A blog about technical art, particularly Maya, Python, and Unity. With lots of obscurantist references
The blog has been retired - it's up for legacy reasons, but these days I'm blogging atblog.theodox.com. All of the content from this site has been replicated there, and that's where all of the new content will be posted. The new feed is here
The highlight of the show was the TA beer night at the Butcher and Bullock -- hats off to +Robert Butterworth for putting together -- but there was some other stuff going on as well. Here's a very partial and completely unscientific brain dump of what I saw. The important caveat here is that my limited schedule kept me on a very short leash: I spent all day Monday in the Advances in Real Time Graphics course, which I'm pleased to say has become a SIGGRAPH institution (go Natasha!) and then all day Tuesday talking to vendors, so I'm 100% certain to have missed a lot of cool and interesting stuff. This was an all business visit, so most of what I have to report is general impressions rather than new cutting edge research. My impressions are after the jump...
Tech artists are an important part of GDC: sharing knowledge, inspring people to work smarter, and teaching better ways to get things done are what we do all the time -- doing a talk is just taking your day job on the road. So hurry up and get those proposals together!
After the jump I've reposted an article I did for Game Developer back in 2008 which outlines some of the things I think make for a good GDC talk. Update: I added a longish list of stuff that has changed since the original 2008 article in the comments - in particular, don't forget to read the new submission guidelines and don't forget 25 minute talks if you're getting your feet wet
We'll be showing the beta at Pax Prime (booth 6103). It's been a really fun project to work on (for a grizzled ancient like yrs. truly, working on mobile is kind of liberating. It's like the old days of limited budgets and tiny teams. Its so nice to get something from concept to execution in 18 months instead of 4 or 5 years, and with a team that can meet in a lunch room instead of needing a whole theater.
...the game looks a lot nicer than they did in the old days though. I used to sneer at mobile graphics, but nowadays it's pretty awesome what you can accomplish with a little care.
PS. In case you're wondering: It's not a zombie game. But we're not out of the zombie business, not by a long shot. Check out article linked above for more from HQ. But trust me, there's a lot of zombies in our future too.
This is an article I originally wrote for the late lamented Game Developer Magazine on the black art of job hunting. Hiring has been on my mind a lot lately and so I've had to revisit a lot of things I touched on here. Although a lot has changed in the intervening decade, the brutal realities of the job market haven 't changed much -- except, perhaps, to get a tad more brutal as the pool of qualified candidates has grown faster than the games biz as a whole.
So, without further ado, here's a disgruntled reader's guide to resumes and cover letters.
Dear Job Applicant,
Thank you for applying for
the opening we advertised. While we specifically requested only applications from
candidates having four or more years of industry experience, we understand that
you might not have realized which industry we intended. However we are
impressed by your entrepreneurial drive and are sure that the skills you
learned behind the cash register at McDonalds can contribute greatly to our
We are somewhat concerned,
however, that you may have mistaken our ad for one from another company. Since
none of the four identical resumes and cover letters we received from you
mentioned our company or which position you were applying for, we just wanted
to contact you to be sure that you were, in fact, responding to one of our
ads. My assistant and I spent quite some
time puzzling over this and were unable to reach a conclusion, so we thought it
best to contact you and see if we could figure out what, exactly you intended.
After all, we receive dozens of applications a week – what excuse could we have
for giving each one less than our undivided attention?
In any case, we also have a more
personal motive for contacting you. We really wanted to thank you for
introducing us to the fascinating world of post-industrial Thrashtronica – a
musical style we had never even heard of around the office until we went out
and bought a VHS player to view your samples. The nightmarish soundscape
certainly taught us a few things about the meaningless void at the heart of
modern capitalism! It's a good thing the turntable animations on your tape were
15 minutes long, so we were able to hear the entire piece.
Ahhh! It's spring, and the air is full of new life. Everything old is new again -- particularly
the soundtracks (and the appetizers) at those GDC parties. Everywhere you look,
studios flush with greenlight funding are strutting their gorgeous plumage
before a new crop of art-school grads, hoping to entice them into an intricate
mating dance. Birds do, bees do it – even Hollywood TD's do – so let's do it:
let's talk about job hunting. But rather than the looking at if from the
perspective of the potential hire, let's stop and look at the hiring process
from the other side of things – the way it looks from the other side.
There's really only two things you need to remember when
approaching preparing job applications:
Rule #1: Hiring hurts
Hiring is a slow, expensive, and risky proposition.
about the employment process from the perspective of a company that has a slot
to fill: In order to get one person, you need to spend a couple of weeks
contacting various websites and magazines, writing up a set of ads that
adequately describe the exact job you're trying to fill – assuming you can get
management and production to agree on what that is! You'll also have to spend
at least a few hundred bucks on each ad.
Once you've laid out all this money
and time, you'll get hundreds of applications – and 95 percent of them will be
from people who haven't got any of the qualifications you're seeking.
Nevertheless, you'll need to have a dedicated person to spend weeks sifting
through all the resumes and looking at all the portfolios of old school work,
3-d package tutorial images, and scanned-in charcoals from figure classes.
you finally get to the really good candidates, half of them will already be
taken. To top it all off, the remainders won't come to work for you unless you
actually give them money. Just to show up! And there's probably a
recruiter, a moving company, or an immigration laywer lurking in the background
with a bill as well. You know, it's really not hard to see why companies hate
Rule #2 Companies are desperate and pathetic
Of course, as horrible as hiring can be for companies, it's
also an unavoidable necessity. The power
of the the old-boys-and-girls network is a product of how much companies
dislike the ordinary “over the counter” hiring process -- bringing aboard that
old friend or former colleague means skipping the most laborious and risky
parts of the hiring process, so naturally it's popular with firms in a hurry.
