Career Blog Part 12

Year 6 (Continued)

So, Hit & Myth was the first game that I worked on that actually got finished! It took most of a year, but we got Hit & Myth in the can and were pretty much done with the game. Then it happened.

October of 2005, a Swedish newspaper article came out detailing that many in the top brass at Gizmondo were somehow involved in organized crime! Not to mention when it came out that these guys were commanding $1 million+ salaries, with outrageous benefits, and whatnot. I, as well as those on my team, were stunned! I knew that the Gizmondo was a piece of junk, but I had no idea that the people who were responsible for its creation were simply in it to cheat investors out of millions that they kept in their own pockets (as opposed to, say, putting the investor money into the company like they were supposed to).

Within the next couple of months, those guys "resigned" and by December, we were all told that we would be getting laid off and that Gizmondo Texas... Warthog Texas... more importantly, Fever Pitch Studios... was no more.

Needless to say, Hit & Myth never saw the light of day. At least, not then. It would eventually be released for free online by one of my old co-workers who had the source code.

And, rather infamously, I had lost my first job in the industry. While it was an insane experience, and literally nothing I made while working there ever came out, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I was there for 3 and a half years.  

Next... Year 7! Time to get a new job!

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Career Blog Part 11

Year 6 (continued)

Hit & Myth became our next project, developed exclusively for the Gizmondo. Oh yeah, and I was the only artist left after a mass exodus from the studio by people jumping ship. Essentially, after the ashes cleared, we were back down to our original core team from when I started, plus a couple of others who managed to get into the beat of our office culture.

We took some time to develop some ideas, concepts, and so on. Our original idea would be a crazy, humor-filled game that took place over lots of different themed levels. We'd have 4 different characters you could choose from, all with different abilities and personalities. These 4 characters were a medieval knight, a blue-haired Sasquatch, a hot female pirate, and... a leprechaun.

The game would be a top-down twin-stick shooter. This was chosen because our super-talented graphics programmer had been spending his free time developing a twin-stick shooter game engine that would work on mobile devices all on his own. The company licensed it from him and had a great head start on getting the game into development.

The levels would be themed upon lots of royalty-free pop culture... Alice in Wonderland, Christmas, Halloween, Sci-Fi, Hell, etc.

Our great concept artist developed some starting concepts for me to work off of, and I got started! I first began work on Cadbury, the medieval knight, and his trusty steed that he rode into battle. He was armed with a crossbow and it could be upgraded with powerups.

Eventually, as time went on, we realized that we were not going to be able to have 4 main characters and get them all voiced with all of the lines that we had written. So we paired it down to just Cadbury and all of the other choices got thrown out. Cadbury lost his horse (since from above it didn't really read very well) and instead of a crossbow was given a sci-fi laser rifle. We thought the idea of a knight weilding a futuristic weapon would be pretty funny.

After a few months, I got pulled aside by my boss. We were going to be hiring some more artists and he wanted me to be the Art Lead on the project, overseeing the new hires. I was floored! I had only been in the game industry a couple years at this point, so to be made a Lead so soon really blew me away.

Hopefully I would do a good job!
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Career Blog Part 10

In the Meantime...

So, during this whole Shadow of the Ring getting canceled, working on Conquest 2 time, the team that was brought on from the now-defunct Outlaw Studios was working on Johnny Whatever for the Xbox and PS2. It was pretty cool. A music game that predated Guitar Hero and had you creating songs with the face buttons ala Ocarina of Time, except more in depth. They were working hard on getting a publisher and for a while there, it seemed like they were going to get published by Sega. But then it all suddenly went south.

At the time, this was all unknown to me, and I have to admit that it's still all info I got from other people so who knows how much truth there was to it. But apparently, the boss of the Outlaw team wasn't too pleased with Warthog and seemed to think all of us on the SoR team were a bunch of hacks and wanted to have nothing to do with us. I remember always thinking how strange it was that none of the Outlaw guys ever really wanted to mingle or anything with the rest of us. It was as if we were totally separate even though we shared office space. I know now that this is actually pretty common, but at that time, it seemed odd to me considering how close everyone on my team was.

Anyway, so we're all being ignored, which was weird, but whatever. We were all excited for the JW guys when it seemed like Sega was picking up the project. However, suddenly Sega dropped out and I remember the boss of the studio (as in, over both teams) was seriously ticked off about something.

