Going With The Flow

Going With The Flow
Destined for Middle Earth

Greg Tito | 29 Mar 2011 13:05
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That something else was a brief mention by his wife after she had glanced at the Turbine website. "As it happened, there was an opening for an Associate Content Designer on Lord of the Rings Online, a game that I had heard was in development years before but hadn't followed very closely. But now it was brought to my attention that not only was there a game developer nearly in my backyard, but they were making a Lord of the Rings game! And they needed help to make it! From my wannabe-game-designer perspective, it was a perfect match." He knew he had only a hobbit's chance of landing the job, but Jeff pursued it like Gollum chased the One Ring.

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To apply, Jeff had to submit a writing sample. "I wrote a thing called 'Concerning Football,' which was supposed to be the account of a hobbit attempting to describe American Football to his bemused audience. It was stupid, but it must have come across as being Middle-earthy enough in tone," he remembered. After passing the first hurdle, Jeff was asked to design a quest and a dungeon space for it to occupy. "I agonized over both of them for the week provided, and was still up at 2 AM the night before they were due." Apparently, Turbine was impressed and asked him to come in for an interview.

"We covered all sorts of topics, like favorite MMOs, familiarity with LotR, and design theories," Jeff said. Then he was asked what his favorite super-power might be. "My answer 'The ability to freeze time!' was not, apparently, the best choice, as I neglected to grant myself the power to 'unfreeze' time, and would therefore spend an eternity in an unchanging nightmare."

Having hit the streets of Boston trying to drum up lawyer jobs probably didn't prepare him for hard-hitting, provocative critiques on his superpowers, something that Jeff immediately appreciated. "Any interview where this could be pointed out? Coolest interview ever!"

The familiarity that Jeff had developed as he devoured the backstory of Middle-earth during his time at Houghton-Mifflin really came in handy. He was no casual fan of Tolkien, gleaning details from a late-night booze-filled viewing of the theatrical version of Peter Jackson's Return of the King. No, Jeff had a lawyer's level of detail he could display to the developers at Turbine. "Encyclopedic knowledge isn't really necessary, but I think that it sure puts major points in the plus column," Jeff said. Knowing how and why Jackson's script deviated from the books was essential. "'My favorite part in the book is the part where Arwen rides with Frodo to the Ford!' or 'I just love in the book when Eomer rides down the hill with Gandalf!' are some clear warning signs. Being able to talk about the differences in an intelligent way helps, too."

Without intention, Jeff's life experience to that date had accumulated the perfect mix of qualities for a content designer at Turbine. Jeff was offered the position, but it took quite a while for the reality of having his dream job to sink in. "I didn't really believe it. I thought it was a trick. It was actually several months before I was convinced I wasn't still interviewing."

Then he had to get to the actual work of the job, a daunting task considering that many of his now-peers had years of videogame experience under their belts. The first day was a kaleidoscope of amazement for a newly-minted game designer: "Being given a disc with the current state of the game on it and told to play through it and take notes; walking past an artist's desk and seeing a 3D model of the Watcher in the Water being worked on; getting into conversations with team members who'd worked on other games: Asheron's Call! Thief: The Dark Project! Half-life! I met someone who had a locker in Black Mesa, for crying out loud!"

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