“Be thankful for autism. God shines brightest in weakness, and it comes with strengths that enable us to fill certain job roles better than others would (a talent, if you will).” Peter Lantz
By Ron Sandison
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Peter Lantz about his career creating video games.
“I have a unique job. I work as the only game developer in an advertising agency. I both code, create art, and do design work for the games we produce. Sometimes a client wants a (VR) virtual reality experience or something similar, and that’s where someone like me comes in. Other times its research and development or ‘showoff’ work that helps sell us as an agency. With the advancement of game-creation tools over the years, it’s become feasible for one person to throw together very small games as a career.
“At first it sounded like a job I didn’t want. I would be the only game developer at an advertising agency, which means no one would understand my work and how long it takes. When I finally went to the company’s website and checked out their values, it became clear this was a strong Christian company that believed “love was the only rule”. That statement resonated deeply inside, and I instantly suspected God was up to something. I kept seeing phrases related to love everywhere I went and knew for sure God intended me to work at the company.
“The interview went great and I was excited by the work environment and the projects in the works. My friend gave me a killer recommendation, my portfolio supported my skills, and I got the job. I’m 4 months into the job now, and I’m still having fun at it!”
In reaching his dream job, Peter experienced many challenges to overcome. Early in Peter’s development his parents realized by his behavior he had some form of autism and decided to home school him. Peter was unable to initiate speech without the help of a speech therapist and was diagnosed with Asperger’s around age 14.
Asperger’s enables Peter to have a great ability to focus.
“If I put my mind to something, it will get done, but the rest of my life always suffer. If I do work on a computer, I hardly get exercise. If I’m getting into a project, I let miscellaneous tasks fall through the cracks like replying to emails, cleaning my apartment, etc.
“I get the impression people (who don’t know me well) think I have a secret agenda I’m hiding when I talk to them because I have trouble looking them in the eye. I also feel like I have to choose my words carefully and ‘control’ what their reaction will be since I am always afraid what I’m saying will be taken wrong, having messed up before in the past. It makes it look like I’m some sort of bad guy. I now know for some people it’s just not my fault, they had a chip on their shoulder.”
After finishing home schooling Peter attended a local tech center. He enrolled in many technical classes. The classes he enjoyed most were programming, graphic design, and 3D animation.
Peter felt 3D animations was his answer from God to getting a job suiting his natural skills. He met his mentor Richard Vandermey at the tech center. Richard encouraged Peter to pursue his dream of designing video games and his team placed 3rd in the SkillsUSA 3D Animation and Visualization national competition.
“My parents expressed concern that this industry was only for the extremely skilled, but I kept pushing them since it became a Holy War of some kind for me. I knew this was where God wanted me. I knew this was what I wanted to do … so they let me enroll in Ferris State University.”
Peter’s parents helped prepare him for college by saving money in a college trust found. The speech therapist Peter met with every week taught him how to analyze stories and break them down for their true meaning via essays. Peter’s dad helped him learn to write business letters, preparing him for technical writing.
“I lived at home during college, so I got to eat my mom’s delicious home cooking and save on room and board. Mentally I may not have been ready to be independent yet, so staying at home gave me some time.”
Peter’s favorite college classes at Farris State were the 3D art classes. He loved working with spatial relationships and creating art that is interactive in a game.
“I was the star student since the program, Digital Animation and Game Design, fit me like a glove. Within the first semester I achieved every goal I set out to do…
1) Join the game development club
2) Get an award for my classwork
3) Attend the Game Developer’s Conference as a volunteer (which I ended up doing every year afterwards, to this day).
“There were a few 3D art classes that had me spending multiple nights in a row getting close to no sleep, so that was rough.
“My first years of college were amazing. I learned how to work hard in front of a computer and had two extremely competent art professors directly from the game industry. One would share his knowledge of game development after class, responding to question after question I sent his way. I learned a ton those years.
“I was often given the freedom to change up assignments if I wanted to try something different in a class since I was a good student. We had a good number of group projects I had the pleasure of leading, and I learned a ton from them. I have an easier time empathizing with my boss at work having been in similar shoes. Being a team leader means taking the well-being of others on your shoulders and being held to high standards. If you slack off, it’s hard to ask the rest of the team for anything.
