Thursday, January 29, 2009


Those who care about such trivialities may have noticed that in the various photos and videos that have appeared on the World Wide Web of me in my old office at 1UP, there was a sign prominently posted behind my head that said "WWDD."

Like this one:

Much speculation has been had--as with the numbers in Lost--as to what this could possibly mean. "We Want Dunkin' Donuts"? "We Wear Depends Diapers"? But no. These were not correct. The correct answer, which I am revealing here for the first time in this world exclusive is: "What Would Dana Do?"

The "Dana" in question is Dana Jongewaard, who for many years was given the hapless task--as a few other poor souls did--of being my Managing Editor at Computer Gaming World. I say "hapless" because as anyone who knows me knows, I can be a bit of an absent-minded and oblivious fellow, and so part of being my Managing Editor was basically making sure that I didn't just wander out into the street and get hit by a car--let alone getting a magazine out on time. In addition to keeping her slightly retarded boss on track, Dana also had the extra ability to stop me from doing things that would otherwise get me in trouble---like sending irate, emotional emails to my bosses, or heads of game companies, or other such stupid things. "WWDD" was something she ultimately printed out for me, to remind me to think of what she would do when I found myself in those kind of situations. I kept the sign up there long after she left for better things, simply because, well, she was ALWAYS right.

In general, Managing Editors have a thankless task: They are the deadline Nazis amidst a bunch of writer/editors who generally tend to ignore such things, and they have a million minute tasks to attend to involving every little detail of the magazine's production that are anything but the "fun" part that people think of when
they wonder what it's like to work on a magazine. For this reason, it can also, unfortunately, be a bit of a career dead end--or at least a cul-de-sac--because their superiors might then peg them as "administrators" rather than as creative types---when in fact it's usually more the truth that they are just the most responsible of the creative types. Because they have to spend so much of their time managing, they often get less opportunity to be write every month. Sean Molloy is a perfect case in point. He was the busiest guy on the staff, and so often didn't get to write as much. But when he did, you'd just go, "fuck, this guy is brilliant! Why doesn't he write more?" Well, because he was doing all our work for us. That's why.

It was even worse if you were a female managing editor--as many of them were at Ziff Davis. Dana, Jen Tsao, Carrie Shepherd, Kristen Salvatore--all "mothers" to a group of irresponsible man-boys, who didn't always take them as seriously as they deserved. It's no coincidence that all of them have since gone on to bigger and better careers elsewhere, as Ziff was notoriously sexist in its disposition and makeup (quick--count the number of female editors-in-chief over the years!). Basically, they had to leave to be promoted. And, really, let's not limit that problem to ZD. The gaming press in general is pretty much a boy's club (it's heartening to see EA teeming with smart, ambitious women), especially if you're not willing to take the low road, and, say, lick PSPs to advance your career. Dana went from CGW to OPM as managing editor, but only now has gotten the EIC position she has so rightly deserved for so long. She's a terrifically funny writer, an awesome editor, and an extremely media-savvy person with more gaming knowledge than people think, all of which is well reflected in her website, The mandate for the site has been a "less hardcore" gaming site--and lord knows how many people have tried, and failed, over the years to do this very thing, both on the Web and in print. But with the changing demographics of the gamer audience, and Dana's talent, this site has the best chance I've seen yet of doing it.

The site is still just revving up, and Dana herself was off for quite awhile doing the whole "giving birth" thing, but she's back now, and you can see the results. Earlier this week was this fantastic column on free games paying homage to old school games, and just this morning Dana and her colleague Amanda posted their own Tom vs. Bruce style take on Madden--with great results. Check it out here.

WWDD? D would keep kicking ass in a male-dominated field. I say thumbs up.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A look back at the Internet stone age.

My oh my, how times change. Thanks to Shawn Elliott for the link to this, one of the early news reports describing the newfangled Internet. Let's all LOL together at the prescient narration and sadly ironic commentary like, "that won't be much competition for the $.20 street edition." DOH!!!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"A Life Well Wasted"

Robert Ashley's new podcast, A Life Well Wasted might be the best single gaming podcast I've ever listened to. I mean it. I don't mean this to denigrate all of us who have done it before and continue to do it. All those other gaming podcasts we love are still great.

