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Questions about Work

Posted by Chris Avellone , 12 September 2007 · 2261 views

I occasionally get interview questions from students aspiring to be designers. I try to warn them, but...

...anyway, if you're curious, here's some answers. And some questions to go along with them.

1. What is a typical day for you as far as working on a project or projects?

I get into work at 9:30, and try to work for an hour without checking email. This work can be writing design documentation, designing a system, doing mock-ups for an editor or toolset, or formatting an Excel sheet. After that, I check email, respond to pending requests, then hit lunch. After lunch, I resume work for and attend design meetings (interface, level reviews) for the rest of the afternoon. I usually hit dinner around 6, come back to work at 7, and work until 9 or 10 on raw design material while the office is quiet and most folks have gone home. Then I go to the gym and then go home and either play videogames or watch DVDs (usually in the genre related to the games I'm designing) until I fall asleep, and repeat the cycle the next day. Itís a lot more fun that it sounds. original.gif

2. Do you have a family at this point in time? If so, how has the two areas as far as family man and Game developer coexist? If not, how would you see yourself in that kind of situation in the future?

No kids... that I know of, mostly because I can barely take care of myself.

I will say the industry is getting more mature, so the game development workplace is trying to be a little more careful about requesting overtime of working employees with families (or without) heavily during crunch (some of the lawsuits youíve seen from larger publishers are indicative of this Ė as the game development workforce gets older and more family-centric, the philosophy of making developers work over 40 hours has started to die out). At Obsidian, we have no mandatory crunch periods Ė if people want to put in extra hours, they can, but more often, we try to encourage folks to scale down their own workload so they arenít killing themselves and burning themselves out, which nobody wants.

3. How often do you work on certain projects?

I generally work on one project at the company full-time, and then try to divide my remaining time between hiring, reviewing the design material for the other projects, and also participating in management discussions (Iím a part-owner of the company as well). Iím able to spend at least 30-40 hours a week on some projects, but Iím usually only able to manage that by working 50-60 hours a week (voluntarily), just to make sure Iím all caught up on everything.

4. What skills/education have you obtained BEFORE working in the game industry?

I had a minor in Fine Arts (Architecture) from Virginia Tech and a major in English from the College of William and Mary. Also, embarrassingly enough for non-nerds and a source of pride for nerds, I also went to the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a magnet school in northern Virginia, which if nothing else, exposed me to a variety of coding principles as well as a a high tolerance for studying and working oneself to death.

The most important facet of education, though, didnít come from school Ė it came from gamemastering and playing games during this whole period outside of school, combined with the school education. If youíre forced to be the game master/entertainer long enough so that your players stick around from session to session and enjoy themselves, chances are you have the skills for what makes a good game designer.

5. Have you had time aside to learn new skills while working in the game industry?

Hell, yes. My Photoshop, modeling, wacom skills, sound editing, and a variety of game tools, editors, scripting, and 3D programs have increased considerably. Iíve learned things about Microsoft Word and Excel I can never unlearn. original.gif

6.For someone, like myself, who is studying to be in this industry, what are a few pointers to give as far as what should I be learning before entering?

Communication is key. If youíre not willing to interact with others on your team, the game development industry isnít for you Ė there are few places on a game development team for a lone gun.

7. Do you have friends in other game businesses?

Yes, one of my friends works for a business consulting firm, I have friends in the PR industry (outside of games), friends who are artists and cartoonists, comic book editors, and friends who do technical writing as well. A lot of my friends are within the game industry, however (itís where Iíve spent most of my life for the past ten+ years).

8. Are you more of a team player or do you work better alone?

If I need to analyze or design a system, I sometimes need some a block of quiet time to get my thoughts in order, but without sounding boards or trading ideas back and forth, I donít think an idea can truly hit its potential. Usually itís been my experience that kicking an idea around can correct its flaws pretty quickly, or improve upon the original theme with a twist you hadnít thought of.

In general - and I cannot stress this enough - if youíre not interested in being a team player, the computer game industry is not for you.

9. What are some proudest moments? If it's a new game that shouldn't be mentioned, replace with "COOL GAME".

The day we finished Planescape: Torment at Interplay and the reviews started coming in Ė when they did, I realized that three years of work the team and I had put into the game wasnít wasted and that people actually enjoyed what we had done. It was pretty gratifying for the team and I.

10. Do you see yourself in the same business 10 years in the future?

Yes, or something equally creative (I sometimes moonlight writing Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures comics or doing cartoons for comic books like Knights of the Dinner Table, just to vent the creative energies in different directions). I love the fact that my job isnít static, I get to entertain people, and I wouldnít be comfortable in a routine job.

Thanks so much for that interview Chris. I am wanting to become a part of the game industry and it was nice to have an insight about it. thumbsup.gif

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