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Best Of GDC: Paul Steed On 'The Trip' From Artist to Entrepreneur
Best Of GDC: Paul Steed On 'The Trip' From Artist to Entrepreneur
February 28, 2008 | By Mathew Kumar

February 28, 2008 | By Mathew Kumar
More: Console/PC, GDC

[Continuing Gamasutra's best of GDC 2008 series, here's a look at the loopiest lecture you missed - Paul Steed's gossip-filled Game Career Seminar keynote, spanning Wing Commander to Quake in technicolor dirt-dishing.]

Replacing David Jaffe’s Game Career Seminar keynote “From Grunt to God to Startup” was Exigent outsourcing firm co-founder Paul Steed (formerly of id, where he somewhat infamously created the 'Crackwhore' in-game skin, as well as Origin).

He pitched in to give an entertaining (if heavily digressionary) session on his trip throughout the industry: including revealing stories about working with Chris Roberts and John Carmack.

“Our industry is based and built on character,” opined Steed. “Who has met or knows Dave Perry? He’s a character, but that’s easy for him because he’s like seven foot tall. The little guys like me have to work harder!”

Yellow Pixels

His advice to getting into the industry largely focused on making sure those interested remain flexible, always prepared to learn and change, but regularly began to tell stories that didn’t, at least on the face of it, have anything to do with what he was talking about.

Introducing the concept of change, he discussed (perhaps as a dichotomy) foolish bosses that he’d worked with:

“I was at Origin for four years. I’ll tell you a funny story about developing Wing Commander III. Does everyone know who Ginger Lynn is? Well, she was a porn star. Chris Roberts had no idea, and didn’t believe me when I told him. This guy, my boss, didn’t know it. So I took him to the video store and we watched some stuff. He gained a new respect for people in the adult entertainment industry!”

He recollected a time during his tenure at Virgin Interactive, where an executive (Neil Young) wanted to change Virgin Interactive to Burst, with T-shirts stating “I was a Virgin but now I’m Burst” -- “He didn’t get it,” mocked Steed.

For flexibility, he used an interesting metaphor: “Look at it like crossing the road in New York. It’s all about momentum and trajectory to make sure you get where you’re going in the smoothest way possible. That’s what it is in the games industry. You have to calculate the angles.”

As an example, he offered the “Yellow Pixel Theory”: where at Origin he learned to create the perfect image he wanted, and to place a yellow pixel in the corner for the producer to spot and request changed, so they wouldn’t ask for anything else to be changed, as they would have felt like they’d done their job.

“Fast forward 6 years to id. John Carmack told me to create characters with 800 pixels, and I tried, but I could only squeeze it down to 910. So I created a geodesic sphere which would add 128 polygons to the model, shrunk it down and hid it inside. When Carmack saw there were over a thousand polygons he was annoyed, so I said ‘give me a couple of hours’ and removed the sphere. When he got it back he was pleased that I at least managed to knock of 128 polygons. You’ve got to adapt!”

Golden Nectar

“Beer is important because it’s a social lubricant,” Steed began, before deciding to discuss interview etiquette: “When you get in the door don’t wear a suit and tie. I turned up for a warehouse job wearing a suit and tie and they knew that I didn’t ‘get the job’. If you show up for working in a game company wearing a suit, they aren’t going to trust you. Show up in character. Be real. People want real. The game industry is about being real -- not only about being real but staying real.”

He didn’t wait long before returning to his favourite topic, the foolish bosses of his career: recounting a time working as creative director for Xbox 360. “Did someone not tell them that going 360 degrees means going right back where you started from?” he quipped, before asking the audience if they knew why they called it that.

As an audience member began to explain, he cut in, “because it encompasses… some bullshit that you’re saying right now? It’s because PS3 vs. Xbox 360 -- what are you going to think?”

“I want a Nintendo,” an audience member yelled.

