You see, nearly every time I tell someone that I am a roleplayer and that I freelance for game design companies the first thing I hear is "you mean like computer games?" After the fourth or fifth time this happened, I decided to give it a shot. After all, what did I stand to lose?
I had a great time having lunch with Bill today at the delightful Hallie's Diner in Petaluma, California (I recommend the patty melt - Bill had a tuna melt, which also looked and smelled great), not far from Autumn Moon Entertainment's offices. Our conversation meandered back and forth across a wide variety topics, and I came home with several take-home lessons:
- The computer game industry is perpetually suspended between creativity and the bottom line. Ideas often bounce back and forth between various departments - marketing, finance, design, and the licensing departments of other companies - which can lead to great collaboration or huge headaches. Conflicts between the Suits and the Hawaiian Shirts are common.
- Politics is a problem in larger companies, with people shooting each other's ideas down for the sake of their own ideas or to pursue various obscure agendas of their own, rather than on the ideas' own merits and flaws.
- Making art is hard, and making money is harder.
In other words, making computer games is just like everything else in life: easy to do poorly, hard to do well, and worth it.
On a more optimistic note, I do carry this good news for all us writers:
- There are jobs for writers in the computer gaming industry. Thanks to the technology of "scripting," which uses an easy-to-learn engine to create the skeleton that the real programers later use as a basis for the meat and potatoes of the game, you don't need to be a computer expert to write for a game company. It certainly doesn't hurt to know something about some of the simpler programming languages, but you can go to a game company with "I'm a writer who loves video games" and stand a chance of finding work.
- The entry level positions of the computer gaming industry are level designer and game tester. You can start teaching yourself with the Unreal Tournament or Neverwinter Nights level editor.
- The best way to prepare yourself for a job in the computer gaming industry is to play a lot of video games.
- The go-to website for aspiring game designers of all kinds is GameJobs.com, which includes a mailing list function. I'll be signing up, myself, presently.
And finally, on a completely unrelated note, Bill Tiller recommends Crook Factory by Dan Simmons. I haven't read it myself, so you'll have to take Bill on his word until I do.
I don't know if the video game industry is the place for me, but it's good to know that I have more options for making the craft I love my life. After all, I'm already involved in one of the geekiest forms of professional writing - what do you say I make it a life goal to hit them all?