It’s Been A While

Sorry all, I was in Pittsburgh for a week for a wedding and I came back with the plague.

Neat stuff over the past week:

  • I downloaded Duke Nukem’ 3D for XBLA while I was couchbound yesterday. It’s as good as (maybe better than?) I remembered.
  • The system works after all.
  • Despite feeling the oncoming of the Black Death, I officiated one junior varsity game on Monday, one freshman game on Wednesday and a junior varsity game on Wednesday. I had my first situation with a coach on the last one, and while it was within my rights to give him an official warning, I didn’t want to slow the game down. Luckily, he settled down and the problem wasn’t escalated. My fingers were itching over my flag late in the game when he got his fire back:

[Personal Foul Penalty on the other side of the field on one of his players.]
Loudy McCoach: What? What’s the number?
Me: I’ll go find out.
[I scurry to the referee and find out the number.]
Me: It was on 24, coach.
Coach: Are you kidding me? No way! No way did that happen! I’m not that bad of a coach that my guys would do something so stupid! No way!
[Fingers hovers over the flag if he shoots some profanity my way or challenges the other officials.]
Me: You can call a timeout and discuss it with the line judge if you want.
[Coach shuts up because he isn’t the head coach and thus cannot call a time out!]

So good times. We have a housewarming party tomorrow and I’m hoping to be reliably better by then. Wish me luck!

How to Get a Job in the Games Industry

I had two separate strangers cold-email me this week looking for ways into the game industry. I was updating my About page to answer this frequently asked question, but I liked what I came up with, so it can get its own post as well:

Q: How do I get a job in the games industry?
A: There are many sites that can help you with this better than I can. Google is your friend. And since I’ve only done this once, I don’t consider myself a real expert, but I can give some tips as it related to me getting a job and things I’ve observed from our general hiring practices. The better question would be: “How do I position myself to succeed in the games industry?” Because if you just want to get just a job, I’m sure there are plenty of junior testing positions open.

So, right, tips:

  1. Get a degree from a respectable four-year institution in something other than “game design”. Computer science is usually a winner. My degree is in Information Systems. Math, engineering, business, art, illustration, architecture, English. These are all good majors to have. Prove you are a well-rounded individual (to use the cliche) rather than a one-trick pony. Businesses can teach you the latest tools and trends, but only if you have the base skill set to be taught. Game design programs can teach great skills, but employers want someone less narrowly defined.
  2. Be interesting. Game companies get a forest’s worth of resumes every year. They do tons of interviews. So why in the world should they pick you? There will probably be fifty candidates today with grades better than yours or fellowships or recommendations. Nobody cares about that. Have a project you can show. Have a blog with insights. Show that you not only can do the job, but can bring something immeasurable to the team. Have a personality.
  3. Know why you want to work in games. Because you play them is the worst possible answer. I won’t give you the best possible answer, because you should be telling the truth. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t get to play fun games when you work on making games. 99% of the time you work on something that is broken either in terms of code or design. Once those two things are shored up to a satisfactory level for whoever is pulling the strings, the game is shipped and you start over. The only time you really get to play fun games is when you are at home.
  4. Be prepared to sacrifice. I wouldn’t trade my job for a “real” job any day of the week. But realize that with the perks, there is also a lot of sacrifice. Working twelve-hour days is normal. Working three weeks or more without a weekend happens at most studios. You’ll be paid less than a similar job in a more dull field. You won’t have creative freedom. Think seriously about if this is what you want to do with your talents. To me, it is worth it. To many, they get in and realize they want a 40 hour a week gig. That’s cool too, just know what to expect.
  5. Be crafty and be persistent. When I was first looking for an internship, I sent my resume to over one hundred studios. Ninety-seven of them never even responded to say they weren’t interested. Most places have a formal policy of how they entertain employee applications. Fuck it. Find the name of someone in HR and personally email them. They don’t particularly like it, but it is effective.If that fails, find the name of someone else in the company (See Tip #6, though). Email them about something unrelated to you wanting a job. Ask questions. Something about which you are actually interested in learning. People can tell when you are lobbing bullshit questions. If you get a good relationship going over email, you may be able to sneak in that you are looking for an internship. If not, then you might still be able to learn from things from someone you wouldn’t really talk to normally.

    It isn’t easy to get a job in this field, so you have to show that you are eager and qualified. Saying you are eager and qualified doesn’t amount to a hill of crap. Most places will tell you that they have no positions, which may or may not be true. But if you show them that they could really use you, then when a position does become available, maybe they will remember you.

  6. Don’t call me. I’d love to help, but I really have no pull whatsoever.

Congratulations, Your Brain Just Got a Little Bigger

Sometimes I think that Joystiq/Kotaku share some back-end engine that just creates the stupidest damn comments ever and they use it to populate their comment threads.

It’s like there was some law of conservation of intelligence where every profound thing said in the world has to be balanced by a hundred idiotic things. And I don’t just mean things that are lazy and stupid (Youtube comments and Xbox Live players), I mean things that trick you on skimming into thinking that they are sentences with insight until you process them and realize they are not only empty inside but are filled with incredibly dense matter that sucks all insight from three comments to either side into its gaping maw of mouth-breathing.

Some algorithm output or Joystiq user on Spore:

I hate it. I think it’d be a better game if they completely ommited [sic] the whole customization aspect, and simply made a cute little game following a species evolution (all pre-made) and offering RTS and RPG elements to n00bs. They could have made each game mode a lot less shitty if the didn’t spend the majority of the time working on customization features that dont [sic] have anything to do with the gameplay.

*knock knock on coconut head* The customization features are the gameplay. The rest of the game is supporting the customization features.