He digressed into a long story about being stuck in traffic with director James Cameron before asking the audience to research the companies they work for before going to the interview. "Aside from wearing a blue shirt, go in with an attitude of ‘I don’t know anything, but I want to learn.’”

“When you walk in and you’re open and ready to learn, people will get that. There is no limit to what we can do. Put your head down and work. Work harder and longer than anyone else. When I was at id the owners would tell me to leave because it would bug them that I wouldn’t leave…”

Steed continued, before beginning a long digression on his personal relations with id Software’s local police department (which included almost being shot, repeatedly being stopped for speeding, and working as a “hostage taker” during hostage negotiator training.)

He ended with one final pop at a previous co-worker: American McGee, recounting a day at id where McGee said “I’m going to be sick tonight” and went clubbing rather than work.

“Don’t puss out,” said Steed. “McGee pussed out. If you have time to do, do the time. This is not a job. It’s a life style, requiring your heart, your soul and putting all your passion into it. I’m here today because I will never stop.”

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what a d-bag. I hope he told all those people that he was going to roast them. He reminds me of a frat boy that goes around and pours beers on peoples heads to get a laugh, but then he takes it all personal when you tell him to ease up on the hair gel.

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He's gifted at long as you like a-holes. Other then that, dude's bordering on being a fraud. Scapegoating junior artists, unprovoked discussions on porn, and diva behavior are all par for the course. But remember that one cool thing he did waaaay back at Id???? I don't know that anyone in the industry has lived longer off of less. Kudos to your self-promotion, Steed ;)

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Wow talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

I am sure in his own world, he figured his talk was going to be a funny and informative session of anecdotes that describe how we all need to bust our asses and get to the next level to be worthy of calling ourselves game developers. But to me, all I get from this is that you need to find and remove the company a-holes before they make the work environment hostile and force you to lose productivity and have massive work force turnovers.

Paul Reynolds
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When did Joe Rogan get into game development? Dick jokes and name dropping... yeah that's "real"

I kept reading this article hoping I'd get to the part of the presentation at which point some eloquent pearls of wisdom were imparted on the crowd. Never happened.

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did anyone get Jeremy Piven while listening to this guy?

Thomas Grove
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At least he said what he believes using his real name. You people posting Anonymously are cowards.

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Paul is a talented guy, but his mouth runneth over. I worked with and near him in the past and he was just as bad as the others he is talking about. He didn't even know how many times he was putting his foot in his mouth just like the people he is condemning. Humility is one of the things people in the industry need to learn. We are working in glass houses.

Mark McMilllan
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I attended Paul's rant and it seemed to me that he was trying to portray to the audience that the industry had characters in it that are bigger than life, or, in other words, a hero culture. My take is that Paul participated in the industry when it was something of the wild west with gunslingers creating the law in the town. I am certain that some of this is changing, but there is always room for a talented, creative individual that is willing to work hard and that is able to keep things real.

The question is, how much of the gaming industry will give way to bureaucracy and corporate politics, and how much will be dominated by the likes of creative individuals. I hope that creativity and hard work win out, but if you aren't savvy enough to stay out of office politics, just like in other industries, it is only a matter of time before you will find yourself on the losing end of an argument with those that have the power to terminate your command.

As for me, I would prefer to work with heroes that lead by example than work in an organization that values political correctness more highly than impact on results and creativity.

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If half you posters below were half the contributor Paul is, I'd have much greater faith in our industry, this jealous whining just makes me sick and sad. I've worked extensively and closely with Paul and yeah, he's a character and a loudmouth - but also a great co-worker and contributor, and one of the best people-persons I've ever met. And if you doubt his artistic or professional skills, just read one of his many books on character modelling. He knows his stuff.

Curt Keefe
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Anyone know Paul Steed's email or blog or something?

I'm an art student and we have a project to interview someone in our prospective field. I want to get into 3d modeling and way back when Quake3 and polycount and Paul's tutorials on loneygames are where I got my nose wet so I thought he would be a good choice.

Or do fanboys bugging developers get too annoying and I shouldn't bother?