A Brief Introduction to the Designer, the Game, and the Blog (Part 1)

Hey everybody,

Looks like the time has finally come to start working on publishing my game. It’s a project I’ve been working on for about 9 months now, off and on, as time permits. As this is my first blog post in a presumable series of posts (hopefully at least once a week), I just wanted to provide some background and understanding for those out there reading this.

First and foremost, I wanted to spend a little time talking about me, Ben Burkhardt, the designer. I wanted to do this so you all have a chance to get to know who’s making these games and understand where I’m coming from with my creations. Hopefully it also lets you get to know me a little better if you’re on the fence about supporting my work. So, without further ado, let’s roll!

My gaming history really goes all the way back to my family’s first computer in the 90s, and the game Rodent’s Revenge. In the game you played a mouse, running around trying to trap cats and collect cheese. This was really my first experience with games. As time went on, I began checking out CD-Roms from the library (where my mom worked), and began to play an enormous variety of games, my favorite being any of the Backyard Sports games. I still occasionally play Backyard Baseball 2001. From there we graduated into an on again off again relationship with Neopets as well as a love for my PS2 games, particularly Star Wars Battlefront. And, I think what eventually really got me into games was when I finally purchased a PS3 and bought the online only shooter, Warhawk. I got hyper involved with the community, became arguably one of the best players in the game, and generated an everlasting love of the game. I even wrote a college admission essay about that experience (and was accepted to the school). All great things come to an end, though, and Warhawk was no different. Once I left for college the game had functionally died out, and all I had left to do was find a new game – that’s when I was introduced to League of Legends. That’s another of my all time favorites, and we’ll talk about how that changed my life in just a bit.

Now when I went to college, I had spent most of my life assuming I was going to go into physics. My dad was a physicist, I enjoyed the class and math, both pretty important requisites for going into the major, and everyone kind of told me that’s what I should do. I just went along with it because I didn’t know any better. Around my second year in college, though, I began to feel exceedingly depressed – my grades dropped substantially, I was placed on academic probation, I hated everything I was doing, and I felt like I had no direction. While I liked physics, I wasn’t passionate about it. My life just felt empty. Needless to say, I had a great cast of friends, family, and professors there to help me, and through numerous discussions and conversations I began to ask myself the important questions in my life: who was I and what did I care about? As you might guess, the thing I always felt myself drawn to was games. With that realization, although I knew I planned to finish out my degree with a focus in astrophysics instead of pure physics, I also planned to begin creating games and learn everything I could.

This brings us back to League of Legends. As I was heavily involved in the game, I also learned so much about the creators of the game – and I knew this was the place I wanted to work more than anything. I applied for an internship and was sadly rejected in my junior year, but I had learned to code by my senior year and wrote my senior thesis on gamification. I kept my eye on open positions at Riot at the same time, but nothing was available at the time for someone as entry level as me. I worked for NASA over the summer, detecting near earth asteroids, and went back home to tutor college students in physics as I worked on a top down adventure game in my free time. A position came available that winter, and, with some luck, I made it all the way to an onsite interview with Riot – where I was then rejected. I was pretty crushed, having just barely missed out on my dream job, and felt even more directionless than ever. All I could do was accept the feedback they had given me and try for the same position down the road, hoping to get a shot later. I did just that about 7 months later, and this time I was in.

This was my first step breaking into the industry, and after a bit of a lengthy learning curve, I developed fantastic relationships with pretty much every designer working on Core LoL, and began extremely invested in the projects we worked on together. To improve my design skills, I created mock reworks in my free time, with the recent release of Nunu having fairly similar concepts to designs I made about a year before. I also had a lot of input and balance work on Ornn before his release. I learned an enormous amount from the job and received feedback that there were plans to move me to the design track and eventually earn a full time design position. This was not to be, however, as my fiancee had just received an offer from Rutgers to attend their graduate philosophy program. As much as I wanted to go for the design spot and stay at Riot, I had no plans to leave her and instead chose to quit my dream job and move with her to literally the other side of the country. I knew I still had the ability to create awesome games on my own, and that’s now a huge part of what I do. I took everything I learned from my time at Riot and began applying that into the games I’ve made, eventually creating Pug Life. And that’s about pretty much my backstory.

This ended up being quite a bit longer than anticipated, so I’m going to cut myself off here. We’ll make this a 2-3 part post with the followup posts coming sometime within the next week.

What was your first game played? What really drew you into games, tabletop or video game? Anyone else have similar experiences going for their dream? Feel free to comment below, as I’d love to hear from you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *