Since I was in high school I had been playing the Ultima series of games by Richard Garriott, and was a die-hard fan. Every game he published I played all the way through, from Ultima I on the Apple ][ to Ultima V on the IBM PC. Ultima VI came out right as I graduated from college, and I noticed that the contact information for Origin Systems was in Austin, Texas. I was living in Houston at the time, and my wife and I were ready for a change. On a whim, I sent my resume and a letter to Richard Garriott.
Weeks went by. I heard nothing.
I finally called Origin and asked the receptionist about it. When she found out that I'd sent my resume to Richard she laughed and said that was the last thing I should have done. She gave me the name of Dallas Snell, Origin's Vice President of Product Development. I sent him my resume via Federal Express and hoped for the best. I got a call two days later, and Dallas asked me how soon I could get to Austin for an interview. I asked him if tomorrow was too soon! He told me he'd see me for the interview at 2 p.m. I was terrified. I wore a tie but my wife smartly told me to take it off before I entered the building. It was a good thing because Dallas was dressed in shorts, flip-flops, and a Hawaiian shirt.
I didn't have a shred of game programming experience, and during my interview I was asked by a panel of Origin upper crust how I knew I could cut it at Origin. I looked around the table and saw the likes of Richard Garriott, a.k.a. Lord British, Warren Spector, Chris Roberts of Wing Commander fame, and six other folks. I tried not to panic. After all, I couldn't know if I could cut it, could I? If I've never actually programmed a real game before, I couldn't stand before industry luminaries and just be arrogant.
Instead, I came right out and told them that I didn't know if I could cut it. I told them that programming games was a dream I had since I could reach up and tap a keyboard. I promised them that if they hired me, and I sucked, that I'd leave Origin and not return until I earned my place there. I wanted to be a game programmer, and I'd do anything to make that dream come true. I guess they liked my answer because I got a job offer the following Monday.
I was at Origin for seven years exactly, and I worked on Martian Dreams, Ultima VII: The Black Gate, Ultima VIII: Pagan, Ultima IX: Ascension, and Ultima Online. I spent most of my time programming, but I was asked to play a management role as well on the later projects. After Origin I started a little game company called Tornado Alley. Our idea was to create a massively multiplayer game for children. We had a lot of fun and learned a lot but we couldn't convince companies like Mattel and Hasbro to spend $5 million on a game—oh well!
After Tornado Alley I hooked up with a bunch of people that eventually formed Compulsive Development. We did casual games for Microsoft, one of which was Bicycle Casino featuring the MGM/Mirage Resorts in Las Vegas. The game wasn't a hardcore 3D shooter, but the all-expenses paid trips to Las Vegas were awesome. Compulsive Development taught me more about game production, and how computer game companies work, than any other job. We worked on four titles for Microsoft in two and one-half years, each one shipped exactly on schedule and on-budget. Compulsive Development was acquired by Glass Eye Entertainment in Austin, headed up by my friend Monty Kerr. I'm his Director of Product Development, and I now spend my time equally in technology, management, and business development.
If you are looking for a book written by someone who's actually been working in the games industry, you've come to the right place. While I'm a programmer at heart, I'm never too far from production either. I've worked on ten games in my career, eight of which made it to market. The games include hardcore fantasy role playing games like the Ultima series, a few massively multiplayer titles including Ultima Online, a kids game from Mattel called Magnadoodle, and Microsoft's casual games including Bicycle Casino.
The schedules for these games ranged from five weeks to as many years, and audiences from little kids to people my Mom's age. There's a lot to learn working on each kind of title, and I'll try my best to teach you as much as I can.