Career & Life Planning For Displaced Homemakers

Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the May

15, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Video Games For Fun and Profit

Scott Marshall’s resume is largely fun and games.

On it appear Monopoly, Frogger, Warrior 2000, Flight of the Intruder,

Scrabble, Touchdown Football, and even the Simpsons: Bart Versus the

Space Mutants. Marshall is a software engineer, and has worked on

any number of video games, most often as lead programmer.

On Thursday, May 16, at 6:30 p.m. he speaks on "Are Video Games

as Much Fun to Make as They Are to Play" at a dinner meeting of

the ACM/IEEE at the Olive Garden restaurant on Route 1. His

presentation

is free; dinner is menu price, and reservations are required. Call

908-582-7086.

Marshall is a Princeton native. His mother, Elaine Toscano, now

retired

and living in Cranbury, was the kindergarten teacher at the Riverside

School for many years. His father, Donald Marshall, also retired,

and now living in Florida, was a chemical engineer who worked for

Western Electric in Hopewell. When Marshall senior’s employer threw

away phone relays, he brought them home to his son. Using these

relays,

Marshall, a sixth grade student at the time, designed a computer to

play a video game — Tic Tac Toe. This was in the early 1960s,

well before game consoles and personal computers began appearing in

the family rec room.

While he was enamored of all things electronic, including amplifiers,

discarded telephone switching equipment, and computers, Marshall toyed

with taking up a different career altogether. "I’m a film school

drop-out," he says. He attended the School of Visual Arts in New

York City with the idea of becoming a movie director. But soon

realized

he couldn’t handle the competition. "It was ruthless,

unbelievable,"

he says. "You have to have a cold heart to navigate the political

landscape of Hollywood."

Back in Princeton, he put out the word that he could use a job and

his former seventh grade science teacher recommended him for the

position

of audio visual technician for the Princeton school system. From there

he went to work for Panasonic. "If you sent in a VCR to factory

services," he says, "I fixed it."

Then a friend told him Sarnoff was looking for people to work on a

secret computer development project. It was the late 1970s and home

computers were beginning to appear. Most, however, had black and white

displays. Sarnoff, developer of color television, "wanted to

leverage

its experience with color TV," says Marshall, by inventing a

superior

home computer with a color display.

At the same time that it was working on computer hardware, Sarnoff

was developing games to would play on it. "One of the issues,"

says Marshall, "is if you have a computer, and nothing to run

on it, that’s no good." So work on a new machine and utilities

for it — including games — went on side by side for several

years, until, Marshall says, the whole project was killed. He isn’t

exactly sure why, but believes it came down to money, to

"discussions

in smoke-filled rooms in New York."

Meanwhile, he had become captivated with game programming. "I

saw people doing it, and it looked neat," he recalls. He talked

the programmers into teaching him, and became so adept that he helped

to create complicated games, including a flight simulator.

Marshall left Sarnoff in 1989 after a decade with the company, when

it was sold to G.E. But he had developed relationships with a number

of game programmers, and the contacts led to work in the video game

industry. He put out games for Atari, Sega, Nintendo, and other

platforms,

including Tonka Raceway for Hasbro Interactive on Game Boy Color,

shown in the photograph on this page (from a December 1, 1999, profile

in U.S. 1.) Sometimes he worked alone, doing everything from the story

line to the music to the action. "The old Atari games," he

recalls, "were simple enough that one person could do them."

Big games, on the other hand, "take millions of dollars, dozens

of people, and up to a year of work." An example of a big game

would be a role playing game like Zelda, or most of the new

PlayStation

action or sports games.

His most recent game, M&Ms Blast, a Nintendo Gameboy Advance game

that was produced for exclusive distribution through Toys R Us,

definitely

fell into the big game category. "It was a Ben Hur," says

Marshall, using game programmer speak that, loosely translated, means

"blockbuster." He was the lead programmer and started out

working alone at home. Then, as time pressure mounted, he moved up

to Edison, near company headquarters, and worked with a team of

programmers

to rush the game to completion in time for the all-important Christmas

season.

"It’s a party game," Marshall explains. "A bunch of

players

move characters around a game board. When the characters land on dots,

magical things happen." There are over 6,000 magical dots.

Something

different happens when a particular character lands on each.

"Every

dot was programmed by hand and tested," Marshall says.

Everything had to be right. "In games," Marshall says,

"there

can be no bugs." That is one of the things that, in his opinion,

makes game development the most difficult kind of computer programming

of all.

Marshall generally shepherds a game through, taking charge of the

technical elements. A big game also has a story artist to write the

script. Other programmers may do the title screen, the legal screen,

the instructions, the screen where gamers enter their names, and the

"glue screens" — the screens that appear, for example,

when a player completes a level. The main game screens, where the

action takes place, "are so complicated," says Marshall,

"that

they want only one person to do them." He generally is that

person,

the guy who programs the frog to jump on the log or the race car to

slip smoothly around curves.

