Creative moonlighter

It started with an email proposal that seemed too good to be true.

An ExxonMobil Canada project manager had a question for Memorial employee Gordon Little. Would he be interested in designing a computer game for a new oil and gas exhibit at the Johnson Geo Centre in St. John’s?

“It sounded like a scam and I was about to throw it into the junk email folder,” said Mr. Little. “Then I thought, well maybe I should just look this person up. It felt totally random.”

But it really wasn’t that random; in fact, it was serendipitous.

By day, Mr. Little is an IT systems administrator with Memorial University Libraries. He moonlights during his evenings and weekends as a self-taught computer game designer. His independent gaming company is called Gord Games. He has released multiple commercial video games, such as Ayre and Spell Casting.

ExxonMobil Canada was looking for a local designer to create a game to be part of the interactive exhibit. Mr. Little had that expertise. The creative collaboration began with some loose guidelines from ExxonMobil, but Mr. Little was given a lot of creative license. While his day job requires team work, he typically develops games in the solitude of his home office, where the only limitation is his own imagination.

“Most of the time, I make things on my own. I make up the idea and I make up the game play. I draw the art and I do the animation, and I ship the thing and say ‘I hope you like it,’ but this time it involved feedback from other people.”

Mr. Little pitched three game concepts to ExxonMobil Canada — all based in some way on the oil and gas industry.

The winning idea, now on display at the Johnson GEO Centre, was a drilling game where the player controls a drill and needs to dodge various rocks and formations. The object of the game is to strike oil.

Mr. Little’s computer game is one component of a much larger, refreshed oil and gas exhibit supported by the Hebron Project, operated by ExxonMobil Canada.

50,000 visitors annually

It was about a year from the original email proposal before the official work on the game would begin. It took six more months for Mr. Little to complete it in its entirety.

He attended the official opening of the Johnson Geo Centre Oil and Gas exhibit on Oct. 11, and likened the experience to the way a writer might feel finally seeing their book on a shelf.

“It was really great to try it out and see it physically there. A few people were playing it and laughing and giggling and enjoying it. I was watching and thinking, ‘I made that.’”

The Geo Centre has about 50,000 visitors annually, so his game is sure to get some serious playing time in the coming months.

Mr. Little also has some advice about gaming, particularly for parents.

“I guess playing a lot of video games when I was a kid wasn’t the time waster my parents thought it was,” joked Mr. Little. “I was the kid in school who couldn’t pay attention to what the teacher was saying. I would just be doodling in my notebook all day long. My margins were full of drawings and little games and stuff to do.”

All the while earning straight As, he mentions casually.

It’s that wellspring of creativity that fuels Mr. Little in both his professional and personal life, as he jumps from one creative project to the next.

“Whether I am drawing things, making video games, some days I feel like making a book, I want to take my camera out and take pictures of stuff, I literally can’t stop. There are always things I want to do and not nearly enough time or money to do them. I am already thinking of the next three games I want to make.”