#OperationCodeBlack: Robert “BJ” Vicks

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I’ve often heard that animators make some of the best developers because they already have a head-start on creating hour-long cutscenes. Perhaps that only applied to Square-Enix. However, if that adage is in any way true, Robert “BJ” Vicks is on the journey to becoming a great developer in his on right.

Vicks got his start in gaming on the original Nintendo Entertainment System like most of us, although he credits PC Gaming as the very first gaming experience he ever had (Pay Homage to Oregon Trail!). However, he doesn’t find his greatest influence from any other games as much as he does from real life experiences.

I realized I REALLY wanted to be a game dev while I was playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. Not because of how great the game is (and it really is great) or even because it was the type of game that I wanted to make. It was because of how it was able to make a rich fantasy world that DIRECTLY relates to the real world with minimal alienation of the diverse perspectives of its players. It definitely wasn’t PERFECT at this, but it inspired me to look at ways to express diverse perspectives and ideas through games.

Good thing Vicks has the background to support that kind of creativity. He’s primarily a CG artist, with a focus on rigging and animation. A talented artist, he was looking for a medium to express himself and the stories he’d created. Today, we have BJ the Developer thanks to the 3-D software application Maya, which alleviated his anxiety about producing a full game on his own. It was then that he realized that games were not only about the technical aspects, but the artistic development as well.

It’s the perfect blend of the two that makes it the perfect outlet for the type of stories and themes I want to convey. Game devs have the potential to provide perspectives that no other major form of entertainment can, and that’s ultimately what made me decide that this was the path for me.

Currently, he’s in pre-production of a side-scrolling action platformer, similar to the Mega Man X series. The game, Project: Sideswipe, is scheduled to start official production sometime this month. But that’s not all Vicks and his team at The Art of Wu Studios have planned. His holy grail would be an RPG featuring characters from other games they plan on developing, something like the Marvel Movie Universe, but for gaming. Right now though, the focus is all on Project: Sideswipe and the hope that this will springboard Vicks and his team further into game development and entertainment media.

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As a black developer, Vicks also has a clear goal in mind for The Art of Wu and his impact on the industry: He wants to inspire and empower diversity within the gaming community and entertainment in general. The experiences of black gamers, their voices, thoughts and opinions, have become more prominent as more and more black gamers express themselves.

We are slowly, but surely defining our own identity as individuals and as a community. We may not always agree, but we definitely have a voice. It’s just a matter of making sure that voice is heard, especially when it comes to our portrayal in games and the content that gets marketed towards us.

The industry is in dire need of more diversity, in all three major facets of gaming, in the games themselves, the developers and producers, and the consumers. On the front side, Vicks’ wish to develop games that inspire more minority developers overshadows any burdens he may feel from being a minority himself. It’s his hope that the work done by him and his team will encourage other peers to offer more diverse minority characters on a level not quite achieved now. It’s not easy being a black man in gaming, but Vicks currently doesn’t feel the pressure from the industry because of his race.

Every industry has its issues (including this one) but every developer in every field that I’ve met, talked to, tweeted, or emailed has been nothing short of amazing and helpful regardless of their gender, race, or nationality. I’m sure this will change a bit once we get closer to launching our first project, but with the way the indie market is set up I’m confident that as long as we create a product that is solid and stands out our opportunities will be limitless.  

Limitless indeed. Here’s to the Art of Wu, and the art of gaming and game development.

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