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TWENTY YEARS, only a few tears.

Today marks the TWENTY YEAR anniversary of my time in the games industry. Twenty years! Next year I’m going to take my career out for it’s first legal drink. But this year, in honor of its hemisesquicentennial anniversary (that’s actually 75 years, but it sounded so much cooler than “Vigintennial”) I’ve decided to put up some historical documents so that you can all laugh at how unqualified I was for this job, how lucky I was to get it, and how screwed I would have been if I hadn’t. Also, I hope it encourages you job-hunters out there. If I can get a job in the games industry, ANYBODY can. (Not at my company of course. I would never hire somebody as unqualified as I was! I’m just lucky finding people smarter than me is so easy.)

First, lets start with the rejection letters.

 

Yeah, that’s right. I got dumped by Atari in 1989. Try to remember that this was not the company you call Atari today. This was, to me, still the company that made the greatest computer of all time, the Atari 800, plus all of my favorite childhood games. It was an incredibly nostalgic dream to work there, not very well thought-out on my part. And luckily, squashed by the pitiless Rhonda Allen. Thank you, Rhonda.

But Atari wasn’t the only rejection letter I got. Check this out:

Even I can’t believe I once applied for a job at Hewlett-Packard. But, see, I read once that when Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was getting his start he worked at General Electric during the day, and wrote short stories at night. And if it’s good enough for KVjr, it’s good enough for me. I figured I’d strap on a pocket protector, get myself one of those giant sliderules, and masquerade as an engineer all day. But then at night, I’d put on my tweed jacket with the elbow patches and drink scotch while pounding away on an old Smith-Corona typewriter. (Okay, I didn’t actually dream that pretentiously, but I did have some romantic notions about writing.) Luckily, I wasn’t a good enough engineer. Thank you, Carol Campbell!

My job hunt was getting kind of depressing. I was building up a pile of rejection letters, most of them from jobs I didn’t even want. I got rejected by a company that made library cataloging software. Stuck-up jerks! I bought a tie for that interview! I ironed my PANTS.

But then, one bright summer day, I walked into the campus career center and saw this:

That’s the original posting for the “Assistant Designer / Programmer” position at Lucasfilm, Games Division. A job I would later find out was called internally, “Scummlet.”

I called David Fox right away and scribbled all the notes you see while I was talking to him. I told him how much I wanted to work at Lucasfilm, not because of Star Wars, but because I loved, “Ball Blaster.”

“Ball Blaster, eh?” he said.

“Yeah! I love Ball Blaster!” I said. It was true. I had broken a joystick playing that game on my Atari 800.

“Well, the name of the game is Ball Blazer.” Mr. Fox said, curtly. “It was only called Ball Blaster in the pirated version.”

Gulp.

Totally busted. It was true—I had played the pirated version. There, I said it. Now, if you’ve ever pirated one of my games you don’t need to feel bad, because I did it to Lucasfilm Games when I was in high school. Of course, if you’ve pirated two or more of my games, that’s a different story.

The rest of the phone call didn’t go much better. But at the end of it, David told me to send in my resume, along with a cover letter describing my ideal job. Since I figured I had blown the interview, I had nothing to lose. So I did my cover letter in the form of a semi-graphic adventure. I drew the pictures on my Koala pad, and printed the whole thing out on my Atari 800 dot-matrix printer.

I’ve told this story many times before but I’ve never shown the actual letter. Here then is the WORLD PREMIER of what will surely become the standardized temlate for all future job-getting letters:


Some things to notice here:
1) I am an awesome artist
2) I have read “The Crying of Lot 49.” (In-joke only smart people will get.)
3) Hey, some graphic adventures have scores, all right?
4) How did I know in 1989 there would be a Rubik’s Cube on my desk? That’s freaky.

What’s even more freaky is this:

You can not imagine how excited I was to be getting $27k a year. I was so excited I put an extra hump in the “m” in my signature.

I still get kind of excited looking at that letter. Check out that old-school Lucasfilm logo. I was so excited by all that talk about dental benefits and vacation. Dental benefits! Just like a real job! I don’t have to work on databases! I’m going to work at the company that made Ball Blast—I mean, Ball Blazer, Rescue on Fractalus, and Koronis Rift! Oh, and Star Wars!

