12 Months Later… From Physics To Games

First-Year-Anniversary

A lot has changed for me in a year. Thinking back, I was nursing a post-PAX blues back then, too… only I had no name for it. I wasn’t even a game developer. I was only aspiring to be one, after being inspired by last year’s Unite, GCAP and PAX. If only I knew then how much my life would transform because of Games Week 2014.

I have no idea who could possibly be interested in my story, but why not. This article is about my long, arduous journey into the video game industry.

This may not come as a surprise to anyone, but many video game developers did not start out in games. In my office alone, there’s someone who started out as a journalist, and another an architect. Now they both own their own video games company.

Me, I was a physicist. A PhD student, to be accurate, but at the postgraduate level we call ourselves scientists. I was an Experimental Particle Physicist and I contributed to the discovery of the Higgs Boson, something you may or may not have heard of. Towards the end of my postgraduate degree, I had to decide: was I in the right career? Did I really want to be a physicist for the next two decades? I had already invested a decade of my life into physics, after all. Did I even have what it takes to start over in another industry that was practically alien to me?

These thoughts were crippling my every action. I was filled with so much self-doubt and uncertainty about my future that I had cut myself off from the world, crawled into the dark cave that was my bedroom and remained there for six long months. Although, to be fair, I was also writing up my thesis, which may have contributed to my gloomy outlook on life.

Now, to be clear, I enjoyed physics immensely, and I still do. There’s a certain kind of romance in the pursuit of scientific truth, simply for the sake of the advancement of knowledge. There’s a certain kind of privilege being able to peek under the hood of reality, into the fundamental laws and building blocks of the universe. If I ever needed a greater purpose in my life, I had found it in physics.

Yet, frustratingly, they weren’t enough for me. How can they not, a question I asked myself countless of times. What was wrong with me? Of course, I already knew the answer. I always have. They weren’t enough for me because science wasn’t my first love. No, that honour belonged to video games.

You see, making video games had always been my dream since I was a kid. But back then, there were no courses for it, at least not where I grew up in Malaysia. No one spoke of it as if it was a real career. This was before I discovered my creative sides, too — being able to make music and write stories came as a huge surprise to me some years later. So, I picked my courses based on what I was good at in high school: engineering and science. Hey, everyone has to start somewhere, right?

Unsurprisingly, never certain about myself, I kept going back to university, degree after degree. Three degrees later, and nearly my fourth, I finally ended my stalemate.

I stumbled upon an online community of BBC Sherlock fans who were making a Sherlock puzzle game. Being a fan of the series myself, I immediately joined their ranks as a writer, puzzle designer and programmer. Months later, unexpectedly exhilarated from the experience of making the game, I bought myself tickets to Games Week on a whim. Understand that I never buy things on impulse (unless it’s food). I still remember the sharp feeling of guilt for attending these wonderful games conferences instead of staying at home and writing my thesis. But boy, it was worth every bit of guilt I suffered.

Games Week 2014 was where I discovered the existence of a bustling indie game developer scene right here in Melbourne. It was practically exploding with life and colour. I was flabbergasted. How did I miss all this? I lived in this wonderful city for over a decade and somehow I wasn’t able to see it until that day: that becoming a video game developer was a real option for me. Nothing was stopping me. Suddenly, the gloom that had been weighing down on me lifted and I could finally peek into my future.

It was at GCAP Awards Night when I met an awesome game developer who told me all about IGDAM and the Arcade. And it was in one of those IGDAM meet ups—after several months of attending—I met the Tin Man team and found out about their job opening. Despite my insecurities, I applied for the job. I wasn’t expecting a reply since I was convinced I was the least qualified of all their applicants. Imagine my surprise when I was called in for an interview, twice, and then was actually offered the job. I could hardly believe it. I felt like I had somehow deceived my interviewers. It was only later on I discovered that there was a slight possibility I was suffering from the infamous Imposter Syndrome. Funny that.

So, I may have taken an entire decade and more to come back to my first love, but the important thing is, I’m here now. I do not regret my time as a software engineer. A web developer. A research assistant. And a physicist. No regrets. Today, I’m finally a video game developer, and I intend to kick ass.