Friday, October 30, 2009

My New Gig, Part II: The New Gig

Okay, so I'm Editor-in-Chief of Let me address your initial question, which I assume goes something like this: "What the fuck does THAT mean?" Actually, I'm not going to answer that yet. First I'm going to tell you how this came about.

This is mostly my doing. Meaning: I lobbied for this. It started with the EA Podcast. Over the summer, while I was beginning to feel like I was festering with the Sims group, and being under-utilized,I had lunch with a friend of mine at the company, a dude who also had a long career elsewhere in the game industry before arriving at E(verything's) A(wesome). It was a bitch session on my part, frankly. I was being totally whiny. I may even have simpered a little. The details are foggy. My friend listened patiently, quietly, chewing his food with a small smile on his face, nodding at appropriate moments to my sad, whiny tale.

After I was done, or at least when I paused to take a break, my friend looked me in the eye and said the following: "Why are you waiting for EA to recognize you? Why don't you just suggest something that YOU have to offer them?"

Yeah. Well, that's how smart people think. As soon as he said it, I knew he was right. And, in fact, just about 3 minutes later, while still talking to him, I said out loud, "well, shit, these guys don't have a podcast. I can totally do that." And as soon as I said it out loud, I knew I was going to make it happen. It was, frankly, kinda dumb that EA didn't have one. If *any* company could put together an interesting podcast, it was EA. Think of the wealth of talent in so many different fields, the rich history of games to discuss: Once you start thinking even a little about the content possibilities, it's endless.

I immediately went back to my desk. Did a little research. Did a lot of thinking. Made up a PowerPoint presentation, and spammed it to every EA exec I could think of that might be interested. And, yep, the feedback was great. I got an immediate green light, but only with the caveat that I had to do it pretty much with no budget, as kind of a "rogue" operation. It was at this point that I met my now co-worker and co-conspirator Samantha LaPerre, managing editor of, who instantly got what I was up to and eagerly jumped aboard. I've been blessed by an amazing series of managing editors over the years: Ken Brown, Dana Jongewaard, Sean Molloy, Ryan Scott, and Samantha is yet another, totally brainy and organized and the perfect complement to my scattershot absentmindedness. Plus, she has a great radio voice!
Samantha helped (and continues to help) with all the logistical details of setting up the podcast, and before we knew it we were recording.

Once I met Samantha and started podcasting, my future became clearer, to both of us. We started talking about in general, and the fact that there seemed to be so much unrealized potential, again, just like with the podcast. Samantha wears multiple hats--a fate of most managing editors--and has a marketing background, so her ability to actually manage and control "editorial" was constrained. So we brainstormed. And again, as in my earlier conversation over lunch, the answer seemed obvious. I'm coming from 17 years in journalism, 13 of those with a gaming magazine and website. Why was I *not* applying this to my new job?

(Well, we know the answer to that: I wanted to try something new. But it was almost a year now. And circumstances/the economy/whatever we're not favoring me. I was going nowhere. It was going to be a tremendous uphill battle to win any serious cred with this group. And I wanted more than that.)

From there, it just became a matter of lobbying and pitching and waiting. I got the theoretical green light mid-summer, which was fantastic, and great for my morale, but since then it's been a waiting game, just for all sorts of necessary logistical reasons. But now I'm in, finally. And my hopes, and ambition, are high.

I am completely clear on one thing: This is not a return to "journalism" for me. Let's not kid ourselves. I'm the EIC of a corporate website whose primary goal is to sell games. I'm not back in the media. I'm not going to be writing scathing reviews of EA games, or giving high scores to competitors' games, like the amazing Torchlight, which you should all go buy right now here or on Steam.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a ton I can do to make the site cool and interesting to gamers. There is. Think about it. I have 27 years of this company's history to play with and reference. A gigantic motherload of classic games and legendary designers. A thriving campus and all sorts of awesome partners (Bioware, DoubleFine, id) to draw from. It's a goldmine of content possibilities: Interviews, profiles, retrospectives, wikis, panel discussions--and on and on.

