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All work, all play at EA in Maitland

A.J. Jeromin poses with the face capture device he created to put real people’s faces in the games that EA creates.

A.J. Jeromin poses with the face capture device he created to put real people’s faces in the games that EA creates.

Sarah Wilson

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With the push of a button and the simultaneous flash of six cameras, A.J. Jeromin is instantly transformed from human video game designer to video game character.

His 360-degree digital likeness captured by the cameras can, with some programming and the tweaking of a few codes, play a game of NCAA football or a round of golf with Tiger Woods in a matter of minutes.

“The cool thing about it is it’s pretty instantaneous,” says Jeromin, a senior technical artist for Electronic Arts Tiburon in Maitland and designer of this face capture device.

Every day workers are literally and figuratively getting in the game from inside the curvy hallways of the game studio off of Maitland Boulevard. It’s here that for 10 years, EA Sports games such as “Madden NFL,” “NCAA Football” and “Tiger Woods PGA TOUR” have been designed and developed.

Fun facts about EA –

• The Madden NFL franchise has sold more than 90 million units worldwide to date, and generated more than $3 billion in lifetime revenue.

• Tiburon’s endless cereal bar weighs more than two Honda Civics (more than four tons). More than 2,800 pounds of Frosted Mini Wheats are consumed annually, making it the most popular choice.

• Development of the Tiger Woods PGA TOUR franchise was moved to the EA Tiburon studio starting with “Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 08.”

• More than 66 years of EA SPORTS online-connected games are played every day through consoles, including:

o The equivalent of 420 NFL seasons per day in “Madden NFL 11”

o The equivalent of 895 English Premier League seasons per day in “FIFA 11”

Relics of years past decorate the halls, game posters of yesteryear and old arcade game stations are found on every floor, while other halls are allocated toward the future, with storyboarded plans for games to come. Next to the game designers wing hangs a rack of football jerseys, one for every team, for designers to use in matching uniform colors on screen to real life as they work on next year’s version of the game.

It’s here where Jeromin and his coworkers say work is play and play is work.

“My favorite part of working here is the culture,” software engineer Felix Rivero says. “It’s a culture of fun, with an emphasis on entertainment…. We’re allowed to do kind of wild and crazy things, and it’s not discouraged, but actually the opposite. It’s encouraged.”

One engineer, Rivero recalls, was sitting in one of the building’s conference rooms thinking there had to be a better way to utilize the empty space on the expansive meeting table. The result today is a conference table with a full-sized play-place style ball pit in the center.

“If you have a wild and crazy idea you’re allowed to run with it,” Rivero said.

The result is an office filled not only with high-tech game design and studio equipment where the likes of Tiger Woods and John Madden have come to record scripts for games, but the sometimes-wacky flair of those who work there.

A peek inside some of the office’s overflowing cubicles reveals large TVs and an array of gaming consoles. Some are lined with sports-themed bobble heads galore, while others are stacked with papers and torn apart pieces of game controllers. A full-size racing go-kart sits in one cubicle, Jeromin says, “Just because.”

Blue shark-shaped foil balloons swim in varying heights over select cubicles. It’s tradition, he says, that a shark balloon is given to every employee on his or her birthday. You can tell how long ago that was, Jeromin jokes, by how high or low they now float.

The shark theme continues – a nod to Tiburon’s shark mascot – with the office’s annual “Sharkie” awards, awarding workers for everything from best design to top office prank. From dry walling someone’s office door shut to turning a cubicle into a complete pirates’ cove (with interactive beach scene), Jeromin says there’s no shortage of hard work or play in the Maitland office.

“It seems like whatever we’re working on, people here go all out,” he said.

That attitude also transfers to EA Tiburon’s other Central Florida office in downtown Orlando, where Jeromin works part-time teaching at the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy (FIEA), a University of Central Florida program that teach students electronic video game development.

For more information about EA, and to learn more about what new games its Maitland employees may have in the works, visit ea.com. To learn more about the teachings available at the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, visit fiea.ucf.edu

In the lab downtown, Jeromin says he and his coworkers, along with students, spend a lot of time tinkering, taking things apart to figure out different ways to make things work.

“We have a saying that we like to come to work and feel stupid,” he said with a laugh, “Because that means we always have something new to learn from each other.”

From developing motion to face capture technology, including the six-piece camera Jeronim concocted, Rivero says the development going on at Maitland studio is being watched the world over.

“The coolest thing is watching your friends or nephews playing the games that you helped build,” Rivero said. “Knowing that you’re making people’s lives more fun, and that they go home at the end of their day and look forward to playing your game … that’s an awesome feeling that you can pretty much only get working at a place like here.”