Thank you, David Fox, for hiring me even though I messed up the phone interview. And thanks to everyone who I’ve worked with in the intervening 20 years! I’ve always been lucky enough to work with amazing people, and in general, I’ve had one of the luckiest careers in gaming. So thanks to everyone who’s helped out along the way, and especially everybody who has played the games!

And for everyone on a job hunt right now—good luck! Don’t do what I did. It only worked in the 80s!

0
55
09/27/2009 - 08:39 PM
09/27/09 - 11:53 PM
Conrad:

"So lucky that you got that job! Lucky for everyone really, all your games are amazing. And darn, your last sentence shattered all my hopes and dreams, completely ruining my plan to send a comic into Double Fine and be instantly hired."
09/28/09 - 12:01 AM
tiffuts:

"So how qualified do I have to be to work at the awesome Doublefine. I'm currently working towards a degree in computer science in the game design concentration. Anything else you look for? I would love to know. I am very enthusiastic about video game design and I have a vivid imagination. Drop me a line if you're not busy. :)"
09/28/09 - 12:04 AM
Robojim:

"That is fantastic, and appropriately inspiring as I venture on my first job hunt out of college. Thanks Tim!"
09/28/09 - 12:20 AM
Kraznor:

"Very enjoyable and inspiring tale. The cover letter was especially amazing. Saved all of them just in case the same thing that happened to the Grim Fandango script occurs. Shouldn't, but lawyers are strange."
09/28/09 - 01:32 AM
monking:

"That's lovely and timely, Mr. Schafer. Thanks for the well-wishing. Those of us out of work will take it heart."
09/28/09 - 02:01 AM
Arrested Developer:

"Fact: I still have a stack of threaded dot-matrix printer paper just in case."
09/28/09 - 02:39 AM
Wolfengange:

"Dear Timothy: I am pleased that you have accepted the position in our hearts. You shall receive love, health and dental benefits. Sincerely Wolfengange"
09/28/09 - 03:34 AM
Kroms:

"I hope you don't mind: I've printed out all the letters and taped them to my wall. I want to have a career just as flourished and distinguished as yours, and I keep working on my writing and game development abilities (read: skills) for that reason. These are a great remainder that as long as the drive is there, no amount of failure will stop me. This post meant a lot. Thank you, Tim Schafer."
09/28/09 - 03:39 AM
Kroms:

"Ah, correction: * I keep working on my writing and game development related abilities (read: skills, as in programming, art, collaborative teamwork, etc)."
09/28/09 - 04:30 AM
Madsherman:

"I had somewhat the same experience, this year when I started IO interactive, although I didn't make as awesome an application as this one. Breathtaking. I wanna make Doublefines games in the future."
09/28/09 - 04:36 AM
Madsherman:

"Ok, so I didn't START IoI... I merely got a job.. sob."
09/28/09 - 06:09 AM
Hungryfreak:

"Congratulations on those 20 years Tim! Those are 20 of the greatest years for the video game industry right there."
09/28/09 - 07:21 AM
Razputin:

"I am VERY happy that you got that job at LucasArts/film. If it wasn't for you, games wouldn't have been the same for me. Thanks :)"
09/28/09 - 07:47 AM
benwantsakitty:

"this was an amazing post. i'm currently job hunting. got laid off from my dream job due to cuts. and this post put a huge smile on my face. thanks tim."
09/28/09 - 11:17 AM
Jellyfish Opera:

"You are a huge inspiration to a lot of people and me and after reading this you've only sent out a stronger message. I can only wait in anticipation for the projects you have planned in the future and as a illustrator/concept designer I've been down the road of rejection letters and success. I can only dream that one day I may be worthy enough to work for the 2hb and Double Fine. Your a Living Dream."
09/28/09 - 11:47 AM
DLK1:

""IDEAL CAREER CENTER"... Hey! Now I know where that Sybil character came from."
09/28/09 - 01:09 PM
Zenzuke:

"We're getting pretty emotional here today, guys :D"
09/28/09 - 02:10 PM
RatFight:

