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From Full Sail To Here. (A Map Of Jeffool’s Life)

2007.02.21.19.45 · No Comments

I apologize for all spelling and grammar mistakes. I know sleepiness is a lame excuse, but it’s what I’ve got. I started writing this at about 3pm and finished at about 6:40pm. (I usually try to sleep from 3pm-9pm before I go to work at 11pm.) A forum goer my favorite haunt Evil Avatar asked about other users’ experiences at Full Sail. Let me be up front. I did not wow anyone with my work at Full Sail, particularly myself. I’m not throwing blame their way at all. It was me. I understand and accept that. That said, as I hinted in my previous post (back in October? Fuck.) I had the wrong impression about the place, and other gamers, (as you can see in my previous post,) before I went down there. What started as talking about Full Sail (January ’03,) ended up my chronicling my life from there/then, to today. Careful, it’s long, rambling, and boring. But at ‘Classmates and Problems’ it starts to pick up a bit.

The Impressioning Begins.

I went for a tour a few months before I decided. (I had just about decided anyway.) Let me warn you, they lay it on really fucking thick. They put you in a small club-like building and have a concert. They then show an “impressive” reel of media that graduates have worked on including movies, studio sessions and video clips from albums, tour concerts, and yes, video games. I had worked at a local TV station for four years preceding this, so instead of being wowed by the music and the editing, I was mostly thinking “Oh man, that sucked. I would’ve done this here, and that there.” And the campus (that they show you, not the renovated strip mall you actually go to school in,) looks like the inbred baby of college computer lab and a too-well-funded dot-com from the 90s. Classrooms everywhere have giant oval windows into the hallway, making every class a potential fish tank for tours. There’s lots of stained steel on window sills, and bold colors like red and blue used as trim on yellow and white walls. Of course for lots of people this was probably hip and trendy when they first did it. This was in 2002, I was twenty-two, and this decor was the kind of stuff I (and most of you, I’d guess,) poke fun of as ‘cliche’.

One important thing to note is that class at Full Sail is not like class anywhere else. Classes usually last eight hours a day, and six days a week. Yes, I was in class more than most people reading this work. The first two months were bullshit general media information classes, and a ‘media law’ class that was horribly out of date so far as software went. But after these classes are split off into their respective fields. You take (took, back then anyway,) two classes at a time at Full Sail. This is usually one programming course and one non-programming course. The first programming class we took was simply titled “C++” which I still contend was some type of shorthand for “See? Fuck You.” The two month course, where most were one month back then, ended with my failing, because I failed the final. I made a 69.5 on the final. One more question right, and I would’ve passed, and likely things would be different now. I would’ve stayed with a different group of friends who passed easily,) and that can matter. But the class itself was great. I started off strongly and the teacher named Arthur (a Divine Rank 20 God of Insanity,) kept assuming I knew C++ before I came into the school because I did so well. But at some point I just started slowing a little, and got another question wrong on the daily test at the end of class. By the end of the class, as you saw, I was in poor shape.

After the passing it on the second shot, came the class Data Structures. Mike Barnoske was the fucking man. I loved his class and his sense of humor. Hell, I loved hash tables and spoke data types as a second language. Shame I didn’t actually have much use for them again until over a year later. Math classes weren’t really easy or hard to me, so no biggie there. But then we entered our next programming class, the world of Dustin Clingman.

Like Arthur and Barnoske, Dustin’s a memorable guy because he’s the kind of boss you want. And for the “Real World” type of learning environment Full Sail purports to offer, he’s the perfect man for the job. He was fun, funny, serious about work, completely practical, willing to give you enough rope to hang yourself, and happy to fail you (so you’ll learn next time!) And he had a bit of a thing for taking puzzles posted from the IDGA forums, where he was very active at the time, and using them as puzzles in class (heh, and people wondered how I knew the answers so easily. It pays to do research into your field, people! :D) For his two month class we had create singleton wrapper classes for everything in Direct X (audio, video, images, memory, error reporting, etc.) along with other work. Then, after that class, we had him for another two month class in which he formed us into groups and we made our first game. Well, our first ‘game’ game, anyway. My group? Rampage!

Classmates and Problems.

