Days of High Adventure
Gaming's Renaissance Man

Allen Varney | 3 Dec 2009 17:00
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When the early-'80s videogame boom busted, Jaquays transitioned easily back to freelancing, both in computer games (he did the first Lord of the Rings computer game for Interplay) and in paper (the Central Casting character creation books for Task Force Games, among many others). His best-known painting, Dragon Mountain, dates from this time. He did extensive development on Bard's Tale IV before Electronic Arts cancelled the project; some fans even now remain wistful. In 1997, when Jaquays was a TSR staff illustrator during its long and painful decline, Call of Cthulhu designer Sandy Petersen recruited him to id Software, where he designed levels for Quake II and III. That led to a long hitch at Ensemble Studios, doing art for Age of Empires III and Halo Wars. In October Jaquays started a new gig at CCP, publishers of EVE Online, where he is hidden behind a human wall of alert and close-mouthed PR people.

Any other creator in the tumultuous game industry must envy this tremendous versatility. "Having a varied professional skill set has allowed me to stay in the game industry long-term, change when it changed, and be ready for new opportunities: game illustration this month; adventure writing or editing the next; computer game design projects as needed; art for children's magazines and publications; even turnkey book production. In the computer game industry, having art and design skill sets allowed me to either be the artist who understood design, or the designer who could bring an artist's perspective to his work. Even today, as level designer, I still use the adventure writing and editing skills picked up during my RPG days. The illustration skills have been mostly converted into 3-D modeling skills to block out game worlds."

For all this variety, Jaquays' most lasting contribution to gaming may ultimately be in education.

The program directors at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas consulted Jaquays on preparing students to enter the digital game industry. Ultimately Jaquays, together with other industry professionals, shaped SMU's Guildhall Masters program in Game Development and wrote its Art Creation curriculum. "As the program launched, I became one of the founding Guildmasters - the industry face of Guildhall. I've had the honor to be on the presentation platform for all ten class graduations to date, and even gave the commencement address at one."

"Overall, the school has been an outstanding success. Students going through the program together not only learn their own disciplines, but, even more important, learn how to work together on a team with developers of other disciplines. Ask Guildhall grads the most important lesson taken away from the school, and you're likely to hear them say 'I learned how to work as part of a team.' Employers have definitely taken notice of that. At one point recently it had a 96% placement rate into the game industry. One graduate is now a lead level designer at a major developer, and several others have joined together to form a new startup [Controlled Chaos Media] whose first project got into the top 25 on the iPhone app store's entertainment list." Jaquays still advises the Guildhall, and - the ultimate endorsement? - his son, Zach Jaquays, completed the program in 2005.

Paul sees several challenges ahead for game development education. "[The] traditional computer game industry is being hit by the same economic factors slamming the rest of the world. Large employers have been trimming game jobs by the thousands this past year, and small to medium studios have been closing their doors. The good news is that other studios have been re-employing those laid off, but that may be coming at the expense of expanding with new, untested talent.

"The second challenge is to provide degree programs that actually meet industry needs. There's a lot of difference in the quality of game development education out there, and those shopping for a bargain price on a development diploma may be getting exactly what they pay for, instead of what they need. And finally there's the challenge of luring veteran game developers into full-time faculty positions to teach the next generation of game developers."

Assuming academia meets these challenges and continues to advance, we can look forward to a future - ideally in his lifetime - where some diligent scholar at last rediscovers, and gets tenure from, the remarkable career of Paul Jaquays.

Allen Varney has written over 60 articles for The Escapist. See the complete list at Great Games Experiment.

(Art by Paul Jaquays, used under Fair Use)

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