The month of June was a pretty amazing month for me. The Zelda Symphony returned to Atlanta on June 6, premiering its second season dubbed “Second Quest.” Right after that, 3 years since its last visit, Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY also came back to the capital of Georgia. I had the joy of going to both of these events. However, the true highlight for me in this month was having the opportunity to attend the Electronic Entertainment Expo (better known as E3) in the heart of downtown LA. Many gamers have dreamed of attending this conference. Finally, for me, this changed from a dream into a reality. In addition, my E3 attendance was part of something very special. I got to attend E3 as an IGDA Scholar.
Every year, the International Game Developers Association will award these scholarships “to the most promising students studying anything related to game development.” IGDA scholarships include all-access passes to events such as E3, studio tours of local game development companies, mentorships and meetings from senior video game developers. In a nutshell, it’s a priceless opportunity for anyone who wants to work with video games. Lucky for me, I was among only 8 people chosen to attend E3.
How did I get this scholarship? Well, I applied for it! The application asks for some basic information, but it also pays special attention to how you’re contributing to both the game development community and areas outside of that through volunteerism. It will cover game projects you’ve worked on, your career goals and aspirations, and your thoughts on why it’s important that developers should help each other. Certain sections of it allow you to make special requests. In particular, you can ask for your ideal mentor. Remembering a video I saw about the IGDA scholarships before, I took advantage of this and requested Kellee Santiago. She is one of the co-founders of Thatgamecompany, the producer behind Flow, Flower, and Journey, and currently in charge of developer relations for OUYA. Believe it or not, IGDA pulled through and Kellee Santiago became my mentor! However, I didn’t just get Kellee… I also got a second mentor, Erin Robinson (a.k.a. LivelyIvy), an award-winning independent game developer. Erin currently is working on the charmingly Zen-like game known as Gravity Ghost!
Since my return, colleagues often ask me what I did at E3, what games I’ve played, and what I enjoyed most. I played lots of games, so I’m just going to limit it to the ones that stood out to me the most. Well, it should be no surprise that I was absolutely thrilled with the Nintendo booth. I loved playing the two Zelda games, The Wind Waker HD and A Link Between Worlds. Outside of Nintendo, I really enjoyed Tearaway for the PS Vita. However, by far, the best experience at E3 for me was getting to attend the Pokémon X & Y Developers Roundtable presented by Tsunekazu Ishihara and Junichi Musuda. Not only was the roundtable itself pretty fantastic, I also found myself among several of my game developer heroes. I ran into Shigeru Miyamoto on the way there, and I found myself sitting with Eiji Aonuma, Masahiro Sakurai, and Takashi Tezuka. It was truly an honor!
Another thing that was a blast to do was the studio tours of EA, Insomniac Games, and Riot Games. Thanks to my wonderful mentor, Kellee, I also got to visit Thatgamecompany and meet with Jenova Chen. It was very enlightening to visit these different places and witness firsthand how company culture can vary from place to place. I also need to mention how awesome it was to meet and talk with my mentors and industry veterans such as Laura Fryer. These wonderful and talented people were also big highlights of my E3 experience.
Oh, did I forget to mention that I went to see the Zelda Symphony again in LA? The performance at the Greek Theatre blew Atlanta out of the water. Seriously, the orchestra performed at a caliber worthy of Hollywood films and the result was spectacular. I will be forever spoiled.
Trust me, I’ve been to 4 Zelda Symphonies. Of course, I have yet to attend one that disappoints either. Live orchestrated Zelda music? My response anytime will be: “Yes, please.” Anyways, the best way I can describe E3 in a nutshell is that it’s a “video game theme park.” Much of the show is dedicated to the spectacle of marketing, journalism, and PR (all which I think are a lot of fun). Thanks to the IGDA Scholarship, I also got special access to speak with the developers behind the games at E3. The event in its entirety was an extremely rewarding and educational experience. I could honestly write a book about my amazing time there, but instead I’ll end it here with a bit of advice for future IGDA Scholars: Don’t hesitate to take full advantage of the scholarship. Thanks to the all-access pass given to me by the IGDA, I was able to see and do things I probably would have never been able to do as a regular attendee. Never think that something is not achievable. Take a chance: request for that amazing mentor, talk to people who inspire you, and go see the things you truly want to see. You’ll find opportunities in areas you’re truly passionate about, and that will ultimately create an unforgettably great experience.