The Story of a... Videogame Designer
ALEX HOWELL, 26, rode the bench in college, but at EA Sports he’s an all-star.
“When I was growing up in Alabama, Super Nintendo’s Secret of Mana was the first game my brother and I played together. It’s a role-playing game where you live in this fantasy world attacking things. It took us 60 hours to beat. I was sitting there, 7 years old, with the strategy guide, and my dad says, ‘You’re going to waste your life away with video games.’ And I’m like, ‘I know. I know I am.’ ’’
Howell is a lead designer for EA’s NCAA Football 12 produced at EA Sports’ Tiburon Studio in Maitland. He’s in charge of the “Road to Glory” mode, where users can create a football player and take him through high school, recruiting and then a college career.
As a walk-on running back at Auburn University, Howell was relegated to the practice squad all four years and never played a down. “Our role was to prepare the defenses for upcoming weeks. I was getting killed. It was the Rudy life minus the awesome ending.’’
“All my buddies were walk-ons, too, and they got in a couple of plays but I never did, and so I’d always say, ‘Why is this happening?’ But fast forward a few years and I’m making a football videogame. So now I’m saying, ‘This totally paid off.’ ”
Howell is a master’s degree graduate of UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy. “I started an internship at EA in September 2010 and was hired full time right after that. They gave me full control of ‘Road to Glory’ right out of the gate. That was a big question mark: Why would you let an intern control that? But I had the football background so they immediately said, ‘Go put all your knowledge there.’ ’’
“Our game has 120 schools, about 60 to 70 players on each team. Then the average playbook for each team has around 100 plays, and that’s just on offense. That’s an absurd amount of information.’’ The game also includes mascots, pregame activities and fan rituals (like FSU’s tomahawk chop), along with true-to-life stadium re-creations for each school.
“I absolutely love it. I’m a diehard computer nerd when it comes to designing.’’
“Yesterday I was in meetings from 10 to 6 just because we had people coming into town and had to discuss design ideas. But today I’m sitting around brainstorming, coming up with ideas and basically writing in a Word document all day the thoughts I have on what I want to do next year.’’
“People could say, ‘I cannot believe you do that for a living,’ because I sit and I listen to music and I watch TV and I browse the Internet. But it’s all because I like to reach out and see everything, put my hands on everything for the culture, for the creativity.”
“My friends from work come over to my place almost every night, and we’ll play videogames, drink beers, listen to music. We’re all in different disciplines—some people are artists, some are programmers. But we’re all nerds. It’s really cool that everybody’s a nerd.’’