"Wow... congratulations on 20 years, Tim. Your contributions to so many great games over the years have made the world a better place -- no small feat for a former ball blastin' scummlet pirate! Thanks for inspiring us all!"
09/28/09 - 03:23 PM
Rivithed:

"Congratulations on making it this far, Tim! And thanks for the games! You've made the gaming world more enjoyable. Looking forward to Brutal Legend! #METAL! :snake:"
09/28/09 - 04:25 PM
Thylja:

"Thanks HP and everyone else you applied to (just imagine what fate you would have had to face had you been employed by Atari!) for not hiring you. We would have been deprived of many incredible games if it weren't for you being able to do your magic at Lucasfilm Games/ Lucas Arts! Just keep going and don't be afraid of getting older, think big, think whiskey or rum, or even better: Grog!"
09/28/09 - 04:58 PM
Chief Wakamakamu:

"This is incredible. I wish I was born in the eighties."
09/28/09 - 09:11 PM
RipTheVeins:

"Dammit! best resume ever. Too bad that kind of stuff doesn't fly anymore... unless... *excellent*."
09/28/09 - 09:44 PM
Krall:

"I had many aspirations to work in the game programming field. My problem was staring at code for that long made my eyes hurt, I just wanted to be the creative idea guy. I know full well that won't fly, you have to have SOME degree of programming knowledge under your belt, or you're wasting everyone's time. That's amazing how you went the extra mile to make your resume stand out like you did. Great job. I'm also pre-ordering Brutal Legend as early as tomorrow. The opening 5 minutes of the demo sold me. The bloody SETTINGS were part of the game, and hilarious!"
09/28/09 - 11:49 PM
Gigi:

"Aww thanks Mister Schafer for the heart! I am phone interviewing for a game design job tomorrow. Hopefully I will luck out like you, though my resume isn't nearly as cool (I did hide some secrets in it, which you can only find by cheating.) (-:"
09/29/09 - 12:01 AM
Badass Robot:

"That's about the same amount of time I've been gaming. Tim, I played the demo, and I have no doubt in my mind that you guys know what the hell you're doing with this game. If I can get excited about the care taken in the damn Start Menu, then the rest of the game is gonna be a riot. This is my Birthday present, since it comes out two days before the big day. Keep living the dream Schafer!"
09/29/09 - 12:37 AM
SuperLaserPie:

"Good job bro. If I see you at PAX again I'm still giving you 20 bucks, but this time as a "20 year bonus." Thank you for the quality service which has yet to dip once!"
09/29/09 - 03:09 AM
Arty:

"Wow! That was truly inspiring! Thank you for sharing this with us!! :-) And man, they even sent a rejection letter? :bug: Here, I just have to assume!!!"
09/29/09 - 04:56 AM
Demiath:

"While those awesome-looking Koala pad letters may only have been acceptable in the 80s, I can't think of a better (or more endearingly geeky) example of the general principles of successful job application - that is, to be as creative as you can in order to make your application really stand out from the zillions of other letters which the company have most likely already received, while also making sure you're channeling that creativity into something which has a very clear connection to the employer and the specific job you're applying for. Alternatively, just make sure to add lots of references to "The Crying of Lot 49". If it doesn't work, the employer is *obviously* not worthy of having you on his payroll... :P"
09/29/09 - 05:17 AM
General Balls:

"Here I am doing a Design Course in Australia and we aren't allowed to do stuff like that. We're supposed to have 'skills' and 'dependability' and all that rot. It's like they think it's a *real* job, like fencing (not the swords kind) or hopscotch."
09/29/09 - 06:23 AM
BruceChalupa:

"That was both inspiring and hilarious! I hope I can be so fortunate when I finish my schooling."
09/29/09 - 08:41 AM
JD123:

