Invisible Milestones

January 24, 2009

This is a neat story from a video game design team:

A team of videogame developers had spent an entire month of diligent programming, attempting to create the foundation for a complex game. Finally, one day there came a triumphant whoop from the engineering room.

A manager poked her head in, excited to see the progress- surely the team must have achieved something incredible! But all that was on the screen was a black triangle. The manager made a snide comment and walked away shaking her head, but the team was stoked. They knew their humble little triangle represented a major accomplishment. It wasn’t the triangle itself–

“… It was the journey the triangle had taken to get up on the screen. It had passed through our new modeling tools, through two different intermediate converter programs, had been loaded up as a complete database, and been rendered through a fairly complex scene hierarchy, fully textured and lit (though there were no lights, so the triangle came out looking black).

“The black triangle demonstrated that the foundation was finally complete – the core of a fairly complex system was completed, and we were now ready to put it to work doing cool stuff.”

The full black triangle story is here– found it via Kottke.

This story reminded me of a great blog entry about beginning a career in acting, written by Jenna Fischer, who plays Pam on NBC’s The Office:

“It will be hard to explain your first milestones to friends and family back home. They are waiting to see you on TV or on the big screen. It is hard to explain how a 2nd callback for a job you didn’t land was the highlight of your month and a very valid reason to celebrate.

“I remember one year my proudest moment was at an audition for a really trashy bar maid on a new TV show. It was written for a Pamela Anderson type. I thought, “I can never pull this off. I just don’t have the sex appeal. I feel stupid. No one is going to take me seriously.” But, I committed to the role and gave the best audition I could.

I didn’t get the job. I didn’t get a callback. But I conquered my rambling, fear-driven brain and went balls out on the audition anyway. That was a huge milestone for me – but hard to explain at Christmas.

“A year later I booked the role of a trashy prostitute in a little indie movie called Employee of the Month. In the past I would have turned down the audition thinking that I would embarrass myself. But after that earlier breakthrough I felt confident. The success is not always in getting the part but in the seed that is planted.”

Fischer’s trashy bar maid audition was what the game developer might call a black triangle:

“Afterwards, we began to refer to certain types of accomplishments as “black triangles.” These are important accomplishments that take a lot of effort to achieve, but upon completion you don’t have much to show for it — only that more work can now proceed.

“It takes someone who really understands the guts of what you’re doing to appreciate a black triangle.”

So next time someone is confused about one of your major life-development milestones, just hold up an index finger, make your best Mister Miyagi face, pause dramatically, and quietly say,

“That moment… was a black triangle.

Or…. a trashy bar maid.”


Here’s a funny post:  how to get a flight attendant to give you a free cocktail.