“Later I would become disillusioned with my experience in my final semester. Our culture was one of intense criticism. Anytime art is shown in a class, it was our practice to bring up everything wrong with it and make suggestions. Game artists do this to sharpen each other’s skills, but we took it too far, especially when some poor student posts rough business card designs on Facebook.”
Asperger’s has made social interaction a challenge for Peter. “It can create tension with people, especially when I start asking questions no one would think to ask under normal circumstances, such as: Is humor Ok with God? Should we steer this game a different direction?
“It’s hard for people to follow my line of reasoning, so I’m often accused of other thinking problems.
“I tend to ‘disappear’ in groups of people and get interrupted when I open my mouth (due to a delay in speaking up). It might be a blessing in disguise. It taught me to listen and observe more than talk.
“I have a goofy personality when I feel at home, and thinking in an unusual way helps make people laugh. It helps me not disappear so much, although it can still be hard to have any part in group conversations. It doesn’t help my interests are narrower than most people (well, maybe not narrow … but off the beaten path).”
Peter grew up dreaming about all the different kinds of video games he wanted to design.
“I would try and create games using Microsoft Word. I would use the shape tools to create ‘levels’ and placed a circle on the level that acted as the ‘player’. This is all to say I was a creative kid growing up, and I wanted a career doing creative stuff”
Peter finally was able to make games when he downloaded the software GameMaker. Peter saw two of his friends using it before, so he thought he would give it a shot. He started dishing out small games. This enabled him to gain experience with coding.
“My introduction to 3D art came when my friend Tyler introduced me to the still popular Roblox, a PC game where you build worlds with virtual Lego bricks that can be stretched to any length. That game got me drawing out diagrams figuring out how to create 3D environments and vehicles with simple cubes. It matured my mind when it comes to how 3D shapes fit together. Best educational game I played.”
Peter is currently designing a video game for hospital waiting rooms.
“I’m working on a 3D platformer (think Super Mario 64) that has some puzzle solving elements. It has a cool art-style where we map scanned drawings onto 3D models. Its purpose is to advertise a children’s hospital in a unique way—just entertain kids who might be going through some hard treatments.
“Another work project is a VR game where the character runs around a prehistoric world with big dino claws slapping other dinos silly.”
Practical career advice from Peter Lentz:
- If your passionate about a field but it looks hard to get in, just keep building your skills and hang out with people online (or if you’re lucky, in person) who do the job you want to do. “Hang around the barber shop long enough and you will get a haircut.”
- Successful, talented people are usually people who spent a ton of time developing a natural skill of theirs, but by no means did they start on top of the game. I get tired of people saying “I can’t draw” because many can draw, and draw well, with a little guidance, and a lot of practice.
- Some careers are surrounded by people who say “yeah, nobody is talented enough for that career” (like game development), but don’t give up! I grew up believing art was a “far out” job, only to meet an artist in college whose family expected him to be an artist. Now I regularly create 3D art for a living. Perspectives are all over the place due to misinformation, assumptions, or laziness.
- We talk about being leaders a lot, but there is something to be said for being a good follower too. Managers and other positions of authority go through a lot of $%#! To protect their underlings from office politics and put up with a lot of criticism. Give them the respect they deserve and do what you can to help.
- Speaking of politics, stay out of those in your work. Don’t gossip about people and focus on actually getting the job done. The only time to talk back at someone is to fire a warning shot (aka get their attention), but not to hurt them.
Practical advice for young adults with Asperger’s:
- Keep moving your eyes upward. It’s easy to get caught up in the nitty gritty of life, and to only see what is wrong. “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8
- Be thankful for autism. God shines brightest in weakness, and it comes with strengths that enable us to fill certain job roles better than others would (a talent, if you will).
- Since Asperger’s can be workaholics, remember our work is temporary here on earth. It’s not inherently bad to love working, just ensure the gain is higher than the cost. There were some projects at school I went overboard on, and received little in return (other than a slightly higher grade).
Peter works as a video game designer at Daniel Brian Advertising in Rochester Hills, MI. Website http://danielbrian.com/
You can contact Peter Lantz at his email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter’s Lantz’s website: https://peterlantz3d.wordpress.com/
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is a Board Member with The Art of Autism and an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.
He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron on his website spectruminclusion.com or email Ron at Sandison456@hotmail.com.