I'd be foolish to completely tip my hand here--especially since it's all still percolating right now--but I can tell you that I'm going to do my damnedest to push the boundary as far as I can take it. I may not come out and say "BOY DOES THIS GAME OF OURS SUCK!", but I'm definitely going to find that outer edge. Honestly, I believe that this is what smart companies do. I think this is where things need to be. "Transparency" is a buzzword, but it's also something I believe in. You can't bullshit people. Well, you *can*, but it won't work in the long run. They'll figure it out, and then resent you forever. And, really, why bullshit them? We're just a bunch of people, doing our best to do a good job, just like everyone else. And what people do at EA is super interesting. Not perfect, by a longshot. But always interesting. It's that avenue of things I'm hoping to explore, in an honest and open way, or at least as much as I can without getting fired. But I like that edge. I like the risk. I'm still not sorry I did that MySims Agents video, despite the fact that I pissed off I don't know how many people at EA. I still think it was funny.

Anyway: I'm yammering. And it's time for breakfast. What I'm going to want from You All now is your suggestions and requests and ideas. What would you like to see at What don't you want to see? What would convince you that going to a company website would be worth your while? Lay it on me. I won't pay you for your idea. I probably won't even credit you! But you'll be able to sleep more soundly at night, knowing you helped me in my career and in making EA just that much more cooler. As if that were possible!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

My New Gig. Part I: My Old Gig.

Okay, so finally I am allowed to talk about what I'm up to at EA. It's been a long summer in which things have been pitched, talked about, percolating, happening, not happening, on hold, accelerated, and basically driving me mildly insane, as I've never known from week to week, or even day to day, what the future really held for me.

It'd take a book (maybe someday!) rather than a blog post to get into it all, so rather than bore you senseless or make your eyeballs bleed, I'll cut to the chase: I'm no longer with The Sims group. I am now editor-in-chief of's website. I am super excited about the job, and am going to blabber about it in the post AFTER this one, because first I want to tell you about leaving The Sims, which I am convinced is the right call, but also one I do with mixed emotions.

If you don't want to read this whole post, just watch this instead. This is pretty much my experience on The Sims.

From the start, the great Jeff Green: Game Designer experiment was nothing more than that: an experiment. Kind of a combination of midlife crisis + needing a break from game journalism + nowhere really to go in game journalism + EA being a huge, successful, stable (this was pre-economic collapse!) company that makes many great games that was near my home and seemed like a fine place for a dude in his 40s to land. But even during the interview process, no one on either side (I mean, EA or me) was quite sure what to do with me. Designer? Producer? Writer? I even interviewed, and was considered and pushed, to be the head of the Sims PR.

Unlike many games journalists who hop the fence to the development side, this was not ever my secret dream while in the press. I never harbored any desire to make games instead of write about them. I never considered the job a temporary launching point until I could get over there. In fact, I already had my dream job: Running a magazine and writing columns.

But when the writing was on the wall with Ziff Davis, and I knew that not only it was about to collapse but that I was likely to not survive the purge (making too much $$$, too old, plus I wasn't happy with the editorial direction/leadership at the time anyway), I knew I had to get out. Given the lack of reasonable alternatives for me in the gaming press, it was only natural that I would consider going to a game company, because that's where all my connections were. It was never about wanting to make a game, really. It was about finding a cool job with people I liked and respected, doing something that felt good and made sense for me--preferably something where I could be creative and write.

EA made sense, and The Sims specifically, because I've loved those games going all the way back to SimCity (though I have secret, weird love for SimTower, too), and I felt like their sense of humor fit with mine. So that's where I landed, and some of the rest is already known. In 12 months, I was on 4 different teams and 6 different games. I went from producer to designer to producer. Despite 13 years as the editor of a PC gaming magazine, I ended up on Wii-only games. These aren't complaints, by the way, just the way it was. In all honesty, I had a (mostly) great time, and learned so goddamn much. My perspective was completely upended and enlightened. It's an experience that *every* game journalist ought to go through, at least temporarily, George Plimpton style, just to learn what the hell these people do all day.