Notice I’ve not mentioned my other classmates much. Well, I’m going to go into that for a while, because in Dustin’s second class is where I had my first major personality conflict since… Probably seventh grade. I met a guy who seemed cool on my first day at the school. Nate. Nate and I became pals with a guy who turned out to be a brother-in-law to an “Industry Legend.” Then we met three other guys who were pals, Brad, Lyle, and Richard. Eventually I float between this crowd and a second clique. Nate, Andy, Brad, and Richard went on to be all palsy for a while, and Lyle and I failed, so we hung out with said second clique members who also failed. (Herein: pals.) As we knew each other, we didn’t hang out with the new class as much as we could’ve. Over time a couple of my pals dropped out and we got to know the ‘new people,’ so we meshed a bit. But in that second class of Dustin Clingman, where we made a game, my team was (in ascending order of talent, as I saw it at that point,): My pal, me, a seemingly cool guy who went on to be an EvilAvatar Forum Member (Simon,) and Simon’s pal.

So, here we were. In Simon’s pals house late at night working on our game. This is what I came to Full Sail for! This is what it was all about! I just ‘knew’ that when I came to this place, I would meet other people as passionate as me about making a game, and we could be the next id Software! We’d do things, damn it! And we did do things. We argued a little, at first anyway. I think Simon and his pal assumed I was a better programmer than I actually was at this point. I’ve always loved to talk a big game, so they knew I talked shit. But I’m quick to follow my game with an honest aside of “You know I’m just joking, right? I suck at most of this. I mean, I did fail.” and Simon’s pal, who was the best of us, probably disregarded the aside and thought I was a complete asshole, instead of a partial one.

So, I asked for help. He says “Sure, in a minute.” He’s working on his own code, so I totally understand. He was in his groove. Then my pal, the weakest coder of the group, asks for help and gets it instantly. Then Simon asks for help and gets it. Then I ask again, and he says sure, after a smoke break. He finishes, My pal asks again, and gets it. I ask the other two guys to look at my code, and they can’t figure out the problem. I wait a few, remind him I need help, and he says ‘in a minute’ again, so I wait. I’ve already pointed out I talk lots of shit, but I’ve always thought it was evident I was joking, so I took his ignoring of me as being rude and unfounded. I then, knowing that my code is the problem, say “Dude, I can’t figure out what’s going wrong. I think your code is busted. You’re function isn’t passing me something right.” He looks at me and I realize I finally found a way to get a reaction. Instantly Simon’s Pal is shocked, dumbfounded, aghast, and a growing more pissed by the second. He then comes to check out what I’m talking about. This sets off a little flag in my head. “If I want any help at all from this guy, I’m going to have to insult him into helping me.” He finds the problem in my code within fifteen minutes. This is over an hour I’ve wasted trying to figure it out, and he ignores me over here struggling, but he finds it in fifteen minutes. Now I’m pissed. My subtle insults toward him, him jabbing back at me, and us being grumpy toward each other becomes the dreaded routine when working together. (Obviously in retrospect it was both petty and pathetic on my part, and may have been completely perceived on my part, and accidental on his. I’m willing to take a good 90% of the blame.) But at this point, I’m beginning to doubt if I’ll find people like me at Full Sail.

The Second Wind.

It was during Dustin’s second class I thought about taking a break, and also thought about just quitting. Not just this incident mind you, but my of my mail three pals one smokes weed all the time, another drinks beer all the time, and the third was just annoying to me. I’ve never smoked anything, and I haven’t drank anything since I was… What, sixteen? (This was ’04, and I was 23-24.) It was then that I start to hang out with Brad and Nate, who had discovered they could be better friends than their larger group. I hung out a few times with them previously and we kept in contact on IMs, but now it became a frequent thing. I’ve never slept well, but they were pulling all-nighters at Denny’s now, so things were good. (Of course the fact that I was the only one of us who had a vehicle helped as well. I hold no delusions about that. But in college, owning a car is a great boon to your social life, so use it when you can!) But, they were good guys.

And the creative writing class we took (I forget the fancy name for it) during the second month of Dustin’s second class was actually one of my favorites because I dig writing, even if I get no personal writing done. Most of my classmates didn’t dig it, or downright loathed it, and the teacher was painfully aware. She was a nice enough lady to me, but some folks gave her hell sadly. In this class we did some ‘design’-ish work, in one instance we were split into ‘dev teams’ and each member had to design a level. Another interesting assignment was to attempt to contact an industry professional and talk to them about the industry. It was sadly vague, but full of potential. The man I contacted gained my interest because he mentioned a game in his blog that no one else at the school had even heard of. Rocket Jockey.

