Thursday, February 16, 2017

Black History in Video Games: Eleanor “Ellie” Ross Crawley

Welcome to another edition of Black History in Video Games and I have the privilege of presenting producer and PMP, Eleanor “Ellie” Ross Crawley!  Now today’s video game notable won’t be as extensive compared to the last few but it doesn’t mean her work and history isn’t imperative. While Crawley’s viewpoint in industry could be one of intrigue, perhaps that’s something for a later time. I’d like to focus on her career, from humble beginnings to influencing overall game development. Presidents and CEOs are fascinating to learn about, we cannot forget about those who work tirelessly under their guidance to ensure gamers receive an excellent and complete product.

Yup, the saviors of Atari...whodathunk?
In 1995, when presented the opportunity to playtest for Magic: The Gathering video game, Ellie Ross Crawley agreed and opened the gateway to her video game career spanning twenty years and counting. Initially, as  a play tester for Infogrames Interactive (previously Hasbro Interactive), her duty was not only to play the games in development but to also discover any bugs or design flaws the game designers may have overlooked. After dedicating over seven years of work she became the Senior Lead Quality Assurance (QA) Technician working on other popular titles such as M1 Tank Platoon, Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim, MechWarrior 3: Pirate's Moon,  X-COM: Enforcer & X-COM: Interceptor, just to name a few. She left in 2002 a few years before Infogrames acquired and merged into the Atari brand.

What a friendly bunch we have here.
Crawley then transitioned toward the financial period of her career working with Brown Capital Management, a Maryland-based, Black-owned and operated investment management firm as the Senior Executive Administrative assistant offering marketing support to the directors and researching market risk analysis. But it wasn’t too long until she returned back into the QA testing world when she joined Electronic Arts’ (EA) Mythic Entertainment and was promoted to associate development manager in less than year. In this role her responsibilities grew greater; now she was managing Intellectual Property (IP) agreement phases, collaborating and communicating with teams in creating art assets and working with executive management to reduce cost-inflating risks. Crawley employed her experience through mentorship and management, facilitating the art team to exceed their goals. Having the well-received and award-winning Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning was also an impressive mark on her resume and accelerating her career on the road of success.

Ellie makes sure you're having an awesome time online!
Earning yet another promotion, Crawley proceeded into the role of Quality Assurance Supervisor for ZeniMax Online Studios – a studio concentrating specifically on the framework of massively multiplayer online games, where she assembled the QA Functionality group herself and was accountable for the creation and administration of over thirty testers. Her success streak continued once again advancing into QA Manager, exercising her knowledge and expertise to cultivate the future leaders of the company. As of August 2016, Crawley flourished even more, now having robust control and direction as a producer at ZeniMax Online Studios. The company's latest project is Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) since 2014, the massively-multiplayer-online-role-playing spin-off to the much revered action RPG series, The Elder Scrolls.

"One for all and all for one!"...I think that's their slogan hmm..
What I loved most about exploring the career of Ellie Ross Crawley was observing the growth. Hard work and growth. Here before us is an intelligent black woman with a Master’s in Business Administration Management and certified as a Project Manager Professional (PMP). She ascended the corporate ladder, starting from testing games for bugs to now negotiating contracts and licenses for games. Crawley’s proof that consistency and persistence is the fuel for achievement. Her work doesn’t stop there, for the last 8 years, Crawley has volunteered as a board member of the Internal Game Developers Association (IGDA) discussing, visualizing and maintaining the betterment of the video game industry. A 2015 survey conducted by the IGDA highlights the recent industry demographics; black/African-Americans respondents only made up 3% of the video game development population. Compare that to the tremendous amount of men in the industry at 75% and you can easily see what spectrum women of color fall into.

