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Sunday, April 27, 2008

All about my mother.

I've written about my mother's relationship with games a few times before, I can't quite seem to stop myself since I find her relationship with technology, and in particular video games, so fascinating.

My mother lives in Mexico, and when she comes to visit me (typically twice a year), she comes for an entire month and stays in my house. At these times, I have to go underground with my game habits, since I feel like I must convince her that I am more than a working-video-game-playing-machine (which I'm really not). It's been hard this time, since I'm in a T5 raiding guild in "the game that shall not be named", and I enjoy getting my progression on at least several nights a week.

However, it seems as of late that her relationship has vastly matured. She has had her own DS for about six months now, and when she first arrived back in the United States, one of her first acts was to purchase THREE games for her hand-me-down system. Okay granted, the games she bought were My Spanish Coach, Brain Age 2, and some poker game, but I consider that progress.

And for the past three weeks, she has been obsessing about purchasing a Wii. So today when we finally found one in stock, she's in the middle of the store jumping up and down screaming "I've got a Wii". It was really entertaining. And of course, right on cue, she had to announce to half of the employees there that I work at Electronic Arts and own a million video games.

I talked about that a little bit in my recent Warhammer Developer bio and I have to admit it has been one of the more interesting aspects of watching my mother evolve with video games. She always supported me playing them (in moderation), after all this is the woman responsible for the Odyssey 2 that I acquired at the tender age of 4, but she has more recently embraced them and the industry so completely, that I guess I don't really have to hide what I do from her anymore.

So I showed her one of my raids on my undead priest and how I was grouped with 24 other real people, and how we're trying to take down this big boss, and how we communicate on Ventrilo to coordinate our attacks. And she turns to me and says, " are you both evil and holy, isn't that an oxymoron?". And I tell you, she got me there, folks. I'm sure there's background story to explain it, but it was that I hadn't even thought about it, and that she could help me look at games in a different way. Well I suppose that has been the most interesting thing of all.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A poll for MMO players...

Just a question, call it an informal poll. Would you, personally, like it if other people could see how many hours/days you'd spent playing the game?

My inclination is no, but I can see it being both a badge of honor and (maybe) even a mark of shame.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Paul Barnett, since he's the creative director and all, and I have gotten into many discussions about video games, video game trends, video game designers, philosophies, etc. And they all usually end with me in tears, sometimes metaphorically, sometimes not.

Today we opt for not. Paul, while simultaneously ribbing me about my new game purchases, showed me Passage.

Now, in order to even remotely simulate the experience that I had today, I want you to stop reading, download that game, and play it. It only lasts five minutes long. I don't want you to look it up or read any further until you've played one five minute game of Passage. If you don't, then you will ruin the experience.

Go now.

Read this when you come back.
When I started playing Passage, I began moving around with my character. I was attempting to find the bounding boxes of the playspace, I went all the way up, all the way down, and I began heading right. It seemed that right was the best way to go since there was so many different things ahead (even though they were fuzzy).

Once I discovered the boxes with the stars in them, I became obsessed with the stars. I looked for every box I could find, sometimes even going backwards, searching every nook in cranny. I wasn't quite paying attention to anything but the star hunt and my point total, which climbed up to 1300-some points until I finally became a gravestone. It felt so unfinished.

Then Paul assumed control of the computer and said he'll play it for me and narrarate.

And he began...

"When you start life, you can't see very much behind you. There is a lot ahead of you, but it is fuzzy."

He walked right and instantly bumped into a little girl sprite.

"You may meet someone and fall in love."

I had missed her! At this point the female sprite attached herself to his character permanently, making him, effectively, two people wide.

"Your companion will stick by your side, but her being with you closes off some routes to you."

He attempts to go down into a single-person wide passage and the female blocks his movement. So he kept plugging along.

"And so you go and progress through life. As you go on, some things may become more clear. Your past will seem very clear, but the future is still fuzzy. And so you continue along."

He began picking up the boxes and deducing which ones had stars and which one had nothing but dust. At this point I realized that the character was beginning to age. And he continued to narrarate, pointing out the metaphors of life, the clarity of perspective, the pros and cons of having a constant companion, life goals and objectives, and then his female companion died.

"And when she dies, you are crippled, nothing but a shell, and you move slowly toward the end."

By the time he turned into a gravestone himself, I was in tears. I hadn't even found my companion, I had just obsessed over exploration and point totals. It was scary, it was heartbreaking, and it was poignant.

And he turned to me and said "and that's why I have no time for Gears of War. I want to make games that matter."

