After four years in my current house it became clear that my kitchen was the weak link in what was otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable home. Not only was the decor too dark for a northern room (including burgundy carpet on the floor, if you can believe it), but there were three open doorways that couldn’t be closed to reduce noise, or to help zone heat in the winter.
To rectify these and other problems, at the beginning of this year I undertook the design of a complete remodel to be implemented in late fall, and I began freeing up time from work to allow me to participate in several facets of the project. Now, as the year comes to a close and the project nears a successful completion, I find myself looking forward to a lot of good cooking, and back on a lesson learned.
Because it was a collaborative project, I noted many similarities between the remodel and the interactive development process. Not only was there design work to do, but there were myriad production tasks to schedule and oversee on the road to completion. Beyond design, the work I did myself included: the bulk of the demolition; the sanding, re-sanding, priming and painting of the insides of the cabinets (the outsides of which were sprayed by the contractor, who didn’t tape off the openings, thereby blowing overspray into the freshly-sanded interiors, which necessitated six hours of re-sanding, which I had to do on Thanksgiving day in order to stay on schedule); priming and painting the walls, ceiling (at least three coats each, because the new drywall soaked up the paint like a sponge) and trim, along with performing a host of chores and functions in support of the work crew.
[For the bean counters among you: I stockpiled money for the project and budgeted its flow; helped schedule additional workers around the work of the general contractor; and nimbly juggled finances when the project went long and over budget. On the management side I worked hard to make sure that momentary frustrations (like Thanksgiving) and trivial mistakes didn’t mushroom into personnel issues or breakdowns in morale. Throw in six weeks spent eating microwaved food out of my laundry room and I think the similarities to the games biz are obvious.]
One of the tasks I just noted, however, turned out to have no analogue in the game development process, and I was immediately aware of the difference even as I began to perform it. That task was the painting of the insides of the cabinets and drawers, which I needed to coat with a fast-drying and very tough oil-based paint. Unfortunately the only paint that met my requirements was violently toxic, requiring me to use a full-blown respirator whenever the can was open.
Because it’s winter here in the Midwest and the house is shut up, I knew I’d have to paint the cabinet interiors in the garage. Because the garage is unheated, I knew I’d have to preheat the space on a favorable day (mild temps with no wind), then turn off the space heaters so the highly flammable toxic soup I’d be working in wouldn’t ignite. Then, as the temperature in the garage slowly fell, I planned to use halogen floods to stay as close to fifty degrees as possible (the minimum workable temp for the paint), effectively creating a microclimate in which each box could dry while the rest of the garage cooled. (I discounted the possibility that the considerable heat from the halogen bulbs would ignite any concentrated vapors.)
The painting itself – not the priming or sanding – took about 20 hours over two days, all of it under a tightly-fitting rubberized mask. After day one the bridge of my nose was sorer than it had been when I’d taken a full punch in the face in Aikido class (new student), and my skin remained visibly marked through the night. The ten hours on the second day, with my nose aching, the cold closing in as the day wore on, and the toxic gasses slowly altering my DNA through my skin, were pure gut work, and I felt no sense of satisfaction when I was finished. There was only relief that my ordeal was over, and deeply felt thanks that I lived the kind of life in which such experiences were voluntary, and never to be repeated.
I mention this in order to provide some context for the three issues I raised in the sections above. While I believe those issues are important, painting those cabinets reminded me that we’re all privileged to work in an industry in which physical threats to our health are uncommon, if not unknown. Despite the nonstop insanity inherent in our profession, and the legion of people who seem more interested in winning personal battles than in waging creative wars, I consider myself fortunate to be part of such an interesting, and safe, industry.
— Mark Barrett