Inside the Vault: Ashley Cheng

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I’m working on getting more Inside the Vaults. They’re a-coming! I promise! To get things rolling again, I thought I would go ahead and do one. So, this is me.

What’s your job at Bethesda?
I’m the Production Director (fancy name for producer) for Bethesda Game Studios. I’m responsible for the day to day of the development team, scheduling and budgets, QA and testing, localization, running team meetings when Todd Howard is traveling, game library procurement, weekend and evening catering, commissioner of our Madden online franchise league, purchaser of buckets to collect rain water leaking from our ceiling. I’m the last one who touches our games before they go out into the world to be replicated, boxed and shipped out to stores and/or downloaded via Steam/Xbox LIVE/PlayStation Network, etc… My office is full of gold masters of every version of every game we’ve shipped since 2001. I have one of the best jobs anybody could ever wish for.

What games have you worked on?
I’ve worked on Morrowind, Oblivion and Fallout 3 and all their expansions, downloadable content, add-on disks and Game of the Year editions. Unlike our leads who tend to focus on one project, I work on all our projects at the same time, focusing my time primarily on the one closest to shipping.

What is the best part about being a producer? The worst part?
For me, the best part of my job is the team I work with. I’ve been here for over eight years now and the team we have here is pretty awesome, and the games we make — also pretty awesome. Some of my best friends are people I work with. One of the highlights of my day is pulling down the latest build and seeing what new things are in the game. I love seeing our games evolve with every milestone.

I don’t have many complaints. Seriously, I get paid to make games. What is there to complain about? Well, if I had to pick something, I’d say my office gets as cold as a meat locker for some reason. I have a coat rack full of cardigans to keep me warm.

I could complain about the long hours, but I don’t mind putting in the extra time because I love what I do and I want our games to be among the best. It helps that I really believe in the projects we are working on, and that we’re in a unique position in the industry in that our projects are truly our own — we don’t do work for hire, we don’t rely on any external approvals, and we self fund and self publish our games. While it is nice to have the freedom, the pressure is also equally high to maintain the quality and success bar we’ve set with Oblivion and Fallout 3. Imagine having to follow up those two titles. Talk about pressure!

How did you get into the industry? Do you have any tips for breaking in?
As with any job, always do your best work and be in the right place at the right time. Even when you aren’t sure where you are headed, it always pays to have a strong work ethic so that when the stars align, you are in the best position to go where you want to be.

My first job out of college was working for a consumer advocate. It was a small office, only five employees, and we worked out of this old office building that was three blocks away from the White House. It was an amazing hands-on, trial-by-fire job and I learned a lot. I worked on book projects and public relations for non-profit consumer advocacy groups in DC. But it wasn’t where I truly wanted to be.

I’m a huge gamer and techie and really wanted to get into the games industry. I called and emailed the few developers in the DC area until one of them — Bethesda Softworks — had an entry level opening in marketing and public relations, and I was lucky enough to get the job. Flash forward years later, I’ve left Bethesda — I’m working on web interfaces and software development at a dot com (we’re all going to be rich, of course). The Internet bubble bursts and I’m out of a job. Luckily, when I called, Bethesda was happy to have me back. One day, Todd Howard walks by my cube and says, “Could you help me? I could use you on my project.” That project was Morrowind. Once I joined the internal development group (we were only 40 developers then), I never looked back.

In short, (here’s the advice section) work harder than everybody else. If you see something that needs doing, don’t wait for somebody else to do it, you do it. Always follow through. Never pass the buck. Assume you know nothing and always be learning from everybody. Go out of your way to make life easier for everybody else. Never ask anybody to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. This how you stand apart — people will remember you for it.

What would you say is your personal favorite game of all time?
Hard to limit to one. I have lots. Civilization. (Civ on iPhone is a must buy for any Civ fan). Utopia on Intellivision. Alice in Wonderland on C64. Karateka. Karate Champ. Ancient Art of War.  Super Mario Bros. 2. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Full Throttle, Monkey Island 1, Curse of Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle. Knights of the Old Republic, Planescape Torment, Fallout 1, the Wizardry series, Jade Empire, and World of Warcraft (though I refuse to play it anymore b/c it sucks my life away) are my favorite RPGs. Redguard, which is one of Todd Howard’s early titles. More recently, I’m a big NCAA Football fan, and really impressed with the new Madden this year. I’m addicted to Carcasonne on Xbox LIVE. Rock Band, Mass Effect, Call of Duty 4 and GTA4 were high points for me in last couple of years, too. I’ll play anything by the guys at Bioware who made KOTOR/Mass Effect/Jade Empire.

What games are you looking forward to?
The Beatles: Rock Band. Dragon Age. Modern Warfare 2. Alpha Protocol. Uncharted 2. Mass Effect 2. Next year’s NCAA which will hopefully be updated with the improvements to this year’s Madden. Blizzard’s next MMO (World of Starcraft, pls). New Super Mario Wii looks awesome. Ken Levine’s next game. Sid Meier’s next game. GTA: Chinatown Wars for iPhone.

What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
Blondie, our German Shepherd mix rescue.

Worst job you’ve ever had?
Fast food. I worked at Roy Rogers in high school. Working food service — no thanks.

Any other hobbies and interests? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I enjoy checking out what’s on the TIVO, movies, books, writing, music and podcasts. I love traveling and trying new restaurants. Having lived in DC most of my life, thanks to the Smithsonian Institution, I am now morally offended when I’m asked to pay to go into any museum. I like watching college basketball and pro football. We’re taking a big trip to Taiwan to visit family later this year. I’m working on my Masters degree part time — I hope to be done before our next game comes out. I’m planning on taking up golfing next year.

Reader Comments

  1. I’m sure you were kicking yourself in the butt when you left them in the nineties for the dot com boom. Lucky you got your job back XD!

  2. Oh and DRAGON AGE is fantastic so far! Just picked it up this morning and played a few hours tonight without doing any combat because the spoken dialogue, conversation trees and the intricate plots are the best i have seen since reading Ken Rolston’s npc conversations and books in MORROWIND.

  3. I wonder if she would be willing to comment as to why there won’t be a release of Mothership Zeta as a Game Add-On Pack for the PC.

    Some of us don’t want to use the bloatware that is Games for Window’s Live to download it. Nor do we wish to pay for the Game of the Year Edition to get it as it would come with content we already legitimately purchased separately.

    I hope she’s not leading Bethesda down a path of stepping on the very gamers that helped make Bethesda the company that it is today.

  4. I was wondering does bethesda plan on making TESV. That would be awesome I have devoted countless hours of my life playing Morrowind and Oblivion so a 5th installment would be great. thank you

  5. [I was wondering does bethesda plan on making TESV. That would be awesome I have devoted countless hours of my life playing Morrowind and Oblivion so a 5th installment would be great. thank you

    Left by Charles Johnson on November 10th, 2009 ]

    Charles Johnson yes TES V has been in the works for awhile now. Around the time FALLOUT 3 came out i read Bethesda was going for a 2010 release date for TES V. Whether that is still true i dont know since now outside observers are thinking more 2012.

  6. Anyway I cen get some contact info for the Fallout team? I’ve been submitting samples of my work for some time. Like to hear your guys’ thoughts on my stories. Thanks!