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A scene from Fallout 3 modification Alton, IL.
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For Elijah Houck, the gaming industry is much more than a game.
You see, Houck, 19, is a game developer, designing levels and environments for interactive games.
Currently living in Massachusetts and working for Rockstar New England (owned by Rockstar Games, the creators of Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption), Houck was born and raised right here in Alton.
“I spent a lot of time as a kid building intricate Lego creations,” Houck said. “I’ve always really enjoyed both creative and technically challenging outlets like that.”
Before joining Rockstar, Houck was a camp counselor for eight years at The Nature Institute, a nonprofit land conservation in Godfrey.
At Rockstar, Houck’s job now focuses more on technical aspects.
“I work as a gameplay scripter, but that doesn’t mean that I write the script for the game,” he said. “It’s essentially a mix of programming and design, taking ideas and turning them into something you can actually play.”
In 2008, Houck and his friends were talking about a video game called Fallout 3, a role-playing odyssey based in a post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C.
“We imagined that it must be really cool for gamers that live in D.C. to walk through its destroyed streets in a video game,” he said.
This curiosity led the group to create Houck’s first development project, a modification for Fallout 3 called Alton, IL, a post-apocalyptic re-imagining of Alton and its surroundings. They released the project to the public in October 2011.
“Bethesda Game Studios, the studio that had created Fallout 3, had just released a toolkit that allowed you to ‘mod’ (A way to add one’s own content to a game and release it to the public when it’s finished) their game,” Houck said.
Every aspect of level design must be designed by hand.
“Every tree, every building, even every patch of grass is something that I would have placed in the world,” Houck said.
This project put the young entrepreneur on the path to a career based upon his passion.
“Laid out before me was this grand view of the world as a whole,” he said. “You could see some of the buildings from Godfrey out in the distance, and if I turned around I could see the Mississippi. It was an incredible feeling seeing two and a half years of work stretched out in front of you. That was definitely one of those moments where I thought that I need to do this for a living.”
The project became one of the largest “mods” to date for the game, featuring 40 hours of game play, a full cast of volunteer voice actors, and a fully developed world from downtown Alton to the edge of Godfrey.
“It currently sits at over 80,000 downloads from all across the world,” Houck said.
Houck became involved in the video game development industry while still a student at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“I was only one year through my computer science degree at SIUE when I got picked up by Rockstar, all thanks to the fact that I had worked for over four years on projects in my personal time that I was really passionate about,” he said.
Houck said he believes video games are one of the best ways to experience a story because the player is the one driving the story forward by playing the game.
“Some of my favorite games are those that let you make your own choices, which in many cases means that theoretically, anyone that plays the game could have an experience that is wholly unique,” Houck said. “That isn’t something that any other form of entertainment can provide, and I think that is what makes video games truly special.”
For information, visit his website at www.elijahhouck.com.