Summer Series: An Insightful AMA Night with Kevin James Wong, and Atlas Chen
Written by Nicholas Uster
Edited by Jeff Hanrahan
On Monday, July 20th, EGD presented another insightful event to add to the Summer Series, hosting AMAs with game designer and producer Kevin James Wong and design team manager at thatgamecompany, Atlas Chen.
Kevin Wong began by explaining that his passion for a career in the games industry began with studying politics in high school. The 2010 Supreme Court case Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association would have violated game developers’ First Amendment rights, placing restrictions on the sale or rental of “violent video games” to minors. Wong wrote a letter to the California state senator Leland Yee arguing that the proposed restrictions on games were wrong, eventually getting a meeting with Yee’s office. While not much happened at the meeting, Wong decided to challenge himself to work in the games industry, as games were a creative passion for him. Wong ended up going through the University of Southern California’s games program, where he says he received a wonderful education, starting the roots of his career.
Wong described having had many coworkers with degrees in history, theater, or computer science, saying that one does not need a degree exclusively in games to break into the industry. Going to games school is beneficial in fostering amazing connections with those in the field, but it is not necessary; however, community support is very important. He noted that it is crucial to elevate your peers and coworkers in mutual support. The connections that he developed along the way helped him gain opportunities and get recommended for jobs.
Wong explained that he was a designer before he was a producer, working on The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, other VR games, and student projects. Those experiences helped him understand what it takes to build a game, and how the production pipelines work. Sharpening one’s skills in multiple aspects of the trade will help when it comes to producing.
Wong explained that one of the best ways to get exposed to coding games is to start building things yourself; a lot of the tools one needs to make games, like Unity, are free or very accessible. He mentioned that aside from YouTube, Zoë Quinn’s website is a great tool for learning how to get started making your own independent games.
Following Kevin Wong was design team manager at thatgamecompany, Atlas Chen. Recently receiving multiple awards for their game Sky: Children Of The Light, Atlas has been working on games since the age of 12.
Ever since the game was in development, Atlas felt Sky would benefit society and players; they would like the industry to see the game and possibly change the business aspect of the industry works, or what games are viewed as important. It took seven years for the game to finally launch, but Atlas felt there was a huge payoff through the creation of an amazingly positive community. It was difficult not talking to their team in-person while developing the game during the pandemic, as being in the office helps Atlas to see how people are feeling. They try to support those that appear stressed or overwhelmed.
Atlas said that their inspiration is frequently drawn from other types of media like history, mythology, and even random episodes of TV. Atlas loves to read myths from different cultures for inspiration and also to analyze how to structure narratives. Chen cited scholars like Joseph Campbell as having an impact on their work. Games, like myths, have become an important form of learning and critical thinking.
Atlas noted that being a design team manager is somewhat similar to being a producer; you must know what it takes to finish a task, the risks, and the processes to get it done. In their work as a design team manager, Chen also has to keep designers up to speed and make sure they are supported, as well as communicate with other teams.
Atlas stressed that it is important to make sure you have some quiet time with yourself each day to forget about work and stop the rumination. To organize an abundance of tasks, Atlas suggests getting a piece of paper and writing anything coming to your head; this can help to organize your thoughts and help you to find what is most important to work on, making it feel less stressful.
Atlas explained that their inspiration to join the games industry came after playing a campaign made by another player in Age of Empires, when they were so touched by the plot that they realized games have the potential to affect people deeply. Chen went to college for biological science, but realized that a change was needed one day when they were listening to music from a campaign they created. The music made Atlas feel that spark from childhood, causing them to switch their path into being part of the game industry.
Atlas said they see kids connecting all over the world through games, noting that they heard about a girl who kept in touch with her grandma through playing Sky together, even though they were separated, which touched Atlas. Sky: Children Of Light is so named because it gives an opportunity for all of us to be children again; Chen says that a child-like and non-judgmental purity of mind is still deep inside of us.
Atlas explained that all games need a soul, and find the message it should share with people. After all, as Chen notes, games can tell a story in a way that other media cannot, because games give players choice.
To learn more about Kevin and stay updated on his future work, follow him on Twitter!
To check out thatgamecompany and stay updated on Atlas’ future work, follow them on Twitter!
EGD’s AMA events are part of a larger Summer Series. Check out the EGD community Discord to stay updated on upcoming events. EGD is also hosting esports tournaments as part of the Summer Series, so join the EGD Hub on AVGL to sign up and play for prizes!