In a brief interview with IGDA Women in Games (WIG) Special Interest Group (SIG), Crawley expressed her love and adoration for her almost quarter-century career describing the challenging excitement and fluidity of working in the industry of video games. There’s one quote I particularly enjoyed and I felt it was appropriate to end this article with, especially for anyone interested in a video game related career:

“The gaming industry is competitive, challenging and captivating. Breaking into the industry can be difficult depending upon what you want to do. If your goal and dream is to be a part of the industry, learn what you need to do to enter the industry, adjust your goals to match your current skill set and learn what you need in order to advance towards the position you want. Then do it!”
-          PMP, Eleanor “Ellie” Ross Crawley

An inspiration to those looking break into the industry.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Day Gaming

So, it's that day of the year again where everyone goes all out to prove how much they love their significant other - yes, it's Valentine's Day. Whether it's an extravagant gift or maybe just a thoughtful gesture, today is the day to show how much you care and one of the best ways is spending time with each other. But what if you're not into all those cliché customs like fancy restaurants, romantic trips and expensive gifts? If plopping down on a couch (or maybe the bed - wink, wink) with a controller in hand and playing till your heart's content is your definition of romantic, well here's a list of games you can enjoy with your loved one!

Make your boo your player two! (Sorry, too much daytime television)

New Super Mario Bros. U & Luigi U/ Super Mario 3D World
Nintendo Wii U

In this game you can decide who's on top...
or do it from the side (scrolling)

Super Mario is a series that needs no introduction and even though these two games are different they retain Nintendo's trademark quality and charm. Perfect if you’re looking for nostalgic gameplay dressed with modern day trappings. Easy to pick up and play with fair and fun gameplay, this will have your hands glued to the controllers.

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze
Nintendo Wii U
You guys will go bananas for this game! Get it??
If you and gamer bae are itching for a 2D platformer with a little more challenge, Tropical Freeze is right up your ally. Using Donkey Kong, your player two can select three other characters with their unique ability to barrel blast, mine cart and zip line your way to victory.

Rayman Legends
Xbox 360/ PS3/ Xbox One/ PS4/ Wii U/ PC/ Switch/ Vita
These guys rock.
Ported to most consoles within the last two generations, Rayman Legends is one of the best platformin  adventure games you'll play. With its visually distinctive art and presentation, Rayman is a pleasurable you both will enjoy.
Gears of Wars 4/Gears of War Ultimate Edition
Xbox One/PC

I don't care what anyone says, this is romantic!

Okay, maybe the charm and fun of platformers don’t tickle your fancy but if snuggling together while tearing enemies apart with a Lancers makes you smile with joy, look no further than Gears of War 4. Not straying far from its infamous gameplay, you and your player two boo will have fun with this third-person action shooter. If you loved Gears, you’ll enjoy Gears 4 and if you’re new it’s worth trying out. Not digging the new entry? There’s always the Ultimate Edition letting you relive Gears 1-3.

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection
PS4/Xbox One
It's also four player couch co-op, if you're into that kind of thing.

Looking for a shooter that’s just a tad bit less gory and has a brighter color palette? This Borderlands compilation is for you! Containing Borderlands The Pre-sequel and Borderlands 2, this first-person shooter contains an expansive adventure as you traverse different lands and meet new allies while putting a stop to Handsome Jack. You’ll be looting and shooting all nights long.

How it starts out...

and then the usual mayhem!
Do you guys have some nostalgia for action stars from 80’s – early 00’s? Well have I got a game for you two! This side-scrolling shoot-em-up delivers nonstop pixelated action and some interesting challenges. Have fun laying waste to armies of soldiers while you and your loved one laugh hysterically at all the “bro-ization” of your favorite action star superheroes names.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Black History in Video Games: Joseph Saulter

The man. The scholar. Professor Joseph Saulter.
The video game industry is one of the most talent-rich industries in the world. Creators and thinkers of various backgrounds and disciplines unite to produce techno-marveling entertainment delighting audiences of all ages. There are those in the industry who work tirelessly to produce a top-quality product and others who want to ensure a consistent flow of revenue. Then there are opportunist yearning to push video games to a wider audience, not in the sense of playing the games but the idea of creating the game. For the unaware, allow me to introduce CEO, consultant, musician, chairman, designer and writer - Professor Joseph Saulter.

