This special Tuesday edition of the blog will focus on a look back at my career so far. For whatever reason, I feel like sharing.
Way back in 2007, I started working as a game tester at an independent game company called Reflexive Entertainment. It was the same week that I started my freshman year of college. I was a teenager!
What an awesome place it was. It was a game studio! And one that I had known about for years. I was thrilled. But I remember having to earn the right to be in that office. Here was this inexperienced kid in an office full of brilliant, passionate, hard working, experienced, and self-motivated creatives. I had an inkling of it at the time, but it took me a few months to realize just how great that group of people really was. All I knew was that I really, really wanted to belong. I wanted to help create stuff, but that meant I would need to become an artist.
Through sheer tenaciousness, I began to transition myself into working on art. Testing was my foot in the door, but art was my passion. I remember walking into offices and asking if they needed help with any art. I would do anything. It was a struggle, and I had to really push myself to learn fast. I knew practically nothing, but I was determined.
Over time, I started to make art exclusively. But some people wondered what I was doing. Who does this kid think he is? Isn't he a game tester? They were right that I sucked horribly (so, so bad), but somehow I managed to prove myself. Well, that was my memory of it. Maybe it was my desperation, or my willingness to learn, or my passion. Whatever it was, it took a lot of effort to begin to feel comfortable in the company of my betters. But it would be years before I felt like I wasn't the worst piece of shit artist who ever lived. Of course, I'm still just a student of art, and I always will be. One of my good friends that I met at Reflexive often says "Ancora Imparo," which is a quote from Michelangelo. It means "I am still learning." And that's exactly how I feel too.
Looking back in this moment, I am filled with a tremendous fondness for so many of the good people I worked with during all those years. I'm still friends with most of them to this day. I've known many of them for almost 8 years at this point! And that's really what I'm writing about. Friendship. Forgive me if it sounds hokey, but my career has only been as good as it's been because of the people I've known. I often say that "I'm just barely smart enough to surround myself with smart people." I was fortunate to stumble onto a great bunch of people at the start of my career. And for that, I will always be grateful.
I'm sure they had no idea at the time, but I did learn an insane amount from them. Probably more than even I can remember. Because in all honesty, I was shaped by them. I could sense that their philosophies were rare even in the industry, but I had zero experience to compare them to. Desperate for knowledge, I garnered every truth I could from those guys. I remember hanging on to every word from the artists and programmers around me. I wanted to know what they knew. I wanted to be good, by god! I wasn't going to school for art, so I had to learn on the job and during all my free time. And for better or for worse, I'm still a self-taught artist.
The Buy Out
Reflexive was purchased by a big company about a year after I started working there. But the effects of that company's culture took years to establish a strong presence. In simpler terms, it mostly felt like an independent game company to me, but that was because I was removed from the bureaucratic stuff for a while. I did eventually feel the negative things, which ultimately led to me to move on. But the purpose of this is not to vent the frustration I had with that corporation. But still, it happened.
As the years passed, my skills improved, but so did the challenges. I learned about creative collaboration, and worked to contribute to the group in important ways. I learned about being ruthless with yourself, how to develop smart working habits, and how to be a better communicator. I was in training, and there was much to learn. Ultimately I just wanted to be invaluable. Simply understanding the technicalities of being an artist was not enough, I wanted to know how to be an effective member of a team. I also wanted to help make the workplace a fun place to be. We were, after all, living our lives together. I read a lot on the subject of business as I began to distill my philosophies on work, being effective, and of course happiness.
The spirit of Reflexive lingered on for an astounding amount of time. And even after many of the original members had long since left, there was still a pervading sense of camaraderie among those that stayed and many of those that came in the later years. The reason I stayed for as long as I did had to do with the people. I just loved them.
Time to Go
Alas, as the years stacked upon me, I knew that it was time for me to move on. And although I enjoyed working with such great people, I could no longer stomach the practices and direction of the corporation. I was unhappy. Of course what had happened was that my heart just needed something else, which was no one's fault but my own. Besides, great, unknown adventures were calling my name. It was time.
For a long time I thought about leaving to go work at a different company. But the notion finally dawned on me that going to another company would not satisfy my heart. What I needed to do was something else entirely. I needed to try going out on my own. This prospect simultaneously terrified and delighted me. So, after 4 months of careful preparation, I established Forma Pictures and began life as a freelance artist.
So, what is the point of all of this? I think the message that I feel deep down is that I'm grateful for the amazing people that I've known so far. And I want to thank them for all they did for me. A teeny tiny part of me feels battle-bruised from the trials of business, but most of me feels true joy. And that's the honest truth. I'm happier than I've ever been. And I recognize that I've had luck in the company I've kept. I hope to work with many of them again in the future because that would make me happy. The day is young, my friends. Let's make it a great one!
Your friend, co-worker, and all-around bud,