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A story of how a girl stumbled into the game industry, armed only with enthusiasm, and (to be honest) not that much knowledge in games.

Michelle Chen, Blogger

April 20, 2010

10 Min Read

After reading Alistair Jones' blog post about the hardships he encountered to break into the games industry, I thought of writing my own version. Oh and the title is just based on Alistair;s, I am actually more of a casual and social gamer. Another reason I'm writing this is because I'm moving to another country and even though I managed to stumble into the local games industry, I'm not sure how I would fare somewhere else.

Some parts are from my old personal blog post.

Recently, I have been hanging out in game engine forums, and there are a lot of dedicated indie developers and modders. And there are off-topic posts wherein they would brag about how young they are and they are already making really cool stuff (not explicitly bragging, of course, but you get it). And they are not just dedicated, but they are also young, one would say that they’re only 15, then the other would say, well I’m only 10 or something. Yeah, you’re 10, that’s like elementary or something and they already got their minds set that they will be game developers when they grow up. Well, growing up is still a long way to go. But it’s good I guess, that they feel as if they already know what they want in their lives and they are already making a lot of effort to achieve it. Which is great.

And then I started thinking of what I was doing when I was their age. When I was in 5th grade, and I wanted to be a fashion designer and I drew bunches of stuff and came up with tons of crazy designs in my head and on paper. My dad also bought me tons of fashion books and magazines which I read and reread. I thought then that I would grow up to be a fashion designer.

I used to think that I was ambitious, that I got my mind set up and I was going to go through with it, and everything else will just fall into place. I had a plan. And up till I was in 3rd year high school, I thought that I was going to go through with it. I was eyeing an art school back then.

And then bam, comes fourth year high school, when we are picking college courses, I have no idea, but I picked Computer Science. Just like that. In all the schools that I applied in, I wrote Computer Science or some computer related course, while Fashion Design and Arts? They were the second choice. I don’t really know why I did that. Okay, I do know. I like computers as much as the next person, but that was surfing the net and Yahoo! Messenger and making personal websites and Flash stuff. I thought that Computer Science was the same as Multimedia Arts or Computer Applications. Well, that was a boo boo.

If you noticed in my list of things that I used to do with computers, well it didn’t exactly include games. I wasn’t a gamer, nor am I a gamer now, actually. I wasn’t one of those classmates who picked CompSci because they wanted to make games. I never owned a console and I work on a laptop, which means, I can't really run any PC games, unless it's the Pop Cap and Facebook variety.

The other day on my way to work (the very long walk from the MRT to the office, which is about 3 blocks away), I was thinking, did I know that I was going to be a game developer? To make games for a living, how cool is that. But I’m just thinking, that last year, when I was graduating, I didn’t know I’d be where I am right now.

How did it all start really? And when I come to think about it, they were all pretty random, actually, the events that led me to the games industry.

I was part of a multimedia organization in college, and one time when I was manning a booth, I got to talk to another officer and we got to talking about the local game companies, there was Anino, (then) Matahari , and the company that I am currently working for. The funny thing is, back then, I didn't even know that the Philippines even have a games industry.

When we got to third year college, we were free to choose our electives, and some are in the games track, I chose those, because I figured they would be the closest thing to multimedia. And true enough, there were graphics and 3D modeling classes, and Game Design and Game Development. Although the graphics and 3D modeling turned out to be OpenGL and Blender, lolz. But the Game Design class, now that one, I really enjoyed.

It was a 3 hour class every Saturday, but our professor (who is a professional game designer and writer, who wrote a feature article here on Gamasutra about Quick and Dirty prototyping) would allot 1 and a half hour for lecture and the for the other half of the class, we would play games (she would bring a Wii and some board games), or watch game trailers (first time seeing the Final Fantasy XIII trailer left me drooling), or design games on pen a paper (I think my group even made a paper dice once).We had assignments, but they were basically reading Gamasutra articles and writing a 100 word review or comment, or playing at least 10 SNES games on a simulator (now, can we even call those assignments?). The end goal of that class is to design a game and then write a full fledged game design document. I was a Mystery Case Files addict then, so I designed an art and story driven hidden object  game (it was "green lit" and had a pretty high score :D).

But my game idea didn't stop there. The second class I took is Game Development, which basically means, take the game design document and turn it into a full fledged game. The Game Development class was jam packed with game programming shitniz, that to be honest, I didn't really understand half of what my professor was saying. But the only requirement for the class is to of course make a game. Our professor wanted us to make a game using Microsoft XNA, which meant C#. But we weren't taught C# in school, we were Java people. So we had less then 3 months to learn C#, XNA and how to put it all together as a game. Oh, we were all programmers in the class, so we still had to find an artist or make the art assets ourselves. I was feeling artsy and since I wanted to make an art driven game, I volunteered to do all the art assets for the game (oh, there was only 3 of us in our group, so we don't really have much resources). Oh, and hidden object games has tons of assets (I don't know what I was thinking when I volunteered), and I had to draw them one by one, using the touch pad of my laptop (I didn't have a Wacom tablet nor a mouse). I don't really know how we did it, but we managed to finish the game in a couple of weeks (we were crammers, and didn't start until it was near our deadline). The last day of the class, all the groups presented their games and the best ones get a prize (we were second best :D).

And then there was a non-game related thesis and a bunch of other stuff and then there was graduation.

On graduation day, we had to line up for a long time outside the venue before the ceremony started, and I was next to a friend of mine, who at that time was already working for a game company (and since then had moved on to two other game companies, first as a producer and now as a game designer, and did I mention that she's only 22), and we got to talking, and she suggested that I should try applying to game companies (at that time I already had a job offer from a high paying IT company), one of the companies she mentioned, is well, my current company.

So after graduation, I alloted 1 month to bum before accepting any job offers, so I was not really looking for a job. If I would send in my resume, it would be through emails, I did not bother dropping by companies or even job fairs. So one day, in between watching some Korean drama and Mystery Case Files, I sent my resume to my current company.

I was not a hardcore gamer, but I was addicted to casual games. I would play Peggle instead of studying for an exam. One of the games I played in the thesis room (when my thesismates weren't looking) is a Sherlock Holmes game, wherein Sherlock in the cutscene would even move his mouth, I was so amused by that.

So one morning, I received a phonecall from my current boss (I remember it was a Friday morning, and I was still sleeping), about my job application, and she asked if when I would be available for an interview, and since I was a little sleepy then, I said that I was availabled that afternoon. And so I got up, got dressed and took a taxi to a really nice building with a big ass water fountain in front.   

During the interview, my boss mentioned that they made the Sherlock Holmes cutscene, and my jaw may have dropped then, and he went on to mentioning the games that they were currently developing- games based on Clueless and Mean Girls- and then I was trying my best to resist dolphin squealing, those are like my favorite movies, and one is even a fashion matchup game. I was probably smiling to my ears by then. I knew then, that that was what I want to be doing. And thankfully I was hired. And a week later, I started working as a game programmer.

And it has been 1 and a half years since.

Even though the events that led me to the games industry were very random (I am very lucky, it seems) and though I didn’t plan on being a game developer, it turned out quite well for me. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't hard at first, because it was. I had to catch up on all the years I missed playing games, not to mention all the technical aspects of games. I learned soo much since then, and  I had a lot of fun, well, who can complain when you are getting paid play make games?

Oh if you asked me now what I see 25 year old me doing, I would say, I would be one of those speakers in GDC, because even though I have to resign my current job to move to another country (my supposed home country, Taiwan), I am going to continue making games, not just programming them, but I want to continue learning, design, productions, arts, the whole enchilada. I just hope that the industry would continue being kind to me.

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