On Epiphanies

Here’s the thing.

I spent my entire childhood drawing. I devoured paper, notebooks and sketchpads, I collected books about how to draw cartoons and superheroes, I spent hours painfully slaving over tracing paper in order to blatantly plaigarise pictures I found interesting and draw my own costumes over the top. I owned entire Garfield collections, read every Tintin and every Asterisk and Obelix until I knew them back to front. It was nuts. It was crazy. It was great.

Then I turned eleven, and the strangest thing happened. I discovered video games.

Video games are addictive enough for any kid. But when you’ve spent your whole life drawing and suddenly you realise that these are drawings that move, and walk and jump at your command, something clicks and you say I am going to make some of these and good golly they are going to be awesome. I fell, and I fell hard. And so it began, years of planning and talking idly with friends about the game system we would create, designing controllers, company logos, bragging about the awesome graphics this thing is going to put out Jesus Christ man this thing is going to be the best thing ever can you imagine.

As it turned out, imagining is all an eleven year old can really do, aside from a whole pile of what are now completely embarassing sketches. But then I got older, and working through high school and into university, nothing ever dampened my desire to be part of the video game industry. I even enrolled in a double degree in Computer Science and Multimedia, thinking these would be the best things to combine to get me where I needed to go. Turns out they were working on a Games Technology degree anyway, so when that dropped, I dropped everything else and got on board.

I had so much fun at university. The Games Technology degree taught me so much about myself and about others, about the industry and the tools you use. I made some amazing friends and had some amazing times. And though I’ve never worked harder in my life, I never stopped enjoying it. We pulled 35 hour laboratory sessions, worked every weekend for 6 months to meet deadlines and stopped living our lives altogether, but we did it. We graduated and then, after a fashion, we found work.

I was lucky enough to get my foot in the door at Interzone. Getting a games development job in Perth is hard enough, especially at Interzone who at the time basically maintained a policy of total media blackout and radio silence. It wasn’t easy, and I was rejected twice before I finally got in – doing web development, of all things – but I did it. I made it and I was happy.

Working at Interzone has been the best job of my life. I will always count myself lucky to be able to work alongside such amazing, interesting and talented people for as long as I have. I found myself no longer living for the weekend, looking forward to getting in every day and tackling new issues, finding new ways to apply myself creatively and knowing that I was appreciated and rewarded for the challenges I overcame.

That was a year ago.

When I was young, I couldn’t put my pen down. I was always coming up with ideas, dumb sketches, getting excited over this or that. Now, when I come home from work – nothing. It’s just… not there. It’s not that I don’t want to draw or paint or sketch, I just can’t muster the energy to think about what I would need to do – I’ve taken all the creative energy I had, burned it up at work and left myself empty.

So, I fire up the ol’ video games, shoot a couple people’s face clean off, and call it a night. A night not wasted, I tell myself, because I’ve had a good day at work. I’m enjoying my job and I’m building a great career, after all. This is what I spent the last ten years working and striving for. This is what I want from life, right?

And though I am having fun, I am enjoying myself, and I guess I am building the start of a great career, in my heart of hearts I start to increasingly realise that… well, no. This isn’t what I want from life. It’s fun to be part of something bigger than yourself for while, and there’s great satisfaction in knowing that you’re appreciated, but when you take a few steps back it’s not hard to realise that you’ve just spent the last year building someone else’s sandcastle.

Ten years from now, if I keep doing what I’m doing, all I’ll have to show for it are some screenshots on the internet and my name in a couple of credit rolls. Twenty years from now, I might have worked up enough industry credit and connections to make it to a senior position, from which I might be able to have some slight say in what sort of shape somebody else’s sandcastle takes. Thirty years from now, if I’m lucky – very lucky – somebody will pay me a whole lot of money to design a sandcastle for them. Forty years from now, I’ll be too old to work in the industry anymore, they’ll cut me off, give me a brand new RoboSpine 9000 as a going-away present and send me on the first bus home and in all those years I will never, ever, get to build my own goddamn sandcastle.

