Schell Games studio tour!

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Tour to Schell Games Studio!
http://www.etc.cmu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/schell-games_RGB.png
 (Disclaimer: The following post is not sponsored/licensed/endorsed by either Schell Games, Robert Morris University, or ACM. Statements and opinions expressed in these articles are solely those of the author, not of EagleSoft Ltd as a whole.)



   A few months ago, the ACM Chapter at my university of Robert Morris and I were able to book a March 2015 tour to Schell Games, one of the more well-known, local video game design studios in the Pittsburgh area, located at Station Square. After a stressful and confusing drive due to Pittsburgh traffic and detours, I arrived at the studio (although 15 minutes late). Luckily an employee who was also approaching the entrance let me in so I didn't have to ring in and wait for someone to do so. On the left were various Toy Story posters, while in front of me was the elevator. Entering the elevator in order to get to the studio on the 3rd floor, we were greeted by an interactive voice-activated R2D2 Droid in the corner, with a foam cup of change in its extended left hand The employee asked it "Hey R2! Do you remember Darth Vader?", and R2 cowered in fear. If even the elevator is decorated with toys and fun, who knows what awaited me on the 3rd floor!

Interactive voice-activated R2D2 Droid

   On the 3rd floor I was greeted by the receptionist and a classic tabletop arcade game; however, due to being late, I quickly wrote myself a name tag and met with the rest of the tour group, who were currently sitting in one of their meeting rooms. The tour guide for today, Chris, gave a short speech about the history of Schell Games and a few of its more noteworthy current published video games, including PlayForward: Elm City Stories, Toy Story Mania, and others.


    Afterwards, five employee panelists entered the room (from the secret bookcase-door on the right, of course!), who gave a brief background history of themselves and a plethora of information about their video game development experience and general career advice, while going through PowerPoint slides in the center projector.


The most important things I took away from the discussion panel, the studio environment, and the Schell Games company culture for pursuing a career in video game development were:
  • Have a passion for video game development
    • Be enthusiastic about your career
      • In the SG studio, everybody's workspace is decorated not only with professional/personal effects, but also with video game swag and memorabilia showing personality
      • Be yourself
    • VG Dev is fun, but also much work
      • If you are not passionate, the amount of work involved will frustrate you
  • Play video games
    • Games inside and outside your comfort zone
    • Analyze them
      • Observe the game mechanics
      • Observe what makes the game great
      • Observe what makes the game unique 
  • Make video games
    • Start now
      • One of the panelists had difficulty in getting into the video game industry due to lack of video game development in his youth
      • He strongly recommends learning as much as you can now, especially in an internship
    • VG Employers are more concerned with your initiative in your hobby and professional development experience, not necessarily your grades
    • Publish your games if you can, even if they are free
      • Sending a link to download/play a published game to an employer looks more professional and is more interactive than simply showing pictures, text, and videos
    • Showcase even 
    • Employers not only want to know what games you have created, but why 
      • What is your motive?
    • Learn the trade, tools, methods, and lingo of game development
    • Be creative
      • Think outside of the box
      • Hang out with a diverse group of people to get different perspectives and ideas
    Afterwards, we were given a tour of the impressive, large, open-air, semi-casual studio downstairs. Unlike other boring corporate offices, the studio is cubicle-less, filled with natural lighting with tall ceilings, and is a bustle of activity, with most employees decorating their workspace not only with professional/personal effects, but also with video game swag and memorabilia. Chris asked for a volunteer, with fellow student Craig volunteering to test out an employee's Occulus Rift prototype game, which was an escape-the-room type of survival game. The game was running off a Rift devkit and devbox, with the devbox's monitor mirroring what Craig was seeing. Very exciting to actually see (although not literally, in-person like Craig did) an actual Occulus VR set in the wild in action, and I wished I volunteered!






Occulus Rift

  Lastly, we were lead to the game demo room, which showcased some of Schell Game's published video games, including Enemy Mind (Steam/PC), a dev-build of The World of Lexica on iPad, and Race to the Beach. Although none of us played Race to the Beach that day, it was interesting to note that the game controllers were four stuffed turtle dolls with motion sensing capabilties to move underwater. Also shown were some in-progress games, including a candy-crush like match game (iOS), a platformer game about waterbears, and an educational chemistry app (iOS). With the aid of colored balls and sticks (something like Geomag), a picture can be taken of molecules created to check if it is valid molecule and to show its properties. (I think I know how I am going to pass my retake of Chemistry I eventually :)). Most of us ended up playing Enemy Mind using wired XBox 360 controllers. Finally, we headed back up to the meeting room to gather our belongings, gather some Schell Games swag, and leave for the day.



  Honestly, the Schell Games tour was a very fun and engaging experience, and those from ACM who did not attend missed a good time! It has inspired me and given me more knowledge about the industry for video game development. Unfortunately, after asking Chris, he explained to me that their summer internship program, which I applied for in January, has already been filled and that they are lacking internship work at the moment, but I will try again next summer and look for other local opportunities in the meantime. My day ended with taking the elevator downstairs and donating some change to R2D2.

-Tamkis

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