This week’s Inside the Vault is with producer, Jeff Gardiner. If you are a fan of Oblivion’s downloadable content, Jeff is one of the folks you can thank. Besides being the producer for our designers and level designers, Jeff is instrumental in a lot of game system tweaking and prototyping. On Thursday nights (game night here at the studio), you can find Jeff getting his tabletop wargaming on.
What’s your job at Bethesda?
I’m a Producer. AKA, the â€˜cattle prod,’ the â€˜snake-oil salesman,’ or â€˜smiley-glad-hand.’ On Fallout 3, I’m in charge of keeping the designers busy. I also have a heavy background in design from previous projects, so I coordinate and help design various game systems; combat and VATS in particular, among other things. It’s a great job. Being able to shoot at things in a videogame all day, and then getting paid, isn’t something I take for granted.
What other games have you worked on?
As a Designer I worked (with Michael Kirkbride, who some of you know) on Defender. I then was promoted to Lead Design on Fantastic Four for the first movie. From there, I held the title of Design Director over various projects. Here at Bethesda, I helped produce Oblivion, and was Lead Producer on Shivering Isles, Knights of the Nine, and the rest of the DLC.
What is the best part about working as a producer? The worst part?
The best part is I get to set and achieve my own personal goals. I get the privilege of being able to help, in any way I can, on Fallout 3, and other great games. Day to day my job responsibilities change, so I’m never bored. Today I got to play with various types of weapons and make small tweaks to damage, gun spread, field of view, etc. A month ago I was helping oversee the production of some of our most important main quest events (sorry, no spoilers.) Tomorrow I’ll probably be shuffling around a schedule trying to get this game finished someday. I’m lucky I get to work with the designers, as that where my true love lies! There really is very little downside. Sometimes I’d rather not spend so much time using MS Project, but that’s about it. Game development is very much a dream job if you find the right company.
How did you get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?
I got hella lucky. I had moved to LA to become a screenwriter, ended up bartending on Sunset Strip for years, and not writing much. I went back to school, got a Master’s, and started working in web development just as it began to implode. I was at a party one night and wound up talking to a producer for about 3 hours about games. He suggested I apply to become a designer with a buddy of his, and so I called up for an interview. I had no assumption that I would get the position, so I was very nonchalant during the interview. I even showed up late. Somehow, it worked for me, and I got an offer. It came with a salary cut, but it was well worth it…If you want to break into this industry (as a designer), make sure you have interests and abilities outside of simply playing games. The best designers I’ve seen aren’t necessarily the best gamers. Design requires a well-rounded mindset. Make sure you play games that aren’t on an LCD, as well. Understanding rule-sets is a valuable tool, one you don’t learn while just playing electronic games. Getting good with an RPG system will help with writing as well.Perhaps the most important â€˜skill’ is a good work ethic. Make sure you’re the best at whatever you’re doing; even if it’s not what you want to be doing. So if you get into a QA gig, be the best you can be. Others will take notice. People around you will be promoted, and when they’re asked whom they’d recommend, if you were a good co-worker your name will come up.
What would you say is your personal favorite game of all time?
Not a fair question! My favorite five are: Populous, Baldur’s Gate 2, Ultima VI, The Legend of Zelda, Gothic, and Call of Duty 4. Wait that’s six. Sue me.
What games are you looking forward to?
Fable 2, GTA 4, Dragon Age
What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
My alarm. Then a shower, then a half hour of asana, pranayama & mantra yoga. Then as much coffee as I can ingest.
Worst job you’ve ever had?
I worked for years renting tuxedos. Dealing with an angry bride’s wrath when her fiancÃ©e’s tux doesn’t fit isn’t something I’d wish on anyone. Honestly, I really didn’t enjoy Web Development that much either. My first job was frying chicken wings. It’s great to throw them in the grease still frozen, and then have your hands and forearms sprayed with boiling oil. Good times.
Any other hobbies and interests? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Spending time with my kids, reading, hiking, painting & playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle, watching movies, tending my reef tank, meditating, working-out and playing videogames! I keep pretty busy.