And so do I.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Ah inseparabile

This afternoon, I went to the Kennedy Center with family to see the Washington National Opera's performance of Rigoletto. If you didn't know this about me already (or didn't piece it together with that whole totally emotional, flair for the dramatic, thing) I'm absolutely crazy about opera.

If you aren't crazy about opera, perhaps then you'll just appreciate that Rigoletto is the opera that plays on the jukebox in cs_italy. You know, in case it ever comes up in some game nerd trivia contest.

Anyway, it's just another example of why knowing all kinds of different genres and subjects can be extremely useful in game development. I don't think the sound of rescuing hostages would have gone quite as well with Don Giovanni.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


A producer from another EA studio was in house this week, spending time with (Creative Director) Paul (Barnett) and taking a look at some of the processes we have and how the game is coming along.

I hadn't spoken to him until today when Paul took me out of my office and walked me over to where he was demoing the game. On the way, Paul begins to tell me that during their talks, he had expressed to Paul that he didn't see why we were making a big deal out of the Tome of Knowledge, and that he just wasn't sure why we talk about it like it's one of the majors features in the game. As the person responsible for overseeing the Tome, I'm beginning to flush, and I'm wondering why Paul is bringing me within striking range of this guy.

We enter the room and Paul says "Tell her what you think about the Tome now." And he tells me that after an hour of play he's utterly sold on it, that it's wonderful, that it generates within him an emotional response (and not simply an intellectual one).

I have been ten feet off the ground since.

The process of making games is tough for lots of reasons, but none tougher than this one: self-doubt. I am convinced the Tome is a great idea. I am convinced I work with a great batch of people. I am convinced that the press have enjoyed the snippets of the Tome that we have showed them. I am convinced that the Warhammer fans are going to enjoy the lore and the things inside the book. But when somebody, with no motive, comes at the work that I do with skepticism, and walks away satisfied, then I feel like I've accomplished what I set out to do. The rest of my days are filled with all the panic and fear and doubt that I can possibly muster. And I feel deeply all the responsibility that is on me to make sure we deliver something great.

So a break in that feels like heaven.

...and now back to work.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Paris: Part Trois


The final day of work in Paris was filled with interviews. Adam Gershowitz, who is in charge of the Combat and Careers team, and I were paired up to do about 11-12 interviews over the course of the whole day. Each one lasted anywhere from 20-45 minutes. During that time we met with individuals of the press who we had given presentations to the day before, and were able to answer any direct questions that they had in order to help fill out their coverage.

The day was certainly interesting and there were different approaches from each news outlet. We did videos for online TV shows (Buffed TV in Germany has a weekly video show ala On the Spot), took turns answering general questions, and gave additional insight into our areas of specialty. This part of press coverage is my favorite of all, being able to speak about the game with individuals, and was a welcome change from the presentations the day before.

I should point out though, as a former member of the press, and now on the other side, that questions regarding numbers, dates, and other specifics like that will typically net a canned response (or more often or not, a deflection to the marketing department). If you want to get interesting and unique answers, it's best to ask questions that involve examples or anecdotes. One of the best questions I got all day was "What is the weirdest tome unlock?"

After it was all over, we went out for a fantastic dinner at a restaurant called Georges in the Centre Pompidou, which is basically a human-sized hamster cage. The food was some of the best we had all trip. Of course all of my expert French translations were of little use, when the dishes were called things like "The Crying Tiger" (it was delicious). Because of the mass amount of crepes and fingerfood we had consumed in the past few days, pretty much everyone ordered steak and chocolate cake. Yum.


Friday was the first day that we were off the clock. Most everybody was heading home, but both Adam and I decided to stay on for the weekend. Since we hadn't had much time to explore the city, and since The Louvre is randomly closed on Tuesdays (which was our only free day earlier this week), we decided to head over to the Louvre for the day.

We, literally, spent the entire day in the Louvre.

We saw works from all four of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a number of fabulous iconic Greek sculptures, including, of course the Venus de Milo and The Winged Victory of Samothrace. The Mona Lisa certainly was an attraction, though I found the crowd around it more impressive than the painting. It is quite a bit smaller than you'd expect, and it was behind glass and roped off. Though I wouldn't put down the Mona Lisa strictly because of its popularity, it is kind of disappointing that there are signs throughout the entire Louvre pointing you to it, and then there's really no ability for you to get a connection with it in any way.

I spent the entire time snapping pictures, and was fixating on getting tourist-free shots. I also took quite a few shots from outside the Louvre windows. The museum is several stories high, and in the shape of a U. From nearly every window, you can get a beautiful shot of the inside of the Louvre, the outside of the Louvre, or the city of Paris.

I also caught this great picture of a room that had been closed off for rennovation, and it looked like one of the statues was looking to get out.