But what Ashley has done here, to use a cliche I absolutely abhor, is..."take it to the next level." Here we have what has the makings of being the "This American Life" of gaming podcasts. Anyone who's ever listened to that NPR podcast knows that I mean this as the highest possible compliment, as "This American Life" is a must-listen, consistently brilliant piece of audio journalism that is always as entertaining as it is informative. "A Well Wasted Life" sounds very much like "This American Life", complete with appropriately-timed music edited in with the talking, and Ashley narrating and guiding the program with wit and intelligence like a deeper-voiced, stoned Ira Glass.

Ashley's debut show is about the death of EGM---and if you think you're sick of this topic by now, listen anyway, because he interviews tons of great people with all sorts of memories and insight unlike anything that's come out since that shitty day.

It's an astounding first episode. Ashley was always hilarious on the Brodeo. But you have to go back to his writing in the magazines and the website to realize that he had something this professional and high-quality in him.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Twitter: Bah. I succumbed.

Okay, this one will be quick because I'm at work. But I wanted to let y'all know that I buckled to peer- and techno-pressure and finally signed up for fuggin' Twitter---something I swore (like cell phones back in the day) I'd never do. Oh well. So much for moral imperatives.

In any event, yeah, I'm there now. Greenspeak is the name. Kill me now.

Oh, and since the Find window in Twitter doesn't work with me (???), try the exact URL:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Where am I?

Busy. That's where I am. I'll have a proper blog about it, kind of a Part II to my previous entry, as soon as I come up for air. Or at least after the three hours of Lost I'm watching tonight. A man can't work all the time.

Speaking of hard-working men, I know some of you have been waited with bated Dorito breath for some kind of comment from me about Our New President. I'll do that too, maybe, but, in the meantime, please to be enjoying this LOL-worthy photo I found over at good ol' Quarter to Three. Pretty much for WoW nerds only, so apologies if this means nothing to you. Otherwise, enjoy. And I will talk at you again oh so very soon.

Oh, and click to enlarge to actually see the dang thing.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Game design is hard.

Meanwhile, back in my own life...

I continue to get an ongoing education on just how hard (but fun) it is on this side of the fence. Yes, it is as I hoped and expected: a creative and stimulating challenge. But boy are some parts of it *really* challenging.

One thing I've come to realize is that, at least in my limited, newbie design experience, there is a real Catch 22 involved in game design: You think of things in your head that you'd like to see in the game. You ask the engineers and artists to make it. But they don't want to make it unless it's really going to be in the game, otherwise it's a waste. But you don't know if you want it in the game until they build it. Now, we have been doing fairly extensive prototyping, so, yeah some of the game's core systems are of course being tested in advance to see if they're actually cool or not. But we don't have the luxury of time/money to do that for *every* feature in the game. So the bottom line is you *really* have to know exactly what it is you want. Or at least pretend like you do.

What I like best, in fact, is the total collaborative nature of the process. There isn't one part of the operation that isn't completely interdependent with every other one: artists, engineers, producers, designers, development directors--all are intertwined in even the tiniest pieces of the game development. And the suggestions that stick often come from unlikely places: an engineer focusing on routing may, in fact, have the funniest idea for what, say, a hippo should do in the game.

But the schedule and budget looms large over us. Even now, when we're not even in production yet, we can feel the pressure to keep our arses firmly in gear, lest we suddenly find ourselves in panic mode (which, I'm sure, is going to happen eventually anyway.)

I love having the opportunity to try my hand at this. But I admit: It's intimidating and stressful. There really isn't any time or leeway here for failure---especially in this economy. I *need* to prove I have some clue what I'm doing, even as I'm learning it on the job. And the big lesson I've learned in the last week is that even if I think of something that might be cool in the game, that thing is going to beg about 50 great questions from all the people who are going to have to do the work I'm suggesting. So I better have some answers.

It is for all these reasons above that I have decided to start doing cocaine. Just kidding! But I have upped my daily coffee and chocolate intake. I'm determined to make a great game, even if I have to get completely wired and fat to do it!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

After the wake.

