David Perry’s Comments: I’ve known Ed Boon for many many years. He’s a really fantastic guy and is a true video game development veteran. How much so? Well as a hobby I collect Pinball machines, one day I noticed in the credits of a table called “Funhouse” that he’s actually the voice of Rudy, the star of the game. (A great table I may add!) So he goes back to PINBALL tables!!!
His career took off like a rocket when he teamed up with John Tobias and together they created Mortal Kombat. Being a programmer at that time, he really earned my respect, as he managed to really shake up the world of fighting games.
Since then, there’s even been two Mortal Kombat movies, and I guess (to help out) Ed returned to voice acting roots and became the voice of Scorpion!
Being very successful in the business, he’s EXACTLY the kind of person I want to present to aspiring game developers, so they can see how how normal people can rise to the top of an industry.
If you have any specific questions for him, just post them in the comments field at the bottom of the interview and I will invite him back to answer them.
What did your mother want you to do as a career? Surely, it couldn’t have been to make professional video games!?
I really don’t remember my mother encouraging me in any particular career direction. Both of my parents were doctors and at one point or another they might have asked me if I was interested in going into medicine, but I was always squeamish about blood, needles and things like that. Ironic, no?
What would you say to my mother, to get her off my back and let me make professional video games as a career?
I would probably try to educate her on the fact that the videogame business is an industry that is bigger than the movie business. I’m guessing that your mother still thinks that videogames are kids-stuff and doesn’t take a career in games too serious. I’d probably draw some comparisons in terms of revenue generated by big game titles (GTA) that made more money than most movies ever did. Then (if she is still listening) I would probably mention that to get into the games industry will require a lot of hard work and patience. Most people won’t be able to start at the top. You need to decide which discipline you want to be involved in (programming, art, animation, design..etc) and then figure out a way to get your foot in the door somewhere.
Tell us about your start in the industry. What was your life like when you were younger and hungrier?
I think I entered the videogame industry at one of the best possible times. I actually started programming pinball machines in 1986 at Williams Electronics and moved into videogames in 1989. I learned a lot about game programming from working with the guys who made the games I played so much. Guys like Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar (Defender and Robotron) were a huge influence on me and opened a lot of doors for me, considering I had no game industry experience. I worked crazy long hours but loved every minute of it and was able to make a big impact on the games I worked on. Back then it was easier for one person to make a big splash in games because teams were a lot smaller and it was easier to recognize an individual’s contribution. After working on an arcade football game called “High Impact Football” and its sequel “Super High Impact” a game called “Street Fighter” came out and the writing was pretty much on the wall. So a very small team consisting of myself and three guys mocked up a prototype of a fighting game using digitized graphics, which were state of the art at the time. Everyone in the office was excited about the game and within six months we were testing it at a local arcade in Chicago. This game became the first Mortal Kombat and numerous sequels and over 25 million games later, it’s still going strong.
It’s pretty tough (almost damn impossible) to get hired without industry experience on a resume. Should I lie? It’s the standard Catch-22, need a job to get experience, need experience to get a job. Imagine you are me, caught in the 22 — what the heck would you do?
No, I don’t think you should lie. But I do think you should prepare to start at an entry level position and work your way up. Several people on our team started as game testers and made big contributions to our games through helpful suggestions and a lot of hard work. They naturally were promoted to higher positions, given more responsibility and now are major contributors to our team. Don’t expect to join a company as a game designer or lead programmer if you have no experience. Companies rarely roll the dice (with big positions) on people who have no experience.
People that never went to college in the video games business swear blind that colleges aren’t needed to get a job. Are they for real? Should I burn my books now?
No, don’t burn anything yet. It depends on what game discipline you are planning on getting into. Programmers obviously need to know how to write code and college is a good place to learn. Artists still need to understand the big 3D modeling programs (Maya, 3D Studio Max) and producers definitely need communication and writing skills. Even though passion and talent are the biggest contributors to someone’s success in the industry, I would suspect that a college education will probably open some more doors that might not be available to someone without a formal education. Unless you have a few (successful) games under your belt, you might find it tougher to get your foot in the door without that degree.
How did you get your big break? Did you claw your way out of the testers’ pit? Did you sleep your way to the top? Did you sleep at all?
Like I mentioned before, my big break definitely came from being allowed to make Mortal Kombat. I was only about two or three years in the videogame business and Midway management allowed me to design (and be the only programmer on) Midway’s first fighting game. I owe a number of people a lot for being given that will always be grateful for that break. No, I didn’t sleep much at all those days.