At the end of the day, I think I’d rather be able to tell my grandkids that I was a cartoonist, writer and illustrator who was privileged enough to work on some video games, than end up bitterly recounting to their expectant young faces another story of how, many long years ago, their grandfather used to be quite good at the old cartoons. I can’t bear to think of a future where, no matter how successful I get, I will have forgotten what it means to do something for myself.

So, I’ve decided to get out.

I love my work and I’m hoping I won’t have to ditch it just yet. But it’s draining me, badly, and I fear I might have no other choice. Even if it means working shitty retail – even it means working good retail, or data entry, or something, anything to keep me afloat and fired up while I make the transition. I will do whatever it takes.

I wanted to work in video games. I sacrificed a lot to get my foot in the door and take a shot at the dream, and I don’t regret any of it for a single moment. And maybe this is all wrong, and maybe I’ll return a year from now, sobbing at game development’s skirts and begging for her to take me back, swearing that I can change. I don’t know. I don’t know a lot of things right now.

But for the first time in my life, I’m savouring the uncertainty.

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Absolute dickhead with no business being Online

15 thoughts on “On Epiphanies”

  1. Tim, whatever you end up doing I’m sure you will continue to be absolutely amazing at it! I’ve seen some of your sketches and they were breathtaking. I have been drawing since I could hold a pen, but my passion and skill seemed to die when I started to get jobs and money and became preoccupied with other things. Maybe one day I will experience a similar epiphany for myself.

  2. wow tim that was really really great.
    its funy, we are so alike in so many ways and so goddam different in others. I recon if we had gone to primary school together we would have been best mates for sure, drawing with eachother, talking about movies/comics/games/books.. hanging out in the library and thinking up awsome stories we could illustrate. i was so like that. always drawing, writing short stupid stories just so i could draw the characters in it… and always so excited by nintendo and sega to the point of hyperventilation when the newwest sonic game got released 😛
    but we both grew up and we both sorta lost that imagination.

    I feel like we are both in the same kinda place again now.
    We both have jobs we love, but its not what we wana be about. We both wana rediscover that passion we had when we were 10… the never ending ideas and the committment to learning more.

    I love my job. Like.. i enjoy every single day im here. But when i get home, im so creativly drained that any drawing i force myself to do looks just that way… forced. Lately ive been thinking alot about who i am, and who i was, and while I feel ive grown into a pretty good person, I also feel like i sold out.

    I think we have both worked really hard to get somewhere sorta close to where we wana be. And if we can get this far doing something we sorta like, imagin just how far we could get aiming for a place we would only dream to be.

    You are an incredibally tallented guy. Ur an amaaazing writer. and over all ur a hugely inspiring person. I have every faith in the world u are gona get to tell ur grandkids u used to be a comicbook writer/artist. You’ll be able to take them to ur library (cause ull totally have a house with a library in it) and show them rows and rows of books and artwork that you did in your hayday.
    Then u can bring em to my place, and ill take them to MY library (cause i want one too) and ill read them stories I wrote and illustrated back in my hayday… and ill make Jelly, green jelly 🙂

    We got alot to look forward to man.
    And alot of work to do.
    Im glad i got a friend like you who understands the road we have to travel 🙂

  3. Hey Tim… I’m actually surprised you didn’t go further down the road that I did. Until about third year Uni, I was convinced I wanted to do concept art for games. I had even gone down the path of making myself “more employable” by trying to learn 3D etc etc… I finally got around to making a short animation in the end of third year/beginning of fourth year, and maybe it was just all the other shit going on (rehearsing for two plays and suffering an insufferable boyfriend who I broke up with shortly after finishing my animation) but I had decided that I didn’t want to do animation. The suffering of doing it didn’t equal out the joy of the final product, even when it was mentioned positively in reviews (it was for one of the plays I was rehearsing for).