Jamie Fristrom. Not enough could be said about this cat, honestly. Then working on Spider-Man: The Movie, and eventually giving birth to the Spider-Man: The Movie 2 swinging that we all loved so much, I saw he worked on Die By The Sword. If that’s not enough for you, you’re no gamer. But he also worked on a few kickass Dreamcast ports I had previously fell in love with (Spider-Man, THPS 2X,) so I said, “Hey, this it a guy whose brain I want to pick!” So, I emailed him. Just over a week later, after the class ended and I received a ’50’ for that assignment (at least I sent something out, she said,) he emailed me back! Thus began much emailing and pestering of him, and a growing interesting in gaming blogs. Over the course of the following few years he took a shine to me at some point and decided I wasn’t a total asshole, bless that man. And through his blog I eventually started talking to another pro who turned out to just be a swell guy, Brett Douville. Maybe it’s the ‘how you read it’ aspect of an email/a letter that allows the reader to bring so much to it, that was really just me wanting to find cool people out there. Maybe they were completely uninterested in me. But they kept emailing me back, and I took a liking to these two guys. Between Brad, Nate, and Jamie, I got a second wind.

The Birth of Fun.

Re-energized by forming a great friendship in Brad, who actually lived less than thirty yards from me in my apartment complex, re-strengthening my friendship with Nate, and ‘meeting’ an industry professional who was a great guy, I was enjoying things again. I decided to get my second loan and stay in school. Hell, more than that, I started enjoying life. I started hanging out at local record shops, I started dating for the first time in Orlando, and I found a weekly LAN party that took fifteen hours to play two (sixteen player) rounds of Halo, a few hands of Munchkin, and occasionally Risk. If you can find it, life in Orlando is great. And that made school far more tolerable than it was before. But…

Back to class!

The next few classes actually went by in a flash. It doesn’t help that it was two and a half years ago and I can’t recall all the classes, but I remember thinking even then that time was flying. The OpenGL class was, well, wonderful. I joked on the teacher some because he was a Mac guy in a gaming school, but he wasn’t bad. But I loved OpenGL. For those who’ve always wondered the difference between it and Direct X, (back then, anyway. I’ve not touched DX in an iteration.) OpenGL is graphics for programmers. Any type of graphical change you want to make to the engine is just a few lines of code away! Hell, even crappy 3d programmer art is cake by just plotting a few points!

My 3d modeling class was a swell time too. For a second I actually thought “Wow, maybe I went into the wrong half of game development!) And AI was just as fun as OpenGL! Sure it was a lot harder, but the first time you program A* with a hash table and a grid that previously took your AI almost an hour to traverse takes less than a minute? You feel like a God.

Oh God.

Console. That’s the class that gave everyone nightmares, and rightly so. This is where we get into C for the first time (as opposed to C++) and it was brutal. The whole point to this class was that we learned C (the PS2 did not use C++,) and had to work on machines with slower processors and low memory. Feeding your code through the GCC compiler on the test machine was also worrisome. I stumbled through it, and didn’t do so hot, but didn’t suck. During the two month class everyone picks a project (either from a list or gets permission) and completes it before the two month class ends. And if it doesn’t compile, (read: if your code sucks) that’s a zero. You get no credit at all if it doesn’t work, and little credit if it works, but not how it should. When it came time to turn it in, my over-ambitious ‘weather emulating particle system’ either compiled and did nothing, or didn’t compile. That was a zero. I eventually got it to run as a low priority thread that would build a queue of lightning strikes in the background and either randomly strike, or you could ‘call’ a strike if the designer felt the mood struck. This was intended for use in scenery and skies, not in-game action, mind you. For some reason something I was doing to save time/space/speed (I can’t recall) wouldn’t let the rain or snow particle engine to work at the same time. Crazy. In C++ it would’ve been as easy as pie, I say, pie!

But back then at Full Sail, failing Console meant that you still progressed to the next class, but you had to come back and make it up later. Why? The next class was ‘Final Project’. This was where you and your pals got to make your game. Our was Necrophobic. A 3rd person multiplayer shooter where two teams of humans who survived the ‘zombie apocalypse’ had to battle for control of two resource points on the map (gas station and helipad) for two minutes if they wanted to escape. And two other resource points (hospital and ammo store) gave you bonuses (faster healing, more ammo, obviously.) While the two teams fought each other, zombies of varying types were also attacking players. So you had to worry about losing your resource points, and just dying. *shrug* I thought it a good idea.

