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A Game Geek's Journey

Reflections on the last twenty years of dreaming big and overcoming adversity

Almost 30 years ago, I was barely old enough to think about my grown-up life.  Like most kids around 10 years old, I was fascinated by video games.  The Atari 2600 was the big console at the time.  My stepfather said I wasn't allowed to get one though.  When I went out and bought one with my own money, I was forbidden to hook it to the TV. 

So being stubborn, I bought the only TV my measly lawn-mowing income could afford - a cheap black & white.  It's wasn't great, but my stepfather couldn't object unless he wanted to forbid me from using the electricity.  If he had, I'm sure I would have worked something out with generators or leased power from the neighbors.  I was a boy with a mission.  What's that saying about forbidden fruit?  Yes, those black & white block-size pixels never glowed so bright as they did on that cheap TV.  I was hooked.

In the years that followed, the Atari 2600 lost its allure and the ColecoVision console came out with its almost perfect arcade clones.  I didn't have to spend my quarters at the arcade: I could go over to my friends house to play.  There was no way I could afford my own, nor could I imagine hooking up those 64 color graphics to my old black & white. 

But it was around then we got an Atari 800 computer.  Once again, I was told it was not for games.  Of course I snuck out and bought my first Atari 800 game - Crush Crumble and Chomp.  I was eventually found out and my computer priveledges revoked.  I did however convince my stepfather to let me experiment with programming.  When he found out I was programming a game (an Ultima wannabe) I lost that priviledge as well. 

I was 15 and staying part time with my dad who didn't have any rules about games.  I was saving up for the ultimate machine where I can buy or create my own games - a Commodore 64.  I convinced my father to pay for half - sacrificing all other christmas presents.  On my C64, I played the best - Tapper, Hardball, Ultima. 

When I wasn't playing games, I was working on a D&D dungeon master helper (you know, something to roll the dice and determine initiative etc).  Yes, I was (and still am) a geek.  But I was a game geek.  I didn't know how or where but I had a vision of making games someday.

This is not an uncommon dream for a teenager.  But back then, there were no degree programs for video games.  I studied art, graphics programming in fortran, and eventually found myself in the software industry before landing my dream job at a small start-up publisher making Nintendo and Sega Genesis peripherals and games.  We had a great go of it for 2 years before the peripheral side of the business hit a snafu and cost us all our jobs.

That mass lay-off set the tone for my next fifteen years in the industry.  It's been crazy.  Counting my recent lay-off from Midway - I've been downsized (project, team, department-wide) four times now.  Add in the times where I left voluntarily to pursue greener pastures, I now have a resume that reads more like an obituary for failed companies.  It doesn't matter how many games I've shipped or recommendations I've accumulated.  Now factor in the current economic woes and you get a perfect storm.  Suffice to say, it's hard to get a job.

The industry I've realized, may be done with me.  And yet, my stubborness will not let me quit.  I may be back to doing my garage games on my own dime and doing my own art and programming,  but the game geek that I am hasn't given up.  What's that other saying? If it were easy, everyone would do it.

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