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The Meaning of Life

Posted: March 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Soapbox | 3 Comments »

Where do I begin? I am not a religious person. While I do not believe in God(s) per se, I do not deny that there could well be something out there. I also recognize that it is beyond my ability to determine what is what in the great beyond, so I choose to simply put that question to the side. Perhaps one day, when I recline comfortably in my grave, I will be able to shine some light on that issue. Today is not that day, or so I hope.

So what do I believe in? Some people believe that they are put on this Earth for a purpose. More power to them because it makes life or any other endeavour so much easier when there is at least a vague direction to follow. I do not entertain such a luxury. I believe that it is up to me to find my own way, purposeful or not, and live through life with no regrets but my own. I refuse to live at another’s whim, and would not expect another to live at mine. True, I do owe a great deal to a lot of people – family, friends and other people in my life. However, as much as I am indebted to them, I claim this life for my own and reserve messing it up as my own privilege.

I began my working life in a small company called Coaster Computer Services. My boss, Victor, was a shrewd small-time businessman who had me creating software solutions for other small businesses. He is also the man who had the ability (which he often exercised) to use the word “fuck” in the most gentle, non-vulgar and non-offensive way possible. I learnt a lot under his wing including how to deal with clients and how to develop software from design to delivery and beyond. As pleasant as working there was, I had far more ambition (in other words, I wanted more money, more fame and more glamour) than that job could offer and through a series of events moved on to the next phase in my career.

From a small-time software house, I spread my wings and starting working on multi-million dollar projects as an employee of IBM. I was part of the business consulting group, working in a large team spanning four continents creating and deploying backends for the largest banks in the world. I was part of the working class, with my formal (by today’s standards) shirt and pants, walking down the street to work with millions of other people just like me. The hours were gruelling, with team members turning up for work at the office at practically any time of the day or night. I was having the time of my life.

The group I was in worked under the absolute best project manager I’ve ever had the pleasure to work for to this day. His name was David, a former techie turned manager turned director. He was our guardian angel, protecting us from office politics, enforcing food and rest when we overstretched our limits and basically steamrolling through anything that got in the way of us doing our jobs. He is well-respected, probably filthy rich and obviously enjoyed his job. One day, I had a good look at him, where he was in life and the lifestyle he was living. Was this the role-model I could aspire to emulate ten or twenty years down the road? I looked deep into myself and realize that the answer was no.

It is at this point that I really started to understand myself, life and the world in general. Money, I realized, was only a means to an end. What is that end? Personal satisfaction. Many people go through their lives slogging through work mindlessly so that they may raise enough money to “buy” happiness in the form of material creature comforts and a better quality of life. While I am all in support of material luxuries (yes, I’m no Gandhi), what disagreed with me was the slogging part. Why spend a majority of your life doing an activity that you do not enjoy just for the sake of being happy during whatever time is left over? I decided to cut to the chase. I’d be happy first and worry about the money later.

I was always fascinated by video games, both playing as well as creating them. (though admittedly mostly playing them) In my university days, I had three main priorities. My top priority was… competitive Scrabble. Yes, I am and have always been nerd, thank you! We had a great team that trained hard together. The camaraderie was so great that I felt I was a significant part of a bigger whole. We played, we conquered, we celebrated. My second priority was the Leviathan. The Leviathan is an online text-based roleplaying game. Think of World of Warcraft but without the graphics. While I played that for a while, I soon went into development, becoming a Wizard (i.e. a coder) and created new areas and mechanics for the players. It was set up so that the development environment was part of the live environment. It is a coder’s paradise with the instant gratification of player comments and complaints as they explore your new creations and their moans of anguish when you inadvertently crash the whole game. My third priority was scraping through on studies so that I actually got my degree. I hardly attended any lectures or tutorials but studied on my own as well as in a study group. I admit this was mostly done so that I could devote more time to my first two priorities.

Alright, back to the career bit. During my days in IBM, I did somehow manage to eke out some personal R&R time. I played my first ever MMO which was Dark Age of Camelot. In this game, I had the pleasure of making the acquaintence of a fine fellow called Alvin. Alvin himself, was in the fledgling game industry in Singapore. He set up his own company, Nexgen Studio, and just simply went for it. With a mish-mash of interns and recent graduates, he managed to produce an FPS demo. It sucked (sorry Alvin!), but it was a good start for a business still in its infancy. Like all other fresh-faced developers with delusions of grandeur, he wanted to create an MMORPG. (admit it, everybody goes through that stage) He had a business plan, a design, and even a comprehensive background story. He showed me what he had, and I promptly quit my job and turned up at his doorstep to work for next to nothing (not that he could afford to pay anybody at that point). He expressed amazement at encountering somebody as insane as he was.