But what I ultimately learned is that maybe this isn't for me. And that's okay! Or at least not right now, at this label, at this point in its history and development. The people are all as smart and cool and funny as I imagined. The projects are challenging and interesting. But, it just didn't quite work out. The bouncing around from team to team didn't help. I never got any traction with any one group. I never got to be on a project from its inception to completion. I never got to really show--either to myself or my teammates--what I was capable of given the different experience I was drawing from. As such, I was basically just the old, grey-haired, bonehead coming into already-stressful projects with not much to add unless people took the time they didn't have to train me, plus the added negativity of being one of THOSE guys--the press, the enemy, the flip ignoramuses who casually shit on the stuff they do with ill-thought-out reviews and metacritic scores that dismiss months or years of labor and love with no corresponding skill whatsoever.

It was an uphill battle. And maybe if I was 28 instead of 48, it'd be one worth fighting. But, hey. Whaddya gonna do? Meanwhile, I started realizing just how much I missed what I *was* good at, what people wanted me to do, and what other folks at other parts of EA started clamoring for me to do, too. The EA Podcast was the first step in that direction, and that directly led to where I am today, which, I now believe, is probably what I should have been doing in the first place, right from the start.

I have no regrets, at all. It was an incredible experience. A humbling one, for sure. But totally worth it. I love the friends I made in The Sims group, and I know, without question, that that time will only make my efforts at this new gig that much stronger.

And what is this new gig all about? That will come in the next post. Now, I play Brutal Legend!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Bob Dylan Post.

I must be getting predictable. After a few tweets from the Bob Dylan concert at the Greek theater in Berkeley last night, an astute commenter on my previous blog entry here asks, "Does this mean we're getting a blog about it tomorrow?" Well, yes. Dangit. I need to work on my element of surprise around here. [EDITOR'S NOTE: DUE TO TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES (LAZINESS), THIS BLOG POST IS NOW APPEARING ON TUESDAY, RATHER THAN SUNDAY.]

I never want to write about Bob Dylan on this blog, despite the fact that, more than anyone I would consider giving this label to, I would consider him my "hero." That may be why I don't want to write about him. I don't want to diminish, or jinx, the topic. It's a very personal one for me--just as often happens between an artist and fan--which I don't mean in a fawning, worshippy way (honest), but just in a "words can't do it justice" way. Also, Bob Dylan doesn't need my praise or defense. My feeling about Bob Dylan is that if you say you don't like him, or don't get him, then you're not trying hard enough. Or you've heard the wrong stuff. Or your preconceived notions don't match with the truth.

This is not the Bob Dylan you get anymore.

For example, on this latter point: When I say I went to the Bob Dylan concert last night, how many of you already have the image in your head of some old folkie hippy doing boring old folk songs on an acoustic guitar? This is not reality. Reality, as regular Dylanites know, is that Bob Dylan has for many years now been touring with a great, *really loud,* kick-ass band that delivers an unexpectedly tough, angular, rockabilly-blues-country swing set night after night, with pretty much no concession towards meeting audience expectation or fan service. Meaning: After he wallops you over the head with two loud, rocking numbers you don't recognize, he is not going to do the standard concert thang of throwing you a bone with some lovely, acoustic version of one of his (many) classics. It's just not what he and his band are doing these days. What they are doing is a barn-burning road show, a lesson in How To Rock by a bunch of grizzled veterans, with a leader now so comfortable in his own skin, and with his own legacy (at last!) that he actually, finally, looks like he's having fun up there.

Here's who you get now: Vincent Price meets John Waters. And look how happy he looks.

And that was the big deal about Saturday's show. I've seen Dylan numerous times now--maybe 8 or 9? Some of the shows, especially when I first started attending in the 80s, were dismal. And probably more what you might think: Depressing, rote sets by a 60s burnout going through the motions. The amazing thing, when you read his recent, revelatory autobiography, is that Dylan totally, painfully knew that about himself at the time. In fact, at his rejuvenated, inspired concerts now--after he got his shit together again--the offstage voice that announces him to the stage, reciting his decades-long history, makes fun of this era for all to hear.

