Meeting Warren Spector and Tim Schafer at the Game Masters Forum

I had the fortune of personally meeting the two ‘masters’ at the opening event of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)’s winter exhibition, and earning Warren Spector’s email in the meantime.

Both game legends had come down to Melbourne to help kick off the exhibit. The two personally contributed with some of their works, my favourites being Tim Schafer’s cover letter to LucasArts and a selection from Warren Spector’s personal Disney collection. Some of the other extraordinary things on display were a selection of arcades that still worked in mint condition, an entire wall covered in art from the likes of World of Warcraft, Shadow of the Colossus, Spore, Epic Mickey and Psychonauts, dozens of playable games like Sonic, Mario and Zelda, and an entire room of Guitar Hero, Singstar and Dance Central. There was even some Australian talent on display, with games from the likes of Halfbrick and Firemint, both of whom also talked in the forum.

It was an absolute honour to sit down (my early-bird wake up ensured a front row seat!) and watch Schafer and Spector talk for hours about almost everything; from their ups and downs in game design to their thoughts on the current crisis of the Australian games industry. Warren Spector even gave us a glimpse of his enormous collection of everything Disney, from retro to new – from what I gathered he had RARITIES. And such a collection was stored in a house down the road from his!

What was even more incredible, was to find out that both my teachers – Paul Callaghan and Craig Duturbure – were conducting the interviews!

Tim Schafer discussed an incredible way of mapping out characters’ profiles by inventing social networking sites for each of them. This enabled him to gain a deeper view into each of their hobbies, interests, social views, who they were friends with and were not friends with, how they would interact with others, what ‘statuses’ they would make, and the list goes on. This was extremely compelling for me because at the time, my team at Kepad Studios was currently writing the foundations and script for a point-and-click adventure game. In an awesome turn of events, I managed to snatch a few seconds to pitch our story to Tim Schafer himself.

If you would like to watch the In Conversation with Tim Schafer for yourself, click here.

Warren Spector delved into the inspiration and creative genius behind his work on Epic Mickey at Junction Point studios. Even more, he explained how his long-standing experience in the games industry – working on everything from Ultima Underworld to Deus Ex – has helped him shape his ideas and visions in the Epic Mickey franchise. In the audience, there was that feeling of respect and incredible humility which he brought about through his wisdom and pure sincerity. It was clear that this great man had seen the evolution of generations of players, designers, and most importantly, games.

If you would like to view the whole In Conversation with Warren Spector, click here.

Knowing full well of my recent acceptance into the Disney International Program for next year, I told myself it would be foolish to pass up an opportunity to meet the one person I would be hounding professionals to talk to whilst I’m over in America, even if it was to ask one question. I really, really wanted to talk to Warren Spector, as if it was a matter of my career.

Unfortunately, as soon as the interview was done, Warren was whisked out the door faster than you could say Mickey, much to my dismay.

Now, if you had spoken to me three years ago, I probably would have told you after that, I gave up hope and went home to bed. But that isn’t the talk of this young aspiring producer. I was much too stubborn for that. I told myself that this was either going to happen, or it wasn’t, and so long as what I dreamed to be my future boss was in my home city, I’d be damned if I were to walk out that door without getting the chance to even let him know I existed.

And in a shock of events, persistence paid off.

As I was standing to the side of the crowd contemplating my odds, Paul Callaghan (who interview Warren Spector, but is also the director of the Freeplay Independent Games Festival AND one of my tutors at RMIT), stepped outside from the room of what I assumed to be the little ‘after party’ going on for Warren’s interview. Seizing my chance, I approached him, and explained my plans for next year at Disney, almost begging him to give me the opportunity to ask Warren a question about finding opportunity whilst I’m over there. Paul gave me a nervous stare, and explained that there were certain Disney officials I would have to go through first. However, he admitted it was worth a try, but not making any promises.

Heart pounding and almost feeling like I was watching myself from outside of my body follow Paul to the room, I then waited a grueling few minutes until another gentleman (who I assumed to be one of the Disney officials) prompted me to repeat my explanation all over again. I kept telling myself ‘prepare for rejection, don’t get your hopes up Estelle’.

To my utter disbelief, no rejection came. The man led me inside, and I followed him over to Warren who was sitting to one side, deep in conversation with MORE Disney accomplices. The whole time I was thanking my mother for teaching me at an early age to ALWAYS PERSIST. I glanced at the Mickey charm bracelet my father had bought me, which I had worn for the forum.

The gentleman interrupted the conversation and repeated to Warren my acceptance into the Disney Program. The concerned stares by those around suddenly relaxed, and before I knew it, I was greeted with cheerful smiles as if the words ‘Disney Program’ suddenly made me one of them! People around moved to the side, offered me a seat next to Warren, and I swear through my flat-lined heart I could hear someone mutter the words “help yourself to the olives”. They all left me alone to personally talk to Warren on my own. A part of me wanted to pinch myself.

I can’t remember how long Warren and I spoke for because through all the shock and excitement, it felt like hours. I’m sure it was only a few minutes. Warren gave me some great advice about striving for a job through Disney, and reinforced that I must be willing to work harder than ever to stay competitive against others who would want the same. To this day, I still don’t think I could fully grasp how tough it is going to be until I get there, but I’m willing to work like a machine.

Warren asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I had backgrounds in both art and design, but my ultimate ambition was to be a producer. He asked me what I thought a producer was. My mind froze. Oh no, the million dollar question. It started to feel almost like an interview. I knew I had to answer carefully. I responded that I had a passion for being creative whilst also respecting the importance of meeting briefs and deadlines, and I believed I had the skills of leadership to reinforce such understanding onto a creative team. That’s what I believed a producer did. I also told him I had an academic and family background in business management, and I wanted to use this knowledge as well and apply it to my passion. Finally, I joked I had severe OCD when it came to time management and organisation, something a team could benefit from. Warren told me that at Junction Point Studios they had many different forms of producers, ranging from more creative to more business related, and it was up to me to decide which path I wanted to take.

When the conversation started to draw to the end, I remembered what I had come for. I tried to sound sincere when I asked Warren if there were any names or contacts he would know of to help me while I’m over there. To lead me to the next step. He hesitated and told me he did not know anyone based in Orlando, but rather Austin where his studio was, as well as others. To my absolute surprise, he asked me for my program and scribbled his email address onto it, telling me to send him an email should I need some help while I’m over there.

Finally, he signed my exhibit booklet with “Dear Estelle, don’t be a mouse!” I walked out of that room with a huge smile, wobbly legs, but heaps of motivation.

The next day, as Tim Schafer went to sign my booklet, he questioned me why I had ‘don’t be a mouse’ from Warren when everyone else had ‘be a mouse’ next to their signature. I explained in short my plans and Warren’s advice not to stuff around. Tim, in good old Tim fashion, gave a mischievous smile and went to write something sarcastic next to it, but then decided against it and just signed it instead.

All in all, those two days certainly boosted my confidence in my career, and provided what I believe to be the turning point in my aggressive determination to persist even more to do great things.

Trackbacks for this post

  1. 2012 Freeplay Independent Games Festival | Estelle Tigani
  2. Meeting Robin Hunicke, Chris Avellone and Sheri Graner Ray at the Game Connect Asia Pacific 2012 | Estelle Tigani

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