Here’s a question I have regarding not just hardcore game players looking at Spore, but hardcore nerds of any type looking at any game: Why do nerds only care about the dynamic loop where one enters and succeeds in a feature in order to increase the rate/size/magnitude/whatever of succeeding in that feature in the future?

They want the battle with the orcs to result in a sword that lets them battle bigger orcs that drop bigger swords. They want all gameplay to be extrinsically valuable. Any “play” that is intrinsically valuable is considered garnish.

These are the same people that say “Why don’t you just play a real instrument?” when talking about Rock Band. Or: “You don’t get anything for achievements, so why do them?” Or something I actually heard once in a design meeting: “People aren’t going to play our game if they don’t get anything at the end.”

If you have to give people a carrot and a stick to get them to play, you are doing it wrong. And if you are a player seeking that carrot, then go play World of Warcraft because you’ve lost the ability to have fun without getting a “fix”. (And that really bothers me that many folks play World of Warcraft in such a way because I’ve seen a lot of promising things in that game that would be intrinsically fun even without the level grind that the hardcore genus expect to be the core gameplay.)

Back to Spore. I’ve only logged about four hours with it, so I don’t feel comfortable making any final judgments. But half of the time I’ve spent twiddling making crazy creatures and that was intrinsically fun. Then I go into the world and do some tasks and go back and tweak some more. And watching what my roommates make is great. The only carrot is finding the additional parts which feeds back into the system that is meant to be intrinsically fun. It doesn’t feed back (directly) into the system that gives you more parts.

The key aesthetic of Spore is creativity. The key aesthetic of Age of Empires or Warcraft III or Diablo is competition. No wonder Joe Joystiq doesn’t enjoy it. He wants the mechanics to back up a feeling of competition, the ONLY aesthetic the hardcore ever truly care about. But the designers weren’t building mechanics to back up the feeling of competitiveness. They were building mechanics to back up creativity and stringing them together with mechanics that resemble those from games with a completely different aesthetic. Joe Joystiq wasn’t expecting that.

He was expecting his Cheerios to taste like Lucky Charms.

I’d Never Survive in India

I sold my car to a dealer on Saturday. It’s great that we call those who sell us cars the same thing as those who chemically poison the young and susceptible in society. The actual salesman was a pretty cool guy in his mid-twenties. The “sales manager” was a dick sans box. I’m not entirely sure if this was a fabricated drama – good cop / bad cop – but it seemed genuine.

I really didn’t care about negotiating for a good trade-in value. I was only interested in my final “off-the-lot” price. If I got an additional $500 for my junker, they’d likely add a $500 charge for upholstery massage or one of the other fifty-five hundred bullshit charges they like to come up with. I think they may even have a “Bullshit Fee A Day” desk calendar that they use. If they don’t, then that’s a lucrative product line that I just invented. Patent pending. Stay back.

The negotiation went a bit like this:
Zack: [Waits for Sales Manager to get back from test drive. Feels cool breeze of Death, realizes Sales Manager has emerged from shadows.]
Sales Manager: We’ll give you $500 for your car.
Zack: Wow. I didn’t think it would be that low. How about doing $500 and six slow roasted peanuts?
Sales Manager: The AC doesn’t work.
Zack: It works. It just needs some time [Internal Dialogue: Six to Seven Hours] to get firing.
Sales Manager: $500 is all I can do.
Zack: [Internal Dialogue: At least he didn’t feel the shitty transmission] I’ll throw in the Pittsburgh Steelers and the half-burnt Carnegie Mellon University window decals. $500 and a moustache comb?
Sales Manager: [Tears the head off of a feral pig and injests its blood.]

When I closed the deal on the new car, they put this sticker on my old one:

Sexy Car

That’s right. Back the FUCK off. There were at least twelve fervent buyers throwing sacks with dollar signs hand-embroidered to the side at us hoping to buy that 1997 top-of-the-line sedan with special Enjoy the Environment As It Is climate control and the You’ll Get Whatever Gear I Want and Like It transmission. But no, this baby is going to make the rounds on the university lecture circuit before you can even think of owning that genuine Americana.

At the end of the day, I exceeded my “out the door” limit by $1500 thanks to scummy finance charges and other miscellany. This was my first experience at buying a new car. I know for the next time to come prepared with some sort of hard armor AC 15 or better and something with which to take a hostage.

Changing Star Rating on iPhone

I’m a Star Rating junkie. My entire library is star-rated and I actively tweak the ratings. I can only fit three-star and higher songs on my iPhone, so it is necessary. When I used to listen to new songs on my iPod, I’d actively change the star rating while I listened. It was a simple procedure: hit the center button a couple times until the star rating came up and then use the scroll wheel to change the rating.

However, when listening to songs on my iPhone, the way to change the star rating wasn’t apparent. And when I googled for “change star rating iphone” or similar I really couldn’t find a way to change on the fly. I certainly didn’t want to write down the star rating and change it when I got home. What do you think I am? A caveman?

Anyway, the answer was staring me in the face the entire time, which is probably why there weren’t any pages on it. I’m posting this in the hopes that Google works its indexing magic and that somewhere someone had the same problem as me and can find this page for the answer.

In the upper-right of your Now Playing area is a small icon that looks like a bulleted list. That icon brings you to the album-view, which I almost never used. When you enter album view, there are five dots at the top. I probably looked at those and did not realize that is where the star rating would go if it existed. In the shot below, you can see what it looks like when something has a star rating. Just touch the appropriate dot for the star rating you wish to give the song. That’s it.

On Hygiene

If I were running for president, a plank of my platform would be that anyone who is found guilty of having pissed or dripped on a public toilet seat should have to be tied down while fifty strangers piss on them. Unless they get off on that, in which case they will have to clean public toilets for five years and then be executed.

Also, “driving like a damn idiot” will be a Federal High Crime.