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Video Game Programming... for a living! (Part Two)

August 31, 2012
Austin Lyons - Columnist , Traer Star-Clipper

This is a continuation of my interview with Mike Slone. I met Mike in Champaign, IL while he was working for the video game company Volition. If you missed Part 1 of this series, I recommend reading it before proceeding.

Austin: What is the best part of working in the video game industry?

Mike: Without a doubt, the best part of my job is handing my work over to someone and seeing them enjoy it. I have my own bizarre sense of humor, which often comes out in my work, and it's great when something I did makes someone smile or laugh. I'm a big nerd for gratuitous action movies, so my work tends to be explosive and wild, and finding someone who "gets" that indulgence is really rewarding.

There was a period of time where, when my friends would come over, all they wanted to do was play a game that I had worked on. We would bring in a second TV so we could play together and everyone would gather around the TVs and the mood would rise and fall with the successes and failures of the players. People would cheer and groan and shout. It was an absolute blast and a really fantastic memory.

Austin: Do you have any advice for students?

Mike: Find out what you're good at at a fundamental level. Forget about school subjects for a moment, and get down to the fundamentals of your personality type. Do you solve problems based on analysis or do you tend to go more on "feel"? Do you like collaborating with others or do you prefer to get "in the zone" alone? Do you like to have a lot of irons in the fire or do you prefer to focus on one thing at a time?

Don't try so hard to improve the things you're bad at. You want to minimize your weaknesses, because they can bring you down, but ultimately, nobody cares about Babe Ruth's pitching stats or Arnold Schwarzenegger's SAT scores. These guys focus on what they're good at, and because they're so good at it people are willing to forgive the rest. I'm not that great a programmer, and when someone asks me to do a really brainy programming task, I get bummed out. But I can get stoked on gameplay systems, explosions, and user experience, so I found a job where I could focus on those things.

It seems to me that those who do best are people who know themselves well, focus on their strengths, and find the strength in their weakness.

Did you find this interview interesting? If you have comments or questions for me or Mike, you can reach me at



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