Moving to the beat of his own drum. Cliché but true. (picture source: Fandalism)
Saulter is one of many individuals who’ve applied their lifetime experience and various proficiencies to improving and expanding the industry of video games. With a masters of art degree in interdisciplinary/entertainment he’s spent decades working and building towards increasing inclusion in the industry. Playing drums since the tender age of 6, one his most established works is his music. Spanning over 30 years, he’s composed and played songs for the music library company Omnimusic, and as a Musical Director has an impressive catalog of works under his belt such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair, I Love My Wife, and The Magic Show. He's received many accolades and praise for his musical works, being a recipient of the Drama Desk Award. Then an unfortunate injury occurred after Saulter severed most of his hand below the wrist. Luckily, he still retained the ability to use his gifts on the drums but the incident mitigated his crossover into the video game industry.

The youth today are the creators of tomorrow.
Graduating with his masters 1996, the growing success of video games began dawning on Saulter. He discovered African-Americans made up only 2% of designers and developers and the minority presence was paltry at best even though these minority groups made a large percentage of the consumer base. Saulter saw this as a myriad of untold African-American and Latino stories. This lack of diversity inspired his desire to have more minority voices heard through the growing medium so in 2002 in the same year he became Chairman of Game Design and Development Department at American InterContinental University, Saulter created the Entertainment Arts Research Inc. (EARI).

I have an 'EARI' feeling about this. Ok, no more jokes from me.
As CEO Founder and Chairman of the EARI, Saulter partnered with industry veteran Johnathan Eubanks establishing the first publicly traded 3D video game development company to be completely black owned. The objective was to foster more minority talent behind-the-scenes and create games reflecting more on diverse cultural experiences and urban lifestyle. A number of projects emerged from the company such as The Universe of Faith, Slick Shooter, Shaolin Temple, Movie Mogul, Main Street Journal, Living Dark and FireWire District 22. Though from my research, I found Bronzeville Etudes & Riffs to be the most realized out of all their announced projects. Recently the company expanded their services to include technology marketing subsidiary GoLoyal, providing other companies opportunities to strengthen and bolster customer satisfaction through marketing, surveys and social media campaigns. Also included is Sail Marketing which administers services in database design and management, informing capturing and lead services. Lastly Daily App Dream which enhances the discovery of obscured of apps. EARI of course is still focused on creating games but now spreading its reach by pushing towards career-related education and tools. Saulter was interviewed by remarking:

"We believe that interactive learning will become dominant learning method that will replace traditional instructions. All instructional products and curriculum, assessments, and professional development must be authentic, context-based, problem-based, and interactive to meet the new learning needs. We see great potentials of career-related educational products and tremendous needs of instructional materials and services in STEM and career and technical education"
- CEO Joseph Saulter
Saulter as featured in Ebony Magazine.
Which brings us to the formation of the Urban Video Game Academy (UVGA), an initiative Saulter created in 2011 to promote awareness of career opportunities in the video game industry. UVGA targets underrepresented, inner-city, black and minority high school aged students . The curriculum of the 5-week summer program teaches solid fundamentals in math, physics and writing - important aspects in video game development and the students learn the basics of the technology and skills needed to create their games. The academy spreads awareness of game development to these disadvantage communities helping them transform a fun hobby into a lifetime career. The program has been successful with numerous calls from 120 schools, and even gaming giants like Electronic Arts, has shown interest.