So, again, I heard this from a guy who heard it from a guy, but it would seem that as the studio head was negotiating with Sega, the director of the Johnny Whatever project contacted the Sega representative himself and said that it would be best to work with the Outlaw team directly so that they could be funded separately from Warthog... so that he could separate his team from Warthog completely. Well, Sega was obviously not impressed, and subsequently dropped the project altogether. So he pretty much sabotaged his own team so that he wouldn't have to work with the Warthog company... seems wacko, don't you think? I guess he thought Sega would agree with him and they'd form some new studio to work for Sega I guess? I don't know. Anyway, whatever really happened, Johnny Whatever was without a publisher.

This was around the time we were working on Conquest 2.

So this brings us to the end of 2004 and starting 2005... little did we know that things were going to be getting even crazier!

Year 6 - 2005

The beginning of the end!

Well, around this time, we had another really big studio meeting. Warthog (then composed of several studios around the world, including us the Texas/US branch) was in financial trouble. And they were selling. The good news was this would mean that we could keep our jobs! The bad news was who we were being sold to.

GIZMONDO.

Yeah, you might react the same way we did... "who?"

I remember thinking at the time that I had no idea who Gizmondo was, but whatever, we get to keep our jobs and keep making Conquest 2, so woo hoo right!?

Wrong.

Turns out Gizmondo was also the name of THE Gizmondo... a handheld gaming device that was in development. And they had zero interest in developing any game that wasn't going on the Gizmondo. Which meant... Conquest 2 was officially cancelled.

Ugh!

But what about Johnny Whatever? Oh, it's not canceled. They're going to PORT Johnny Whatever to the Gizmondo and make it a Giz game!

The Outlaw team were NOT pleased. To be honest, Johnny Whatever looked awesome on the Xbox and PS2 and the idea of taking this game and shrinking it down to some sub-PSP hardware was really heart breaking.

Over the next couple months, 90% of the people who were working on Johnny Whatever left the company. Several people who were working on Conquest 2 left the company as well. And to be honest, I was very tempted to leave too. I mean... Gizmondo? Really? I remember thinking AT THE MEETING, the very first meeting where they were telling us this that there was a 0% chance that this thing was going to be successful. There was no way. No doubt in my mind.

But I stayed for another year. Because the people I was working with, the core group that I'd been working with from the beginning were like a family. Soon after realizing that Conquest 2 was officially cancelled and Gizmondo wanted us to make something else, we started brainstorming. A few people from Outlaw stayed because they wanted the chance to make something simple and figured this would be a good chance for their ideas to actually get made.

After a couple months of brainstorming, designing, and prototyping, we came up with our next project:

Hit & Myth!

For the Gizmondo!

Yeah....

Next: Authorship? 
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Career Blog Part 9

Year 5 (continued)

After the ultimate meeting of bad news, the group got a bit down in the dumps. Perfectly understandable. I especially wasn't very happy. This was my first game industry job and I love it and it was in danger of being taken away from me. The SoR group were tight-knit and good friends. The Outlaw Studio guys were still relatively new to the team and were working on their own project, so while they were sympathetic, and weren't necessarily immune from the repercussions of the cancellation, they weren't as close to the chopping block as many of us. It would still be a few days before we really knew who would be staying and who we would be saying good bye to.

Lucky for the new guy, he managed to get on the Johnny Whatever project that Outlaw were working on and was spared losing his brand new job! Not so lucky for the rest of the SoR team though. We lost a large chunk of the team. People who weren't laid off left on their own to go to new jobs they found.

At the end, though, I managed to hang on to my job and even got offered a permanent position with a salary increase! Once the dust cleared, I looked around and found that the original Shadow of the Ring art team had reduced to literally our concept artist, our art director.... and me. I was the only staff artist on whatever Fever Pitch was going to be going on to next!

Well, our boss knew what he wanted to do right away and we got started.