But even in Dylan's return to form of the last decade, the live shows can be a crap shoot, and require even the biggest of fans (like me) to adjust your thinking and expectations. The guy's voice is shot. It just is. It's a fragile, creaky, broken rasp, allowing him only to bark or whisper out phrases he used to make soar. If you never liked his voice when he could sing, then forget it now. Depending on the night you see him, he may or may not even play guitar, instead sticking behind his keyboard. And then there's the song list, which, like Springsteen, or the Dead, he varies every night, digging deep into his ginormous catalog, sometimes pulling out totally beloved gems, but other times super obscure, odd choices that are guaranteed only to please only a tiny subset of any given audience.

Saturday's show featured the fewest songs I recognized than any Dylan show I've been to, but it was easily in the top 3 I've seen. I read some fan comments on the SF Chronicle's web site, and you can tell the people who haven't seen Dylan either ever or in 10-20 years, because they were utterly disappointed and flabbergasted. Why so loud? What the fuck were these songs? Where was "Blowin' in the Wind?" But for me, and I know, too, for all the ecstatic, hardcore fans around me up in the front (the guy behind me was wielding the previous night's setlist from Portland, for comparison's sake), we knew we were seeing something special. Dylan was in rare form. Easily, by far, the happiest and most playful I've ever seen him live. I don't know if it's because legendary guitarist Charlie Sexton has just rejoined the band, or if this is a new happy phase for him, or if maybe he took an extra dose of antidepressants or something, but, whatever the case, what we got Saturday night was Dylan the song-and-dance man, getting out from behind that damn keyboard at last for some outstanding, confident guitar and harmonica, and even occasionally indulging in some slightly spazzy, cheesy rock star moves that delighted everyone--including his own band--simply because he was doing it. Make no mistake, Dylan is no Freddie Mercury or Springsteen or, well, ANY musician who makes his showmanship and connection with the crowd part of his act. I don't think he said anything to us other than "Thank you!" the entire night. So it's all relative. But if you're used to seeing him live, you knew this was different. You knew what you were seeing was a Bob Dylan who was as happy to be himself, to be playing music at age 68, as we were. It's a subtlety no doubt lost on those not familiar with him, or his live show, and so, yeah, I can see why those with certain expectations would have been lost, or disappointed. But for the rest of us, it was just a great night, and an inspiring one, and one of the reasons he remains my hero: Because he never gives up, never tells himself he's "too old," never stops challenging himself.

Yeah, I know. You hate Dylan. Or you never got him. Or his voice is too annoying. I've heard all that before. But like I said at the start of this post, that just means you haven't tried hard enough. Sometimes the best artists, in any medium, require a bit of work on your part. You have to read the book twice, you have to spend an hour staring at the painting (along with some expert's analysis), you have to take a whole freakin' class, just to see what you were missing. But when you get there, it can change your life. It can expand your mind. It can soothe your soul. I've already overstayed my welcome with this post, so I'll move on. A post about Dylan the poet and lyricist would require boring you for much, much longer. So let me just list, for those of you who care, or might ask, or are willing to take the plunge, the absolute must-have Dylan albums, just for starters. Any order will suffice, though I will say that if it's break-up/brokenhearted/woe-is-me music you like, then get Blood on the Tracks first--the best break-up music of all time.

1. Bringing It All Back Home
2. Highway 61 Revisited
3. Blonde on Blonde
4. Blood on the Tracks

Enjoy your discovery.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Let's Talk TV

Since my last blog past was, how you say, a rather heavy affair, let's dumb things down a bit to a more acceptable level of nonsense, shall we? Let's talk about television. Actually, I have already tricked you, just one sentence in, because while I do think that most television is nonsense, and will rot your brain out, and will turn you into a slack-jawed, drooling nitwit who can recite 30-year-old TV jingles by heart but can't even name your own state senators, there is plenty of great stuff, too. Living in Berkeley as I do, I occasionally run into one of those pompous, clenched-buttocked snobbier-than-thou types with the "Kill Your Television" bumper sticker, or who proclaim, "I only watch PBS," but, ya know what? It's their loss. Really, the only two words you need to say to folks like that are "The" and "Wire." Because if you haven't watched that show, then you haven't seen one of the great, extended storytelling feats of the past 50 years, in any medium.