Music, education, Broadway, EARI and UVGA aren't Saulter's only accomplishments, he's been assigned as Chairman Diversity Advisory Board of International Game Developers Association (IGDA) since 2004, where he utilizes his experience as a game designer and professor to discuss and advance issues directly affecting the gaming industry. He uses this platform to speak about growing diversity within the industry. Being a respected figure his relationships run deep with well-known industry names like Sony, Warner Bros, Blizzard, and Microsoft Bill Gates Group, even collaborating with TV One to promote game design and development workshops domestically and internationally called the Urban Game Jam. Recently, Saulter partnered with R & B singer Usher Raymond’s non-for-profit Usher’s New Look to engage underserved children with opportunities that strengthen their digital creativity. As far as his international presence, Saulter has traveled to Kingston, Jamaica introducing the ideas and profitability of creating video games, speaking at events like the Digital Game Design and Development Conference, the first of its kind in the Caribbean, as Lindsworth Deer puts it. As an author Saulter has also written a book, Introduction to Video Game Design and Development, teaching and breaking down the concepts of video game creation.
Saulter speaking at GDC 2011
It’s clear Saulter wants to increase diversity in the video game industry. He’s invested so much in spreading awareness unlike anyone I can recall. Even more importantly he advocates towards the underprivileged emboldening their perception of careers in video games and technology, an industry where blacks and Latinos are underrepresented and face strong bias according to a New York Times Article.
Saulter finally meets Jerry Lawson before his passing weeks later.
One of my favorite moments of Saulter's was during the 2011 Game Developers Choice Awards. The committee, Blacks in Gaming, held a conference where Saulter had the pleasure of introducing the room to the late but legendary Jerry Lawson, the engineer responsible for creating the technology behind game cartridges back in the 1970’s. Lawson is the first black pioneer of video games and technology. In the video (watch here), the sense of admiration is strong between Saulter to Lawson, as if Saulter found a long lost relative. In some ways, I understand how he feels. Doing the Black History in Video Games segment has enlighten me to many black brothers and sisters whose names are rarely acknowledged but their effort are taken for granted.

I would like to post a quote from Fast Company’s interview with Joseph Saulter. I believe this encompasses Saulter’s dream of not only growth and diversity but awareness to those who are rarely addressed in these fields:

"Black children to me are like oil in the deepest part of the universe. You have to dig deep to get the oil. These kids have something so rich inside of them, but you have to dig deep"
- CEO Joseph Saulter
As time passes, I would love to see the increased integration of black and minorities in game development and their imagination, stories and creativity expressed through this digital medium. I would like to witness a heightened acknowledgment of Saulter's life work of broadening diversity because he's not simply teaching our youth to open the door of opportunity but enriching the skills necessary to build their own doors.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Black History in Video Games: Jacqueline S. Beauchamp

I'll admit before writing this segment I never heard of Jacqueline S. Beauchamp or her company Nerjyzed Entertainment, Inc. (pronounced energized) or even their first console release game BCFx -- The Doug Williams Edition but through researching this topic, I grew fascinated by her extensive journey.

Jacqueline's story began as a child growing up in the projects of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. When she was nine years old her favorite TV show was Bill Cosby's cartoon Fat Albert & the Cosby kids. She was mesmerized and connected by what she saw; characters who looked like her. Even at an early age, positive representation was very important to Beauchamp. This was a vital point in her life because the Cosby creation became a significant influence and planted the seed of entrepreneurship. According to a CNN interview, the show was her inspiration to say, "One day I want to own a company that knows how to do that". 

Jacqueline Beauchamp during a CNN interview

Jacqueline attended Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College majoring in Electrical Engineering with a minor in Computer Science and Mathematics. Soon after graduating, IBM hired her as an engineering technologist where she devoted a decade toward areas of product design, development, and advanced technology. Interestingly enough, at IBM, she holds a US patent for a "Density Memory Module". Eventually she transitioned into a business-oriented role working for Motorola, first starting as a semiconductor then finally a General Manager. Most notably she was the first African-American to attain the GM position overseeing the Multimedia Systems Division. Under her management the department responsible for developing silicon used on DVDs, higher quality audio devices, and organizing digital set-boxes and porting video games. With a storied career spanning almost twenty years, she knew her childhood dream was ready to come to fruition. The seeds planted as a child were ready to blossom. She left her lucrative executive career to follow her entrepreneur spirit.