We worked hard for the next year and a half. Though the going was tough, it was also a lot of fun. I got free reign to do just about anything ranging from project management to marketing to meeting VC’s to programming. It was a blast. I gave the company a year to make or bust. Much to my chagrin, neither happened. Instead, we merely survived – somehow managing to subsist without going anywhere. It was a hard thing to do, but I informed Alvin that I was leaving the company. By then, we were good friends, almost brothers-in-arms. As I mentioned at the begining of this whole tirade, I live this life for nobody, good friend or no. So we parted ways and I went into the glorious world of freelancing. I am happy to say that after I departed, the company has done quite well for itself – a happy ending afterall.

Why did I become a freelancer? The honest truth is that I wanted to set up a company of my own but was too chickenshit. Instead, I would do the market research and find out how other companies operate from the inside, examine their challenges and mistakes, and learn from them while they footed the bill. Yes, I do not deny that I am an evil genius. You would think that making a living as a freelancer is difficult. In truth, it is disgustingly easy. All you need is the will to work hard and some semblence of discipline to maintain professionalism. You do your networking; shameless self-promotion. You make sure you do a good job and that your clients are satisfied, and word will spread. Business will flourish.

The lifestyle is great. I spend my days coding or meeting interesting people. I am seldom confined to an office for more than a couple days a week. I can truthfully claim to do game development in various branches of Starbucks Coffee and Burger King around the island. If I need a breather, I can simply take on less jobs. So it seems I have attained game developer nirvana. That is a bad thing.

If there is something that I have learnt about myself, it is that I dislike being comfortable. The freelancing job fits me quite well because I can flit from place to place, project to project, and it is always different. I learn new technologies and techniques along the way and all is good in the world. However, lately, I have been finding it increasingly difficult to sit in front of the screen and do actual work. If I were the typical Singaporean, I would grit my teeth, force it through with sheer willpower and get the job done. Obviously, having just said that, I did exactly the opposite. I have been spending a fair amount of time in introspection (i.e. sitting around and doing nothing). There is a reason for my failing drive and that reason is not laziness. I have always been lazy and that has never gotten in the way before simply because I love my job too damn much. So what do I want out of life and why does it feel like my current direction is off-kilter?

I definitely still want to make games. The original plan was to set up a company so that I can make the games I want to make. After all, I have already learnt so many lessons from all my previous suc… clients. Why not put them to their intended use? Have I not suffered through all manner of brain-dead or ludicrous “designs” and “concepts” that I have earned the right to make something on my own? To be honest with myself, I don’t even care if it sells or is profitable. I am past caring too much about money other than the occasional need to eat. Yes, there is a flaw in the master plan that I failed to perceive when I set out on this whole venture. As Steve Jobs has said, this changes everything… again.

If I were to set up a company, I would be too embroiled in administration to be usefully engaged in the development process. Sure, I would have the privilege of being the boss and well… bossing people around. “Yes, you should do this. No, don’t do that. This is the way to do it… Where’s your company spirit? Worship me because I pay your salary!” The truth is, as has been blatantly demonstrated to me, management messing around with the development process too much is a bad thing. Bad for the project, bad for the team. I would never have the fine-grained control over the project that I cherish.

To add to that, I want to do other things as well. I would love to learn how to draw/paint, play beautiful music, engage in creative writing. I have no illusions of being “good” at any of them, but these are indulgences rather than core skills. I want to experience life to the fullest and take in all that it offers me and then some. I want to always keep moving and never stop till day I cannot move anymore. For all this, I would be willing to be the serf instead of the ruler. Who in their left mind would not?

With all that said and done, where do I go from here? I have decided on two long term objectives. First, I want to make the shift to game design. Second, I want to get out of Singapore and move to somewhere completely different. Make no mistake, Singapore is a great place. It has low crime, good infrastructure, excellent quality of life and is probably one of the easiest places to make money in. However, with 6 million people crammed on a little red dot, all chattering and yammering as they go through their lives like automatons… I need a change.

Ultimately, is that not what life is all about? I pride myself on following through on arbitrary decisions made after a period of daydreaming and being non-productive. You cannot chase dreams if you do not have any and one dream is as good any other, no?

3 Comments on “The Meaning of Life”

  1. 1 Gary Ooi Kheng Jin said at 2:47 pm on March 10th, 2011:

    Its me, your unsung cousin.Great article. I read with huge interest, respect and amazement. Like wise am trying to get out from Singapore, negotiating with my company for regional posting. Am currently leaning towards India. I bet India could use a top notch game designer…..

  2. 2 Eugene said at 3:38 pm on March 10th, 2011:

    Hi Gary! I didn’t realize that anybody in the family was following my blog. Most of it tends to end up too geeky and industry-specific.

    For me, I will go wherever there is work, especially if it is drastically different from life in Singapore. India has a growing games industry, so who knows?

  3. 3 Jonathan Chen said at 10:02 am on March 31st, 2011:

    Hey. Its me, If you remember. I still have a long way to go, But I can’t wait till I at least get into and out from army so that I can at least get to exposure overseas .

    Its been interesting reading your articles so far, keep it up.

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