Code name Tomma Center: Under the Interview
Ever pondered the possibilities of making a living in the video game industry? Most of us have at times; daydreaming about getting paid to help bring video games to the masses while catching our breaths between shifts at jobs that pay, but aren't necessarily fun. A lot of us here at RPGamer have had similar thoughts, which is why we sought to track down Atlus' Assistant QA Manager and Editor Tomm Hulett for a discussion on his history in the business, and any enlightenment in breaking into the business that he would be willing to share with RPGamer's readers.
Before he started working for Atlus USA, Tomm led Team XKalibur's development of Mythri. After Mythri, Tomm went on to play important roles in the localizations of several games you're no doubt familiar with. Most recently, Tomm played major roles in the localization of both Digital Devil Saga titles, as well as Stella Deus: The Gate of Eternity, and he also worked as the Project Leader for the surgery simulation title, Trauma Center: Under the Knife.
If you've ever had the desire to break into the industry, this is an interview you won't want to skim through. Read on to gain some insight into how to better make this desire a reality.
RPGamer: Let's begin with some background information: what is your educational
Tomm: Well I graduated high school, got my AA (Associates of Arts degree) from a Jr.
College, and then got a Bachelor's degree from a 4-year in English (Creative
Writing). I took a year of Japanese in there somewhere.
RPGamer: What games have you worked on, and in what capacity did you work on them?
Tomm: Well, let's just talk about the ones at Atlus since we don't want this list to be too long. I tested on Tsugunai, Hoshigami, Wizardry, DemiKids, Shining Soul (1 and 2),
Shining Force, Go! Go! Hypergrind!, Double Dragon, and Lufia (and probably
some I'm forgetting)
I've localized text for Robopon 2, River City Ransom EX, Phantom Brave,
Digital Devil Saga (1 and 2), Stella Deus, Samurai Western, Riviera (only
partial), and Trauma Center: Under the Knife. Localization usually includes being in charge of the debug testers, as well.
And, I was also Project Lead for Trauma Center.
RPGamer: What sort of jobs have you had in the past?
Tomm: Mostly just crappy retail jobs in such places as Target, EB, GameStop, etc...
RPGamer: Was being in the gaming industry your original dream? Did you expect to be
doing something else?
Tomm: I started drawing out video game concepts in elementary school during recess,
and in Jr. High I had friends creating character designs and writing game
plots... So I guess you could say that games were always a passion of mine.
Why? Are there other jobs out there?
RPGamer: How did you get started in the video game industry?
Tomm: Well, I started testing games for Virgin Interactive when I was twelve, and
did that for a few years. Later I started testing for Atlus part-time, and
after I did that a while I got hired full-time as a Localization Writer.
RPGamer: Do you feel your entrance into the field is typical?
Tomm: Testing games in sixth grade was definitely luck. But, I think a lot of
people expect to just "fall" into the industry, and it doesn't work that way
at all. Working on video games is the same as any other job--you have to
apply for a position and get experience and work your way up. I definitely
had to work to get my current position at Atlus.
RPGamer: Game testing isn't as glamorous as it sounds I'm assuming?
Tomm: Well, if you like playing the same RPG through over and over again for a
couple months (8 hours a day)... and talking to every NPC every time you come
across them... and keeping track of just about everything you do...
then sure, Game Testing is great.
RPGamer: How often would you say that game testing leads to more desirable positions within the company?
Tomm: That all depends on the company, really. Some companies watch their testers
in search of future talent. But, in my experience, testers are more likely to
stay testers unless they take the pro-active approach and try for more
important jobs. I got my first localization job (Robopon2) because I asked
for it--not because anyone approached me.
RPGamer: What is the hardest part about getting into the gaming industry?
Tomm: The hardest part of getting into the industry is that everyone wants to get
into the industry. If you have talent or something that makes you
unique--keep doing that until someone takes notice. If you sit around
waiting for a game company to call you up out of the blue--it's just not going
to happen. Someone already has your job.
RPGamer: Where's the best place to start when trying to break in the industry?
Tomm: Video game companies? It's easier to get a job if you live near a video game
company--nobody is going to pay to relocate you if they have dozens of locals
applying for the same job
RPGamer: Just what are companies looking for in new recruits? Does it change more
often than is possible to keep up with, or is there a general trend?
: Again, it all depends on the company. Some companies want level designers
that can create 3D graphics--others want level designers that can code
everything. Since there are a number of schools with video game programs now,
it seems like companies expect applicants to have a wide range of skills. But
I think there's still room for a really good programmer who only knows how to
code, or (hopefully) a really good writer.