On Friday night I attended a "wake" in San Francisco held on behalf of and EGM, hosted, coincidentally enough, by my current employer, Electronic Arts. In attendance were people from all over the gaming industry: most of the remaining 1up staff, the recently fired, those who quit or were laid off in the past, game journalists from other outlets, and gaming PR and development folks...all gathering to pay their last respects, in public, to a fallen giant.

At one point, I found myself in the midst of a spontaneous and unplanned Computer Gaming World reunion, surrounded by a bunch of my old staff: Kristen Salvatore, Thierry Nguyen, Michael Jennings, Sean Dallaskidd, Dana Jongewaard, and Darren Gladstone. It was a nice moment, standing outside the overcrowded bar in the cold San Francisco air. What was nicest about it, I think, was seeing how well we were all doing. How, in spite of everything we'd all been through, in one way or another, we were still the same buncha dorks who all still liked each other, and all had nothing but good wishes for one another.

It was a simple but necessary reminder, as we begin a new week, that life does indeed march on, whether we like it or not. And that, ya know, stuff tends to work out. Yeah, those are some hoary old cliches, but, hey, sometimes those are necessary, too. Especially when the alternative doesn't really buy you anything.

And, indeed, all the parties involved are already picking up the pieces, and good things are starting to happen. The most amazing and heartening and just flat-out feel-good satisfying event of the week was the immediate assemblage, and then astounding success, of Rebel FM Radio--with Nick Suttner, Anthony Gallegos, Philip Kollar, Matt Chandronait, Ryan O'Donnell, Jade Kraus and Arthur Gies--which rose from the ashes of 1UP FM. These guys got their jobs taken away from them, and what did they do? Did they whine or mope or post angry rantings on the Internet like some people I know? (HAI). No. What they did is they got their collective asses together, and immediately got a new podcast recorded. And the most incredible, Ron Howard movie moment about it all? This first episode is KICKING ASS on iTunes. Check this out:

Yeah, that's right. Number two podcast on iTunes (and I heard it hit number one for awhile too!). That's #2 OVERALL. Not in the Games and Hobbies ghetto. That's higher than This American Life. Higher than all the NPR podcasts. Higher, in fact, than any actual official podcast ever got. Now if that isn't some kind of sweet victory for those just laid off, I don't know what is. And, further, it's a testament to the talent and popularity of all those involved. It speaks for itself. And whether or not this lasts with future episodes--whether this was just a short-term reaction or show of support, or maybe the guys themselves will move on to other jobs---none of that matters or takes away from this moment. (And, hey, personally, I hope it stays at the top of iTunes for as long as it's on air.)

Similarly, the gang that made the 1UP Show have also regrouped right here, with plans to get a new show on the air as early as next week. I'll be downloading it as soon as it's there, and I hope you will too.

"1UP Show? We don't need no stinkin' 1UP Show!"

Finally, there are the "survivors" themselves, those left behind at I've been on both sides of the layoff equation over the course of my career--both fired and saved-and I can tell you, for those who stay, while it may not be as immediately stressful as it is to those now out of work, it still can be quite depressing. At the wake the other night, in fact, those still at 1up looked more unhappy than those who'd been cut, faced with a 2/3 empty office floor, survivor guilt, and the burden of rebuilding the 1up brand. The good news is, as I said in my previous post, this group has more than enough talent to pull it off. It won't be the same--but that doesn't mean it can't find its own voice again and still rise above the common dreck of gaming journalism. Poor Sam looked like he needed about three days sleep, which I hope he got this weekend (though I imagine it might be accompanied with a hangover.) But the good thing for him is that when he starts this week, he still has a staff of journalists who damn well know what they're doing. Far be it from me to sugarcoat the situation--I made it clear how I felt already, and stand by all of it--but none of that is the fault of this group of people. They just have a job to do. And the best thing they could possibly do now is shrug off the guilt, close their ears to any lingering online nerd rage, and get back to doing what they do best--knowing that the vast majority of us, including me, are rooting for them.

Here's to new beginnings.

EDIT: Sam Kennedy has an excellent new blog post on this whole affair, in which he speaks out emotionally and with great candor. You can find it here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

No, You're not the same 1up.

So, soon after posting my last entry, I decided that the best way to show my support and love for the dozens of my co-workers laid off yesterday was not to scribble on my blog, but to actually be there with them.