We all know how this can stack the deck against folks without pre-existing
Luckily for outsiders – and unfortunately for the
potential employers -- no company can
fill every vacancy from the ranks of old friends and former co-workers. Companies
with vacancies are constantly aware that every day an opening stays vacant is a
day lost – possibly many days, if the empty seat is an important one. So any
would-be employer will eventually turn to the public forums – the websites and
recruiting firms (and, *ahem,* magazines – ed.) where job-seekers congregate.
It's tough for the companies, because it involves them in all the unpleasant
stuff we sketched out just a moment ago. But it's good news for the hopeful job
seeker -- by the time a job posting hits
the boards, the company is absolutely committed to filling that empty chair.
Living by the rules
Now, we all know that it's not just the companies that
suffer. Job-hunting (particularly when you're out of work) is a morass of
frustration and uncertainty. It can be easy to be overwhelmed by the injustice
of it all – you know how good you are, how passionate you are about games, and
what great work you can do. The nonsense generated by the process – the resumes
and cover letters, the formula interview questions, and of course the dreaded issue
of prior experience – eventually starts to seem like a vast shadowy
conspiracy directed right at you. “I know I can do the job!” you want to
scream, “Let's just cut to the chase!”
The sad truth, though, is that the miseries inflicted on job
seekers aren't just random cruelties. They are logical byproducts of the
dilemmas faced by potential employers. Companies hate hiring, and at the same
time companies are desperate for people.
The rituals of the job hunt have evolved out of these conflicting
demands. Figuring out why employers set you to jumping a particular set of
hoops is a very powerful tool to help you upgrade your own job application.
It's also a good way to keep yourself focused when the emotional drain of job
hunting gets you down.
Mysteries of the cover letter
Let's look at an example of how seeing the process from the
perspective of employers can make take some of the mystery – and misery – out
of job hunting. Take the tradition of the cover letter as an example. It's easy
for a job hunter to see the cover letter as a meaningless formality. After all,
a dab hand at writing cover letters is hardly a guarantee of artistic or
technical skill. The ability to search
for the name of the last company you applied to and replace it with the name of
the next hardly betokens artistic brilliance or technical savvy. Moreover
artists aren't famous for their verbal skills to begin with. Don't forget either that many talented folks
don't speak English as a first language.
So why do we bother with cover letters? Or, more to the point, why do
the companies bother? After all if you think cover letters are a
meaningless formality, just imagine what the HR person on the other end goes
through, sorting through them by the dozen.
In fact, the cover letter makes sense when seen against the
backdrop of the two basic rules of hiring. The screener or HR person or
producer who reads your application is trapped between two conflicting desires:
the desire to find a great candidate, and the desire to dispose of all the no-hope
candidates as efficiently as possible.
The cover letter helps the screener in both directions.
On the positive side, a good cover letter lets the screener
know that you've actually paid some attention to the requirements of the job at
It may sound strange, but proving that you have read the ad is
suprisingly important matter. Until you've been tasked with screening resumes
yourself, you'll literally cannot believe how few applicants pay attention to
the carefully thought out, diplomatically worded prose that describe a job on
offer. Place an ad for a concept artist, and 30-40% of the respondents will be
modelers or level designer or animators. Post a job requiring two shipped
titles, and half the respondents will be in their senior year at art
Against this backdrop, a decent
cover letter which clearly indicates that you've read and understood the job
requirements automatically tells the screener that you're in the top half of
the incoming wave of resumes. Even if your cover letter simply explains why
you'd be good for the job even though you don't meet the formal criteria you'll
probably get a free pass on the first cut. The key thing is to tell the
screener simply and clearly that you know what job is on offer and that you
have the professional chops and personal drive to do that job.
Which brings us, of course, to second reason cover letters
Remember our rule #1 – companies hate hiring. No matter how badly a
company wants to fill that slot, most of the applicants for the slot will be
completely unqualified. The employer wants to get to to the handful of good
candidates quickly -- and that means
dispensing with the bad ones as fast as possible. In this context, a cover
letter offers a chance to fail – in other words, a fast way for the
screener to find weak candidates. If you
can't put together two reasonable paragraphs that tell the screener (a) you've
read the ad and (b) you'd make a good match for the job on offer, your application is headed for the circular
file. It's not strictly true that a bad cover letter will sink you right away,
because most screeners are conscientious enough (and desperate enough to find
that mythical good candidate) that they'll still check out the resume and reel.
But make no mistake, if you blow the cover letter stage of the process you're
set up for elimination in the next round – anything else is a comeback.
The Awful Truth
“Wait a minute,” you're thinking, “did he really mean to say
that a stupid cover letter means more than my demos?”
No artist gets a job with a terrible reel and a great cover letter. But
don't let that fact make you forget that rule #1 is lurking in the background
at every stage of your job application. The person sorting and screening job
applications – no matter how nice and open minded they are – spends most of their time looking for reasons
not to spend time with a given resume or reel. To put it more
succinctly, most of the screener's job is figuring out who not to hire.
Against this context the cover letter, and then the resume, and finally and
most ultimately the demo, are all up against a pretty stark test – it's always
sudden death overtime in the hiring business. It's not because any rational
person thinks a cover letter, or even a well formatted resume in .doc format,
is an indication of artistic talent. It's because there are a lot of resumes
and not much time, so every niggling detail can become an excuse to move on to
the next item in the in-box.
If this sounds brutal, that's because it is. But it's purely
impersonal – it's a fact of life that can be managed if you understand it and
work with it. Above all, nobody is exempt, not even the greatest talents among
us. Next month we'll finish off our discussion of job hunting by looking at how
resumes and demo reels function in the hiring process. In the meantime, polish
up those cover letters. And please, read the damn ads!