Career Retrospective 2016

I woke up this morning and started thinking about everything I’ve done in my life up to this point. I am 33 years old now, and I still feel like I have a lot more to accomplish, but I felt it necessary to talk about the challenges I’ve had and how I’ve overcome them to get to where I am. I grew up very poor, I know a lot of people say this, but I remember washing my clothes in the creek outside my house as a 4 year old. There was no way I was going to let my family, my kids struggle the same way we did.

The story really starts sometime in 1995 when I was offered a job by a family friend to help out at a local cabinet shop. I’m a very young kid that was starving for knowledge, and I wanted to make some cash as well so I accepted immediately. Within a few years I was doing every part of cabinet construction including, design, cutting, assembly, finish, and installation. I loved it, but was soon offered the opportunity to build houses during the summer of my 9th grade year. Immediately it was new and challenging, and I fell in love with the process of taking a house and building it from the ground up. I was primarily part of the framing and finishing crew, so over that summer I was part of building about 12 houses. When the summer was over I had made some serious money for a 9th grader, and went back to cabinet shop for after school and weekend hours. I also want to note that by the end of the summer I started realizing that although on a bigger scale, framing and finishing houses wasn’t challenging enough for me.

School was another topic altogether, I was never fully challenged in school, and actually found myself very bored most of the time. I learned a lot about myself in retrospect, I have to be challenged constantly to really be happy. One awesome thing about school is that it introduced me to the internet and computers in 9th grade. I immediately was drawn to the potential of technology. I remember building my own computer out of scrap parts I picked up at Goodwill in 10th grade. I soon discovered programming, and spent most of my more boring classes teaching myself to program on my TI-83 and TI-89 calculators. I soon became know as the calculator guy, and was being asked by people I didn’t even know for games I had created to be downloaded on their calculators. I remember doing most of my programming in my AP Chemistry class which I found incredibly boring. If there is one regret it is that I did not fulfill my potential in school. I feel I could of easily finished 1st or 2nd in my class, instead with very little effort I placed 7th in my graduation class.

While I spent my days at school, and free time programming in BASIC on a small calculator screen, I continued working my way up in the cabinet shop. Its hard for me to explain, but there is something magical about walking out of a completed kitchen or bathroom, and seeing the happiness on the owners face. I eventually found a way to program on the calculators using a keyboard and computer, and soon became a very active member of where I shared and downloaded applications with everyone like me. I was a weird nerd, on one hand I could operate heavy equipment and create amazing handcrafted furniture, and on the other I geeked out about technology, and learning how to create moving pixels on a screen. I ended up scoring fairly highly on the SAT which got me a full ride scholarship to a private college Spartanburg Methodist College. I spent one year, and also found myself while fascinated very bored with the challenges presented to me. I remember starting my first C++ class with more than 20 students, and by the end there was only 4 of us left. I was awarded Computer Science student of the year in 2002. I soon found myself in love with a young girl from Wisconsin, someone that I really felt connected to. So I set out on a new challenge when I moved a little north of Green Bay to a small town in Wisconsin. I gave up the rest of my paid for college scholarship for a new life adventure.

I won’t get into to many details but yes my wife Autum and I are still together 14 years later, and it was the best decision of my life. From a career perspective I went back to working in construction when I got to Wisconsin. I soon found myself the Shop Foreman at the age of 22 in charge of 25+ people in a cabinet shop. I had continued my education online, and continued creating games, and software for fun and for school. It had been eating on me for a while, but I knew that I would never be happy staying where I was. I decided to quit construction altogether and find whatever I could in technology/programming. I ended up making some good connections and got brought on as employee number 7 or 8 at a new startup Game company called Frozen Codebase as an intern programmer. I took a huge pay cut, but I knew I could prove myself if given the opportunity. Within a few years I was a lead programmer for the company on salary, training and helping the newer programmers. I ended up working at Frozen Codebase for about 7 years before it was acquired by ZyQuest in DePere WI. I knew the acquisition was in the works, and had found another position working for Oshkosh Trucking as an embedded software engineer. I had also applied at other position some I were offered some I wasn’t. Epic Games, Firaxis, TimeGate, the list goes on, I may make another post about the challenges of interviewing for game companies.

The CEO at the time talked me into staying on with the acquisition by ZyQuest to start a new gaming division. I was brought on as the CTO of the new division and soon one of 3 managers in the whole organization. It soon became clear that we were not going to make a profitable gaming division as the industry had just changed to much with the addition of mobile. The traditional model we had been use to wasn’t possible anymore, and our attempts at creating fair free-to-play games while widely popular just didn’t make the money we needed. I was put in charge at this time and had a critical decision to make about the future of the company. First we split off into a brand new organization called Zymo Entertainment in 2013, and I made the decision to cease our free-to-play development and focus on becoming an agency. We would focus on taking our gaming/design perspective to enterprise businesses. This was the beginning of a battle that I have been fighting for years now. I grew the company in my first year to almost break even, we still operated at a slight loss, but substantially better than the year before. The connections I made to large businesses helped secure our future, and show the potential of what we were doing.

