In Memory of My Time at the ETC

Hello.  It’s been a while since I’ve written on here.  In short, this post will have to cover both my last semester at the ETC and also my summer of reflection that came afterward.

Things got very intense by the time my journey at the ETC ended, so I needed many months to travel, explore new people, and recalibrate myself a little before I posted back on here, and also before I took extensive steps to whatever awaits me next.

Now, as I’m applying to positions to hopefully formulate what I hope will be this next step, I’m still reflecting on my time at the ETC (as I have been all summer).

I took on a lot that last semester – being the equipment TA, plus Game Design, plus my amazing pitch project “Cutting Edge,” on top of the inherent stress that comes with graduating – and was able to do it all and do it successfully but at an expense.

I have a tendency to let stress build up in me a lot and on some level enjoy functioning on high levels of it, because that is when I feel very productive.  And I indeed was very productive:

  • Cutting Edge was a project very dear to my heart and interests, being that it was narrative-based, and the story itself of the idea of memory and death and finding emotion through that is one that I connect to a lot.  Plus, the fact that we were exploring editing in VR (video editing was one of my primary film interests before coming to the ETC) was something I had always wanted to do at the ETC to begin with.
  • On top of that, Game Design was amazing – I feel that my mind opened up a ton on the aspects of games, and when my flow state was really flowing for my projects, it’s almost hard to describe.  I tend to make games (and stories) that have a lot of moving parts that I want to see gel together, and seeing them do so is very rewarding.  But also stressful.

I am reminded of a talk I went to at GDC called the Failure Workshop, where one of the speakers, Jon Remedios, spoke how, early on in his game design career, he took on a ton at great expense to stability.

I spoke with him after his talk because I was feeling somewhat similar and that I felt that small, grindy daily details were slipping through my fingers (although I’d then be able to go into stress mode and do everything well).  He told me not to remake my entire process, but to challenge myself to do one little thing a day to make myself feel more productive/stable/etc. and to not sweat it because that stuff takes time.

On top of this, a big portion of the second-year community was gone, to co-ops or the West Coast, so I felt more alone, just interpersonally, than in prior semesters, and more anxious as a result of it.

I probably was also extremely stressed about graduating and believing that I’d lose touch with my closest friends here.  I take solace that, four months later, I am still in close contact with my three best friends, which gives me hope that those connections that matter most to me will still last.

I got through everything that last semester and I am glad that I did and that I am proud of the work I did in the process.  For my next step, I do hope to bring forth less overstressed production habits so that my work-life balance improves.  And now, having taken the summer to recalibrate myself, enjoy my family and the love that is always there, I feel ready now to throw myself into the next project and next challenge.

And I thank the ETC for giving that to me – a hungry desire to work in creative projects with creative people and the knowledge that we all indeed have the skills to make awesome stuff if we try.  And, contrary to when I graduated from undergrad, I feel less afraid to the world.  Because I feel prepared for the professional challenge that comes next.

And maybe even a little hopeful that there are more friendships out there that will be joy to encounter, meet, nurture, and develop.

Until next time!

A Tale of Two Semesters

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” carries a lot of weight for me with regards to the fall semester that I just completed.  In addition to my ETC project, I also took RPG Writing as an elective, while simultaneously acting as one of six Visual Story TAs for the first-year students.  I also participated on a successful Pitch Project team and completed an extracurricular project on AR sound design at the same time, so I guess I should solve world hunger next.  Kidding.

Anyway, all of these endeavors carried with them complicated results.  My ETC project never gelled in harmony together the way HomeFront did, and as a result our final product ended up more incomplete than we had hoped, which was a letdown.  Also the stuff I had wanted to do on the project – creative design and a lot of playtesting – ended up becoming secondary, and producing has never been my primary interest.  Also, I didn’t get to do as much hands-on TA work that I had wanted to do, but I got to see Visual Story from the other side, watch first years grow over the course of the semester, and ran some fun workshops, which was good.  And while the extracurricular sound project I was on didn’t end up winning, we had a lot of fun making it.

The biggest successes for me came from RPG Writing and on the Pitch team.  Following the summer, my confidence was struggling to find itself, but in RPG Writing, I ended up back in the environment I feel the most comfortable in – writing.  Me and the team I was on managed to sift through a 500-page book on the IP Mindjammer and managed to create a campaign story that’s pretty cool.  I’ve heard from many professionals that writing in the real world is a team endeavor, and this was my first time being on a writing team.  And – wouldn’t you know it – I felt comfortable and self-actualized on a writing team and felt confident in my ideas.

The same can be said with the pitch team – I was brought on as the required second year, yet I still felt that my knowledge of the process and of general storytelling was impactful in our project getting picked up for next semester – we will be exploring spatial jump cuts in VR, so look out for new links to our project website soon.

Oh, and during all of this, I submitted a VR story I developed, Don’t Be Afraid, to the XR Alliance, a competition for writers.  I didn’t win, but I was selected as one of 11 finalists out of more than 600 applicants, so I’ll take it.

But beneath all of this professional minutiae is the social element.  The pitch team gelled instantly, laughing about movies and having brainstorming sessions that were always full of smiles.   One of the guys I worked on RPG Writing with, whom I had also worked with over the summer, felt like he always had my back, and vice versa.

Beyond that, I made some wonderful friends at CMU this semester.  It’s all well and good to be a part of a great group of people, but that’s not the same as having people to connect to and confide with on a personal level about work, life, anything.  I’m not gonna call you out, but if you were either my co-producer on my project, or my fellow TA who happened to write a script with me about a mindmap, you know who you are.  Thanks folks.

