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10 Years in Los Angeles: Game Industry and Life

A reflective view of the last 10 years of my life & times in this crazy industry, in this crazy city.
It's a beautiful sunny day in early March, I am 35 years old, and here I am trying to chart a path for my life.

Not much has changed in 10 years, I suppose.

Flash back to February 2000, the world was fresher-then-fresh into a new decade.  Everyone was getting over the notion that the Y2K Bug didn't terminate our species after all, and so as a new millennium began, we all got on with business as usual.  I was just shy of 3 years out of college, living and working as a videogame artist in Boston, dating a girl from school.  I was on on the Vivendi payroll for 2 and a half years, already with several released PC games under my belt (and pretty tired of what I had been doing). Driving my first car ever, a red Mitsubish Eclipse RS (the low-end model - no power windows, no tachometer!) which I bought 3 months into my 1st job and I still drive today.  I lived with my buddies Fong and Skillz, my fellow game artists, in a 3-bdrm in Brookline, next to the high school; they had recently completed Sinistar Unleashed for T*HQ (as it was written back then!) and it bombed, and their studio was shutting down. T*HQ flew them out west to interview at some other developers; they swung by Neversoft, who'd just released Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (the first one) to interview there as well. They got the job.

On Valentine's day, I took my girlfriend out for dinner.

"My roomates are going out to Los Angeles, they say there's tons of jobs out there. I am so tired of running around in circles in Boston"

"You should go! I support you. I'll travel to NZ this summer and move in with you afterward."

And so I emailed everyone I knew in the world, my family, my friends, my college buddies, my coworkers. A simple paragraph "Hey everyone! I have decided to quite my job and move to Los Angeles to seek my success in the game industry! Wish me luck!" I gave my notice, packed up all my worldly belongings, and on February 29th (leap year) we headed out in the U-Haul.

March 9th we arrived in Los Angeles, by way of Virginia Tech, Memphis TN, Little Rock AR, and a snowy desert somewhere in Arizona.  I drove F and Z to Neversoft for their first day of work (they tried to "get me a job there too," but it was a little awkward.. no matter, I got myself hired at New World Computing in no time flat!)  Hung out for a week and played Tetris on their couch while they started working on Tony Hawk 2 and Spider-Man, for psOne, then I flew back east to meet my girlfriend - we went to Paris, Nice, and Interlaken for a week. Then to Ohio for my friend Scott's wedding - then back to LA mid-April to wrap-up my job search and start making money.

I lived with this dude named Brandon, a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend. His folks were friends with Alyssa Milano's parents, and he was in charge of her website (when he wasn't playing trombone at the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra). I got to meet Alyssa once, she had dreadlocks and was with (seriously) two guys who could have walked off the set of Jersey Shore. She was very drunk.

Around this time everything started going upside down. My relationship with the girl in Boston ended - messily - just as a new one began with a girl I met at a dive bar/pasty strip club called Jumbo's Clown Room.  There's no elegant way to describe how all of that went down so I will just say it was awkward and confusing, and quite stressful. That new relationship (my 2nd one ever) started and wrapped up pretty quickly, and to soak my sorrows I became quite a barfly.  I was never a fan of the urban lifestyle, but in this crazy town, something about it's darkness was warm to me.  After several months it caught up with me, and when I realized that it was just making things worse, I quit drinking and got my act together, and got back with the new girl. And then, the economy bottomed out and I lost my job.

All of 2001 was spent in my bedroom, honing my skills and trying to break back into the workforce. It took exactly a year; I got hired and moved down to Huntington Beach (Orange County), taking a well-paying job that was over my head. Just as I was learning the ropes they cut me loose, but within 2 months I was back at a new job making a Motocross game for PS2, living in a house in the Valley with a girl and a dog, and we had (seriously) Pam Anderson's Hot Tub in the backyard. (If I had kept the Orange County job, I would have ended up getting acquired by pre-WOW Blizzard!)

Motocross was a great job, wonderful people, and a lot of fun.  We released the game in eary 2004, which reviewed very well, but no marketing from Activision meant no sales and so they fired the bulk of us.  This came within months of breaking up with my girlfriend - for the second time I was without a partner, and without a job. So I went to visit my friend Matt in Japan, and his brother Howard came along as well.  It was a blast, and it marked the end of my 3-year sobriety; I returned to Hollywood with a vengeance.  29 years old, single, living in one of the most sinful and vivacious cities in the world, I got myself a few short-term gigs and went out and made up for my relatively conservative twenties. Working hard, partying hard.

2004 burned to a close and 2005 kicked in. A few nights following a horrible car accident, I met a burnout girl (literally) drunkenly at 7-11 one night after a long evening of boozing. She came home with me and I realized she was, literally, nuts.  The next few days were exciting and frightening and I will never forget them (we didn't hook up, rather I tried to call the cops/mental institutions to come take her into their care - they refused to help. Somehow through luck and detective work I located her family and deposited her with them, and that went horribly! But, not my problem anymore). Within days I had accepted a new job at Neversoft (a little late!) and started working earnestly on two Tony Hawk skateboarding titles for the next couple of years. In the spring I began another relationship, and my raucous partying lifestyle understandably settled down between The Job and The Girl.

Late 2006 found me laid off again as one of Neversoft's games got canned, and they needed to shed some bodies.  Frustrated, I took some odd jobs, worked on my portfolio, and tried to plan my next move. It came down to a couple of brilliant opportunites, the following Spring; a new job in Orange County, with great tech and potential to be a part of a dream job (Aliens movie game) or pick up and start over (again) in New York City? Both offered me jobs.. I went for Aliens.  I had to work on a different title (Spy RPG) before that, but fair enough.  2007-2008 found me commuting to Santa Ana/Irvine from my apartment in Hollywood every day as I worked my fingers to the bone.

2009, our Spy RPG still hadn't released (and it was long overdue!) I had since moved onto Aliens, but it wasn't what I was expecting. The project got canned and once again, they had to layoff as there wasn't enough work for that much staff. I was cut loose within a month of the new year, days before my 34th birthday.

This was a time for something different. The usually-steady economy was falling apart, and our industry was a horrible mess. Talk of layoffs were everywhere; there were no jobs in Los Angeles.  I applied everywhere, and then started to look for a new plan. I found some folks who wanted to try to start something up on the console side of things, and within a month's time we had a powerful engine and a talented team.  The flesh was willing but the mind was weak, in this case, and so it was not to be.  I started working earnestly on a much smaller development (iPhone) and it was much easier to fathom. It came quickly and easily, and it was the smallest full crew I'd ever been part of (2-man development!). In many ways, it was also the most fulfilling.  No longer would I have to deal with incompetent production to blame for gross managerial mishandling; if something blew out, it was my own damned fault.

As iPhone began to zenith, my partner and I got sucked into the flow of another startup.  We pitched in to help them setup but it slowed our own plans down drastically, and late in 2009 we noticed we'd come to a full-stop with our own plans. At the dawn of 2010 we decided to part ways with that startup and get back to our own project.

And now, here we are at the end of the first quarter of 2010.  Much has happened since the last paragraph I have typed, though it's been a short time. Much more will happen this coming year (hell, this coming month) to the degree which I cannot predict.  In many ways I am down to my last, and anxious to find out what the next crossroads will be, and what it will present.

It's been a long 10 years. It's aged us all considerably, and I shudder to think what the next 10 will mean.  All you can do is work hard, and keep coming with your A-game I believe!

Thanks for reading!

- Ron

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