Area 5’s Jay Frechette and game producer Erin Ali met a few years ago when they were both working their way through game design programs at different schools (Jay at The Art Institute in San Francisco, Erin at The University for Advancing Technology in Phoenix, AZ). In Splash Damage, the duo discuss their experiences — the positive, the negative, the insightful, and the just plain funny — at game design school.
Jay: We talked before about how attending college in a strange, new place can lead to encountering all kinds of new people and experiences. We’ve discussed some of the great things that came from this, but I had a few embarrassing moments as well.
On the first day of my first 3D modeling class, our instructor, in an attempt to teach us to be comfortable expressing ourselves, ordered each person in the class to read a paragraph from the course syllabus — in the most outlandish, cartoony voice that they could think of.
I dreaded the assignment, and I tried to think of some way out of it while each student read their part. When it was finally my turn to read the grading scale for the class, I conjured up what courage I had, stood up, and recited my part with a Yoda voice.
It was terrifying, but afterward, a lot of the tension that was in the room was gone. I felt more confident because of it.
What are some of your embarrassing stories from school?
Erin: Oh, I definitely had some of those moments.
One of the first that I recall is from my first few weeks with Counter Organic Revolution mod team. I sat in the computer commons with some friends, including Cliff, a buddy of mine on the team, and for some reason, someone took a photo of me. I forget why they took the picture. I thought nothing of it and continued on with my day.
That same week, the COR team had a meeting. While we sat there discussing names for one of our new characters, Nick, our lead programmer who was managing the computer for the projector, received an e-mail from Cliff. The room was serious until Nick opened the e-mail, which happened to be the image of me. The entire room started laughing, and since I had only been on the team for a few weeks, my face went bright red. I ended up laughing about it as everyone there seemed pretty chill about the image.
This became an ongoing joke, and when I joined another mod, Citaga, the image was actually printed as part of an insert to some of our “teaser” CDs. To this day that photo is still one of the main memories I have from student projects at school.
Jay: During my first quarter, the Student Services department wanted to throw a fun event to get all of the students together, so they came up with a mock version of The Dating Game. Two buddies and I were picked to be the three bachelors, and in front of a large audience, we had to sit and answer questions from a “mystery girl” that would pick one of us at the end for a date. We were really nervous and came up with some pretty lame answers; when she asked what kind of animal we would be and why, I think I answered dog because I’m loyal, love going on walks, and enjoy being petted.
I think everyone had fun with it, but as a freshman it was scary trying to be charming in front of a bunch of strangers.
Erin: I can definitely empathize. I forgot how it started, but about a year into school, when I was on a mod and working part-time at the university, there was this ongoing joke in our mod forums about a contest to “Win a Date with Erin Ali.” It was only between the people on the mod, so it was pretty private.
My teammates really got into it, too — they actually copied and pasted a full set of rules and regulations and edited it to fit the whole “dating Erin” ideal. Somehow, someone in the office had convinced a team member to give them the text for the contest, and it was posted on the university forums.
Needless to say I was pretty embarrassed, and the responses I saw on the forums varied from laughable to somewhat scary. But I can laugh about it today — just no more contests like that ever again!
Jay: Ha-ha. I remember you sending me the link to those forums when that happened! For a while I freelanced for the admissions department as a kind of “student ambassador” where I would speak at open houses and orientations and tag along at events the school would throw for freshman.
One time we were on a boat cruise where we had dinner. We went belowdecks for a dance party. I was planning on sitting the latter part out, but the advisors on the trip had other plans. They wanted the veteran students to help get the party started, so they pushed me to get out on the dance floor. It was empty; everyone was on the sidelines, like we’re in eighth grade. It took a lot of nagging, but sure enough, a few of us shuffled up and did our best to liven things up. I am not a good dancer. I have such embarrassing memories of trying to coerce a bunch of timid freshman to come dance with us. It wasn’t my best moment.
Erin: Some of my favorite moments are actually from the late nights spent with the COR and Citaga mod teams over the weekends at school. So many times, someone would fall asleep on the floor or along multiple chairs, and we’d use feathers to wake them up or would record them snoring.
The best was when I came to my first crunch night with COR. I’m the sort of person who needs to make sure that everyone’s fed and good to go, so I ended up making a stop at Wendy’s. I picked up at least 20 burgers and Vanilla Cokes, popsicles, and cookies. The best container to carry it all in was my yellow laundry basket. So there I am, walking into the university with the tastiest laundry basket ever.
When I walked into the classroom, our programming lead nearly fainted — he was so excited for food. We concluded that even if I didn’t make the team as their Web admin, I should still be their “caterer.” Thank goodness they kept me on the team as the admin! The caterer role would have been way more expensive.