I rode my bike from EA up to San Francisco, where a lively and active and drunken wake was in progress at Steff's Bar, the dive bar next to the (now former) Ziff Davis offices that has served as the go-to watering hole for years now. Some of those fired--like my good friends Ryan and Anthony--were not there, and knowing both those guys, I'm sure that hanging at a bar was about the last thing they felt like doing, knowing that they no longer held the jobs that they loved so dearly. But mostly everyone was there--both the fired (who were unceremoniously shoved out the door, with security guards present) and the "saved"--as well as a bevy of alumni who also came to show their support: Karen Chu, John Davison, Dana Jongewaard, Demian Linn, and many more. It's the one thing about Ziff Davis. No matter how fucked up and ill-managed of a company it was---and, boy, was it--they always managed to hire great people who stick together even years after their departure. Alumni of that company always feel the same bond. Maybe because it was so fucked up and ill-managed. Those who get out are kind of like ex-convicts--survivors who laugh and shake their heads at their former incarceration and feel for those left behind. Or maybe that's too dramatic and unfair. It's hard to say when it comes to something like layoffs. Emotions run high.

Which is why, after getting home from the wake, I got extremely upset when I read Sam Kennedy's "1up is Now Part of UGO" blog entry--which I'm not going to link to here because it doesn't deserve any more clicks. Now, Sam is an incredibly nice guy, one of those guys who never, ever has a bad word to say about anyone. He'd never write, for example, what I'm about to write. And there is no doubt in my mind that he's as bummed out as everyone else. He's in a horrid position here, having to put a brave face on what is an unequivocally ugly mess. So I wish no ill-will on the guy, and, more important, those following this story need to know that none of this is his "fault". All this shit happened way above him. He's just trying to make the best of a bad situation. And to that I offer him a heartfelt and sincere good luck.

Still. That blog post? Not a good call. It reminds me a bit of George Bush, to be honest, in its tin-eared, feel-good myopic offensiveness ("You're doing a heckuva job, Brownie!"). Yeah, he had to say *something*, but this wasn't the way to say it--not in public. I only want to comment on two lines:

"We’re still the same 1UP, and we’ll still be producing the same content...we always have"

Well, no, you're not, and no, you won't. You're not the same 1UP because you just lost a gigantic chunk of what made 1up 1up. It may go on, it may in fact produce great things, but it won't be the same. All that a company ever is is a mix of specific personalities. That's all it is. Period. When you remove people, it may go on, but it's never "the same." Saying it's the same is a disservice to all the people who just got canned. And, no, you won't be "producing the same content" because those responsible for some of the most popular and distinctive content--the 1up Show, the podcasts--no longer work there anymore. So, again, you can't say it's "the same". It's not. (And since everyone on the Copy Desk got canned, too, it won't be as well-edited, either.) Better to just acknowledge that, since we all know it anyway.

"...having the support of UGO and Hearst is probably the best bit of news we've ever had."

Again, no. If this can be called "the best news", I'd hate to see the bad news. In fact, it might be the best bit of news that you and the others who kept their jobs ever had, since you now don't have to be looking for work at the start of a new year, in the worst economic climate this country has been in in the last 80 years. For everyone else--both those who lost their jobs and those who followed their work--it's just about the worst news possible. I'll give you an alternate choice for "the best bit of news" ever had: The fact that so many talented, creative, funny, dedicated people busted their ass at that site to produce content they believed in, despite the fact that they were chronically underpaid, chronically under-appreciated and lied to by an incompetent upper management (I mean the New York suits) whose shitty decisions led the company to ruin, and chronically treated--ever since the Ziff family sold the once-great company--like nothing more than numbers on a bleeding-red-ink spreadsheet. That's the best news you ever had. What happened yesterday? Yeah. Not so much.

In the cold light of day, though, another truth remains: All those still at 1up are still great writers and editors, and will, in fact, produce great things. You cannot underestimate the talents of Jeremy Parish, Thierry Nguyen, Scott Sharkey, and everyone else, and they deserve our support. I'm glad for all those who survived the cut, and will continue to read their work. And I wish Sam all the best over this difficult time of transition.

