my last job but anywhere in the country do it in, I would be living in SE Michigan or NW Ohio. I’d be going to a dozen or more Detroit Tigers games a year with my Dad. It feels weird that I did a major life thing for a reason that just ceased to exist now. All of my game dev friends have changed jobs multiple times without ever having to move because of the remote work revolution.
Fortunately for me, the list of pros is more than the cons, and that is all you can ask for in life! I’m definitely glad to be here. I believe in Providence, and therefore I don’t really doubt my decision (especially because, you know, who could have predicted a pandemic and its effects in advance?). I’m having a great time here. Purdue is a really cool place.
If you made it this far, I would ask that you share this post. Engagement is huge for me: every page view on a blog post like this is gold and helps me out. Thank you for reading.