When I walked into Complex Games that fateful Spring day of 2013, I saw 3D models of, what looked like, the nephews from DuckTales, but immediately put it aside. I had a meeting with Noah Decter-Jackson (the CEO of the studio) because he wanted to talk to me about an upcoming project.
“… No…” I thought to myself in disbelief. “I must be mistaken.”
I guess I was trying not to get my hopes up. Then I passed another monitor and they were tweaking some colour on Scrooge McDuck’s smoking jacket. Could it be…?
Then I saw Noah and we smiled and shook hands. He invited me into his office and we caught up for a while (I had been doing contract work for Complex Games for about seven years at this point, so we’ve got a great relationship). Off the cuff, I said: “Wow, this new game looks a lot like DuckTales!” To which he smiled and said “it is DuckTales. Have a seat.”
The moment of rising anxiety-mixed-with-excitement is what I’ve come to call the “big leagues” feeling. That was the first time I ever really felt like I was in over my head. I was playing in the big leagues.
He walked me through the level design and we determined what would need music and how much. It was only six tunes and I knew that I could do it, but the quality had to be so, so, so, so high. I make my stuff as high-quality as I can, but it’s rare that I’ll be lying awake at 11:30 worrying if I put too much mid in the bass EQ.
(That specific example is below. Seriously, it’s the most iconic bass line in Disney, which will bring me to my next point:)
It’s important not only to want to do a good job, but the other side of that coin is the overbearing feeling of “don’t screw it up.” And it really is a ton of work. A metric ton. Of work. It’s a ton work that you want to be great, but also to not screw up.
It is so messed up, but I got it done and I grew for it. I was better for it. It leads up to something I’ve told my students quite often, best articulated by Courage Wolf:
The feeling of being overwhelmed by contibuting something that you believe is beyond you is called a great opportunity for growth. By going through those feelings of stress, of working so hard you don’t think you can keep going, of continual revision, of the pursuit of your personal best and a constant and consistent strive for excellence, you enable yourself to grow.
I still get those feelings. I got them with my next contract, KRE-O: CityVille Invasion when I saw toys for the game I was making. I’m currently working on Betty Boop Dance Card for iOS and I still get those feelings. Last week, I was so stressed that all I could think about was throwing up and scotch. But hey, guess what? I made it through without either throwing up or scotch. When you play in the big leagues, the big league feelings never go away.
Growth is never easy and it rarely feels good until after it’s over.
In teaching, this is what the musical feels like. It’s two weeks before the show, it’s 9pm on a Tuesday and I just want to go home. But we aren’t done yet. We’ve been working on these scenes for months because that’s how long it takes and it has to be good. That’s one part; the other part (as the pitband director) is don’t screw it up because the singers/actors/dancers are depending on you. And then the show happens and it’s amazing and we’re so proud of everyone. At that point, we know that it’s worth it and everyone grew
even though it was so much work because it was so much work.
That’s what growth looks like. You don’t get to grow by doing things you can already do, you grow by doing things you can’t. You grow by throwing yourself in, drowning for a bit, stressing, struggling, busting your butt, then eventually figuring things out, then working some more, then getting it, then tweaking, then perfecting, then feeling awesome.
So bite off more than you can chew… then chew it.