    But somewhere along the line, I got interested in game design in an utterly backwards way. I noticed that I was really really interested in creating experiences for people- as a game designer, I could essentially write a play script, and allow the player to take the lead role. I started reading books on interactive storytelling in games, and found that my retarded brain was actually good for game design. So, I thought, wow, it’s a good thing I’m getting really tired of drawing. Sure I’m good at it… but as my mother always pointed out to me, it was just one form of me trying to mimic, trying to understand. I did the same with acting and writing. It wasn’t my art that was my passion. Art was an expression of my passion.

    So there’s a big rant that wasn’t actually the point of my reply, but it does take me to my point:
    …I mean, points:
    1. Why don’t you try get into concept? Even Anthony suggested it.
    2. A Game Designer will always be building someone else’s sandcastle. Even if they’re designing their own dream game, they’re designing it for the player. The developers will always experience the game they create from a different perspective- there will be so much background and history to the game for them. But the game MUST make sense for the audience. Even a builder or architect will build a house not just for themselves, but also for their family, or even for their pet.

    I saw the artistic temperament come out in you when we were working on the layouts. You’re right: you need to be doing art for yourself. There is NOTHING, NOTHING wrong with that. If you can balance it, that’s perfect. If not, I agree, as I told you yesterday. Do something that you can get paid for, and pour your creativity into creating YOUR masterpiece.

    Hurrah for long comment. HURRAH!

  4. Hi Tim,
    Don’t ask me how I ended up reading stuff on your page, but I did and read it with some resonance. Now, I’m 53, had a career for 25 as a radio producer, and then a career as an I.T. director for a automotive supplier. But I always wanted to be a writer from the time I knew what writing was. The radio drama, comedy, and music production I did certainly creative activity, but I felt “done” by the time I was 40. Now I felt it was time to make money. I made a huge whack of money doing the I.T. job, but I felt something I had never felt before: I was in the wrong place.
    I quit and haven’t worked for 3 years. But I’ve kind of figured out “the wrong place” thing.
    What grabbed me about your post was that it (to me) speaks to the way the “creative”, “right-brained”, person deals with structure in their lives. Most people have structure imposed on them by their work week and that’s fine with them. For me, my life was happiest when the structure came out of the project I was doing. I’ll work 18 hours a day on something I really get turned on by, but please don’t make me fit into a 9-5 day. I work fast and frenetic, even now, and when I was in the auto sector (good grief!), I get everything done by 11 am, and look at my watch waiting for 5 to come around.
    There’s no fooling yourself about whether you’re an artist. My experience has told me that if an aritst doesn’t creative, they get sick. But sometimes, the environment you work in, or that structure thing will jam up the works.
    Anyhow, just a note.
    Keep free and refreshed,


  5. Tim, I’m a little worried.

    You have very eloquently and very convincingly told us that you don’t want a part of video game design. I am happy for you if you are truly done with it & want to move onto something else, or are even looking for a temporary lifestyle change.

    There is a note of hesitation, as well as a seemingly dogged reason behind your thinking that worries me, if what you felt was true. Why does the diagram tree in your mind RE: game dev end up at do not pass go, do not create magnum opus?

    Do you really believe that?

  6. OH MAN SO MANY REPLIES. Thanks guys! I was just basically stepping through my thoughts early in the morning anyway, it’s good to hear it didn’t sound too awful.

    @Liza: Thanks! I appreciate your confidence.

    @Sarah: Thanks for your confidence too! This sounds like an acceptably great future. Green jelly is the best!

    @Ellen: I actually originally applied as a concept artist, and was knocked back by Mr. Whitkin, back in the day – but now I realise that that would probably be even worse. I’d spend the whole day drawing things I didn’t really want to and then get home and not want to even touch a pencil. I’m not sure I understand your second point, but basically I think I agree with it? HMM

    @Dave: Good to hear from you! Even if you must remain mysterious. Thanks for sharing your experiences, I wonder how much they will mirror mine as things go own.

    @James: Okay! I’ll be there.

    @Ian: If there’s any hesitation it comes from my nervousness at finding a way to do what I want to do the right way and still support Jess and myself, not from any hesitancy over whether this is the right thing to do any more. What you say about the game dev diagram tree is true I guess, as long as that game dev is for other people and not myself. As long as I continue to make a career out of it, I will never get to make my magnum opus because I will never have creative control. If I content myself with bedroom development, I’ll always have the control I want. I think that’s a better way to go.