Conquest 2


Immediately, the now-much-smaller team began brainstorming on a sequel to Fever Pitch's original game, Conquest. We would add a new race, improve the graphics with new tech, it'd be awesome! And yes, I got excited again! And a bit nervous. I was the only staff artist on the project! So I would have a lot of work to do. The art director was pulling double duty helping with regular art assignments as well, so I wasn't working in a vacuum, but it was going to be a challenge. But I was up to it! I even started getting invited to Leads meetings. After all, I was pretty much the only non-lead on the project anyway, so what's one more person?

My second project had begun!

 At this point in the year, it was about April or so. That meant E3 was just a couple of months away and Warthog (our parent company) wanted us to spend the next weeks creating a demo for something that could be shown and, hopefully, picked up by a publisher to get us a new deal.

So, we did just that. Using the old Conquest engine, and not really having the time to do anything too drastic, we set about updating the engine with the newest tech on the block, ie. normal maps and cool pixel shaders. This technology was still pretty cutting edge for the time and we knew that if we were able to come out within the next year or so, we'd have the first RTS using the new tech and would get more eyes on us, which is always a good thing.

As the sole staff artist on the team, I got a lot of the work. My art director focused on helping with concept art and creating a cool cinematic to show off some eye candy. I was to do the majority of the actual in-game work.

So, Conquest 2 was a sci-fi Real-Time Strategy game... like Starcraft. The original Conquest was, admittedly, a bit of a Starcraft clone. It had three races: human (Terrans), energy based (Celareons), and insectoid (Mantis). Very similar to Starcraft's Terrans (yep, same name), Protoss, and Zerg. With Conquest 2, we wanted to update and improve and really make the races distinct and different. We also wanted to add a 4th race, the Vyrium. This would be our opportunity to drastically get away from the Starcraft shadow and carve our own path. Because we had so little time, we made some quick and dirty units to represent the new Vyrium race for the demo. In truth, the actual Vyrium would be much different in the final product, but we needed something to show.

I went about creating new space backgrounds, new planets and asteroids, new ships and effects... lots of stuff! E3 came and we had a good showing, some interest in publishers, and got a little press. We then got back to work on the actual game! Most of the ship work was going to be completely redone. We started working on the technology that would become our real-time shader engine. It was very cool! I'll get back to that at some point, but it was developed by our graphics programmer named Ryan. He's pretty much a genius!

We started developing the story as well and I was really happy to get to be a part of the story meetings. I really enjoyed that part of it! We were reworking the races and what they were and it was pretty exciting stuff. The Celareon energy beings, for example, were being revamped quite a bit. They were originally just Protoss-clones... ritualistic, kinda high-and-mighty, superior intellect and all that. This time we were revealing that the Celareons were actually composed of spirit energy... that when "born" a Celareon gets funneled into a containment suit to function, otherwise, their energy (or "soul") would dissipate. The Vyrium race were revealed to be slaves of the Celareons that managed to break away and form their own society using captured tech. Their race's technology was a hodge podge of Mantis, Celareon, and Terran ships and structures and had a very unique look.

Anyway, I can get more into the story later if you guys want, as it turned out pretty neat, but I'm getting long. :)  I'll talk about what happened next, and what was going on with those Johnny Whatever guys in the next post! 
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Career Blog Part 8

About Fever Pitch

I thought I'd take a minute to talk about Fever Pitch Studios. This studio was an offshoot from Digital Anvil (an offshoot from Origin) in Austin, Texas. They had been making an RTS called Conquest: Frontier Wars for the PC but near completion, it got cancelled. A couple of the developers broke off from Origin and got the rights to complete Conquest on their own, creating Fever Pitch Studios. It was released, published by Ubisoft, in 2001.

They then set about finding new work. They got the contract to a new RTS and hired a few people with the Conquest money. That title got cancelled however so, their engine (a real-time strategy game engine) and converted it to be a dungeon crawler RPG engine. They used Lord of the Rings characters and showed it off to Universal and got the green light on an ambitious Lord of the Rings RPG! With this new project, they staffed up to the team I eventually joined. Including myself, there were about 15 of us!

 

Year 5 - 2004 - Changes at the office!

If my time line is right in my head, this is the year that Fever Pitch Studios merged with another studio. It was quite a change for us, as you can imagine! The merger was bringing in a studio called Outlaw. They had about a dozen people and were working on a title called Johnny Whatever and were in danger of folding. Warthog purchased them and brought them into the fold. We had no room at all in our little office, so a new office was needed!

