(This is an interview conducted on the Game Dev Unchained podcast, an audio podcast that has been transcribed into written form. Please forgive and assume anything written that seems off to be completely my fault and not of the guest. Thank you!)
Sometimes I think ‘What have I got myself into?’ Like after the second studio shut down... I came out really stressful, but unfortunately, game dev is so fun to do and I love doing it so much.”
- RANDY FORSYTH (CHARACTER ARTIST)
Randy Forsyth gives us his true family and parenting stories as a stay at home professional full time game developer. The Dev Dad himself lays out what you'll expect and need to do in order to function both as an employee and a parent simultaneously from the comfort of your own home.
Randy has since become a Senior Character Artist at Epic Games working on Fortnite after the interview was conducted. The world is facing a huge amount of uncertainty in result of the pandemic and more game devs are forcibly working remotely than ever before. Additionally, before COVID-19, many developers were making the move to Texas to chase after the next tech space. Therefore, there are some timeless lessons here that readers can learn from to help cope with the changing landscape and perhaps more permanent ramifications due to current events.
Randy, before working at Epic Games, was living in Texas with his family working remotely as the Lead Character Artist for Iron Galaxy Studios working on Killer Instinct: Season 3. He occasionally takes on freelance and you can see his work in Lawbreakers as well. His past work also includes Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Planetside 2, TNMT Out of the Shadows, Duke Nukem Forever, and Neverwinter Nights 2.
Living in Texas
Randy has spent his career split between living in California and Texas working at several different studios. His family is based in California and the majority of his wife’s family lives in Texas. In recent years, game developers moving to Texas has become a common trend by not only game developers, but also other tech industry veterans. These individuals, and therefore companies, are attracted to affordable housing and overall quality of life. It’s no secret that California residents, on average, are faced with higher mortgage and rental expenses and are often struggling with living from paycheck to paycheck.
Randy: “There's a lot of a lot of cool sh*t to do out [in Texas]. It's nothing like this ‘crazy foreign land.’ I mean, growing up in California, [Texas] sounded like this big crazy faraway place. It's not. It's pretty awesome. So yeah, it’s a lot more open. It is definitely different. But it's a cool place to live. I mean, this is my second time coming back and living in Texas. I had been out here for some years ago and then went back to California when I was working with at Sledgehammer Games. After that, I came back out the second time.”
The first time Randy lived in Texas was when he was working on a little infamous game that is ironically titled “Duke Nukem Forever.” For awhile, Duke Nukem was plagued with development horror stories of how it suffered from various developmental delays and was handed off to multiple studios to attempt at finishing the game.
“My first jump out to Texas was actually to work at 3D Realms. I worked there, in Dallas, on the infamous Duke Nukem Forever at the tail end of it. Did that, for three plus years.”
The game industry is a volatile place and on top of trying to stay financially stable, it stress-tests any relationship. Especially when a relationship is at the early stages. Luckily, Randy went through this early on in his career, between his wife and him when they started dating.
“I met her in Dallas. I was working at the time at 3D Realms and we actually met playing on an adult kickball league up there. It was like six months after 3D Realms shut down so we were pretty early on in the relationship. She got quite the taste of some game dev shenanigans, like how turbulent this industry can be.”
To add on to that trauma, Randy shares that surviving shutdowns together was a theme early on in his relationship with his wife.
“In our first three, four years of our relationship, I went through two studio shutting down and two times of major crunch. So, I mean, she was definitely in it for the long haul.”
Despite going through some life-altering career changes, he still is very optimistic and doesn't see himself ever doing anything else, especially now. The places Randy have worked at use to make decisions for him, but they were hard lessons that he learned from to stay a step ahead by rolling with the punches.
