Story #4 David

Moved from Arizona to Breda: from working in Star Wars combat games to teaching

  • 07.09.16

David Wessman is Senior Lecturer Game Design & Production and this is his #NHTVStory:

”The story dates back to 2010 when I first learned about NHTV, but I entered the game industry in 1991. All of my life I loved games and I played games. At one point I discovered complicated World War games and they had articles that discussed the design of the games. They used the term game designer. And I was like; ‘oh, so there is a job called game designer?’ It really didn’t sound really realistic at the time, so I didn’t pursue it. And initially I wanted to be an astronaut, so I was pursuing that.

Career plans changed in my teens in terms of goals, I decided to be a rockstar instead and actually did become pretty good with a guitar and ended up touring as a concert audio engineer with various metal bands all over North America and Europe. That was my first trip to Holland, the 1989 Dynamo Festival. The Dutch people made a good impression on me then and I came back to Amsterdam on my honeymoon and reinforced my good impression of the Dutch.

But in 1991 I went into games as a tester at LucasArts. A friend of mine from had a job there and I asked him; ‘let me know next time they are hiring’. I knew he was working on a WWII game, which really excited me and what I really wanted to work on, but in the interview they made it clear that: ‘oh no, we don’t need you on that project, we need you on Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis’, which is a graphic adventure game and not a genre I enjoy. And ‘well, okay, I will pay my dues’, because they were like; ‘do you want the job or not?’. I was like; ‘no, no, I want the job, LucasArts are you kidding? Of course I want the job’.

And during the projects development, I moved from being a periodical tester to being a writer and a designer. At the end of the project, I was a mission builder and a writer, more than I was a tester. Moving forward throughout the rest of all of the Star Wars combat games and we incorporated the studio as totally games. LucasArts was our publisher and I had great fun working in the Star Wars games. You really felt like you were flying around in space.

George Lucas sent us a letter in that effect, so we were very proud of that. Just before the ending of my time at totally games, I did have the opportunity to publish, to work on a few published World War games and both of those came out the same year and both of those won awards. I thought I don’t care what the medium is, it could be electronic, it could be paper but I know how to make fun games. The next several years became very rocky, the industry is quite volatile. You get to the end of a project and if they don’t have another project for you right away, they let you go.

After being called into where they say ‘thanks for all your hard work David, but today is your last day’, again’ it got really old. A guy that I had met at a game developers congress, was the faculty chairman at the game program at a school called University of Advanced Technology in Tempe Arizona. Every time I got laid off from another game studio, he would be on the phone with the same question: ‘So, you want to come teach, you want to teach?’

It was too big of a pay-cut. So I said ‘yeah, I like to, but no’.

In the end I got into teaching an online class, a part-time thing. I taught a five week course of introduction to game design and I really enjoyed it, it was really rewarding, except for the pay. I told them, if they can ever fix it, so the compensation is a little bit better, I would consider doing this fulltime. That finally did happen, in 2008. I moved to Arizona, and was a fulltime instructor there for five years. I also finally completed my own bachelor in game design, which was funny because I was teaching.

In 2010 when I was teaching in the Arizona school, I met one person of the faculty of NHTV. He was at GDC and just struck up a conversation with me. It sounded really great to me because one of the things that separates NHTV of any of the schools I taught at, is that all of the faculties here have deep industry experience. That was intriguing. He said ‘here you have the job descriptions, we got two openings’. I applied, but at the time I didn’t have my bachelor’s and I didn’t have enough current programming knowledge, so they passed on me.

A flash forward to last year, a year and a half ago. I announced on Facebook that I was looking for something. And a colleague from my early days in 2000/2001, another instructor at NHTV now, Marc send me that there were openings at NHTV. It finally aligned and I am here now. And I really like it, the school is amazing, the students are amazing, my colleagues are all wonderful and I feel a lot more comfortable.

One of the most rewarding things about teaching, is when you helped somebody to understand some concept, something they have been struggling at, when something just all comes together. It is like the light bulb moment, you can see the understanding is in their eyes and I helped them get there. Of course when students actually go on and do amazing things and win awards, I think I can take a little pride in that. I am happy for them but also proud that I feel like I did my job well.

When I first came here I rented a flat form another colleague who went to Malta, right in the city center and that was too loud. Too many crazy party people at 3 o’clock in the morning. Now we are not that much further away, but we have some more buildings between us and the city center and it is so beautiful. We overlook the military academy and it is just really pretty and my wife likes it too.

Even though I am an expat and I don’t speak the language, I feel comfortable here.