Tell us about the first time you felt star-struck when meeting a leading game developer (and no, we won’t tell Mr. Miyamoto your real name). Do you even realize that some people will get butterflies in their stomach when first meeting you?
I clearly remember my first interview at Williams Electronics in 1986. A guy named Bill Pfutzenreuter was asking me what games I liked playing and I said “Defender, Robotron, Missile Command, Joust”. His response was “oh yea, I programmed Joust. I really though he was joking and said “get outta here” and he said “no, really, I did.” I was floored as that was the first time I was talking to someone who had made such an impact on what I wanted to do for a living. I still have a hard time with the idea of someone thinking of me in that way.
Without using terms like “indentured servant” or “voluntary servitude”, please describe your ideal protege.
That is the first time anyone asked be that question as I never really saw myself as someone who would have a protege. I suppose it would be someone who has a programming background. Even though I do very little programming now, I’ve always felt that my background has helped me communicate my ideas to the technical people on our team. So, I’d say, someone with a programming background, a knowledge and understanding of the big selling games and the ability to communicate their ideas clearly. This is especially true today with team of 40-50 people.
Let’s say I was interviewing with you tomorrow. Short of showing up drunk and naked, what could I say or do to completely ruin my shot? And what could I do to totally win your heart?
That’s easy. The worst thing (to me) that you could do is to come across as arrogant. As much fun as they are to play, making videogames is a very complicated process. I’ve seen quite a few people come into our field with a “know-it-all” attitude and it almost always alienates them from their co-workers. Their arrogance is interpreted as a lack of respect for the people who’ve actually been in the trenches and shipped a game. Nobody wants to work with someone who doesn’t respect them. I would be most impressed with someone who asks more questions than they express their opinions. That person is a lot more likely to pick things up and get better at their job.
Let’s look several years into the future for a moment. Should I even bother learning today’s skills? Surely they’ll have completely changed by the time I get out of college? What kinds of jobs are absolutely â??rock-solid’, and will undoubtedly still be around 5-10 years from now? And what new jobs do you think might exist that nobody has quite pinned down just yet?
That’s a tough one. I will go out on a limb and say that I think a strong game programmer will probably still be in high demand five to 10 years from now, as will 3D modelers (artists) and level designers. As hardware systems become more and more powerful, it seems as if the reliance on rendering algorithms might be going to the direction of 3rd party packages like the Unreal, Doom and Renderware platforms. But I can’t see a world where ideas are generated for you. There will always be a need for strong game designers.
How much stock do you put in the emerging game design programs at universities? Does it matter more to you that an interviewee knows the history of and theory behind The Third-Person Action MMO/Puzzle Platformer Hybrid, or is all about the demo he/she shows up with?
To me, those university courses probably do have value. But if someone shows up with a laptop that has a (working) great game that they made, that speaks louder than any education. Game design documents can’t foresee all the problems that will surface as you make a game. Everyone thinks they have the next Pac Man in their head, but it’s the person who can turn an idea into a real functioning game that will get my attention.
OK, just imagine three companies make me an offer (a guy has gotta dream!). They’re all kinda low-end jobs, and I need to move 3,000 miles to take any of them. How do I pick the right team? What would you look for?
First of all, I would be surprised if you got a (low-end job) offer that let you pick your own team, so I’ll assume you have a job of pretty high importance. Picking the right team involves knowing what you will need for the game you want to make. First person shooter? You will obviously need a strong low level programmer who can either write or work with an engine that can display your graphics. You will also need strong level designers, environment artists, animators, audio engineers and a good producer. Basically I would look for talented and experienced team members from all the major disciplines of creating a videogame. I know it sounds simple, but you need experts in all those fields, no one person has mastered them all.
Finally, there are a TON of game development colleges around the world now. Imagine you had to start again, and have all the choices I have — how would you pick? And how would you convince your mother to get out her checkbook?
Another tough question. Education wise, I would expose myself to as much curriculum that is related to the area I want to contribute to a game. In my case, it would be programming and design. I would also probably choose a school that is located near a big developer so I could possibly get either an internship or part time job working as a tester or associate producer. While you are in school, it’s probably important to establish some relationships in the industry and get as much exposure to the actual game creation process as you can. This will give you a better idea of where you should focus your energies. Hopefully, if your part time job pays you money, you won’t have to ask your mother to get out her checkbook… too often.
Note: This series of interviews was conducted by one of our dperry.com contributors – Evan Shamoon.