I've met a lot of different people over the years, all with varying degrees of
skill. So, in the example of a programmer, one person might be able to code
whatever is asked of him. However, Person 2 might understand how everything
in the program works and be able to do his job more efficiently than the first
guy. Or, he might be able to code in a way that makes everyone else's job
easier (better sound or graphic design, etc). So if you have talent like
that, don't just do the basic job. Use your skills to do it even better than
anyone was expecting.
RPGamer: Is working for a news website (ie, RPGamer) considered a plus/boon when
trying to break into the industry?
Tomm: It would all depend on what you did there and how it relates to the position
you're trying to get. Obviously contacts you make working for such a site
could work to your advantage.
RPGamer: What is the hardest/easiest part about being in the gaming industry?
Tomm: The easiest (or coolest) part of my job is that I'm doing something that I
grew up appreciating (localization). So I know that if I do a good job, some
kid out there somewhere notices.
The hardest part is that nobody in my extended family really understands what
I do--they all think I "work with computers."
RPGamer: What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about being in
Tomm: Really, like I suggested earlier, I think the biggest misconception is that
the industry will just "happen" to you if you play a lot of games. You don't
get to make games by sitting around playing RPGs and dreaming
(unfortunately)--you have to get out there and work hard. I've known a lot of
really smart people who just never applied themselves. So, now they're just
playing FFXI and talking about how they're going to make games someday.
RPGamer: What are the hardest parts about
Tomm: Well, a lot of people don't realize that once text is translated and
localized, it's sent back to Japan--that's where they put it into the actual
game. So there are times when the developer won't put the proper text in, or
sometimes they refuse to fix an error. That's really frustrating, because it
reflects on me even though I'm the one who wanted to fix it!
RPGamer: What credentials do you look for in hiring for a localization team?
Tomm: Obviously good writing ability is a requirement. An English/writing degree is
more or less required, and any Japanese skill is a plus. At Atlus we have
translators who translate before the text is localized--but that varies from
company to company, so you might have to be bilingual. Number one thing,
though: PROOFREAD YOUR RESUME AND COVER LETTER!!! If there's a writing error
when we're looking for localization candidates, we throw the application out
RPGamer: How much attention to companies pay to indie developers?
Tomm: That's an interesting question. I know that at Atlus, we look at any full
games that are submitted, but submitting a partial game and expecting a company to fund the rest is unrealistic. There are several games in Japan the company could pick up for a fraction of that price, so funding a game from an unknown group of gamers is risky. So if you have a game you want published--make sure
that it's complete and finished. That would increase your chances by about 500%.
RPGamer: What opportunities exist in the video game industry for those looking for
a non-technical position - ie, not a programmer/designer?
Tomm: Again, depends on the size of the company; however, smaller companies probably
don't advertise jobs like that--so it might not hurt to send in a resume If
you're applying for a secretary / sales / etc job, gaming knowledge would
probably give you an advantage over other applicants.
RPGamer: What's your favorite game you've worked on?
Tomm: Definitely Trauma Center: Under the Knife! It's the kind of game that really
shows what the DS is all about.
But, RPGamer is about RPGs--so I'll pick Digital Devil Saga. I really liked
the characters and their different personalities. That game was a lot of fun
to write. Runner up goes to River City Ransom--since I played that game
RPGamer: What's a game you didn't work on that you would have liked to?
Tomm: ANY game? That's a tie between any Metal Gear Solid game and any Katamari
Damacy game. I love Solid Snake and I love the King of all Cosmos, so writing
their dialogue would be awesome
RPGamer: At your company, who actually decides which games get made (localized)?
How much experience in the industry is typical for that kind of position?
Tomm: Well, when we get a game to evaluate, everyone in the office plays it. Each
department/person is obviously looking at different aspects when considering
something for release here. Then we meet and discuss whether or not we should
bring the game out. So it's really more of a collaboration than one single
person making the decision and of course, if there's a game one of us knows
about that we'd like to evaluate, we can request that everyone check it out.
RPGamer: Describe the feeling you have when you see your name in the credits of a
Tomm: It's really cool. I'm kind of a silly kid when it comes to my work, because i
like seeing it in the game and try to forget what I wrote--so I can appreciate
it "fresh." But it's great seeing your name there in the game--not so much in
a self-centered way, more in a stupid fanboy way.
RPGamer: Is there anything else you would like to say?
Tomm: The video game industry is fun and exciting, but it's still a lot of hard
work. Don't be discouraged--if you try hard enough, that dream job can be
yours. Also, buy my games. ;)
We'd like to give a huge thanks to Tomm Hulett for giving up a few hours of his weekend to talk to us. If you would like to take a gander at some of the games Tomm has helped bring to this part of the world, stroll over to Atlus.com.