After a few hours in the museum, we started to get tired, but it was pouring rain outside at that point (we could see it through I.M. Pei's awesome glass pyramids) and there were a couple Vermeers I wanted to see (talk about small paintings). Amidst the galleries dedicated to the Flemish, Dutch, and German painters, there was an exhibit of contemporary art. Call me a fuddy duddy, but I thought it was a little bit tacky to have a sequined urinal in front of Vermeer's "The Astronomer".

When we finally decided to head out, we had to move from the Hotel du Louvre to a more affordable location. Which, incidentally, was very close to the Eiffel Tower. The Hotel Derby Eiffel had tiny rooms, but it was very tourist-friendly, convenient, and affordable, so completely recommendable to anyone who wants to visit Paris.

After a quick nap and checking of email, we headed back downtown to meet up with former GameSpot editor Avery Score (and his girlfriend Gwenola) at his hip apartment on the Seine. After some partaking of French delicacies: wine, hookah, and foie gras (it wasn't that bad), Avery took us to a party where we hung out with a bunch of international 20-somethings, who all spoke at least three more languages than either Adam or I do. They were very friendly and accepting of us, and we had a great time, though we ended up being out until nearly 4AM.


On Saturday, we hooked back up with Avery for some shopping. We bought quite a lot of of cheese and chocolate for gifts. Avery also took us to some local french comic and video game shops, and we got to see the Warhammer preorder box up on the shelves. I have to admit that sometimes while making a game, it is hard to fathom that people will be out there one day, playing it. However, seeing it in the stores with boxes for preorder and price tags on it really felt quite exciting.

After all the shopping, we met up with a high school friend of mine, Francois, and went out for food and drinks with him. Adam headed back to the hotel for an early night since he was flying back early in the morning, and I stayed up quite late (again!) hanging out and catching up.


In the vein of the European dedication to drinking, I began Sunday by meeting up with Avery, Gwen, and Francois for a (free!) wine tasting festival. I had only been to one other wine tasting in San Francisco, and I have to say it was virtually identical, except there were probably ten times as many vendors.

At the wine vendors, they used my being American as an excuse to get more tasting, and so naturally, every time I found a bottle I really liked, I ended up buying it. A few hours later, I realized I had five bottles of wine, and absolutely couldn't carry all of it back, so we decided to head back to Francois' house. On the way out of the venue, there was a breathalizer test. I blew a whopping 0.15 and the guy informed me that I was perfectly capable of driving. If there's not some kind of crazy metric conversion to the breathalizer, then they allow people in Europe to drive when they have three times as much alcohol as the legal limit in the US.

We returned to Francois' house to meet up with his 8 months, 3 weeks, and a couple days pregnant girlfriend Barbara, who was kind enough not to have their baby before we got to see them. We spent the rest of the evening hanging out, eating tons and tons of different kinds of foie gras (again, not that bad... but I'm done for awhile) and finishing off all the wine I bought.


Paris was incredible. I'm now, a week later, only just getting over my jetlag and my late Paris nights (and all the cheese and wine). As a perk of the job, you can't get much better than a trip to Paris, and I love the opportunity to speak with the European press as well as the US press. If I could recommend a visit there to anybody, (even for a couple days) I certainly would.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Paris: Part Deux

I will pick up my tale of Paris with Parisian evenings. First, I shall point out that when we weren't eating crepes, we were eating finger food. I don't think that's because that's particularly what they eat in Paris, but because the event organizers (our European partner, GOA) thought that would be the easiest thing for large amounts of people to consume.

I don't know if it accomplished their goal, but it certainly did mean that all the drinking we did was magnified ten fold. We were using Parisian wine both as nourishment and as a means of passing our time.

Anyway, inevitably at some point in the evening, I would get this hankering to walk somewhere. I mentioned in "Part Un" that the Europeans sure do seem to walk a lot, which counterbalances their consumption of cheese and chocolate and allows them all to stay terribly skinny. But this walking was insane. The first night, I went with Games Workshop license representative, Erik Mogensen, to the Eiffel Tower.

It started, innocuously enough, with a trip to the Louvre, which was around the corner from our hotel, and which he had professed in his late arrival, he had not seen yet.

Then we got there and it didn't seem like enough, and the Eiffel Tower was visible (although according to Google Maps, it is 3 miles away), and so off we went. It was one of the few nights that it wasn't raining, so it was a pleasant and interesting walk. And I guess I should not have been surprised to find vendors selling glow-in-the-dark Eiffel Tower keychains when we got there. I do blame that visit for my false comprehension of the tourism at the Eiffel Tower. Aside from the vendors and a couple cops, we were the only people there. When I visited a couple days later with aspirations to go up it, there were thousands of tourists. I felt indignant that so many people had deigned to come to MY tower.

