Erin Hoffman's Inside Job

Erin Hoffman's Inside Job
Inside Job: Interview: Zeitgeist Games Founder & Full Sail Real World Education Course Director Dustin Clingman

Erin Hoffman | 15 Feb 2008 21:00
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For this first follow-up on the student series, I caught up with Dustin Clingman, cofounder of Zeitgeist Games and Course Director of the game development program at Full Sail Real World Education in central Florida.

Full Sail, like DigiPen in Redmond, Washington, is interesting in that it is not affiliated with a major university. Instead it's a technical institute devoted very precisely to the instruction of modern media arts. Full Sail and DigiPen represent a kind of yin and yang in approach, with Full Sail having an earlier grounding in film and animation – the arts – and DigiPen being deeply established in computer science and simulation. And they both meet in the middle with game development, which requires both artistic inspiration and technical knowhow in equal measure. DigiPen and Full Sail, combined with the powerhouse Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) at Carnegie Mellon , provide anchor points in the U.S. as three organizations taking three different approaches and producing top-notch entrants not just into the lower ranks of the games industry, but into the independent games community as well.

These three centers consistently produce well regarded graduates and some of the most interesting projects entered into the IGF every year. This indicates that their programs are not just emphasizing technical abilities - as many of the new satellite “game design” and development degrees do - nor are they focusing foremost on game analysis as some of the higher-level academic game study programs are. But somehow they are creating an environment that fosters game innovation. And it is my experience that Full Sail graduates come out of school ready to work their butts off, so they are of particular interest to Inside Job.

With all that in mind, I caught Dustin during this mad pre-GDC week to talk about Full Sail’s approach and his perspective as that rare creature balancing the dual disciplines of instruction and professional production.

Inside Job: How did you get into the game industry?
Dustin Clingman: I began working on games back in seventh grade when a very cool teacher named Dale Gore allowed my geeky buddies and I to come into the computer lab to play and code out games on the Apple IIe. I got my first real start in games when a garage team called A.B.T.S. Intelligence Group needed some help with developing some audio for their game Evil Core: The Fallen Cities. I had taken a break from programming to work in production and was able to contribute to the game. It was published in 1998. That was my first big break.

IJ: Did you have any memorable mentors during your first year or couple of years in the business?
DC: Yes, definitely. My mentor is an old traditional gamer named Will Nesbitt. Will was a constant supporter and gave me a lot of encouragement to try new ideas. I've been lucky to have a number of very good and very close friends to keep me moving in the right direction.

IJ: What challenges have you faced being involved in game development away from the "major hubs" in California?
DC: The biggest challenge is really with senior talent. It's hard to attract them away from the west coast. We're near to Austin, so sometimes we can find good folks there (it’s actually rarer than it sounds) to help us along, and we've always got a bevy of students here in town. The real challenge for us is with the geographic spread between pockets of game development. In Austin you can walk down the street to the next studio; in central Florida, it's at least a 30-minute drive. I think that there's also some lost cachet that we might have if we were in Seattle or San Fran. I've thought about packing it up and moving the studio, but we just love this 70-degree winter weather too much.

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