My role in the game was ‘designer’, ‘producer’, and ‘gameplay programmer.’ All questions about what should happen when X, Y, Z happens in the game came to me. Someone needed the physics guy to fix something? I told him what was wrong, and what it should do. I really enjoyed that, not being ‘in charge’, as with six people there’s not much to be in charge of and everything was by-committee anyway, but being the go-to guy about things. It makes ya feel important. But while I was loving that, I was having a problem of a completely different type away from the team.

The End
I mentioned earlier I had started dating. So, now my girlfriend was getting mad that I hadn’t introduced her to my friends, and I was spending so much time with them. I tried to explain that this wasn’t just casual time with friends, that this was eight hours a day in-class, and the rest of the day after, and that I warned her beforehand that things at school were about to get serious. I told her there were only three friends there I even cared much about anyway, and that if she could bear with me, it’d be over soon. Instead of making this post twice as long, I’ll cut it short and say that one night we argued and she left, but not before she told me that she was glad she aborted my child. Did I not mention the “she was pregnant” part earlier? No? Guess why. I didn’t know. Yeah. That’s a pretty fucked up thing to drop on someone, huh? I mean, I’m pro-choice, but (and I’ve been called horrible names for this) I’ve always considered it a “parents right.” I know I’m not carrying the child, but that’s not my fault.

So, one can imagine that such news as “I’ve already gotten rid of the child you didn’t know I was carrying.” will affect the work. And it did. While I regret it now, I didn’t even tell any of my team about it. I didn’t want to give excuses, I just wanted to throw myself into my work. Hell, they didn’t even know I had a girlfriend, remember? The only teammember I still talk to from those days probably doesn’t read this blog, and definitely won’t read a post this long. But ‘throwing myself into my work’ didn’t work, and I did a horribly shitty job coding the gameplay. I’ve tell myself ‘She’ wasn’t enough of a reason, and that my malaise that seems to set in with time coupled with ‘Her’ is probably what did it, but it doesn’t matter. I really screwed over the team. The whole ‘two combatting teams’ thing was dropped, and it was just players running around shooting zombies. Our final game was significantly worse than expected given how well we did in the early milestones. In one fell swoop she took me out of commission for the remaining two months of ‘Final Project’, and I was no good for my repeat of Console that happened after Final Project. I failed it too.

With that second failing of console, I flunked out of Full Sail. All the failing had caught up to me, and I ran out of available time to earn my degree. In retrospect, I like to think of myself as a resilient guy, but it just really fucked me up for a long time. I ran into her a few months after that night and we talked. I wasn’t even really mad at her. She apologized for telling me, and said that she wished she had just kept it to herself. I do too, actually.

Soon I moved back ‘home’ to South Georgia. Somehow, that was even worse than the discovery I no longer had a child on the way. That was the true failure for me. To have to go back home, tail tucked firmly between my legs, after everything else that happened in the past few months.

So, moving from injury to insult, I lost my ‘finally moved away from home/South-West-Georgia’ freedom. I lost the child I never knew I didn’t have. I lost the one girl I actually liked enough that I would’ve introduced her to my mom given the chance. I lost my chance at a degree. I lost my game.

The Rebeginning
I get back home, and a couple of months later, I’m back working at the television station I worked at before I left for Full Sail. Doing the same shit job, for the same shit pay, two years later. Then something kinda odd happens. About three months after I get back home, I get a package from Full Sail. It seems there was a problem, my grades were reviewed, and I did indeed pass Console the second time. I have a degree! I’m submitting resumes to everyone under the sun now. I’m being flown around to interview for jobs that suck, but I’d be lucky to have. It’s crazy. And I found one person from Full Sail’s job placement that was actually helpful and actually talked to people! (I heard a rumor that he, Sean Kearney, quit after two or three months. Dunno if it’s true, but he was a great guy.) It’s almost like something could happen! Of course, it never did. I’m still at the station, now about two and a half years post-Full Sail. I’ve not coded seriously for at least half a year. But I’m in the journalism thing now, which is a weird story in itself.

About a year ago ‘She’ mailed me back a comic she had borrowed. Craig Thompson’s Blankets. It’s one of the best comics I’ve ever read, and I love my comics. I had already bought a replacement copy by this time, so, what did I do with the one she mailed back? Why, I burned it of course. Craig Thompson would’ve approved, I like to think.

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