Producer's Letter #1 - September 9th 2013
Ah jeez where to start? The team has slowly introduced me to all the burger joints in the area so I am currently sleepy with bacon'y burger goodness. But I digress.... (Note: I do that often.)
This first "Producer Letter" is mostly going to be introduction to me and a little storytelling about my move and first weeks at CSE. Future letters will focus more on what we’ve been working on to keep our backers up to date. On with the intro...
First off I am many things, husband, father, producer, comedian, hugger, gamer, pragmatist, nature lover, and more. There's two other things I have always been. One, an artist, and two, a hard worker. When people ask me about getting into the games industry the first thing I tell them is, "It's a pile of hard work." I'm really serious about that. It's not that it's a requirement of long hours or difficult problem solving, that could be said to be part of any job. Here however you have an industry a lot of people want to work in. So how do you actually get in and then survive? Well that's number two.....a hard worker! My definition of hard work is more specific though. Hard work for me is working when you don't have to. It's going beyond your current task. And most importantly, it’s looking for problems to solve. If you don’t see them, you’re not looking hard enough. I’m excited to apply that work ethic here at CSE.
I’ve been an artist from an early age. However I am also very into fish, animals, and nature. Like most kids I wanted to be a vet or something. So around college age I started attending UC Santa Cruz with a focus in Marine Biology. After two years of chemistry and biology classes I quickly realized I had no working concepts of this thing they call math. So after failing Chem 1C twice I started to seriously ponder whether this Marine Biology thing was going to make me happy. So I'm pondering this idea late one evening on a plane to Oregon to visit my girlfriend. I'm sitting between two businessmen in suits who are reading the business and sports sections. There I am, ripped jeans and a gaming logo t-shirt drawing an Alien ripping apart a Colonial Marine. Suddenly I hear from the aisle, "You draw that?" (Now of course I want to look up and say, "What?! Me? Noooo.. I'm just holding this pen to keep it warm.") However I don't do that. I look up and the flight attendant is looking at my drawing. "Hey Janice come look what this kid drew." So now I have three flight attendants fawning over me and clearly annoying the two businessmen.
Here's the life changing moment, "You going to school for that?" "Uh no." I reply. "Marine Biology actually." "Man," hand on hip, finger pointed at my drawing, "If I had that talent I'd be doing that for a living."
One year later I’m living in the back studio at my parents house, covered in charcoal, 3am, watching Star Trek: TNG, trying to get my homework done. I'd convinced my parents I can make a living as an artist and I'm currently attending the Academy of Art College in SF. I kept two jobs during the summer then worked my ass off in art school. I can easily say I spent three times as much time on my homework in art school than when I was doing Marine Biology.
One day in school I asked a friend if I could visit him at his work at EA in Redwood City. My friend tells me, "Bring your sketchbooks. You have a bunch of great stuff in there. We have a new Art Director and Technical Art Director from PDI (Remember? Antz?) who would love to see that stuff.” (My sketchbooks were full of the usual stuff 20 year old males draw. Dragons, girls, girls riding dragon, Disney characters doing non Disney things to each other, you know. The usual. So I'm hesitant but bring two along.
So I meet these two guys and they are laughing their asses off looking through my books but also commenting on how good some of it is. Then the art director looks at me and asks, "So where's your resume?" "What resume?" I ask. "You're here for the internship right?" "What internship? I reply. I'm not the quickest to pick up on things. "We need an intern who can draw. Do you want a job this summer?"
And that is how I got into games.
I interned with EA and then was hired full time. Over the next several years I had the opportunity to work with some truly talented people on some very fun games. I quickly got bumped to lead positions, overseeing first, objects on a project, then whole environments, then entire teams on site and overseas. One thing you learn with modern games is the importance of organizational skills. My last project, Godfather 2, was much more production than art. I'm proud to say, "It may not have looked all that great, but we got a massive amount of assets completed and assembled with a tiny team in too little time."
I then got picked up at a start up with some serious capital creating a social MMO. I started as the Outsourcing Producer/Artist, and then later added Lead Environment artist to my duties. So yeah, lots of work to do, again, with a small team.
So a couple of years later I'm a full time Dad looking for work. Full time Dad - totally awesome! Full time Dad for over a year? - not as awesome. Kids are both amazing and exhausting. :) I needed to start working again as I was beginning to feel unfulfilled. I needed some art, some challenge again. So I start looking for work. And lo and behold there's this small company in Fairfax doing a Kickstarter campaign for a fantasy MMO. Four words there.... Fantasy, MMO, small, and Fairfax! - Because you know, there's a Fairfax in California less than a half hour from where I was living. Awesome! Of course the joke is on me here. We're talking Fairfax VA?!
CSE contacts me and asks what I'm interested in doing, why I applied, etc. This is the usual first phone call where they make sure you're willing to relocate to Virginia. Yeah.... that's where I faltered. Virginia!? It's not an issue of the state it's more an issue that I have a family I need to move across the US, and more importantly my safety zone doesn't extend too much farther from my wacom tablet and my kitchen. I let them know I'd be interested in an art or producer role and I'd have to check with 'the wife' about moving.