We moved into an old renovated movie theater over the Christmas break. I had traveled back home to visit family, so when I came back, I had to drive about 20 minutes to the new digs. I missed being able to walk to work, but the new office was pretty sweet! It even had a big marquee out front that we could put whatever we wanted on.

At first, I shared an office with one of my co-workers, Grayson, an animator. We continued to truck along on Shadow of the Ring and I was really enjoying it. We hired a few more people even! I remember it was around mid-year, and I was creating the buildings for a stilt city that were all made of old ship parts when we had a big meeting called.

This was one of my first experiences with "The Meeting". For those who can't tell where this is going, "The Meeting" is that ominous, out-of-nowhere, company-wide meeting that can go either really really well... or incredibly awful. Just that week, we had a new hire show up for our team and it was literally only days later that The Meeting happened.

Shadow of the Ring had been canceled.

My heart leaped up into my chest. My contract had just been renewed! My boss told us somberly that he held on as long as he could, but the decision was out of his control. Universal had made the decision to cancel not just SoR, but ALL of their Lord of the Rings properties, stating that the EA competition was just too much without the film rights.

So it wasn't that they didn't like our game... they were just going to take a bath on the whole Lord of the Rings thing altogether. My boss told us that we should prepare for layoffs to be announced within the day and that he would do his best to get us a new project soon. I felt like there was very little chance of my being kept on to stay. I felt REALLY sorry for the new guy who had just moved to Texas from his home state of Virginia...

Talk about a lousy day at the office...

Next: 

Who makes the cut?
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Career Blog Part 7

Year 4 - New job!

WARTHOG TEXAS aka FEVER PITCH STUDIOS

After getting the job offer, I milled it over for a good day, just to be absolutely certain that I wanted to take that step. Then of course, immediately responded with a resounding YES!

Just to clarify: the job was a Junior Artist position and was a contract job for 6-9 months. I wouldn't get benefits, I would have no 401k, or anything like that. I wouldn't have taxes withheld on my pay either, which I later found out would mean I needed to pay my own taxes every quarter. And after 6-9 months, my job would potentially be over!

I bought a car, got a 12 month lease at an apartment across the street from the office (yes, I know, that's pretty crazy), and showed up for work on my first day in May 2003. The studio was called Warthog Texas, but they knew themselves as Fever Pitch Studios. They had been bought by Warthog earlier that year and had the name change, but they still considered themselves their original name in casual conversation. To this day, this was the best place I ever worked!

The project was a Lord of the Rings RPG called Shadows of Mordor although it eventually would get a name change to Shadow of the Ring. Back in 2003, the LotR movies were still coming out and they were all the rage. Electronic Arts had the license for creating games based on the films, but Universal thought they were clever by getting the rights to create games based on the Lord of the Rings books. In other words, we could make a LotR game but could not use the actors from the films or anything that the movies had that wasn't in the books. Some of the games that came out using this license was The Hobbit and War of the Ring. Both didn't fare very well at the time.

Our game was, I have to say, a very cool concept. It was an RPG like Baldur's Gate but in a Dungeon Seige type gameplay system. Shadow of the Ring would have a morality system that had three stages: Evil, Neutral, and Good and not just the black and white systems that most games had. It was pretty complex, but I loved it.

My job was creating environment assets, such as buildings, trees, rocks, dungeons, etc. I'd be the first to admit that I was under qualified for the job, but I learned tons and managed to get a little decent at the whole making game art thing as I got more practice then I ever had before. I was finally doing what I had always wanted! And it truly was a dream job. The people were excellent, the game project was fun and exciting, and I was having a blast!

By the end of 2003, we were still trucking along on our RPG, developing storylines, quests, branching outcomes based on moral choices, items, monsters... it was amazing. And soon, we'd find ourselves in a bright and shiny new office space! But that's for next time. :)

Next - 2004, and year 2 at Fever Pitch Studios.

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Career Blog Part 6

Year 3 (continued) 

Finally after all my hard work and dedication to looking for a job, I got an interview!

Volition, Inc. flew me up to their office in Illinois for a two day interview. I spoke to several people, going over everything. At the time, they were making an open world game that, I believe, eventually became Saint's Row. At the time that I saw it, however, it was nothing like that final product, but I digress. The interviews all went very positively and I was very excited. I got put back onto a plane and headed back home just KNOWING that I was going to finally get my career off the ground and headed toward really happening!

