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Just about four months ago I was sent to Qingdao, China to work with Kboom! Games overseas developers on our Facebook game “Sound City.” I don’t really know what else to compare the beginning of this story with,other than being shot out of cannon.

Kboom Games, Blogger

November 1, 2011

4 Min Read

Orginial Blog: http://www.soundcitygame.com/post/12035736379/the-life-of-an-american-developer-in-china-the-human


The Life of an American Developer in China : The Human Cannonball!

by Paul Otake

Ni Hao Shijie

  Just about four months ago I was asked (or rather, I volunteered) to be sent to Qingdao, China to work with our overseas developers on our most recent Facebook game “Sound City.” I don’t really know what else to compare the beginning of this story with, other than being shot out of a cannon.

While I’ve never actually been shot out of a cannon, I can imagine the thought process leading up to it is much the same. At first it sounds like a great idea, but once you actually crawl in and you hear that fuse burning, you start to wonder if you’ve really made the right choice. However, there’s nothing you can really do about it at that point, you just have to close your eyes and hope for the best.

So one morning, four months ago, I walked into a meeting, my boss said that we needed to send someone to China, I raised my hand, and two weeks later I was on a plane. Everything I owned was packed away in boxes, I had moved out of my apartment, cancelled my phone, and of course made a series of hurried goodbyes. Boom! Out of the cannon I go.

  It was an easy decision to make really. I love to travel and I love to make games. The chance to do both at the same time was an opportunity I never thought that I would get. There of course were a few catches. The most glaring of which was my complete lack of any understanding of the Chinese language. Second to that is just the usual partner to travel: the unknown. No friends, a strange city where every sign is in a language you can’t read, food you can’t recognize, and of course the uncertainty of how or if you will ever be able to adjust to these things.

            Not knowing anyone and not knowing the language is like trying to swim with a rock tied to your leg; I’ve gotten utterly lost here more times than I can even count; and I’ve eaten some things that I’ve never tried before, and hopefully will never have to try again. However, adjusting hasn’t been a problem.

In the four months I’ve been here it’s easy for me to call this place home. I’ve made a ton of great friends, I seldom get lost or at least have an easier time finding my way back on track, and I have actually grown to love almost everything I’ve eaten. Being able to make those adjustments, being flexible and adaptive, isn’t just essential for travel…it’s also a critical skill for game development.

  In the beginning, before I even considered coming to China, I was one of two lead designers for Sound City. The project had begun months before we came on board, and we were rapidly learning a very important lesson. Skype is an incredibly useful tool; to be honest, I love it.

Thanks to video chat I’ve been able to talk to my parents, my friends, and even my grandma; all the while maintaining that ever tenuous connection to my home. For keeping in touch, and giving you a glimpse of all those familiar faces you might miss so much, its invaluable.

However, for collaborating and communicating complex game design ideas to a team of developers who primarily only speak Chinese, it is grossly insufficient. This is how my trip came around, after just a short time, and a few frustrating Skype meetings later, it had become apparent that we needed direct contact with our developers.

  In the time since, my role in the company has naturally changed. My primary focus is still design, honestly because that’s what I like to do the most, but I have also taken on the tasks of production, project management, English teacher, and cultural ambassador. This blog is meant to offer whatever advice I can share to any would-be game developers who want to venture overseas to make their games.

Part travel log, part development diary, this is just a record of my experiences and some of the little bits of knowledge I have picked up along the way. Hopefully, some element of what I have learned will help someone else develop a great game or have an easier time getting along in a country far from the one that they call home.

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