Best Of GDC: Paul Steed On 'The Trip' From Artist to Entrepreneur
[Continuing Gamasutra's best of GDC 2008 series, here's a look at the loopiest lecture you missed - Paul Steed's gossip-filled Game Career Seminar keynote, spanning Wing Commander to Quake in technicolor dirt-dishing.]
Replacing David Jaffe’s Game Career Seminar keynote “From Grunt to God to Startup” was Exigent outsourcing firm co-founder Paul Steed
(formerly of id, where he somewhat infamously created the 'Crackwhore' in-game skin, as well as Origin).
He pitched in to give an entertaining (if heavily digressionary) session on his trip throughout the industry: including revealing stories about working with Chris Roberts and John Carmack.
“Our industry is based and built on character,” opined Steed. “Who has met or knows Dave Perry? He’s a character, but that’s easy for him because he’s like seven foot tall. The little guys like me have to work harder!”
His advice to getting into the industry largely focused on making sure those interested remain flexible, always prepared to learn and change, but regularly began to tell stories that didn’t, at least on the face of it, have anything to do with what he was talking about.
Introducing the concept of change, he discussed (perhaps as a dichotomy) foolish bosses that he’d worked with:
“I was at Origin for four years. I’ll tell you a funny story about developing Wing Commander III
. Does everyone know who Ginger Lynn is? Well, she was a porn star. Chris Roberts had no idea, and didn’t believe me when I told him. This guy, my boss, didn’t know it. So I took him to the video store and we watched some stuff. He gained a new respect for people in the adult entertainment industry!”
He recollected a time during his tenure at Virgin Interactive, where an executive (Neil Young) wanted to change Virgin Interactive to Burst, with T-shirts stating “I was a Virgin but now I’m Burst” -- “He didn’t get it,” mocked Steed.
For flexibility, he used an interesting metaphor: “Look at it like crossing the road in New York. It’s all about momentum and trajectory to make sure you get where you’re going in the smoothest way possible. That’s what it is in the games industry. You have to calculate the angles.”
As an example, he offered the “Yellow Pixel Theory”: where at Origin he learned to create the perfect image he wanted, and to place a yellow pixel in the corner for the producer to spot and request changed, so they wouldn’t ask for anything else to be changed, as they would have felt like they’d done their job.
“Fast forward 6 years to id. John Carmack told me to create characters with 800 pixels, and I tried, but I could only squeeze it down to 910. So I created a geodesic sphere which would add 128 polygons to the model, shrunk it down and hid it inside. When Carmack saw there were over a thousand polygons he was annoyed, so I said ‘give me a couple of hours’ and removed the sphere. When he got it back he was pleased that I at least managed to knock of 128 polygons. You’ve got to adapt!”
“Beer is important because it’s a social lubricant,” Steed began, before deciding to discuss interview etiquette: “When you get in the door don’t wear a suit and tie. I turned up for a warehouse job wearing a suit and tie and they knew that I didn’t ‘get the job’. If you show up for working in a game company wearing a suit, they aren’t going to trust you. Show up in character. Be real. People want real. The game industry is about being real -- not only about being real but staying real.”
He didn’t wait long before returning to his favourite topic, the foolish bosses of his career: recounting a time working as creative director for Xbox 360. “Did someone not tell them that going 360 degrees means going right back where you started from?” he quipped, before asking the audience if they knew why they called it that.
As an audience member began to explain, he cut in, “because it encompasses… some bullshit that you’re saying right now? It’s because PS3 vs. Xbox 360 -- what are you going to think?”
“I want a Nintendo,” an audience member yelled.
He digressed into a long story about being stuck in traffic with director James Cameron before asking the audience to research the companies they work for before going to the interview. "Aside from wearing a blue shirt, go in with an attitude of ‘I don’t know anything, but I want to learn.’”
“When you walk in and you’re open and ready to learn, people will get that. There is no limit to what we can do. Put your head down and work. Work harder and longer than anyone else. When I was at id the owners would tell me to leave because it would bug them that I wouldn’t leave…”
Steed continued, before beginning a long digression on his personal relations with id Software’s local police department (which included almost being shot, repeatedly being stopped for speeding, and working as a “hostage taker” during hostage negotiator training.)
He ended with one final pop at a previous co-worker: American McGee, recounting a day at id where McGee said “I’m going to be sick tonight” and went clubbing rather than work.
“Don’t puss out,” said Steed. “McGee pussed out. If you have time to do, do the time. This is not a job. It’s a life style, requiring your heart, your soul and putting all your passion into it. I’m here today because I will never stop.”