”I love this job. There's always a fear of ‘Oh sh*t! How long is this gonna last?’ kind of thing and trying to reevaluate for my family and myself, what's the best path to take, longevity-wise. Where is the industry gonna go? That's a testament, hopefully, how my wife trusts me. I'm getting us moving in the right direction. The same reason why we moved back here, in Texas, was so she could get into nursing school and give our family a little bit of more stability with dual income. I think that'll help us out in the long haul. But it’s kind of crazy for her to go through these things and stick with it. I think she have seen the nature of the beast. I really love what I'm doing and she'd never say ‘You know... maybe you should change careers.’ I don't think she'd be telling me to do that. Maybe, she might be thinking it, but she wouldn't say that. I think it would be understandable. Sometimes I think about like ‘Fck! What have I got myself into?’ After the second studio shut down... I came out stressful, but unfortunately, it's f*cking fun to do game dev. And yeah, I love doing it.”
Working from Home and Family Life
Randy have seen his fair share of successes and pitfalls working in the industry and his career have taken him across multiple states. So it was a relief to learn that Randy has found a home in Texas and works remotely from his home office after years of commuting and being away from his family and newborn.
“It has worked out pretty great! Now I'm working at a studio called Iron Galaxy. They're based in Chicago but I'm working from home in my office right now. So it's pretty great! Eventually we're gonna be moving down to Austin when she finishes up school.”
Larry adds that:
“It is really interesting to see a lot more companies embracing the idea of hiring the artist who's working from their home. They have a lot more faith in the in-sourcing, I call it. It is like outsourcing, but still domestic. So it's just a little moniker.”
“Oh, more people are into this and it's pretty great! Especially with a kid, I get to see him come home every day. He goes to daycare right now, but overall a great experience for a full-time working dad. I would love to see more studios doing this kind of stuff.”
The ability from home is a luxury that most developers would love to do. However, there is still a very low amount of blueprints to actually get to that point. Randy luckily, shares his experience for the transition and how it sort of fell on his lap.
“Iron Galaxy Studios had people doing it remotely. They have students in Chicago and Orlando and the big draw is getting back to Texas. It is still kind of crazy having people spread out but it was the main deal maker that Texas is affordable. We were able to come back here and buy a house that wouldn't have been an option. If we went to the other places we woudn’’t be around any family. I think it was more a huge selling point coming back here and my wife being close to her family, get into nursing school right away, and be working from home. Yeah, I got a perfect deal. It's pretty great so far.”
Although, working from home is obviously a step up, there are some office perks that Randy misses.
“I do miss all the office shenanigans and stuff that goes on being in an office setting. Taking breaks at lunchtime to play football right after the team meetings or whatever. Throw my arm out every day. Basketball and stuff, you know, boxing and other things with colleagues is always fun. But hey, I wouldn't trade my situation for anything right now. This, is pretty pretty pretty good. What I'll say is, as much as I love and respect my coworkers I would be down on myself if I miss my child throwing a football and be a more active parent.”
When asked about what a typical day working from home looks like Randy answers,
“ I come in around 9:00 AM and a lot of times that's pretty early. I stopped by the bathroom, once in a while and take care of business. I get my son ready and drop him off for daycare. When I usually take him out to school, it is likely my only chance to get outside the house for a little bit.
Get him ready. Get him off. Come back. Lots of work, we're Skyping, we’re having a lot of meetings with many people going over tasks and art direction and stuff like that.”
There are challenges getting use to working from home and Randy wasn’t shy about sharing that experience. We asked about productivity and efficiency and he says
“I definitely feel super productive because there's really no distractions. I’m in a bit of a vacuum. I think it took me a little bit of time to kind of get into the swing of things with working at home. Like, how's the overtime work? But once I hit my rhythm, it was great! It's better food. No long lunches. Just all around efficiencies.”
“Overall, raising a family in Texas has been very fruitful and affordable. It's nice having a little bit of a room to breathe. We wouldn't have had a second kid in California. We simply couldn't afford a minimum three bedroom house in the Bay Area. In Texas, I have a dedicated office. The kids have their own rooms. Day care out here is crazy cheap compared to the Bay Area. I was looking into how much full-time day care was in Texas compared to the Bay area. It's like a quarter of the price it would have been and it’s just a really nice daycare. They give him two meals a day. He gets both breakfast and lunch there and if he wants to take swim lessons and all this stuff… That would be like some high-end like daycare place in the Bay, but here in Texas, it's a quarter of the price of anything we were looking at in the Bay Area.”
[this is a repost from www.gamedevunchained.com- the original article can be found here with resources and links]