  7. OK! I can dig it. Indie is totally in, and has a far greater level of control, satisfaction and entrepreneurship!

    If you do find yourself “mainstream” again, don’t feel shit, because there is just too many ways that could head. Studios frequently fragment away into separate entities, and then the new founders work on projects THEY want to work on. Just… do your best! Ganbare!!

  8. Here again. Yes, you got a lot of response and all good stuff.
    It sounds like Ian speaks your language and the “diagram tree” he mentions speaks to me, too. I wish I’d had some thought modelling skills many years ago.
    Kind of obvious that you are at a big fork in the road, but I would also say you are already on your way. Like you are doing here, talk to everybody, anybody.
    You say you know what it is you want to do, and plainly you know your craft. Here comes the nasty part: business.
    If you’re up to pitching your own stuff, great. If it goes against your grain so much, you will likely need to collaborate who “gets” business. You should know BS when you hear it by now. It may be a big pill to swallow but you will be in the company of every artist who had to make a living from Shakespeare to H.L. Mencken to Margaret Atwood to Lord British and Frank Zappa. And if you are finding it tough to trust your talent and craft, you can always “just do it”.

    Bon chance,


  9. True about drawing and exhausting yourself and being unable to do anything in your spare time.

    My second point is that pretty much any commercial game development is product development. You’ll always be answering to someone. It’s like Multimedia Design vs Multimedia Art degrees: my friend and I did those, respectively, and we used to laugh that the difference was that I had to follow a brief to a tee, whereas she could interpret and explore hers as she wanted. But, uh, game dev as a career requires you to answer to someone above you… creative director, publisher, intended audience etc. It’s a product, and you’ll never get your own baby. You already know this, though 🙂

    You understand what I’m saying; we’re agreeing with each other in a roundabout way 🙂

    I guess the big question is now: what can you do that doesn’t bore you to tears but still allows you creative freedom either on the job or after you go home?

  10. You could always work at EB? It’s a compromise of sorts I guess? Good luck with looking for a new job man, try the greyhounds if you want? Or if Jess wants another one even? Tell ’em I sent you. As for the epiphany, good luck with that! I sure as hell can’t give you any advice on the matter, but I can promise to come over and play video games with you when I get back.

  11. Tim,

    As we discussed the other day – I think it’s really important that you make adequate time for whatever “makes your heart sing”.

    I especially think someone with your talent should definitely pursue making their own sandcastle. And, I repeat myself, but I also think your hidden talent is writing. Without a doubt you’re one of the most eloquent, articulate and entertaining writers I’ve come across in a very long time – even your scribbles on Baz’s monitor nearly reduced me to tears of laughter – I sincerely hope you always leave time to write stuff during your journey.


  12. Hrmmm, yep.
    All these points are completely valid. But you’re a smart man Tim, maybe the smartest I know. So I completely trust what you’re doing is exactly what you want. If you’re anything like myself you probably have gone though all the possible options in your head a thousand plus times.
    But if you keep coming back to the same answer, then that’s what you need to do.
    Jump in! In the short term it’ll probably be difficult but in the long run you’ll thank yourself and know that you did the right thing.
    Kudos for taking the first step. It seems always to be the hardest.

    Now I just need to take my own advice, and I’m set. 🙂 But seriously man, best wishes in whatever you decide to do. I’ve told you before, and I’m sure I’m not alone here, but I really love your style of drawing too. I look forward to seeing more.

  13. Hey Tim!

    Honestly I cant take time out of my busy schedule of feeling sorry for myself to feel sorry for you, cos I know you’re gonna be alright whatever you do. You’ve got talent, boy. It’s like having a Myer voucher. You don’t have to spend it right now. And those things last so long people don’t even check the expiration date on the back. In fact does it even have one?

    On the other hand, why not chuck a sickie and get yourself something shiny, you deserve it.

    Don’t stress. Looks like you have a lotta people here for you.

    1.30am brings strange analogies.

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