"Hi Tim, I have to admit that I did in fact pirate the Xbox version of Psychonauts. However, I liked the game so much I ended up buying it immediately. (Unfortunately by that time Majesco had up and died so I had to buy it used as it was out of print.) Later a internet person on an internet forum was selling a signed copy on the internet for a reasonable price, so I bought that one too. Little did I know that the autograph was personalized with some charming little remark about Aaron's charisma stats or something. Oh well, at least now I had two copies of Xbox Psychonauts! Finally, because I couldn't be bothered to plug in my Xbox anymore, and Microsoft was dragging their heels on getting it work on my 360, I went ahead and purchased the Steam version of the game for $10. I hope the proceeds from that purchase helps you make that money hat out of pennies you've always wanted. PS - I used to play LucasArts adventure games back in the day, but MM & DOTT was before my time, and Full Throttle could not hold my younger self's attention. Sorry. v :long: v (I hear they were excellent, but you really should have squeezed Indiana Jones or a weird Rabbit-thing and Dog detective in there somewhere.) Yours, Davey "expletive deleted" Jones"
09/29/09 - 10:40 AM
Casuali_t:

"Haha, awesome I started working in the industry a couple years ago making the same amount of money you made in 1989, crazy! Awesome job on Brutal Legend by the way can't wait to get my hands on it :)"
09/29/09 - 11:23 AM
RPhero:

"Dude, You (and now along with the folks at doublefine) are FINALY getting the recognition you deserve. When I was at E3, I was very pleased to see the huge Brütal Legend banner posted high above. To all those that passed you up in the past, I'd day F-'em feed 'em beans. Your path and acomplishments made some very, memorable gaming entries that I would not have missed for the world. Quite an inspiration too."
09/29/09 - 12:11 PM
lmcadams:

"Tim, A voice from the past, but since I see my name on your notes from Lucasfilm, I couldn't help but chime in. Congratulations on 20 years! I remember fondly the cover letter you sent and how clever and fun it was. I've received many creative introductions from candidates during my career in HR in the entertainment industry and yours remains one of the highlights. Although our paths haven't crossed much since the Lucasfilm days, I congratulate you on much success, and to those of you just starting out, hang in there. Dreams do come true! Warmly, Lori McAdams (then HR Manager at Lucasfilm, now head of HR at Pixar)"
09/29/09 - 01:07 PM
shahab09:

"OMG think of world with out Grim Fandango, Brütal Legend, FULL THROTTLE ... thank to lucasfilm to hire one of the wolrd most amazing game designer, still playing Grim Fandango finish the game 12 times but still love it ;) thanks Tim ;)"
09/29/09 - 01:20 PM
Manpuncher:

"Ahhh, a heart-warming tale of life in ye olde 1980's, when games companies had the decency to notify you of rejection."
09/29/09 - 02:01 PM
keendra:

"Oh man! Why wasn't I born earlier? :shut:"
09/29/09 - 03:13 PM
M-26-7:

"When I read Yoyodine, my belief that you're the second most awesome man alive was affirmed. The first being Pynchon. (You really are pretentious!)"
09/29/09 - 03:15 PM
Beyond_Birthday:

"And now you are making the awesomnisity that is Brutal Legend! Which I pre-ordered (yay)! I did play Psychonauts (by renting it at BlockBuster. Sorry, had no money then >.>) and it was like getting my brain poked by a koala! In a good way! :D"
09/29/09 - 04:36 PM
Jordan Arnold:

"Hey look, my Dad's signature! Glad you got hired at Lucas way back when."
09/29/09 - 09:08 PM
bfg9000:

"Double Fine is my Atari. True story. I was fresh out of college with zero experience, but somehow I landed a phone interview with the DF design crew. All I remember was telling some very unfunny jokes, because, Hey! this Tom Schefer guy likes humor, right?--I'll charm him with my charms! It was a disaster. And for some inane reason, I kept spamming them with terrible writing samples, like maybe if I kept sending stuff in, it'd wear them down and they'd give in or something. Obviously that didn't work, and now I live in a wet cardboard box under a highway overpass. (Just kidding--I'm a developer somewhere else now. So I guess the lesson is to just follow your heart. Never surrender! Believe in yourself! Just do it! Trust no one! The early bird gets the worm! Viva la revolucion! Girl power!)"
09/30/09 - 05:32 AM
Madsherman:

"@bfg9000 -Well, if you called him Tom Schefer I guess you're asking for it. LOL! .. I hope you were joking"
09/30/09 - 08:57 AM
cuppycakes:

