Sunday, November 23, 2008

How I got my job, part 2 of 3

Having finished interactive design, I looked forward to taking other classes in the curriculum, getting my degree within four years, and then joining the game industry as fast as I could. And paying off my student loan.

Of course, there was another class in my way that made me cringe as I had to dive back into working with Flash-- that class was called Programming for Interactivity.

On my free time, I actively pursued texts dealing with programming in C++ and a little bit of Python. This seemed a bit weird for someone going to school with the intention of making game art, and the concept seemed even more bizarre to some of my friends. One friend of mine looked over my shoulder at a programming book I was reading once and told me it was like an "alien language."

With Programming for Interactivity, we were actually to dive more into Flash's programming language, ActionScript.

I thought, hey, this time, it'll be a little more manageable. I won't have to deal with the Flash timeline as much. Plus, Meyers was teaching the class again. What could go wrong?

Well, the thing about Meyers is that he does one thing that several students in several majors could argue a lot of teachers don't do-- he listens to his students.

Of course, being in Interactive Design and Game Development, we had several game development students who argued against having to take the interactive design classes. For going to a $30,000 a year school, it seemed to many a waste of money. They didn't want to make interactive timelines or media players; they wanted to make games. And this point was made very, very clear out loud in front of Meyers on several occasions.

Our second project in the class was supposed to be an MP3 player that would load the MP3 files from an external source made in two weeks.

Of course, the glorious thing about being a teacher is deviating from the syllabus as you deem necessary.

Meyer forewent the MP3 player and announced to use our next assignment was to make a Flash game. This was equally exciting and scary. I mean, there's no better way to describe it other than taking a crap in your pants with a smile on your face. At least, that's how it felt for me.

We were given the option of pairing up with another student for this project and, for some odd reason, I didn't. Probably because I knew the game I was going to make. I had had the idea in my head for quite some time, but hadn't gone about executing it. After thinking it over, I decided that almost everything I wanted to do in the game could be done in Flash. It would be a nauseating clone of Tetris Attack with a screen that flipped and rotated itself. And I would call it Groblings...

Somewhere, somehow, two ideas for a name for two separate projects converged on the same location in Savannah. As I described the idea to my friend Christine, who was a double major in game design and animation, she grew wide eyed and pointed out to me that the creature in her animation was called a Grobling. Perhaps I had heard her mention it earlier but lost the connection with her project and the name? I don't know. But after that, I decided to rename the project. For lack of anything else I could come up with, I simply called it Lumps.

Not soon afterwards, I truly learned out difficult it would be to program lumps. Falling blocks with simple collision detection on a transforming movieclip meant all sorts of optimization hell for me with the little bit of AS2.0 knowledge I had. With an huge mixture of AS2.0 and a few well placed keyframed animations, I got the game running at a reasonable speed. And it was playable. I showed it to my class and it was generally well received, although there were a dozen things that could make it better. I seem to remember someone actually calling it "Monster Tetris."

After that quarter, I had no more classes that would require me to have to use Flash. SuAnne planned and executed another showcase for our major. This time, I took the initiative and submitted Lumps as a game prototype. To my surprise, it tied for first place with a group project. I was very happy with the results. My game idea had a proof of concept and it was well received.

At that point, I only had a few more classes to take until I'd graduate and, hopefully, join the game industry. I wanted to get my ideas out there and make an impact somewhere. Specifically, I wanted to do concept art; to me, that seemed to be the more creative aspect of the art side of games.

As usual, things didn't go quite as planned, and it took me over a year after graduation to finally get somewhere.

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