Behind the Scenes
I've known since I was very young that someday I wanted to be a video game developer. It didn't take too long to narrow that down to video game programmer. And now, many years down the road, I've wound up precisely where I wanted to be.
It's an interesting quandary, in a way. I work with a phenomenal team on a game that I truly love being a part of, but there's only so much I can discuss about it publicly. For (hopefully) obvious reasons, such a high-profile team exercises strict control over what the members can talk about openly. This is one side of the coin; but even if I had complete liberty to talk about things like project schedules, deadlines, release dates, cut features, and whatever else, I could only go into so much detail about the project I'm working on at the moment.
What I can say is that I work with the server and back-end technology team. We're responsible for the core systems that power the game - from the frameworks and platforms on which the game is developed down to the actual management of individual hardware servers and whatnot. It's a fascinating role, and deeply interesting to me on a number of fronts. It touches on a number of areas of technology that stretch my limits and force me to stay on the peak of my game. We work with scaling issues, performance issues, resource allocation issues, uptime and reliability challenges - on everything from networking code to multithreading solutions and low-level ground work upon which a world-class MMO can be built.
Ironically, for being so central to the survival of the project, most of us are pretty low-profile folks. Outside the server team itself, I don't know how much of the company could even identify us or our areas of responsibility just by looking at the team photo directory. As we often quip amongst ourselves, people only remember that we exist when we've really fucked something up.
For the most part, I'm happy with this. Another one of my childhood dreams - before I latched onto programming - was to be part of the space program. I didn't aspire to be an astronaut or test pilot or control room operator, though; instead, I wanted to be the guy who operated the refueling systems for the space shuttle (which was, at the time, still running numerous missions every year).
I'm not entirely sure what to call it, but there's always been a part of me that's content to just sit in the shadows and do some critical but unsung part of a larger operation. It's not that I'm averse to spending some time in the spotlight; far from it. I've spoken at events like GDC in the past and enjoyed the experience immensely. To me, it's a tremendous privilege to be able to share details about the things I'm passionate about, and having a large audience of similarly interested people just makes it that much sweeter.
But at the same time, there's a sort of cloak-and-dagger mystique to just sitting back and quietly doing something heroic, even if nobody will ever know about it. I never really had any political allegiances strong enough to seriously consider entering the spy trade, but it holds a similar appeal for the potential to offer opportunities for changing the world without being at the forefront of anyone's attention. As cool as it is to be center stage, there's something alluring about accomplishing amazing things that nobody will ever know about directly.
It's a lonely road, though. What I'm working on now is incredibly fun - it touches on virtually every piece of technology that the company uses and operates, and will deeply and profoundly impact the end-user experience of the game in very fundamental ways. But that's about all I can really go into about it, at lest for now.
Maybe someday, many years from now, we'll be able to "declassify" the project and talk openly about what went into it. For now, though, I'll have to be content with putting in my hours and quietly knowing that the overall experience is benefiting from my work, even though there's nothing shiny to point at and say, "Yeah, I made that."
The silver lining is there, though. Even though (hopefully) nobody will consciously notice all the intricacies that go into the server systems, and my bits of work in particular, I do get one piece of gratification.
On August 28th 2012, we will launch Guild Wars 2. And every time someone logs in and runs around the vast expanses of Tyria causing mayhem and generally being heroic, I'll be able to look on and know, quietly and privately,
"Yeah. I made that."