Company logo, SB: I'm not a fan of typing the name,

Enter Nerjyzed; founded in 2004 by Jacqueline and her co-founders Brian Foster, Michael Turner, Scotty Scott and Fred Johnson - all whom were alumnus of various HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Jacqueline decided to relocate the business from Texas to Baton Rouge where her company benefited from a digital media tax incentive. As the Chairwoman and CEO of the privately held Nerjyzed Entertainment (NE), Jacqueline's vision for the company was to display positive images of African-Americans and black culture though their projects. Unhappy with the stereotypes portrayed through the medium and she wanted others to see a different perspective. Jacqueline hired mainly local Baton Rouge talent, ushering a culturally-diverse workforce. All this possible because Jacqueline and the co-founders raised between eight to fourteen million dollars through various investors and seed money to hire programmers and video game developers. Now the most imperative step was to create a video game.

BCFx was primarily a college football video game...

but also placed emphasis on the halftime "drumline" show segments.
The first game NE worked on was Black College Football: The Xperience (better known as BCFx). Paying close attention to market trends and consumer profiles, Jacqueline and her team found sports games were among the highest selling genre - more specifically football. The rise of rhythm games also caught their attention. Compelled by their findings, the decision was to meld both genres and provide audiences a new experience. Adhering to Jacqueline's mission they determined a college football game highlighting HBCU teams would be the perfect fit. They would be able to highlight the culture and feel of playing in a HBCU football game while enabling players to participate in marching band sequences, a prevalent aspect to the HBCU football experience.

The initial 2007 release on home computers 

The next couple of years was spent building the game using the Unreal 3.0 Engine and BCFx was released on PC in 2007 but their goal was to hit home consoles via the Xbox 360. After being certified gold by Microsoft (the first black-owned studio to do so), NE added small updates readying the game for its console debut. During this process Jacqueline ran into former HBCU Hall of Famer and NFL Superbowl champion Doug Williams and showcased the work her team completed and impressed by what he saw, he licensed his name to the console project. After five years of multiple delays and a budget of nine million dollars, the Xbox 360 version of BCFx--The Doug Williams Edition was finally released on home consoles on September 29th 2009. The title was available at brick and mortar stores like Walmart and Gamestop. To promote the game Nerjyzed Entertainment visited multiple HBCUs to generate buzz and Jacqueline did multiple interviews and press, highlighting her achievement of being the first black woman to own and run a video game studio.

BCFx--The Doug Williams Edition

Despite all the promotional tours, press and support from HBCU football fans, the game under performed selling less than 100,000 copies (158,000 copies globally as of today). Complicating matters,  BCFx-- The Doug Williams Edition was a critical bomb. While many were happy to see a long-awaited focus on HBCU football teams, the consensus of game reviewers cited poor gameplay and extreme lack of polish. The poor retail performance of BCFx began to overwhelm the small studio. Investors began publicly spoke about a lack of return on their investments, NE employees had their paychecks bounce and lost their health insurance sans notice. Employees complained to news sources about the staggering workload. There appeared to be plans to release three other games but with the financial hardships the studio faced it had no choice but shutter its door. Nerjyzed Entertainment was no more. Did the dream wither?
Jacqueline Beauchamp (m.) between retired NFL and College Hall of Fame players Doug Williams (l.) and James Harris (r.)
Jacqueline did more than dream; she invested time and action into growing her vision. She turned a childhood goal into reality. Make no mistake folks, the video game business is a very profitable one but it's very cutthroat (although I do hope all parties were compensated). One under performing game can be the downfall of a long-running studio regardless of the quality. The console generation that Jacqueline and her team embarked on saw yearly closures of multiple high-profile studios. Video games studios live and die by the sales of their products.

