A GOD AMONG GEEKS

So, let me tell you a little story about when I was working at EA. It was my first project and I was testing NHL 2001 for PSX. EA was focusing all their energies that year on the first NHL game for PS2, so they decided to farm out development of the PSX version to an external dev team.

That year, they gave the job to an independent dev house in San Francisco. EA retained control in terms of production decisions and testing. Essentially, the external programmers did whatever EA told them to do.

Skip to the end of the project. We’re in beta stage and the bug count is supposed to be dropping, not staying steady (and increasing on some days). At this rate, we are going to miss out ship date. This means the stock holders won’t be happy. Then one day, we receive a new build of the game. Nearly all the bugs have been fixed. It is an incredible turn of events.

Though I don’t have all the details, this is apparently what happened. The development director on our project told the external team of programmers to stop working on the code. The role of the DD is to keep the project on track and ensures the game gets made. The DD juggles deadlines, production’s desire to put more features in the game, and the software engineers’ ability to write the necessary code. Most DDs have MBAs as this is a management type position. Our DD, and let’s call him KL, started out as a software engineer, but had somehow transitioned into a DD role.

So, KL re-wrote all the buggy code for our game single-handedly in a day or two. As I mentioned before, when the build came back, it was stellar. KL came down to our testing area the day we got the new fixes to see if everything was working ok. He came down with a baby in his arms, which I assumed to be his child. It was then that I first was told what KL had done and he’d done it all by himself. I was in awe as I watched KL bounce his baby in his arms, talking to the other testers about the fixes.

I saw KL maybe once or twice more since that time. Fast-forward to September of 2004. I arrive to the first class of my CS grad class on algorithmic animation. Who should walk in? KL himself. He even sat down next to me. I didn’t have a chance to say anything to him until the end of the class. First, I had to ask him if it was really him. Of course it was. He told me he was starting a Master’s degree. I inquired about EA. He told me he’d was “retired” and that he didn’t need to go back to work for another “seven or eight” years if he wished. Wow. There was no reason that he would have remembered me, so I told him we had worked on a project together.

Over the course of the term, our prof has more than one occasion asked KL on his perspective on something as it relates to video game development. For a guy who knows a lot about game development, he’s quite matter-of-fact about it. I don’t detect any of ego from him at all. I’m always interested in hearing what he has to say. By now, the entire class knows KL is one experienced dude in the video game world.

Next Wednesday, our prof has twisted KL’s arm into giving a guest lecture on video game development. It’s a rare thing for a grad student to be given such an opportunity.

I know some of you out there know who KL is. So that’s what he’s up to now. Geez, I hope he doesn’t read this.

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