Sunday, June 28, 2009

To Jollye Olde Englande I go!

Ande the whole time I'me there I wille be typinge like thise, juste toe annoye everyone! Yaye!

So anyway, yeah: I'm about 25 hours away from boarding a flight to London, England, en route to Guildford, where I will spend the following three days PIMPING PRODUCT FOR THE MAN. I'm excited!

Guildford circa 1893, the year I was born.

The last time I was in the U.K. was in 1984, back when I did the obligatory post-college (well, almost for me) backpack-through-Europe thang. I was young and stupid and fairly oblivious of the world around me until then, and, even all these years later, it ranks as one of The Best Things I Ever Did. I loved the freedom of it all, the ability do go anywhere and do anything (well, on a poor student's budget), and just let things happen, way far away from home and anything I was familiar with. Oh, the stories I could tell! Perhaps I should save it for another blog post. I will, say, however, that there was indeed a Swedish girl at one point, and her name was Wiveka. And I'm not implying that anything particular NC-17 happened (OR DID IT?), I'm just saying that at some point, every young American male should probably meet a Swedish girl named Wiveka.

So I have two work items on my agenda:
1) Be interviewed (in my role as producer) for a cover story on MySims Agents for a U.K. magazine. Should be beaucoup de fun to be on this side of the interview/magazine cover story process. I look forward to being as surly, condescending and uncooperative as I possibly can. (Note to my employers: THAT WAS A JOKE. I will totally not be surly.)

2) Represent MySims Agents and SimAnimals Africa at some kinda big UK retailer event that EA is hosting--meaning I will be up on a stage in front of an audience of (I think) 200ish retailers, doing a short demo on why these games are great and why they should fill their stores with them and put big banners up and stand out in the street yelling in those great accents of theirs why people should come in and buy them.

That's my work agenda. My non-work agenda includes:
1) Sampling as many fine English beers as I can without impairing my ability to take care of the work agenda.

2) Finishing World War Z (at last), and then plowing through any or all of Charlie Huston's Already Dead, Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon, and/or Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon. I know, that's a lot of reading. But, hey I have 20 hours of flying, plus however long any delays might go. I totally won't read all that. I'm just saying that's what I'm bringing.

3)Play Drop7 on my iPhone and Pokemon Pearl (shuddup) on my Nintendo DSi. This is for when I can't sleep or read.

4)Trying to survive the 4-days with minimal jet lag hell. Fortunately, I get back right in time for a 3-day weekend, so I'll have time to sleep it off. It was actually suggested to me that I take some extra time and spend the July 4th weekend in England, for fun, which would have been tempting if I didn't have family and friends to get back to, but, also--what kind of crappy American spends 4th of July visiting THE COUNTRY WE BROKE AWAY FROM. I mean, really. Unless I were just to, say, go down to Big Ben in a full-on, red-white-and blue outfit and start yelling "USA #1!" over and over until one of those London Bobbies with the big goofy hats hauled me away. Then it'd be worth it.

So I'm going to Guildford. I don't know much about it, other than what some Twitterites have told me, as well as random facts dug up on Wikipedia, such as:

* It was the home of the Royal Mint starting in 978 A.D.
* It may or may not be the home of the oldest synagogue in Western Europe.
* Lewis Carroll lived there at some point, as did P.G. Wodehouse, Alan Turing and The
* Ford Prefect CLAIMED to be from Guildford in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but we all know better.

None of this really matters a whole lot, as I will be pretty much going straight from the airport to work, and then have my agenda completely full for the next three days until I'm back on the plane. Still, I like to know where I am and even a little bit about the history, just out of curiosity.

Meanwhile, in terms of my communiques with you, The People, I offer these updates:

1. I plan on at least tweeting text and photos if I can't blog while there. (And to those UKers who have generously and graciously offered to hook up in Guilford, alas, I am really on too tight of a leash to get away, but I do very much appreciate the offered hospitality!)

2. A new Out of the Game podcast was recorded today with Shawn, N'Gai and I--so stay tuned for that to be posted.

3. Episode 2 of The EA Podcast was recorded this past Thursday, and SHOULD be going live on Monday. We don't have a dedicated home page quite yet, but try here, maybe. And it's also now on iTunes--woot! (Search for "The EA Podcast" once in the iTunes store.) I was *much* happier with this second episode than our debut. Along with Samantha LaPerre, my co-host and's managing editor, we are joined by the fabulous Dana Jongewaard, the editor-in-chief of, and special guest Glen Schofield, the GM of EA's Visceral Games, who was just a real hoot--the kind of guest that you just hope you'll get. Hope you have as much fun listening to him as I did.

By the way, here's the iTunes link to the EA Podcast. Woot!

EA - The EA Podcast

Okay, kids. I must pack and plan and practice my demoing. Cheerio, pip pip, and all that rot, what what!


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Me, My Life, and the Official EA Podcast.

Hello and welcome back to my blog!