I didn't choose Jacqueline to highlight the closure of Nerjyzed Entertainment, I chose her because even through the hardships, she did it. She did it. Owning and founding a business in an industry where opportunity comes far and few in between for women, moreso for those of color, she tore down walls. Much like the positive representation she desired as a child, she worked tirelessly to become an accomplished woman. She's broken barriers since her days of being the first black GM at Motorola, being voted 2009 Influential Business woman of the year and she was recognized with the Technical Innovator Award in 2011. Jacqueline is a trialblazing black woman who deserve more credit than she's currently given. It may be a small step but it's the foundation future generations will appreciate when they learn about Jacqueline S. Beauchamp.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Black History in Video Games: Reggie Fils-Aimé

The man who will "kick your ass" then play Nintendo games with you.

History was made on May 2004. No, I'm not talking about the Nintendo DS unveiling at E3, I'm talking about the debut of the man- no, the legend, who declared:

Some call him “The Regginator” others refer to him as “The Reggielution” but most know him as Reginald "Reggie" Fils-Aimé, President and COO of Nintendo of America (NOA). 

The original Triforce of Nintendo - Shigeru Miyamoto (l.), Satoru Iwata (m.) and Reggie  Fils-Aimé (r.)
Since his public debut Reggie has captured the hearts (and memes) of gamers all across the spectrum, not just Nintendo loyalists. He reshaped Nintendo’s public image during a period when their reputation had a “just for kids" association. Possessing an amalgamation of corporate enthusiasm and earnest charisma, Reggie has etched himself as the prominent figure of Nintendo of America. He's the most visibly recognizable personnel of Nintendo right next to industry giants Shigeru Miyamoto and the late Satoru Iwata. Reggie has made numerous public appearances. You can find him doing interviews and hosting tournaments. His stage presentations are the stuff of legends.

The statement heard around the world.
Before readying his body, his parents were Haitian immigrants who fled from Haiti in the 1950s due to conflicting politics intertwined with familial ties. This was a burden on their relationship. Reggie's parents settled in the US and he was born years later in the Bronx. He was raised in Long Island and eventually graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor's of Science in applied economics. From there he attained corporate positions with Procter & Gamble, Pizza Hut, Guinness (the beer), Derby Cycle, Panda Management Co and VH1. Most notably during his tenure at VH1, he revamped the channel's content resulting in a 30% ratings increase by focusing appeal to a younger demographic. In December 2003 he finally joined Nintendo as the Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing. And the rest is history.

Smooth Moves
From my perspective, it is amazing to see how long Reggie's online celebrity has lasted. For years, gamers have seen speakers come on stage, regurgitate super-rehearsed speeches and praise their current employer's products. While Reggie is no exception, there's something different about him. Is it his intimidating stature? Was it the initial no-nonsense business attitude? Maybe it was his infamous quote? While I do agree the last part catapulted his online notoriety I feel his likable personality and passion for everything Nintendo helped maintain this decade endurance in the hearts of gamers. The man is also not afraid to poke fun of himself as some of these videos show. All of this enabled him to create great rapport with the gaming community.

Fils-Aimé has been instrumental to Nintendo's  image
Although his enduring popularity has been a focal point of this writing; that's not to downplay any of his accomplishments on the business side. Reggie has won numerous awards in marketing such as being a two-time recipient of the Effie Awards, Silver Edison award, Clio Award and AICP award. According to an article from the The Seattle Times, Reggie is responsible for more than 1000 employees at Nintendo. He's also influenced the development and design of the Nintendo Wii, which was one Nintendo's best selling consoles of all time. Many who know him personally describe him as disciplined, optimistic and hardworking. 

Jimmy Fallon's mind is blown as Reggie introduces the Nintendo Switch
I always had an admiration for Reggie Fils-Aimé. The same admiration heightened after discovering he was of Haitian decedent years ago. As a first-generation son myself, I was completely amazed that the President of Nintendo and I shared the same Haitian linage. In many talks with my Haitian brethren, his name is usually left out of the conversation. Although I do understand as popular a medium as video games are, most people do not follow the industry behind the scenes. Still it feels good to have such positive representation in a successful position. I'm more than willing to let uniformed know about Reggie's contribution and achievements when the chance arises.