Origins: Tanya Jessen, Lead Producer on Bulletstorm

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Bulletstorm‘s one of the most anticipated titles for next year. The hyperkinetic FPS comes as the result of a joint partnership between EA Partners and Epic Games. As with most things Epic, Cliff Bleszinski’s heavily involved with the title but the man sometimes known as CliffyB isn’t the lead producer on the game. This time, the person in charge isn’t even a dude.

(More on Techland: Killing with Skill: Trailer and First Look at EA & Epic’s Bulletstorm)

Tanya Jessen’s leading the charge on Bulletstorm, overseeing the development process that spans the People Can Fly development studio in Poland, EA Partners HQ in Redwood Shores and the Epic offices in North Carolina.  While showing off the latest build of the upcoming game, she took some time to tell Techland about how she got started.

Evan Narcisse: OK. So I want to talk a little bit about Bulletstorm, but also your start in the industry too. When did your career start in video games? And how long have you been at Epic?

So I actually got my start right out of college. I’ve always been a gamer–life-long, y’know? And I decided I was going to be lawyer when I was in college. I got my degree in PoliSci. And I was, like, “All right, I’m going to take a year off before I go to law school.” I actually became a recruiter because I put that I played video games on my resume, under skills. My resume got seen by some people who were looking for a video game recruiter for Microsoft. And they called me because I listed video games on the skills section of my resume, which is kind of hilarious, right?

And so, I was like, this is my dream job. First of all, I never even considered for one second that I could work in video games, even though I love video games. And second of all, I was like, “I could be responsible for hiring the people to make the games.” So, long story short, I got a job as a recruiter for Microsoft hiring game people in the industry. I did that for just under a year, and I realized after talking with people, well, why don’t I just work in the industry? What could I do? I’m not a programmer. I’m not an artist.

So I thought, maybe I’ll do the programming route. So I started planning out for computer science stuff. But ended up doing an interview at Microsoft for a tech position, and got a job offer as a contract tester. So, 2002 was when I was a recruiter. And then, it was early 2003 when I got hired as a tester.

(More on Techland: The Bergman Files: So You Want to Work in Games, Huh?)

I literally went from this like awesome, super stable, good paying job as a recruiter. And as soon as I got that offer for the test position making not a whole lot of money, I decided I couldn’t turn down the opportunity because I’m such a hardcore gamer. So I jumped on it. And that was in the sports group at Microsoft.

OK. So what games were you testing, were you working on?

NHL Rivals 2004.

Oh, wow. God, I totally forgot Microsoft was publishing its own sports games for the first Xbox…

Yeah. I worked on [NFL] Fever. I helped out Links. I helped out on….

Top Spin?

Uh-huh. That was all a long time ago. Links, which by the way, I was surprised to love because I was not expecting to like a golf game. I’m not a golfer or anything. I really enjoyed that, and Amped.

Yes. Amped. Amped was a good snowboarding game.

And so, I worked my way up basically through Microsoft. I got hired full-time at Microsoft, eventually worked on Jade Empire and Dungeon Siege II. I went on the Vanguard team when it was being published by Microsoft. I was a big MMO player. And when Vanguard got bought by Sony [Online Entertainment], Microsoft came to me saying, “well, we need someone to lead testing on Gears of War.” I’ve been watching Gears of War by that point for a few years when they first…

Debuted it?

Decided to publish it. So, I was, like, “Yes!” Because I was hardcore into shooters. But they said there’s a catch. They had to send me to North Carolina. So I lived in North Carolina for six months working with Epic on Gears 1.

And after the game shipped, I went to Rod Ferguson, who was the team producer back then, and poured my heart out about how I loved, loved, loved everything to do with Gears, with Epic and the people there. Basically, it was “How can I work here?” Rob said I should talk to the president and see if there’s an opportunity.

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