So yeah – my ETC project was not as successful as I or any of us wanted it to be.  But at the same time, I started the semester feeling a bit untethered, professionally and socially, and now it’s better.  In that sense, this has been my most rewarding semester at the ETC.

One more semester to go.  Let’s make it count.

A Long But Rewarding Summer

This summer I was pulled and pushed in more ways than one, and in the moment it was a lot, but now as I reflect I’m grateful for it, and I expect Future Me to be so as well.

I took on the position of Production TA for CMU’s NHSGA (National High School Game Academy) over the summer, where 16-year-old teens interested in making games get to spend six weeks learning and making computer and VR games with each other.  It is very similar to BVW in there being teams of five needing to work together to make something great.

By far, the most rewarding aspect of this process were these students.  Looking that their experiences from the other side, I could see their expressions and mannerisms shift from being worried and scared to being proud.  I got the chance to mentor five of these students (each TA had five mentees), and getting to hear their own thoughts about the design process, or narrative ideas, or interpersonal values, was fantastic.  There is actually a scientifically defined term Naches which is the joy you feel when someone you mentor succeeds, and I felt that a lot.  The students gave all the TAs personalized posters set to the format of the Aidyn Chronicles, a game by Chris Klug (the director of the program) that was shown to the students.

           

One of my mentees, Gilbert Fan, was a soft-spoken, kind individual who always seemed to see the best in people, was always bringing his teams together, and believes if we do something or make something and it helps even one person, then we can be happy.  In his own way, he inspired me.

Which was good.  I felt like I did the best I could as Production TA, and there are certain aspects of the job, like the interpersonal elements, that I indeed found rewarding.  But I also felt very removed from the true creative process, so going forward I will be prioritizing my narrative and design skills, as these are closer to where I feel the most at home.

Here’s to a great fall semester.

 

A Game That Can Actually Make the World a Better Place

As we close on the spring semester of 2018, I am left wondering what will happen with the discussion-based board game, Kairos, that my team and I spent the last 16 weeks creating.  Our prompt was simple: help translate Theater of War’s stage performance reading + discussion model into a more accessible and all-reaching medium (more about the game can be read here).  Through this prompt I think we managed to create the framework for something very special.

Difficult conversations (about PTSD, mental illness, death, etc.) are hard to discuss about to begin with, but maybe even more difficult to discuss with those close to us.  In an open, spacious performance room (like the kind Theater of War does it’s readings in), there is a sense of warm anonymity – one could in theory, pour their soul out into the room and help, as Bryan Doerries quotes, “purify negative emotions” and then leave and continue life.  With those close to us, talking about these difficult things will be remembered forever by these people, which makes it scarier, but also potentially more rewarding.  The potential for help in this setting is huge.

Is our game a little rough in some places?  Sure.  The questions will probably always need tweaking, and timer mechanic, while much improved from its inception, still could be worked on.

But the framework is there.  If not Women of Trachis, then any other meaningful piece of art.  Shakespeare?  Sure.  Poe?  Why not.  If a piece of art or a story carries difficult, yet universal, themes that have the potential to help people feel less alone, it can be used in Kairos if further adaptations are made.  Want to have a difficult conversation with a family member, but need to be discussing it through these characters in a structured space?  Kairos can do that.

It is said so often that “this or that” will make the world a better place, but Kairos actually can.  If people give it a chance and the game undergoes further work to perfect some of the way the content is used, it can actually help a lot of people.  The human condition, that of struggling with our emotions and often doing so alone, is universal.  All we need is a little help to realize that we don’t have to struggle alone.

We don’t know where Kairos will end up, or whether Theater of War will market it themselves.  With all of us going onto different projects after this, there won’t be time to perfect it ourselves, at least for a little while.  But at the very least, we don’t want Kairos to drift away.  We’ve worked too hard and its potential is too great.

Many thanks to the team I worked with.  It was filled with some of the most caring, passionate, and dedicate people one might have the pleasure of working with.  The game is what it is because we all genuinely cared about the prompt we were working with.  I’m gonna miss working you all a lot.

The West Coast

Early this month, I spent a week on West Coast, visiting some pretty incredible companies (and thus fulfilling some childhood dreams) and taking in the majestic aesthetics of LA and San Francisco. There is a sense of wonder when you walk around the colors of Disneyland or the tranquil peace of the San Francisco Bay. We should all be making an effort to appreciate nature when it is around us.

But more than that, I’ve spent the time surrounded by amazing people.

An alumnus I spoke to in San Francisco said that the friends he met at the ETC are people that will be friends for life. And I surely hope that that holds true for us. Being around y’all gives me a sense of peace and hope. More than anything, I like to think that we all feel alive when we’re around each other.

This group is special. Here’s to a wonderful week and to a wonderful future. Thank you, ETC Class of 2019!

The End of BVW

Reflection

The end of the semester comes with a lot of reflection.  In working on BVW, there are things I wish I had done differently – at times, I admit I could became too cranky or too pushy when brainstorming sessions were going long.  At other times, I think I allowed my own ideas to take a backseat, even if they were the best ideas.  Either way, I had a blast working with the people on my teams, and I think we made some pretty great stuff.  I’ll give a special shout-out to my “My Name is Joseph” team – at 11:00 on Monday night October 30th, an hour before the deadline, our build wasn’t working.  At 10:00 this past Wednesday, we completed the showcase of our game in festival, turning an orange-and-yellow office into a dark forest in the process.  Somehow it all came together.  And it is a memory I’ll always be grateful for.  Thanks folks.

Photos courtesy of Nicole Wan