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This is the first time I've been fired from anywhere, in the 22 years I've been working as a programmer, or the 9 years I've been in the game industry.

I feel good. I've really been unhappy working there for over a year. I hated the code base I was working on, I had a low opinion of the programmers I was working with, and I thought the design team's approach to the game was completely backward. Instead of asking "what effect on gameplay are we trying to produce?" they asked "how can we simulate this idea that sounds cool?" Some of the systems I saw in the game were completely beyond the player's control. Things would go well or badly in some areas of the game due to shortages or surpluses of things the player couldn't control.

I had essentially no say in the design process. When I brought up ideas or pointed out flaws, what I had to say was summarily dismissed. I suppose if I were like the other programmers, who didn't think about game design at all, that wouldn't bother me. But it bothered me. I'd never worked with a team before that was less interested in what I had to say, not even when I first started in the game industry at Interplay.

As to why I was fired, I believe I know why, but I can't say with absolute certainty. They didn't offer an explanation, and I didn't ask any questions. It was just "we've paid you through today, here's a check for your vacation time, goodbye." As I saw it, there was nothing to be gained in drawing it out, so I didn't ask why. I have to assume it's because, for the first time in my working career, I've refused to work unpaid overtime.

On every game project I've worked on except Armageddon's Blade, I had a period of several weeks where I worked 80 hour weeks, typically 7 day weeks of 10-12 hour days. For Heroes IV, it was about 3 months. This time I didn't. I felt no attachment to the game, I didn't see any particular future at the job, and management never approached the programmers to determine how long it was going to take. For once I said "I refuse to work unpaid overtime to correct your planning mistakes." So they fired me.

In all fairness, they probably had to. Having one programmer working 40 hour weeks while the others are working heavy overtime is a serious drag on morale. Yet I don't myself as being in the wrong. Rather, I see the culture of game companies allowing management to systematically abuse their employees, and the other employees are just accepting it.

I must say it's a bit of a shock to be fired, but at the end of the day my only real regret is that I spent 17 months working there.

What will I do now? I don't know. I'll probably take a stab at picking up that independent game project I dropped in 2002, but the last time I did that I ended up playing games all day instead of working. I need a little more structure in my life than that I think, something where other people are depending on me for results. That, and it's still a little daunting trying to compete with 20+ man teams by myself. The failure of Brian's company, Pyrogon, has said to me that the smaller projects aren't all that practical.

- Gus
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