But it was not to be. The studio had a hiring freeze and they did not hire me or anyone else for the job they had advertised. I was truly bummed. I was entering 2003 without my dream job and I was really discouraged.

Year 4 - The Search Continues!

After the disappointment of not getting the Volition job, I didn't really know what to do. But after a brief "poor me" session, I just started looking once again and continued to practice. I even got a couple of side jobs. There was a video production company in a city about 100 miles away from my parent's house. So, I decided to cold-call them and just see if they had any desire to have any 3D work in their productions. It was called Simmons Creative Productions and it was owned by a fellow who used to do voice-over work. I remember calling him the first time and this deep, baritone, very professional voice came over the line.

"Simmons Creative Productions!"

*beat*

"Hello?"

Me - "Oh! I thought you were a recording! Sorry!"

This guy's voice sounded like a radio announcer, and I would've sworn I was talking to some sort of voicemail voice. I was waiting for the options to be read off to me, but no, it was a real person who talked like that. He laughed; said he got that all the time. Anyway, he was interested, and I did a couple little things for him. He produced hunting videos mostly (don't forget, I lived in Mississippi... lots of hunters!). I did a couple still images to show things like over-head maps of the areas that the people were hunting in. Small things like that. The biggest thing I did was an opening animation for a TV show he was developing called "The Do It Yourself Hunter". I made a 3D deer with an animation and a 3D logo and all that. That was kinda neat to see it on TV! I even got in the credits.

But that wasn't what I wanted to do, and it was not much money at all. I kept submitting applications to any jobs I could find! Finally I got another art test! This was with a small studio in Texas. The test was to make a "Goblin Tree" in a fantasy setting. After working on it about a week, I submitted it!

To my surprise, just a few days later, I got an email officially offering me the job!! That was it?!? No interview? No flying me out to talk to me in person? Nothing like that? Just, Bam! here ya go!? To put it mildly, I was ECSTATIC!!

Next

My career truly begins!
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Career Blog Part 5

Year 3 - Time to practice. October 2001 - December 2002

For the next year or so, I lived with my parents and got a normal job at a bank. During this time, I practiced constantly, working on improving my abilities and understanding the tech. It was during this time that I started creating tutorials for a site called SimplyMaya.com, which helped pay the bills some.

I must have cleaned out all of my old work and started fresh on a new portfolio several times. I even scrapped my old show reel that I made in college. It was a really awful reel with really awful work. I never bothered making another show reel again. I might change my mind and try putting one together now that I have several years of professional work behind me, but at the time, I needed to focus my time on the actual work and not a reel.

During the year of 2002, I began shopping around for a job with the new work I had accumulated. I sent out resumes to hundreds of studios all over the US and around the world. I remember that I saved all of my sent emails in a folder so that I could keep track of who I applied to (so I wouldn't accidentally double email someone... not that that still didn't happen sometimes... how embarrassing!).

Eventually, I literally had over 1000 emails in this folder... not kidding, it counted them. I remember doing the math... Out of 1000 emails, I had about 100 replies. Out of 100 replies, about 90 were form letters and auto-replies. Out of the 10 personal replies I got, 9 of them were telling me that they either weren't hiring or they weren't interested in me. Then I got THE ONE.

Around December 2002, I got a response that didn't dismiss my application. The instead gave me an art test! I was thrilled to get the test and worked on it the best I could for about a week. The assignment was to create a character based on a drawing that the studio provided.

After submitting my results, I got a phone call. They wanted to interview me over the phone! I was ECSTATIC! And incredibly nervous! I talked to them for a good hour and ended the interview feeling excited. A day later, I got another call requesting an interview IN PERSON! The studio was going to fly me up to interview me over the course of two days!

Next

Interviewing!
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Career Blog Part 4

Year 2 - Back to School; January 2001

The same month that Walrus shut down, I graduated from school with a horrible portfolio. All that work at Walrus wasn't applicable to anything for my career, and my school projects were just that... crappy student work. With little to no portfolio to fall back on, I was on my way to being another failed art student. I decided to work at the school and managed to get a job as a Teacher's Assistant in the Maya curriculum.