The second night, Erik and I convinced Swedish journalist Mats Nylund to accompany us on a trip down the Champs Elyssee to the Arc de Triomphe (Several other, much wiser journalists went to sleep). This time we got about half way there (about 1 mile in) and it started to pour rain.

Then of course, there's the matter of the Arc de Triomphe being in the middle of a circle with five lanes of traffic going around it... with no visible stoplights. And then of course, it's also closed at night, which is a bizarre concept for an open air monument.

Still we had managed to make our way just up to the arch itself when several female police officers began to bark at us to go away. We stepped outside of the Arc (me into the street in order to take the pictures), and then had turned around to head back to our hotel, when the female police officer called Erik over again. I thought perhaps she had changed her mind, or was going to allow us to find a victor to the bet "Does the Arc de Triomphe protect you from the rain?", but in actuality she had just called us back to yell at us to go away again.

My favorite thing about this picture in particular is that it looks like both Mats and Erik are WAAAGHing. Very Warhammer indeed.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Paris: Part Un

Two days ago I returned from La France, after spending a whopping seven days completely indulgent in cheese and wine and espresso.

I thought I would round up my experience there, both from a work and tourism perspective, so that should you ever decide to work on a major MMO and then go on a European press tour that you would be a little more prepared than I was.


We arrived at the posh Hotel du Louvre at 5:30AM on Monday, and as the name suggests, it was literally adjacent to the Louvre museum. Since we couldn't actually check in until 3PM (egads!), we decided to grab something to eat and then roam around Paris, where I began my first phase of eating too many crepes and taking way too many pictures of the city streets.

Lesson Learned #1: American butts are bigger than European butts. Six of us, attempting to sit at a sidewalk cafe, fit on approximately ten chairs.

After we got our hotel rooms sorted, we went for another walk through the rainy streets (it rained 2/3 of the time that I was there). This time we ended up at a small crepe stand next to St. Germain that Warhammer Online Senior Producer Jeff Hickman and his wife were quite fond of the last time they came to Paris. I was sensing a pattern.

That night we went to a Parisian restaurant where I ate scallops and salmon wrapped in some kind of potato pancake, and though I'm not a scallop person, they were the most delicious things I had ever eaten. It was also my first experience with Muscat, a French sweet dessert wine, and it was incredible.


On Tuesday we began the day by walking around and eating more crepes. We spent some time going in and around the Notre Dame cathedral (during Mass, no less!)

We also went all around the river Seine, and ate inside another sidewalk cafe, where we had our fourth meal in two days that consisted primarily of ham, cheese, and bread.

Lesson Learned #2: Learn your conversions! One Euro != One Dollar; 2000 ml = Hell of a lot of beer.

Later that day we head over to the space where Wednesday's Warhammer presentation was going to be to do a dry runthrough. Of special note: We were escorted to the location in the awesome bus with a poker table in the back. The place where we were presenting was a converted ex-Egyptian museum with all kinds of crazy statues everywhere. It was up a lot of stairs. They had purchased amazing life-size statues and huge posters that smelled like turpentine. Nothing worked the day before (at the risk of spoiling the story, everything worked fine the following day).

We rounded out the evening with more cheese, more wine, and more total abuse of the dollar to Euro conversion.


Wednesday was the big day. We got up bright and early and headed over to the Egyptian museum to begin an eight hour long Tour de Warhammer with over 100 European press. In the morning Jeff and Josh gave a presentation overview of the whole game with videos and jokes and references to Normandy.

In the afternoon there were four panels, which we rotated around to four press groups (so we had to give them four times in all). My panel was, of course, on the Tome of Knowledge.

I'm not sure if I can convey the difficulty of trying to talk about what you do to the attentive press. Sure they want you to make a good game, and they want to enjoy playing it. But there's a layer, and I know this being former press myself, of cynicism. Of "What are you doing that WoW isn't?" Of "Why do you keep delaying?" Of them now knowing which bits you're working on, which bits you aren't. What you intend to improve, or why you can't. And so getting up there and really needing to convince them, and not only spit out marketing one liners, but to be truly honest, without saying anything scandalous... well that can all be rather hard.

I go through this period after every press event (and I've been to quite a few) of obsessing over the coverage. This one has been a little more difficult because a lot of the sites aren't in English, but still I read every word, hoping and praying that what I feel about the game that I'm making came across.

And just in case, we took all the press out on a river cruise that evening along the Seine and got them wasted.

Lesson #3: Hungry boys, American or European, do not like finger food.