But since he's obviously hamstrung by having to put a happy face on this bloodbath, I'll just say what would have been nice to read, instead: "Our website is decimated. Our new owners failed to recognize the talent we had, which comes as no surprise since their own website values lowest-common-denominator pandering over quality content. We will do our best to do what we can, despite the fact that they gutted us. This fucking sucks."

/end rant.

Good luck, all. Those now looking for a job, you know where to find me for references, advice, and beer.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Well, goddamn. :(

A sad day for all the folks at, the vast majority of whom lost their jobs today. I'll try to post a longer blog about this--I've been in meetings the whole time the proverbial merde hit the fan--but this is just a quick note to say that my condolences go out to all those now looking for work. The list of people they decided to lay off is just crazy. Don't ask me to make any sense of it, because I don't see any.

R.I.P. They may keep your URL, there, but we all know better.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Yeah. So I went back to "work" today.

You know what I think? No? Well I'll tell you then. I think that the first day back from vacation should also be a day of vacation. Because it is utterly impossible, it seems to me, to get back in the groove anyway. So, for example, when the first day back is scheduled to be Monday Jan 5, it should actually just be Tuesday, Jan 6. That way I don't have to start my first day back at work, at the start of a brand new year, feeling guilty for getting nothing done. What kind of a way is that to start a year? It's totally counter-productive! Now I'm just going to feel guilty all night, which means I may sleep badly, which means tomorrow might also be non-productive because I'm too tired! See? If corporate America just listened to me, we'd all be much better workers. We'd get our vacation, then we'd get the extra day to psych up for the end of vacation, and THEN we'd go back to work. And then we'd all work super hard that day, making better products that everyone would want to buy, stimulating the economy by putting more money back in circulation, which would help scoop our country back out of the toilet and on the road to prosperity and joy again.

Or, to rephrase this blog post in a totally different way:

I'm sorry I played Bejeweled at work today. It won't happen again.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

So, it appears that I actually needed a break from this thing. Well, not really from "this thing," as this thing doesn't really require too much thought, most of the time, as anyone who's suffered through these posts can attest. But I guess I did need more of a break than I thought I did from actually thinking and processing and scribbling things down. Along with anything else remotely constructive. The wife--normally an extremely hardworking human herself--has advised me not to feel guilty about this, saying, "that's what vacation is for." And she's right.

Still, I did tell myself that I would do a few semi-productive things on this break, and it turns out I kinda did none of them. Since I last blogged on Xmas Eve, I have had a long, glorious stretch of downtime, including, but not limited to:

*epic matches of both Lost Cities and Dominion with my daughter. (Two great card games, highly recommended.)

*Three movies: Frost/Nixon (surprisingly great for a Ron Howard movie), I've Loved You So Long (French movie starring Kristin Scott Thomas, who is going to be robbed of an Oscar for a stunning performance), and, just today, Milk, featuring maybe the best performance by Sean Penn I've seen since Jeff Spicoli. Seriously, he's unreal in this movie--all beatific smiles and vulnerable openness, totally unlike any other role he's done for as long as I can remember. It's a heartbreaking movie, which of course anyone who knows the actual real life story knows going into it, but it's also a fine testament to a very brave and transformative figure in our recent history, made even more worth seeing in the wake of Prop 8...

*Lots of napping and *finally* finishing Deadhouse Gates, just today. My next book was gonna be either Altered Carbon or What is the What. But I am putting both aside for the moment in favor of the book my wife got me for Hannukah: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I've been dying to read for about 6 months ago, when she first told me about it.

* a lovely, small, quiet New Years Eve with just our little family unit, spent playing Dominion, eating sushi, and watching The Beatles' A Hard Days Night.

My daughter's recent Beatles kick is extremely fun and satisfying for me to watch, as I was exactly her age (14) when I went through my own (first) Beatles fanaticism. (She's listening to Sgt Pepper as I type this now.) After we saw Milk tonight, and on our way home after dinner, she was lamenting the fact that she wasn't born earlier, because she missed out on all the cool stuff that we got to experience first hand. I responded that every generation feels that way---that me and her mom missed out on plenty of cool music that came before we were born..

Her response: "What did you miss out on? Bach?"

Which about as great a New Years Day laugh as any dad could ever hope to get.