As a TA, I would sit in the classes with the students and help students when they raised their hands. This proved to be the BEST job I could have ever taken at that time in my life. As I sat in the classes, I essentially was taught Maya courses along with the rest of the class and if a student asked for help with something I didn't know, I could take the time to go figure it out and get back to them.

I was a TA to two main teachers: Ryan and Jeff. Ryan was a young guy like myself who had gotten a job as a teacher right out of school. He knew his stuff, but didn't have much experience in the actual work force. Great guy though. Jeff was an experienced game artist who left the game industry to take a much less stressful job in teaching. He worked at Acclaim back in their heyday and had been a Lead Artist on the NBA Jam series along with others. He proved to be my mentor during these times. He taught me SO much about Maya and I credit him with motivating me to change my focus to game development rather than film FX.

Also during this time, I began writing Maya tutorials. I posted links to my website (newly improved this time) where I posted them. Slowly but surely I began to make a name for myself at the school. I dedicated all my time to learning more and more about Maya and writing tutorials to not only help others, but help myself learn as well. I started getting a ton of students coming up to me asking for extra help and became a tutor as well as a TA.

I started getting a lot of attention online as well. Emails asking about Maya coming from far off countries. It was pretty neat.

I worked there from January until October 2001. I started running out of money and was tired of my parents having to bail me out for rent every month. I asked for a raise at work and was denied. I had no choice but to quit, pack up my stuff, and move back home to Mississippi. I was officially unemployed, with a horrible portfolio, and with no prospects... Wasn't looking good at all...

To be continued!

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Career Blog Part 3

Year -0 (continued)

So, while it was exciting to think that I could possibly have my first CG job before I even started college, it was not to be. I ended up working at a movie theater for most of my college career. I quit that because of the higher pay I could get at a call center... ugh! I did eventually get the job, but not until I was mostly through school. Soo...

MY FIRST INDUSTRY JOB!!!!11!!


I was 20 years old, had just quit a telemarketing job (after less than a month of working there), and thought I would email that old job possibility to see if they might change their mind and hire me.

Turns out they did! They emailed me back and said to come on in next Monday. I was sooo lucky!

Year 1 begins! February 2000

WALRUS CORP.
My first job was with Walrus Corp. Walrus was a small start-up started by two brothers, Walter and Russell (I see what you did there. ). They had a few investors and hired me and one other artist to help them develop their software.

It wasn't a game company, but they were developing software for creating 3D websites. It was interesting. Each website that used their technology would have a navigable 3D environment that could display web pages, have 3D avatars selling things, dance club chat rooms, and so on. Kind of archaic now, looking back. It was kind of a very primitive version of what we have now in Sony's HOME, except it'd be all over the internet and not just in one application. My job was to test the software and create demonstration "rooms" to show off the software at work. I created a 3D theater (where people could buy movies), an office space (for giving online tours and for company PR), and lots of different themed "chat rooms" (I remember doing a Doom inspired room, an Incan cave, a dance club, etc.) I remember one was even using Dawn soap products in a fancy bathroom as a way of selling the products.

I was still in school at the time, so I worked part-time through the week and came in on Saturdays. It was educational to be sure, but wasn't exactly what I wanted to do eventually. For example, we weren't using Max or Maya or anything. It was the Walrus Editor that we used to create these rooms and they could only create simple shapes. So while I was learning a lot about working on a team and on a real project, I didn't learn much about real 3D software like Maya or creating anything related to games or films (at this point, I was still planning on getting into movies).

When I first started, we worked in an extremely small office. Which was ok, since we only had 5 people all together. However, after about 4 months of steadily learning how to use the Walrus tech and creating demo rooms of increasing complexity, there was a sudden (well, sudden to me anyway) falling out between the two brothers. Suddenly, Walter was kicking Russel out! It was a big to-do with armed escorts and all that jazz.

I was shocked, but still had a job and still had investors, so we kept going. We eventually got a nice office space in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. It was a huge office! And we still had just the 5 people... kinda funny. But we eventually hired on a couple more guys and kept going.

This job lasted until the beginning of January 2001. The studio ran out of funding and we eventually all got let go. We never did fill that office space up.

Next

So...  What now?
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