Press Start: Choose Your Adventure
Roughly a year ago, I decided on lark to look into video game programming and design. I was working as a QA automation engineer for a St. Petersburg, FL based technology firm. There, I found myself miserable. I questioned daily if my code was up to snuff, if my rather conservative leaning coworkers could stand my radical liberal ass, and if I would be trapped at this desk for the rest of my life. It’s not that the job was awful, the higher ups were supportive of me and my work, especially since I was the only person working on automation tools, and I did enjoy having steady work after a year of freelancing and crashing with my best-friend-turned-girlfriend’s family (coming off a period of being homeless prior to that). However, unmentored and unchallenged, agitated all the more by a sense of stagnation, I was seeking something more fulfilling. At the age of 25, I suppose one could call this the quarter life crisis.
It was in my impromptu search that I happened upon two things. The first was a $10 uDemy course on Unity game development and the second was the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy at the University of Central Florida. Without hesitation, I enrolled in the uDemy course and fired off an email to the admissions director at FIEA. Not wanting to hurriedly throw my life at something I was uncertain about, I figured taking an online course to sample my potential future was the best route. Worst case scenario, I’m out $10. As it turns out, coding games and designing systems was challenging, intuitive, and most of all fun. However, doing so in an online course was isolating and lonely. Thus I did what any neurodivergent and unsatiated person would do: I hurriedly threw my my life at something I was still uncertain about that provided a great escape from the doldrum I had been staring down. I applied without a second thought.
The application process was...interesting. FIEA offers several “tracks” for game makers from art to production to programming. Now for anyone who’s read my previous work they’ll know I’m not a developer by trade. My background is in biological anthropology. However, I wanted to be a programmer. As it turns out FIEA had consider this exact scenario and offered a program for “Technical Producers” programming minded designers who could build out systems and create scripts, without worrying about the details of physics engines and optimizations. Once I zeroed in on what route to take, I discovered my first great obstacle to entering gaming school was…to build a freaking game, well a game prototype anyway. I was more grateful than ever for the $10 I had spent a month prior. I was almost certain that my skills were nowhere near up to par and my application would be rejected outright. However, my curious streak wouldn’t let me back down without answering “what if.”
I built the most simple, buggy game I could muster. It was called Anxiety. The concept found the player, a literal ball because my inability to make art assets is only second to my inability to avoid puns, using the left and right arrows to move on a white platform to avoid raining color pellets. The platform would take on the color of the pellet when hit only getting slightly darker and darker until it vanished into the black background and dropped the player onto a smaller platform. The player could deploy a “shield” (a tree I rotated and curved to look like an arch) to catch the pellets thus saving their platform. As time passes the pellets rained down faster and more frequently eventually causing an inevitable spiral into darkness and a game over screen that motivated the player to try again despite feeling as if everything was falling down.
After taking a video capture and zipping it along with a 500 word paper as to why I deserve to be in the program, I began a period of anxious anticipation (rather fittingly given my project). After about two months of restless what ifs and no ways, I received an email from the admissions office. I was working when I saw it, at a new job as a front end web developer that I actually had come to thoroughly enjoy due in large part to my supportive and amazing team. I was not ready to read my imminent rejection just yet and pushed it off until I got home where I could cry comfortably. Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw the words “provisional acceptance.” Okay, sure, I dicked around way too much in undergrad and now I had to maintain a minimum of a 3.0 or I would be dropped faster than Donkey Kong in an arcade victory lap, but none of that mattered. I was going to start building and designing games like I wanted to do since childhood.
It’s been a few months since my acceptance letter and I have been in a constant state of excited and anxious nervousness. I start my program in about a week and time seems to be moving slower than I would like. I feel as if I’m living in the loading screen between a tutorial and starting a new game. I only hope that I will have the stamina to succeed in my grades and maintain this blog with updates on my progress.