So this is what I'm working on. Top is the first screenshot I have of my project. Bottom is the most recent. Is this an advertisement for the video game I'm working on? Well, honestly, yeah, it kind of is. But I'm also scared and angry and I want to say a few things and I think I have a story you haven't heard before.
This is me. The year is 2011. I'm in South Asia. I had my resume declassified and I'm allowed to say that I worked for CIA from May 2008 through November 2016. If I ever say anything about my work, I have to get it approved beforehand. I haven't gotten anything approved especially for this post, so any specifics about my work, I'm just copying directly from what CIA has already approved in my resume.
This is me with the people in my office. We have US Army, US Navy, Canadian Army, and me. They worked in the Public Affairs Office. My job was a little bit different. At the time I was in what was then known as the Open Source Center. I've always been good with technology and in this assignment, among some other projects I was working on, "I applied my insight and analytic rigor to create reports for the US foreign-affairs community. While serving in South Asia, I wrote a computer program that wrote reports automatically, showing ISAF regional command an at-a-glance depiction of the media environment, its top stories, and sentiment." The Navy guy on the other side of the Canadian girl, by the way, he's a big deal now. He's a politician in Ohio. And I heard he made lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve.
So after kicking ass in South Asia, I was given my choice of follow-on assignments. I opted for some more language training before doing anything else. I speak Arabic, but after the assignment in South Asia, I was a little rusty and wanted a refresher. In 2012, my then-teenage little brother (I'm 16 years older than he is) was having a really tough time. My dad said my brother only wanted to play video games and he wasn't sure how to connect with him. The Oculus Rift was on Kickstarter at the time and I suggested building a computer, getting a Rift, and learning how to program video games. I thought it was a great idea and I backed the Rift so that I could guide my dad and brother on making a game together. Well, they never built that computer together. My dad never backed the Oculus Rift, and they never did develop a video game together. And my little brother has since then gone from one bad situation to another. And I had a Rift I wasn't sure what to do with. So I learned to use UDK, which was popular at the time, and was the predecessor to today's Unreal Engine 4.
I was finishing up my language training and applying for my next assignment. I got accepted into a very selective specialty. I became a "technical intelligence officer" and "In the collection service, I programmed and installed equipment to collect data, which I filtered and searched in order to find information critical to security interests." I was honored. It was a huge deal to me. This was the kind of assignment I had joined CIA for. It was everything I had wanted. And if things hadn't gone horribly wrong, I would have been a lifer, doing that job until forced into retirement. Well, things did go horribly wrong. And I can't talk about it. I resigned. And before I left, I wrote a scathing report on everything that had gone wrong. I posted it on NSA's internal Parting Thoughts blog, which they allowed me to do as a courtesy to people departing from my specialty. Anyone interested in an infuriating tale of mismanagement, fraud, incompetence, duplicity, backstabbing, turf wars, and tyranny of petty authority, I encourage to send a Freedom of Information Act request to NSA. Ask for the post "Beyond Mere Malice" from the Parting Thoughts blog, November 2016. My friends tell me that the post has since been taken down, but it's not gone completely. It's just no longer viewable. NSA will dig it up and send you a declassified version if you request it. So I wrote that report and posted it to Parting Thoughts. Hundreds of people read it and no fewer than five of them forwarded it to my counterintelligence officer. He called me in for a chat. Counterintel sat me down and told me basically, "This ends here. Anything you write from here on out, we have to approve. If you write a tell-all book without our permission, you go to prison. Any questions?"
So where does the video game come into the picture? So you see, I had this Oculus Rift development kit that I wasn't really going to use for anything specific. But I had learned to use UDK to make video games. While my career was falling apart, I decided to start making a video game. Normally I might have played a video game as a way to retreat from the world. But instead I channeled all of my anger, sadness, disappointment, and frustration into a project that became the video game you see above. I can't tell you the story of why I resigned from CIA. But I can tell you a story that captures the emotions I felt.
I can take some fictional people, make everyone betray them for all their own petty and cowardly reasons, and our protagonists will just have to deal with it.
So now I've resigned from a job I had grown to despise, and I'm channeling my frustration into something productive as a way of dealing with everything that had happened. Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, I'm not convinced this wasn't the second biggest mistake I ever made. I left a steady paycheck just at the time when management had all moved on. I left when my two years of most recent performance reviews were absolutely glowing, and they had bumped my history with the "collection service" off my internal job applications. I left when I once again was being offered the assignments I wanted. I left just when things were turning around.
My wife says that I was miserable though. And I was making her miserable. And I know I wouldn't have been happy at CIA no matter what happened after that. Maybe that's my own fault, not being able to put the past in the past. My wife says that I've been happier after I quit, at least. And she has been happier too.
We've been living very frugally now for about two years without my income while I finish the game. It's playable now, through about 8 hours of content. It's going to be a lot longer than that before I'm finished. But it's time for me to start moving along, and I'm releasing the game as an Early Access title on Steam next month. I don't know how well the game is going to sell. I've started looking for my next grownup job after this, just assuming that I'm not going to retire and I'm not going to have a lifelong career in game development.
Maybe this was all a big mistake. Maybe I should have just stayed at my job and kept game development as a hobby. I don't know. Whether the game sells well or is a complete flop, either way I think this will be the only game I ever develop. It'll be my way of closing this chapter of my life. For those of you have read this far, thank you for letting me tell you my story. If anyone is interested, the game is called Himeko Sutori. You can add it to your wishlist on Steam. I'm planning on releasing it as an Early Access title at the end of January. https://store.steampowered.com/app/669500/Himeko_Sutori/