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June 16, 1999:

If you're reading through this backwards, read yesterday's first.

I work in the computer games industry as a computer programming. Computer programming is very skilled labor, but also requires a significant amount of creativity. As far as I can tell from what I've encountered, I'm very good at it, espectially at my chosen sub-field. As far as I can tell, there are only a few people in the industry who can do the same things I can do.

Furthermore, I don't want to do programming other than games. I like games, and I like creating for an audience in that way. You know what? The computer game industry is part of the entertainment industry. It's not such a big leap.

But while I'm good at it, and I like doing it in the abstract, we have to look at the problems I've had with job satisfaction. There are three primary issues that one can observe with my job experience that led to me quitting (twice). My personal internal judgement counts only two of these as significant, but as I age the third one may well come into play:

Screenwriting can't do anything about the first item, but it would improve the second item. It would probably improve the third item. Negotiating with my ex-employer for a new job this time around, I decided to try to address the third item by simply asking for a lot more money, but apparently (although I still haven't heard back yet) this makes them disinterested. I can't tell if that's because I've overvalued myself or because they simply can't afford it. Hmm.

It is possible to do better on all three accounts, but it's incredibly rare. John Carmack at id software does better than me on all three, but we have a saying that id software is the exception to a lot of rules--you can't prove anything by using them as an example. Basically, id struggled for a while, became a big success, and it ended up such that: (a) they do a style of game that allows him to do almost whatever he wants and their game will show it off; (b) the company is significantly organized around him, so that his productivity is maximized; (c) he's one of the owners, and besides, there's no enormous internal management structure bleeding off the profits.

My friends and peers think I'm nuts to go somewhere that doesn't at least do the payoff thing, so that's why I asked for more money instead. I can't find a situation that gives me (b)--one imagines I would have to be the owner of a small startup which gets successful to pull that off--and I actually kind of like working on the "more interesting" games that result in not meeting (a). The games that allow the technology to be shown off aren't often very deep games.

(To be fair, id's latest game Quake 3: Arena does not, in fact, totally show off John Carmack's tech, since they decided to back away from doing a number of advanced graphics technologies that were a poor fit for their new game direction. Well, that's the official story--it's possible that the technologies didn't work that well and that was a contributor to the motivation to go in the game direction that they did, actually.)

I'm not really serious about screenwriting as a profession, but it's interesting because I have more control, and it seems a better match for my writing skills than soemthing like a novel.

In many ways I'm annoyed I never thought about screenwriting before--I could have been doing all sorts of things during my past two years of unemployment.

Footnote re: not appearing competitive

I wrote the graphics "engine" (the system that processes and draws the 3D graphics) for Thief: The Dark Project. The effort was underway at about the same time that id's Quake was being developed. But Thief didn't get released until a lot later, and nobody considered it cutting edge. It wasn't really any better than Quake, and Quake II had already come out and improved on Quake!

Some people suggest that this is my own fault for leaving Looking Glass in the interim, so that no improvements were made to the Thief graphics engine. However, there really wasn't room for improvements. Any major changes would have required significant rewriting and/or required level designers to throw out all of their work to date. Thief simply had a longer "lead time"--the time between when the graphics technology must be stable and the game can ship. The development effort to create Thief was longer.

What people in the industry tended to miss out on was that Thief was a better engine than Quake and Quake II in one particular front--exactly the front I had designed it to be. It was faster at rendering high-resolution scenes in software. This was an important target at the time I was developing it; but by the time Thief shipped, hardware-accelerated graphics was predominant amongst the gaming crowd, and the same clever technology I used to improve the software rendering performance hampered the hardware rendering performance.

(It's also a bit better at rendering "object-dense" scenes--scenes with lots of objects--but this is a minor nit.)

None of this comes through, though; widespread opinion is that it is an inferior graphics engine.

Of course, on the front of "as it's actually used", sure, this may even be true; but on the front of me bargaining for my salary, it's not--I did do better than my competition (the best in the industry) at the thing I was targetting. Of course, they may not have been targetting the same thing.

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