Each action takes thousands and thousands of lines of code, and there

are few shortcuts. Marshall has done several car racing games, and

for those he was able to use the same basic program, changing the

music, the layout, and the look of the cars. But for the most part,

he says, "kids like games that are unique and different."

That means that programmers generally start from scratch. "How

many logs? How many cars? How fast are they moving?" are some

of the variables Marshall cites.

He says he does not find the work tedious. "It’s engrossing,"

he says. "It’s always different. There’s a lot of variety, a lot

of problem solving." He writes a few lines, and then tests them.

"I forget what time it is. I look up and it’s 3 a.m."

When he is not writing video games, Marshall does contract work, much

of it for Sarnoff, where is he working on a digital camera that is

set to replace film in movie theater projection booths. His specialty

on that project is audio, and he is called in whenever there is work

to be done on that aspect of the new camera. He is also a musician,

a composer, a writer, a public speaker, a film historian, and a

restorer

of antique electronics — including radios from the 1930s to the

1950s and some televisions from the late 1940s and from 1951.

This diversity is a good thing, because there is competition for work

in the game programming industry. Recent college graduates, who love

the work and are willing to do it for very little money, make it tough

for veterans like Marshall. He doesn’t actively look for work, but

waits for his contacts to call. Despite the difficulties of game

programming,

he is happy to get the calls. Getting a magic dot to behave perfectly,

or a race car to pull out of a spin in the nick of time is not easy,

but, says Marshall, "when you get the work right, it’s

euphoric."

Top Of Page
Career & Life Planning For Displaced Homemakers

In New Jersey there are 750,000 displaced homemakers.

Some found themselves suddenly a family’s sole support when a spouse

died unexpectedly, or just as unexpectedly, left the family. Many

have been out of the workforce for years, and some have not held a

job for decades. "It runs the gamut," says Denise

Brown-Kahney,

program coordinator for the Career & Life Planning Center, a program

sponsored by the Hunterdon Educational Services Commission, which

helps

these women prepare for re-entry into the job force.

The center offers a plethora of services to displaced homemakers,

and on Thursday, May 16, at 10 a.m. holds a stress management workshop

at the Sandhill School in Flemington led by social worker Mary

Ann Kokinda. Cost: $5. Call 908-788-5489.

Being left alone to cope with all the responsibilities of running

a home will certainly induce stress — particularly in a downsizing

economy — but there are a number of concrete steps displaced

homemakers

can take. What to do first? "After you finish crying,"

suggests

Brown-Kahney, "think of short and long term goals:"

Get into the job market quickly. It can take some people

a long time to come to grips with their new situation. Others, with

bills pressing and little in the way of savings, need to get into

something — anything — quickly. The key here, says

Brown-Kahney,

could be temping. And it is not just for those who need cash for next

week’s groceries. "Many big companies do not advertise in the

papers," she says. These employers, often among the most

attractive

in the area, sometimes like to look workers over before offering a

permanent job. Temping can be an excellent way to get a foot in the

door.

Learn to love a computer. Whether it be an amusement pier

or a corner office, a reception desk or a flight deck, every workplace

now uses computers. The Career & Life Planning Center teaches computer

skills, and has machines on which job seekers can practice. Many

clients,

some taught by their children, already are computer savvy, says

Brown-Kahney,

but others still are afraid the things will blow up if they touch

the wrong button. Getting comfortable with a keyboard is an absolute

requirement for employment circa 2002.

Include home skills on a work resume. Self-esteem is an

issue for displaced homemakers who have spent several decades running

school fundraisers and balancing the family budget. Some feel they

have nothing to offer in the marketplace. Not so. The Career & Life

Planning Center spends time showing clients how to translate non-paid

experience into corporate speak, how to translate the tasks they

performed

at home into equivalent tasks in the workplace.

Consider learning to earn. Further education may be just

the thing for a woman who hasn’t donned a work suit in a while. There

are now more options than ever, says Brown-Kahney, mentioning

part-time

programs and distance learning as two particularly good fits for women

who need to earn and learn at the same time.

Know your legal rights. The Career & Life Center runs

workshops to teach women how to protect their rights throughout a

divorce proceeding, how to collect child support from a reluctant

spouse, and how to apply for any disability or survivor benefits due

them.

Most of the displaced homemakers the Career & Life Center sees

are in their 40s, but there are also women 20 years younger —

or 20 years older. As for the age issue, Brown-Kahney says,

"employers

often are happy to have older women. They are dependable, have a work

ethic, and are not just flying in and out of the job."


Previous Story Next Story


Corrections or additions?


This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments