New To The Nest

I never thought I would end up where I am now. The past several months have been a whirlwind and I wouldn’t change one bit of it for the world.

My name is Nerissa Hart. I am not a game designer, I am not a programmer, I am not a graphic artist, and I am not a sound designer. I definitely appreciate video games and have loved playing them since I was a kid, and I consider myself to be a HUGE gamer, but as far as working in the field is concerned, I never thought it would happen. I’m an actor. My resume is packed with special skills like horseback riding and singing and dance experience and the fact that I can do a cartwheel (you can really market the weirdest personal traits as bonuses in the acting world to “your brand”). I’ve been working towards being a professional actor since I was four and saw The Sound of Music. Now, I work with Wyvern Interactive. So how did I end up here?

The simplest answer? I got lucky.

And I mean really, really lucky. You see, I was in my last semester at George Mason University, working towards my BFA in Theatre, when I began what I call the “Finish Line Freakout”. I could feel the weight of graduation and what came with it pressing down on me and almost chaining me down more and more every day. It was suffocating and was on my mind 80% of every single day. I knew I needed a job that would sustain an independent life, something that would allow me to support myself, but the last thing in the world that I wanted was for it to be in a field completely unrelated to what I loved doing in some cubicle filing paperwork or in a restaurant waiting tables. That last one more than anything. To this day, I have not been able to call myself a starving artist waitress, and I am SO thankful for it.

When I started looking for jobs during that last semester, I went to dozens of auditions for full season calls for theatre companies as well as reaching out to the people I worked with to see if they would have full time work for me after graduation. One of those companies, Acting for Young People  (A youth program that works teaching kids about theatre) that I had worked with for years and was very close to the director of the program, reached back to me and even though they gave me more classes to teach, they didn’t have any full time positions available. However, the video game design department of the big arts academy AFYP was a part of was looking for an assistant. I jumped on the opportunity and after an interview half discussing my job experience and half talking about Skyrim and other games with the head of the Mason Game and Technology Academy, Vera Lichtenberg, I got the job.

That summer, I worked the MGTA summer camps. I worked getting T-Shirt orders together, coordinating schedules with teachers, keeping parents happy, but more than anything else, my job was to run. I would run to get the kids from point A to point B, I would run to disciplinary issues if they were happening, I would run from classroom to classroom gathering attendance sheets. The amount of exercise I got that summer was unreal. And along the way, if I ever had a spare second, I would stay in the back of the room and when all the kids thought I was making sure the teachers were doing their jobs, knowing I was one of the people running this whole operation, in reality I was listening in on the lessons to learn everything I could. I had always loved game design and thought it would be awesome to learn more, but considering my life circumstances I had no idea where to get started. Now, I got more and more ideas every day. And as it turns out, every single person I became friends with over the course of the summer camp happened to be a part of the same gaming company, (hold your breath, you won’t see this one coming) Wyvern Interactive (GASP!).

The first person of the Wyvern team that I ever met was Morgan Frederick. Morgan, one of the Co-Founders and the Lead Administrator of Wyvern, was my friend Jessica’s RA one year and we had met and talked in passing for a year or two before this summer. I thought she was nice. I wasn’t around her enough to determine much else, though, I just knew that she was really sweet and I liked her.

Next, I met Jonathan, the Founder and Creative Director. We met in either late May or early June of this year (can’t quite remember which). My boss had told me that I was going to be meeting up with three people, one of whom I was already friends with, a girl named Sandy. Jonathan’s name was just a name on a piece of paper that I was trying to find in the crowd, and I must have passed him something like three or four times before I saw the Mason flyers in his hand and realized that it must be him. We shook hands, began talking, and ended up getting along ridiculously well. When we reunited over the summer we acted like we were old friends. It just came naturally.

During camp, the first person I really started talking to from Wyvern was Ehren Burns, the Lead Producer. My boss and I had a table set up in the building that all the classes were taking place in and that served as our home base. At first, Ehren would come if he ever needed anything for the class (technical difficulties, kid leaving early, things like that), and we would end up talking and making jokes and realized that we were very similar people. We liked the same sorts of games, he went to see shows regularly at the place my boyfriend acted at, and he ended up setting up gaming nights between ourselves and several friends. I befriended Tori Guarino, Josh Emswiller, and Evan Smith (all members of the art team) and James Arnett (one of our Programmers) in their classes and at the gaming nights.

I met David Dollard (the Art Director and Co-Founder of Wyvern) in classes, but we became friends when he walked upstairs one day on his way out with a huge wooden staff in his hands. I thought it was really cool and started talking with him about it and asked what it was for. He made a look like he was trying to find a way to phrase it and said, “Well, I make my own costumes and the props for them…” “What are they for?” “Oh, there are several events and conventions and they’re for those sorts of things.” It was like he was trying to hide the secret that he was in a special club for only boys and the moment I let out a laugh and figured out what he meant, then said, “Dude, I cosplay,” a huge smile covered his face ear to ear and he started geeking out with me as we shared pictures with each other of our latest projects.