Hopefully those interested in following What I Do have found me on Twitter, where I can do those low-rent, easy updates, but I promise you that this blog will always be my *real* home, even if it seems like I'm away traveling a lot of the time.

The truth is, when things are percolating and changing in my life, with a high degree of accompanying stress and confusion--as well as excitement and enthusiasm--it's harder for me to come here and get it all down on "paper." That is to say, I need things to settle down in my head a little before I can share and care. Ya dig?

So, yeah. I've been busy. And I've been in flux. My ongoing "Game Design is Hard" education has continued unabated, and it has continued to be both challenging and fun...and hard. If you ever feel like your life needs a strong dose of humility (and even humiliation!), try changing careers in mid-life. Learning how games really get made has been an endlessly fascinating experience. Certainly there is a great book to be written on the process. But I haven't been studying it as a reporter, I've been doing it as a team member, on a team that needs to actually finish the game in a relatively short period of time. And once a game gets to that point in the process, there really isn't a whole lot of collective time and energy to humor and educate the New Guy.

As a result, I've watched my role and responsibilities on the team get increasingly marginalized, as I basically had to get out of the way so that those who know what they're doing can finish the damn thing. It's understandable--but it's frustrating, especially to a guy used to being part of the upper-level brain trust in his former career. Certainly I've "paid my dues" in my 17 years in journalism--12 of them writing about the game industry--but the problem is that that's a different kind of dues. It doesn't directly translate, or mean a whole lot, in my current reality.

So, whatever I *used* to be, whatever my status might have been, at this point in the game, to my immediate co-workers, I may, in fact, just be, "the old dude who doesn't really know what he's doing and is going too slow and is breaking the build." Which sucks. For them as well as me. No one ever wants to feel like the Office Bonehead (at least I think they don't), and yet at times over the past few months it's been hard not to go there in my head.

So I began thinking. And talking to people. And seeking advice. Not all the answers are in place yet, and my exact, immediate future is not entirely decided, but I did at least come to one conclusion: Whether or not I was going to continue my dues paying with The Sims group, I also wanted to do more at EA *right now* that actually tapped into the things I can truly offer, that I know I'm good at.

The instant, immediate brainstorm, which I put into action as soon as it popped in my head, was an "official" EA podcast. As soon as I thought of it, I knew I had to do it. For a former games journalist to be in the middle of EA with all of this incredible access, it's a "kid in a candy store" thing. The possibilities for guests and topics is practically endless. The more you think about it, the more you realize how cool it can be. The thing is, it has to be real. It can't just be hype and marketing spiel. Even if, of course, it ultimately *is* a commercial for EA, you absolutely cannot just have it be a "we're awesome!" infomercial. Not only will no one listen, but, well, it would just be unbearable to actually make.

So, while, yes, from the perspective of my employers the goal, of course, is to "sell" EA, for me, the goal is to actually have a good show that I can be proud of and that you will want to listen to. I'm trying to liken it into my head to a Letterman/Conan talk show kind of thing--just in terms of the guests, I mean. We all know why a particular actor shows up on Letterman on the day a movie opens. He's just selling the product. But it's Letterman's job to actually make that be funny and interesting despite the "selling" that is the *true* purpose of the whole thing.
So, yes, of course, many weeks I imagine I will have people on plugging their new game or engaging in whatever kind of Up With EA talk, but if I can't actually engage in a good conversation, I'm gonna hate it and be as disappointed as you will.

Further, my hope is that plenty of weeks we won't be "selling" anything at all. Let's get some of the old guard on there, talking about old games. Let's have serious discussions about DRM and piracy and DLC and micropayments. Let's talk about PC gaming. Let's do entire shows dedicated to a retrospective of particularly cool franchises. Let's interview people from all over the EA campus whose jobs you aren't even aware of. Let's bring in some of my journalist pals to help with the interviewing, to open it up to some harder questions. And I haven't even begun to talk about all the possibilities if you throw in all the EA Partners: Bioware, id, Epic, Double Fine, etc etc. It just gets cooler and more exciting the more you think about it.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. I've recorded one so far, and it was, for all intents and purposes, a "dry run" A test. I had no idea who'd even be in there with me even just an hour before we recorded. I didn't even know where or how we were recording. The result, I believe, is not even close to what I want this podcast to be, not even remotely. It's a very tentative, and not particularly exciting, first effort. It's at about 5 percent, at best, of what it's in my head. I'll need to work on the tone, both of the 'cast itself and even of my own moderating--seeing how far I can take it while still remaining employed. :)

But I do promise you this: I am committed to making this actually GOOD, in a way we all know is good. I have a low threshold for bullshit. I won't be able to tolerate it on our podcast. I'll give it up first, if we can't make a REAL show. I want this to be, ya know, one of those "win win" deals, for all of us.

So let me know what you think. Go here . Give me (and EA) real feedback. They'll see it, as will I. I tricked them into letting me do this--so now help me make it great!