"Companies don't write people back! LIES!"
09/30/09 - 10:24 AM
Grayeagle:

"LOL Tim :) I was in a CAD Engineering degree program ...sent a blueprint of an FW-190A 3-view done in Autocad to Kesmai (they were doing Air Warrior online thru GEnie before Al Gore 'invented' the Internet -rolls eyes) ..then sent them a render of Adolf Gallands ME-109F when I was introduced to 3d Studio and Photoshop. Eventually I got a call from the game's producer, Jonathan 'Blue' Baron, who I also used to fly with in Air Warrior ..two weeks before finals for earning my Associates Degree. He asked me when I could be there, I told him 'tomorrow' ..he asked 'what about your degree and the schooling?' ..he was a bit taken aback -grin- .. I said 'if I have learned enough to get hired by you, school has served it's purpose' .. I was hired as Lead Artist for Air Warrior ..we brought it kicking and screaming all the way into the texture mapped poly era of windows from DOS, then onto AOL games channel, at the dawn of the 'web based Internet' era :) To get it ..you have to work for it, want it, and have the passion for it. You have to *jam* :) -Frank P. 'Gray Eagle' Williamson 2XL Games 3d Artist ..and still *jammin*"
10/01/09 - 07:20 AM
Professional CV:

"Wonderful, wonderful story! You knew what you wanted to do, got over rejection, and even after stumbling in your telephone call, won out the day by understanding what they wanted by showing your passion. Tim, great story which I wish more college graduates and job seekers would learn from - you don't want any job, you want THE job. Thanks for the great lesson on top of all the entertainment! Rgds, Ian McA :-)"
10/01/09 - 12:36 PM
the ass man:

"Well i pirated Grim Fandango. But only because i was a little skeoitical about buying it. It's now my favorite game of all time, but i still haven't bought the game. I'm waiting for the HD remake of it."
10/05/09 - 08:19 AM
That Oneself:

"Thank you for these stories Tim. These are great."
10/06/09 - 03:56 PM
Pippilina:

"Hey here's a kindly worded rejection letter of my own! ;) Hi (Pippilina) I wanted to contact you and apologize for the delay. We are currently rethinking the Assistant Designer / Scripter position and what it will entail here at Double Fine. Please bear with us as we do this. Once we have a better understanding of what we hope the position will be, I will be back in touch with you. Please let me know if you current situation changed or changes at any time between our phone call with you and future contact from us. We have put you “On Hold” in our system and you are in no way out of the running for this position. Thanks for your patience. (Double fine)"
10/06/09 - 04:01 PM
Pippilina:

"Awesome cover letter btw! :) :) :)"
03/01/10 - 04:33 AM
krisfrosz133:

"What a great journey you must had from beginning to end. Truly inspirational."
06/10/10 - 03:10 AM
pwickedp:

"This truly is an inspirational story. I'm in the middle of a job hunt myself and well, it can be pretty hopeless at times, but i'll have to say the inspiration that I get from playing games is helping me get through it all."
01/17/11 - 06:23 AM
silverfrog:

"That's cool. When you look at those 'ancient' documents, you really feel that atmosphere and the thrill and excitement they brought the first time. It's great to have such things which help you remember the milestones of your life. I agree that the old style logo of Lucasfilm is really good. I am happy that you found a job you dreamed about, work in games. I think you can be an example of persistence and target orientation of a person, who has a dream."
02/02/12 - 09:43 AM
moonshine:

"ancient world wonders The seven World Wonders list of the ancient times was initially recorded approximately in the 2nd century BC. "
04/19/12 - 10:58 PM
Bumeo:

"hahaha nice!...thats why I have such a love for you guyzz..on the down low of course hahah"
11/22/12 - 04:52 PM
wookiemonster14:

"Although my current career choice has nothing to do with game development or anything of the sort, this leaves me less terrified about my future job hunt (barely). While I do feel bad that I have pirated your games I rest easy now that I have legally bought them. Thanks for this and all the hours of fun you have provided... On a side note please re-release Grim Fandango somehow so people like me who own "alternative" copies can purchase it and feel not so much like massive d*cks"
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