At first glance, a video game producer’s life seems more like that of a rock star: parties in Las Vegas, New York and Germany, the chance to collaborate with artists from MTV and pulling all-nighters. Look more closely, though, and you begin to see that the video game industry is a tough one, where only the strong survive for more than a few years.
John Podlasek ’88, now living in the Chicago area, stuck with it for almost 19 years, and his perseverance paid off: He was senior producer at Midway Games for the immensely popular “Mortal Kombat” games, including “Deadly Alliance,” “Deception,” “Armageddon” and the newly released “Mortal Kombat vs. DC.” Podlasek is currently senior product manager at Video Furnace, a company that enables organizations to securely deliver video over their network to any connected desktop, laptop computer or TV for live broadcasts and public addresses.
“I enjoyed being part of an industry that I grew up on pumping quarters into arcade machines,” says Podlasek. “At Midway, I was able to work and become friends with the original designers of the games I loved playing, like “Spy Hunter,” “Robotron,” “Defender” and “Smash TV,’ ” he says.
Creating some of the world’s most popular video games was no small task. As deadlines approached, Podlasek logged some serious hours at his desk. “I turned my office into a makeshift dorm room with a pull-out futon, coffeemaker, alarm clock and a few changes of clothes,” he laughs. Podlasek was sometimes forced to call in artists to make improvements on their games on weekend nights, and he created his own concoction to help them focus: “I brewed some super-strong coffee with Diet Coke mixed in the water to try and sober them up,” he says.
The long hours Podlasek worked didn’t earn him any overtime compensation. “You either [create games] for the experience and resume building, or because of dedication to the team and the game, which was the case with the Mortal Kombat series,” he says.
Still, the perks that came with his job helped make those late hours worth it. After the creation and release of “Mortal Kombat: Deception,” Podlasek attended a launch event on the rooftop of the Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. “There were enormous projection TVs and a giant Mortal Kombat logo shining on the building next door like the bat signal,” he laughs. Another memorable event involved collaborating with Mike Judge, creator of movies and TV shows like “Office Space” and “King of the Hill,” to create a Beavis & Butt-Head video game, a project that also involved Kurt Mitchell ’74, an artist, writer and illustrator. “We’d swap stories about Millikin and professor emeritus Marv Klaven, former head of the art department,” says Podlasek.
Podlasek says he learned several valuable skills at Millikin that helped him later in his career. “It sounds weird now, but back then there were only a few computers in the art lab because they were so expensive,” he says. “I liked spending hours of uninterrupted time learning all the tools and working on projects, so I had to develop my night owl skills.” Podlasek also met his wife, Karen Stegman Podlasek ’88, during his sophomore year. “[Our meeting] is a long, complicated story involving fire escapes and phone calls, but the short version is that we met at a party,” he laughs. “She’s an amazing woman with a great deal of patience for putting up with my years of strange hours and schedules.” The couple has two sons, fraternal twins Jack and Erik, 7. “Like most kids, they love video games, but they only get to play on weekends – and no Mortal Kombat fighting!”
by Carol Colby ’08
The complete article appeared in the winter 2008-09 issue of Millikin Quarterly magazine.