I had talked with several teachers, game designers, and producers by this point and every single one of them, without fail, would say that Wyvern was the company to look out for. Wyvern was the one that was going places. They had their act together, they were extremely professional,  and people envied them like nobody’s business. I had jokingly made comments to the members that if they ever needed a voice actress to call me, but I figured that the likelihood of it actually happening was extremely low. They also knew about my desire to learn more about game design itself and one day, Ehren even forced me to drop what I was doing to sit down at a computer and follow along with the lesson in one of the classes he was teaching with Josh Emswiller. I probably looked like I was a deer in headlights when he said it because it broke my routine and instead of running, I was being told to sit down for a moment. I had no idea what I was doing, but he got me on the right track and later helped me download Unity to my computer so I could start going through online tutorials.

That work ethic, as it turns out, didn’t go unnoticed. Three weeks into the five week camp, I had befriended almost every member of the team and had started going to regular board game nights with them. The only two members I didn’t meet that summer were Brian Thacker (Audio Director), and Stephen Hopkins (Programmer). We would all have a blast, playing anything from Resistance to Munchkin, although our favorite that we played pretty much every time was Betrayal at House on the Hill. One day, while I was walking down the hall at the end of a class day to go pick up my belongings, I remember passing Jonathan in the hall and without any other context, without anything before, straight forwardly asking, “Do you want to come to a Wyvern meeting? We’re about to have one upstairs.”

Now, you have to realize, considering I had heard so much about the company over the last few weeks, with my friends in the company geeking about the projects they were excited about and members of other companies saying Wyvern was the one to look out for, I was screaming internally and nodded like an idiot. He took me upstairs and I sat in, freaking out inside as I got to see concept art, hear the rapport between the team members, and see them working their business strategies. Seeing these people who I considered good friends in their element, seeing their art and designs, left me awestruck. The best way I can think to describe it is with this hypothetical scenario: Imagine you had a friend who said they could sing and after months of hanging out with them, all you’ve ever heard them sing (more like scream along with) is the occasional N’Sync song played through your car speakers. Then, one day they take you to an auditorium burst into a full on, trained operatic soprano aria. It would be surprising, jawdropping, beautiful, insane, headspinning, synonyms. That’s how I felt.

At one point, they were discussing the physical build of one of the characters they were working on and Jonathan was trying to find the right words for how to describe his vision. My mind is always going a million miles a minute and in that moment, as he tried to grasp the words, a thought hit me. I offered a comment up and almost instantly felt my throat tighten and stomach churn. All I could think was “Oh god” on constant repeat. Here I was, invited to be a guest at this meeting, and I had offered up my own opinion to a company I wasn’t even a part of. It was out of place, probably rude, and I felt horrible after speaking. I beat myself up for talking in a meeting I clearly had no say in, but Jonathan actually took the comment and ran with it, then when he decided that it did fit really well into the conversation, he told me, “Good work,” with a smile. He also asked me to read a bit of the script for one of their upcoming games and mentioned he thought one part would be great for me and I was enthralled. I wanted to play this character so badly, I loved the story, and long story short: I HAD to work for this company. I didn’t know how, but some point down the line, I was going to find a way.

A few days later, Jonathan pulled me to the side during a class day and started by saying, “You are an enigma.” Okay…good thing? Bad Thing? I was confused, but then he went on to tell me things similar to what I had heard others in and out of the company saying. Wyvern wasn’t looking for anyone. More than that, he elaborated to say that they, as a company, had decided to completely shut the doors and they weren’t planning on letting anyone else into the company for years. My hopes began to deflate, and even though my heart sank a little, I could understand. As I said, I am NOT a game designer. I didn’t have a degree in anything even slightly related, and at most I was pretty much a fangirl, not an actual game creator. It made sense. When we actually had discussed the possibility of me and Wyvern before, it sounded like the only way I would fit into the equation was years down the timeline when they would need voice actors. Then he added that I should feel extremely honored with a laugh. My heart stopped. I was stunned. Was this really happening?

It was. He had seen my passion for what I do, my work ethics, and had gotten to know me over those weeks… and he wanted me to join Wyvern. As he put it, I slipped through at the last second as the door was closing and was going to lock right behind me. Based on my admin skills and experience as well as my photography experience, Jonathan invited me into the team as a social media administrative assistant and team photographer. Again, voice acting would be a ways down the road and as he put it, “I wanted to get you on the team as soon as possible with what skills you have to offer.” (Not an exact quote, but it was something along those lines.) When he told me the news and asked me if I wanted to join the team, my head almost fell off because I was nodding so hard and I was smiling for hours after. Thus, in July, 2015, my journey with Wyvern began.

Now, as of November 20, 2015, I am continuing to build a stronger relationship with the team every day. Our talents are great, our passions are high, and more than anything, our team is strong. We all may have jobs or school that we currently have to attend to, but I know that in my case, pretty much any spare time I have is dedicated to working on independent acting projects and to working on Wyvern paperwork or social media. Occasionally my roommate will force me to take a chill pill when I work too much and that is when I’ll do things like read or play videogames, but then I go right back, nose to the grindstone.

I am an actor, I am working in the videogame industry, and I have never been happier in my life.

-Nerissa Hart, Marketing Admin Assistant, Wyvern Interactive LLC

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