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The Move to Sheepland

Posted: June 18th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Soapbox | 2 Comments »

So e-Goh, the carefree freelance game developer is no more, having crossed over to the dark side of corporate game development with Gameloft, Auckland. Why would I want to make such a move? First, adventure (i.e. get into trouble). Second, to get out of Singapore. Lastly and mostly, it sounded like fun!

The Application

How does one get a job with a large game development studio that is located overseas? Quite simply, you apply. I sent out my resume to anybody with an email address. Most useful were the contacts I gained through LinkedIn and Facebook. Pretty much none of them replied. Big studio, small studio, it didn’t matter, and it was expected. That is the way the world is, you can’t just send out your resume and hope for the best. Instead, you have to relocate first, get to know the companies there, and then apply!

Well, apparently Gameloft didn’t get the memo. They replied! They sent me a test to do, which I apparently aced (of course), and then we had a quick interview over the telephone. Just like that, “Wham! Bam! Thank you Ma’am!”, I was in!

The Process

Just getting the job wasn’t enough. There’s still the process of actually getting into New Zealand. In order to work in New Zealand, you need a work visa, and they are pretty strict about it. Depending on the length of your stay, you may be required to go for a full medical checkup, get the CID to issue a police report to vouch for the goodness of your soul, and who knows what else? Fortunately, the length of my initial contract was only one year, so it wasn’t too much of a hassle.

On the employer’s side, they had to prove that they actively tried to look for talent in New Zealand and couldn’t find it. Luckily for me, they had already been searching since January last year and we had plenty of documentary proof. They also had to furnish documents like the offer letter, employment contract, etc. for the perusal of the immigration office (which is located in Ngee Ann City, if you’re curious).

After about 10 days, approval was obtained, and all that was left to do is procure tickets, hop on a plane and pray it wouldn’t crash.

The FUD

It’s amazing what horror stories people tell you when you are about to move. The income tax is 30%! The public transport sucks! The streets are barren and empty, with nothing but sheep grazing around! The natives are racist and will murder you in your sleep!

All of the above, of course, is not true. But even the great man in the sky had his two cents. A month before I left, Christchurch (a major city on the south island of New Zealand) was hit by an earthquake. Barely a day after I arrived, he whacked it again. He also sent a giant volcanic ash cloud all the way across the Pacific Ocean, that had Qantas, Jetstar and other airlines grounding their planes. Luckily, I was travelling on Singapore Air, which isn’t put off by a little dirt in the air.

The Flight

No sign of an ash cloud!

As I stepped through the gates at Changi Airport, leaving my family behind, the enormity of what I was doing hit me. I had left on fairly long business trips before, but what I was doing now was starting a new life in an unknown country where I don’t know a single soul. (which was kind of the point of it all) Not being the religious type, I didn’t ask for a divine sign. However, I got it anyway. As I stepped into the departure lounge, I was greeted by oodles and oodles of japanese school girls! Surely this boded well for the trip ahead. Unfortunately, they were put in a separate part of the plane.

The flight from Singapore to New Zealand takes 9.5 hours. That’s a lot of time to spend cooped up on a plane. Fortunately, I was on a night flight, so I slept through most of it. The in-flight entertainment movies were meh. I only watched the Green Hornet. I really loved my Shure e2c earphones as they managed to block out a great deal of the engine noise, as well as all of the chatter and baby sounds.

When I arrived at Auckland International Airport, the first thing I did was grab a pre-paid SIM card from Vodaphone, complete with 50 MB of 3G data. I figured that as long as I have Google Maps, there should be no problem! After that was the trip to what I now affectionally call…

The Housing Debacle

WTF?

I arrived at Lantana Lodge, to be greeted by a very cheerful Japanese guy. He looked up my reservation and exclaimed, “Wow, you have the luxury room!” Sounds good right?

Well it turns out that Lantana Lodge is a hostel, with about 30 people (at the time) living together. My “luxury room”, was a double bed and a mini fridge in a room. That was all. No bathroom, no wardrobe. The toilet facilities were communal, as was a general rec lounge and kitchen. Too tired to complain, I crashed to bed (which was incidentally very high quality, especially compared to everything else) and slept till about 7 when I snuck out for a kebab dinner before getting myself organized.

It was lucky that I slept in the afternoon, because at 3am, band practice was in full swing, replete with drums, guitar and singing. Unfortunately, they weren’t very good.

After one night there, and much complaining, I was transferred to Quality Hotel Barrycourt, which was the polar opposite from Lantana Lodge. This was a full-fledged hotel. So from communal toilets, I progressed to a private bathtub with full toiletries provided. I also got a kettle with free coffee, a 32″ flatscreen TV, and an ironing board. The food at the restaurant was also pretty good.

This weekend, I have been shifted once more, this time to 45A, St Georges Bay Road. This is a small 2-bedroom townhouse which I am sharing with a young English couple who are also here for work (but for a different company). So now I have a full kitchen, living room with TV and comfy leather sofas, and pretty much everything you would expect to have in a house. I may opt to continue staying here (at my own expense this time), but on Monday, I will be viewing a studio apartment in town which I may move into.

Much better accommodations!

Culture Shock

I was expecting things to be different in New Zealand, but it’s a bit hard to predict exactly how that manifests. The big shot to the liver of any game developer is that the Internet is rationed! All the internet plans have a set amount of  data which you are allowed, after which you must either top it up or proceed at excruciatingly slow speeds. That puts a severe cramp on how many games you can purchase of Steam. Bit Torrent and the likes is of course, completely out of the question, not that I ever indulged!

Kiwis don’t carry much cash in their wallets. Almost every transaction, even ones as small as a couple of dollars, are done with the swipe of an Eftpos card, which is something like a debit card. The only time when you use actual physical cash is for bus rides, and even then, there are stored value cards much like what we have in Singapore. New Zealand is well on the way to becoming a paper-cashless society.

Another peculiarity is that we don’t like color here. Indeed, on the streets, all you see is blacks, greys, dark blues and the occasional olive drab. Perhaps this is in support of the All Blacks? Whatever the case, it made my bright cyan ski jacket stick out like a sore thumb. So one of the first few things I bought here was a nice black leather jacket. The leather’s so soft and keeps me very warm, occasionally too much so when the sun is shining. I’ll probably look for a hoodie as well, because that’s what all the Starcraft pros wear!

The weather is decidedly mild, with temperatures between 12 and 17 degrees Celsius. It is winter now, and that means rain. When I say rain, it’s not the torrents like we have in Singapore, but very mild drizzles. One night, I made the fatal error of carrying an umbrella. While the raindrops themselves are very light, the wind is crazy! It was a major task just getting the brolly to behave. No wonder everybody else would rather walk in the rain!

The Workplace

The Gameloft office is pretty big, spanning two floors. It follows the japanese layout, i.e. everybody in an open space, no cubicles and no rooms. I’ve been given a pretty sweet rig, i7 processor, double monitors, etc. My programming lead a pretty cool fellow. We had the following conversation:

“So, have you done game programming before?”

“Yes, for about seven years.”

“OH YES!!! Thank you!!!”

They are evidently facing the same labour problems we have in Singapore, possibly more acutely. The only major gaming companies here in Auckland are Gameloft and Sidhe, so the industry still has a ways to develop. I searched for a local IGDA chapter. I ended up finding NZGDA, where I read the following forum post, “New Zealand is a bit slow. Things will pick up in 10-15 years”. Oh my!

That being said, I managed to find the “underground indie game developer” group that meets up monthly. Maybe I can get some good networking action there! Some guy from Zynga is supposed to be coming to give a talk on the 26th.

Where to go from here?

Well, first I need to find permanent accommodations, and get my sleep cycle sorted. After that, and my initial 360° exploration of the surroundings, I can finally settle down and perhaps get some work done on Darwena, which as been languishing in the sidelines for way too long. I’ll also be looking around for new activities. I found a quaint little coffee shop on Parnell Road (an old part of town) which would be excellent for an afternoon of coding. Things are looking up indeed!

Baaah!


2 Comments on “The Move to Sheepland”

  1. 1 Jonathan Chee said at 11:04 pm on July 24th, 2011:

    Hi Eugene, stumbled on your facebook account and got to know you’ve “settled” in NZ. Got to this link from your FB as well. Great to read about your new chapter in life. Have a good journey in NZ. Keep in touch.

  2. 2 Alex said at 11:10 am on July 28th, 2011:

    Hi Eugene, good to know you are in NZ now.
    I had a similar experience when I came to Singapore.
    Instead of a practicing band I had somebody on my floor cooking exotic food. The “aroma” of this food was able to raise dead and repel them in at least 100m radius. Luckily I moved to another place two weeks later.

    My two cents:
    – try not to visit all the sights and points of interest early, save something for a rainy day to amuse yourself 🙂
    – find some 24/7 luncheonettes for emergency situations like national holidays. Yeah, I’m not proud of visiting McDonalds during the Chinese New Year, but the other option was to queitly starve for a couple of days 🙂 Unless you have an opportunity to cook.
    – a journey on foot from one side of the city to another one is not only a good way to scout your surroundings, but also tons of fun. Sometimes a single trip can give you a better idea of the culture and stuff like that than living in one place for a year.
    – find some local fauna species to laugh at 🙂 In Singapore I always enjoyed watching mynahs stealing food from people and in Boston squirrels were a great entertainment, because of the same reason mostly.

    Anyway, hope you’re having fun there 🙂


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