The Silver Fox. The Great Teacher. The Voice of Pure Sex. These are all nicknames I've made up for Toddland, the man formerly known as Sephirotic. A member of the GWJ community from the beginning, Toddland is a former game developer who lost his taste for it after working on BMX XXX. Now a broken shell of a man, he shepherds new talent through development school like lambs to the slaughter. I may be taking some editorial liberties here.
In reality, Toddland has been our go-to guy whenever we get our monthly "how do I break into game development" email and he's always graciously given advice to anyone who needed it. I've been lucky enough to meet him in person a few times and barely resisted running my hands through his Witcher-like silver hair. I think he knows I want to, but he's still been very cool anyway. He is the good kind of earth we've grown the site on and I couldn't be more thankful for his steady presence in the forums and at various slap and tickles. Onward to the questions!
1) Who the devil are you?
Well, I WAS Sephirotic, but now I'm Toddland. There's a long story there, but in the interest of brevity I'll simply state that I'm trying to "clean" my online identity, and "Sephirotic" was too frequently misconstrued. I haven't even played Final Fantasy VII! As for the rest of it, I used to work as a level designer in the game industry from 1998 to about 2005. I've had games published by Rockstar, Activision, Acclaim and a few others, all in the "extreme sports" genre which I'm not even particularly fond of. After that, I transitioned into academia. I am now an "Academic Director" for a large Bay Area art school. What does that mean? It's kind of like a Project Manager. I juggle budget, scheduling, hiring, firing, vision, etc... The fun part is that I'm in charge of three videogame-related degrees: programming, art and design, and animation.
2) What are you supposed to be doing when you're reading GWJ?
Working, most likely. GWJ is my haven away from entitled students and needy instructors. I just lock my door and snicker quietly at Demiurge's antics.
3) How about family? Kids? Pets? Particularly meaningful inanimate objects?
I'm married to an extremely tolerant woman who puts up with all my gaming shenanigans. I also have a 5 year old partner in crime who thinks that the height of hilarity is knocking his daddy into lava in any number of platformers; most recently Rayman Origins. Go play that. Soon, I will have a baby girl. We'll see if we can't get her into the third spot in the game, as mommy refuses to pick up a controller.
4) When and/or how did you get into gaming?
Mine was a long and circuitous route. I played games a lot as a kid. My father used to take me to a pizza place that had a Space Invaders cabinet (this was circa 1978, when it first came out) and we would dump quarters into it all afternoon. I had a bevy of consoles as a kid, and bought the N64 with my own money. Then College happened and I gave it all up. I was going to get into the film industry as an effects artist, but ended up taking game art classes instead of character animation which were the only options I had at the time. Keep in mind this was around 1996, before most colleges had any sort of program even remotely game related. I got back into games, made a few quake levels and got hired as a level designer right out of college.
5) Why do you play games? Why haven't you outgrown them?
I made them a career! What better excuse than to spend someone else's money on "research material"? Better to embrace my vices than try to deny them, I suppose. Also, I have a deep love of how things go together. Level design and game design are passions of mine. I still make board and card games.
6) What is your favorite game over the last year or so? Why?
The Binding of Isaac, hands down. I've played lots of games over the last year, but I've put more hours into this game than any sane man should. The simplicity of a matricidal, rogue-like, Zelda-esque dungeon adventure in a darkly twisted environment, for $5? It's a helluva deal. Plus, I can upgrade my Isaac with a pee attack. And Batteries. And a coat hangar. He gets the unborn fetuses of his siblings as familiars! You get the idea. Second, but tied with my favorite game are my WFRP sessions with my semi-regular crew of local gamers: HedgeWizard, Demiurge, 7inchSplit and DR2W. Also Saints Row: The Third. Also ... never mind, I could just keep going. Did I mention Rayman Origins yet?
7) What first brought you to GWJ? Why do you stay?
I was part of the Evil Avatar Exodus. When Sean and Shawn left to form GWJ, I just kind of walked in the door behind them, sat down in the corner and quietly hung out. It took me over five years to get my tag. I was the very definition of "lurker". That said, this online community has been my constant through three jobs, getting married and having two kids. I have new friends that I've met at local "Slap and Tickles" and other get-togethers. Rarely do you find such a supportive community in the wilds of the online wilderness. I am constantly touched by the thoughtfulness and caring put on display in the forums. I am also constantly touched by Demiurge. He just can't keep his hands off me.
8) What is the story behind your forum name?
Sephirotic was based off the concept of the Sephiroth on the tree of life diagram (hence the "Skill tree of life" tag that now makes no sense). Most people assume it was from Final Fantasy VII. As previously established, I haven't even played that game. So, after 8 years I changed it to Toddland. Now that I have the position I'm in, I have to be a little more careful about online identity. Toddland is fairly innocuous and based off the idea I had in High School where I would buy people's souls for a dollar, or a Rolo, or whatever it had in its pocketses, with the promise of letting them into Toddland after they died. Why go to Hell when you can go to Toddland? it was a cross between a theme park, casino, and all-inclusive resort. The brilliance was that if I couldn't actually set up my own afterlife, I could trade in all those souls (24 at last count) for an upgrade on my own destination. We were all terribly clever as teenagers. True story: When I got hired at my first game job, my computer was named Toddland. Microsoft Word used to default its file names to the name of your computer if you didn't name the file, so my resume was named "Toddland.doc". My first paycheck was made out to Toddland. I had to sheepishly explain to HR that it wasn't my real name.
9) What is your fondest gaming memory?
It's a tie, really. I can still remember playing multiplayer Mario Kart for the N64 with my roommates for hours on end. Every night for almost a year we would put some time aside and fling red shells at one another. More recently, my son and I have been playing through Rayman Origins (have I mentioned how good this is?) and the ridiculous moments we have shared have been priceless. Hearing him laugh hysterically at punching me into lava is worth being punched into lava. He is constantly in awe of the game, and watching him enjoy it with eyes unjaded by years of gaming has reminded me of how cool this hobby can be.
10) Thanks for taking the time to answer our hard-hitting questions! Any last words?
Long Live Gamers With Jobs! I've loved seeing it blossom into what it is now, and can only imagine where it will be in another 9 years.