My wife says “Hell yes!” She has family in Georgia and was looking for an excuse to start a new adventure. And so begins the five hours of skype calls being grilled by this Mark Jacobs guy. I’ll be honest here. I had the toughest most honest first interview I’ve ever been in. And it was awesome. That may sound odd but Mark had a very honest and down to brass tacks way of interviewing that while nerve wracking, made me like the guy way more. Mark goes on to talk about how he runs the company like a family, honest and fair while still working hard. Very appealing. So paperwork gets signed and now the real work begins; getting everyone across the US.
The plan is to have myself and my daughter fly out to Georgia and stay with my Mother In Law while my wife, her Dad, our two dogs, the two sulcata tortoises, and my four turtles, drive in my tiny Honda Civic across the US to Georgia. My wife is completely excited about this drive and I just count her crazy. She likes road trips. Go figure!
We drop the reptiles off with a friend in Georgia and head up to Virginia where we are renting a “Master bedroom with private entrance on the second floor and shared kitchen.” I put this in quotes because when we get there my first words are, “Uh honey, this is a one story home. And I don’t see a private entrance.” So we start looking around as the woman renting this place to us is out at the time. Wandering around back, looking for our “private entrance,” it soon becomes clear that one, this woman is a hoarder, and two, she’s totally misrepresented this living space. “Private entrance” turns out to be the back door. “Master bedroom” turns out to be a tiny little room with a twin bed down the smallest of small hallways. “Shared kitchen” is actually five feet of walking space to get around all the clutter. So yeah, welcome to your new home!
It took us two minutes to turn around and find a hotel. We hung out at the hotel for about a week. Turns out the one my wife chose also housed The Syndicate’s convention so I was lucky to geek out all weekend playing board games with a fine group of fellow gamers. This game called “Seasons.” Very fun!
We did find a great place to stay. I have to throw this in to give you, the readers some perspective on my family’s newfound happiness. In California, north of San Francisco is a County called Marin. Like most of the Bay Area it’s expensive to live there. We pay about 4.20 for gas and our one bedroom apartment cost $1550 a month. However in Virginia, we found a wonderful four bedroom house, wrap around yard, with large fenced in backyard for almost the same price! Excellent.
As of this writing I’ve been at work for three weeks. The first couple of days amounted to Mark telling me to slow down. I was all gung ho to get the team on task tracking software, meet with everyone, figure out what was being worked on, etc. You know, classic first day jitters. Instead Mark wanted to make sure I knew literally everything about Camelot Unchained. I watched all the KS videos. Read all the updates, and read piles of posts and discussions in the founders forums. There is a real appreciation here for the people who are going to play this game. It’s something I find refreshing and exciting as it’s something I’ve never been able to take part in when I worked for larger companies. Plus here player feedback is really being discussed! Such a novel idea! (Idear?)
My favorite conversation with Mark was in regards to how many MMO’s I’ve played. I listed off WoW, Tera, FF11, Rift, City of Heroes, DC Online, and some crazy Korean one I can’t remember. His answer, “Ok you haven’t played many and you should check out Dark Age of Camelot.” His point being I needed to understand former Dark Age players better as they represent a majority of our backers.
Since then I’ve helped to add some oil to the CSE machine by slowly integrating some task tracking software I like. The engineers are working like mad men on the main engine while the artists continue to crank out concepts.
* Our Code monkeys are working on the internal patcher system. A task that has the team deep in shark infested code waters.
* The networking goddess that will oversee all our players continues to grow in power as our engineers collectively eat, pray, and code for her. * Andrew and I, along with our artists have had some very productive, and exciting, discussion around our terrain building engine and the armor swapping system. I love problem solving!
* We now have very basic character importing into the engine! Yesterday the code was off by “four bytes” which made the character import look like something out of the movie “The Thing.” - four bytes! Hilarious!
* As you saw in the recent update Tim showed you the UI integration we are working on. That was a group effort between him and two of our artists, Mike and Michelle who provided the art assets of our ‘vanilla’ UI.
* Our speed machine character artist is making tweaks to an exciting, and as yet, unseen new race!
* Our account editor grows daily in capabilities.
* Our animator, who is a machine btw, is not only applying basic and combat animations to our characters but also researching different game’s combat animations as one of our goals is fluid and fun combat.
* Sandra and Michelle, our pixel pushers, are continuing to hammer out concept for yet unseen races and ideas that literally spill forth from Mark’s head.
I’ll take a moment here and just commend the team structure here at CSE. We have almost daily discussions over pretty much everything in the game. The whole team is involved if they want to be. We spent a good hour just talking about hands for the Cait Sith. Very organic here. Additionally, because we’re all video gamers, board gamers, and readers, we constantly converse about the world building, lore, races, etc. Typically these start with Mark turning from his keyboard and saying, “So what do you guys think about this?”
So that’s the long short version of how I came to be at CSE. Apologies for rambling. I tend to do that. I’m very excited to be in a position to support this team. I see myself as the sniper on this team. You know, the guy who helps everyone else get their jobs done. And yes, I am that jerk in Battlefield sniping you or the healer in LOL keeping your enemies up! We have a long road ahead of us and I look forward to hearing from our alpha and beta testers in the coming year. Please feel free to ask me questions. I can also field some questions around gardening, cooking, animal care, and parenting if you feel inclined.
P.S. I've included one of our earlier pieces of concept art which will serve as a not-too-subtle hint to what our modeler is working on right now. :)