Anyone can develop technical skills; all it takes is hard work and perseverance. But if you have the right stuff to be working in professional game development, you will find, or manufacture, your own break.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN EXTREME PERSISTENCE
I once encountered an aspiring level designer named Chris who embodied extreme persistence perfectly. Chris was studying at a university with a declared major in “virtual space design.” It wasn’t a real thing at the time, but he was fascinated by video game levels and so he’d talked his professors into letting him study them as a major.
Chris happened to see a seminar given by one of my coworkers at a professional conference. Afterwards, he approached my coworker and politely asked if he could have a business card. He waited for a couple of days and then sent a follow-up e-mail, thanking the coworker and asking a few questions about game development. My coworker, flattered, was only too happy to answer them. But every time he answered, Chris sent more questions. And they got more and more technical until my coworker showed up at my desk, exasperated. “Hardy, this guy keeps sending me e-mails, asking questions about level design. Please get rid of him.”
I read the e-mail thread, and I looked over Chris’s online portfolio. He had some interesting ideas, but he had clearly never tried out his ideas on actual users. I responded to Chris’s last e-mail, thanking him for his interest. I said that while some of his designs looked promising, he had a lot more to learn about the practical side of designing virtual spaces.
Chris immediately replied and thanked me for looking at his stuff and asked another question: “What kinds of things should I be learning?”
I had to admire his determination. He wasn’t going to be put off by a simple, polite response, so we exchanged a few e-mails as I took over the thread, giving him tips and pointers. But things got super-busy on the project I was working on, and I just didn’t have time for mentoring anyone in level design, so I let the thread drop.
A month later, I was sitting at my desk with my headphones on when a stranger appeared and waved to get my attention. This was unusual, because I was working at a big company and the studio space was behind doors locked by magnetic security cards. I tugged off my headphones, and the guy smiled sheepishly.
“Hi my name is Mike. I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m a friend of Chris. I work in a different division of the company, but he asked me to come down to your offices and see if my key card could open your studio doors.”
I was stunned. “What can I do for you Mike?”
He dragged a spare chair over and sat down next to me and then pulled out a notepad and pen.
“Chris knows that you’re too busy to answer his e-mail. So he asked me to come down here on my lunch break and just take a few notes for him on the last round of questions that he sent you.”
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