In 2015 I re-branded to Zymo Interactive and started focusing very heavily on mobile as well as the packaging space. I learned a lot about business, company culture, and I still have a lot to learn. I was lucky enough to have one of our clients invest into our company and the owners become personal mentors to me. I feel very blessed with where I am today, but the challenge is not over. I want to grow us to a $5 million, $10 million and beyond company. I have put a lot of blood sweat and tears into getting to where I am today, and I feel it is only the beginning. The one thing I do know though is as long as I am challenged I am happy, the second things get predictable or boring, it is time to reach for new challenges.

That brings me to today, I am sitting in our new office in downtown Green Bay, and I look around at where we are today, and I can’t help but smile. I have a great team, great office, and an amazing team of mentors around me. I have the best wife in the world, and a wonderful family. I don’t feel successful yet despite all of that, I want to create things that people care about, that people use every day. I want to build a business that everyone is proud of. I don’t exactly know where I see success, but I know I’m not finished yet. Along the way I’ve been dealt some crippling blows, and had to work some insane hours, but it was all worth it to be where I am today.

What makes a good game – Resident Evil 4 Case Study

Resident Evil 4 is one of the games I think of when thinking about my favorite games.  It really provided a refreshing experience at the time, compared to previous Resident Evil Games, by adding a much more action based 3rd person gameplay and much more believable AI.  The overall goals of this game are simply stay alive and manage your resources, while providing a very polished and cinematic gameplay experience throughout.  The reason this game is fun is due to a couple of key elements that are executed nearly perfectly for the game; atmosphere, surprise, tension, and re-playability.

The atmosphere in Resident Evil 4 is the first thing that caught my attention.  The very detailed  buildings and environments, and the bigger environments compared to previous Resident Evil games, sets the stage for a very intense experience.  Its hard to talk about believability when referring to a game that has the player killing zombies, but in Resident Evil 4 the game portrays a world that seems alive.  As the player moves forward through the game sounds add to the life of the world, from the background music that sets the overall mood to the sound of an enemy scurrying nearby.  Another simple addition that adds to the environment is the mysterious stranger that sells the player supplies and weapons.  This stranger shows up at fixed intervals in the game, and if I remember right the game even allows you kill him which makes him a very believable addition to the game world.  As unbelievable as Resident Evil 4 is, after a few minutes of playing, the world the game creates feels like it could be real.

Surprise is an element that Resident Evil games have been using since the first game.  Resident Evil 4 is no different, there are moments in the game that actually made me jump, most notably the first encounter with the chainsaw wielding zombie.  Even the cinematics would occasionally implore quick time events to make sure the player kept his controller tightly gripped the entire time.  Surprise is a big part of keeping this game fresh for the player, there’s rarely a dull moment, and when there is, its usually just preparing you for a bigger surprise around the next corner.

Resident Evil 4 does an arguably perfect job at maintaining the tension level in the game.  I believe there are a couple major changes from previous version of Resident Evil games, and survival horror games in general that help maintain the tension level.  The first is the AI, in previous games I never really felt the zombies were alive or believable.  I will never forget the first zombie that ran at me with a crazed looked on his face.  Simple changes such as having the zombies run at the player, or jump down from a rooftop adds immensely to the tension.  Without the new 3rd person camera I would not have had the same reaction, so I think the camera change also adds more design space for pushing tension and surprise.  Even the facial animations on the enemies adds to tension of the game and believability of the enemies your facing.  The controls may feel awkward at first to anyone that’s played a 3rd person shooter, but I think the controls fit really well with the design of the game, the player can’t run and gun his way through the level, instead he has to find a safe place to fight, with the hope that nothing will attack from behind.

The game also puts effort into re-playability.  I really appreciated being able to play through the game multiple times while keeping all my previous weapons and ammo I acquired.  It may seem like a small thing to include, but I think the game really rewards the player for playing through more than once.  This was a time before Xbox Live and online games were really huge, so having this kind of reward for a single player game on the GameCube really added to my love of the game.

In the end it took a complete experience with solid gameplay, design, and presentation to make Resident Evil 4 a fun experience.  The game world felt alive, and the game did a good job of holding my attention throughout the entire game.  The complete experience and non stop “holy crap” moments kept me coming back for more.


Originally written in September of 2009 by Adam Larson