So, yeah. I like television. And I'm not sorry. Heck, if you wanted to, you (not me, because I'm too lazy and want to play Batman: Arkham Asylum soon) could probably write a pretty persuasive essay on how television is producing more quality work these days than film (at least in this country.) But actually all I wanted to do here was tell you what I'm watching right now. Which I shall now do, forthwith!

1. Glee. It's not fully formed yet. I think they're still in that freshman season tentative state of trying to find their proper voice (just like Buffy season 1), but there enough moments of greatness and, err, glee, to have high hopes. If nothing else, they have comedy goddess Jane Lynch, who steals every single scene she's in, almost as if she wandered in off another set, and whose presence ensures I'll never miss an episode, as long as she's on.

She's not the only good thing. The premise itself--about this group of high school misfits (HEY WAIT A SECOND!) trying to make good in the Glee Club--is solid enough, but distinguishes itself with its presentation and style, with the show busting out into full-on, joyous musical production numbers 3 or 4 times per episode. If you are even mildly predisposed to like musicals, you just can't not like this show. (I went from "like" to "love" after last week's production of Queen's "Somebody to Love"). Still, there's the tone issue. I'm not sure how hilarious teen pregnancy is, for one, nor am I too thrilled that there doesn't seem to be any female characters--at least so far--who aren't either villains or schemers of some sort. The show has handled the issue of homosexuality with surprising grace, so it's clear the creators don't lack sensitivity. So here's hoping they humanize some of the girls/women as the series progresses.

2. Top Chef and Project Runway. I know what you may be thinking now. "Is Jeff Green gay?" No, I am not, and if you need to immediately see some sign of my hetero/testosterone-driven self, you may skip down to the Sons of Anarchy entry below. I really try hard to limit my intake of reality TV (though, yes, I will slum with the worst of the worst, like, oh, I dunno, C.O.P.S or Tool Academy) if my brain demands such medication), but these shows, for me, distinguish themselves and have a strong attraction for me personally because they are both about the same thing: Creative people being forced to create under pressure.. Yeah, sure, I like all the catty bickering and snarkiness and all that other good stuff too, but at root the reason I can handle these two reality shows rather than most of the rest is because of the respect I have for (most of) the contestants, as well as just the thrill of watching what they come up with under severe time constraints and often ridiculous circumstances. And, yes, I have a crush on Tim Gunn just like everyone else. Which, again, does not make me gay. (Not that there'd be anything wrong with that.)

3. Mad Men For the same reasons that everyone else watches it, and why the critics love it, and why it wins boatloads of Emmys (which, actually have zero credibility for All Eternity anyway since they failed to recognize The Wire). It's brilliantly written and sublimely acted. Some people have been bitching about this season being "slow," or that "nothing is happening," but I submit that if you feel this way, you're either not watching it the right way (patiently) or are conveniently forgetting the first two seasons. This show has always been a slow burn. (Kinda like The Sopranos often was.) The show spends a ton of time setting everything up, letting characters and situations simmer, not having everything HAPPEN right away--just like in real life, hey! I think this show, almost more than any I've seen, really bears repeated viewings, because it's only then that you can see just how much care is going into every aspect of it, how much nuance and playfulness and foreshadowing is going on in the writing. I do know it's the one show I won't watch if I'm at all tired, because I know I'm going to miss too much, waiting for "the action," when, really, the action in Mad Men is all about the inner turmoil of the characters, their struggles to make sense of a world that is changing all around them, a sense of freedom and release for some, and of doom for others. Also, the clothes are awesome.

4. Sons of Anarchy Okay, dudes--happy now? Yes, I love the violent motorcycle gang show. A lot. I missed the first season entirely, but now not only am I on board, but it's the one show that I realized I started actively anticipating and getting impatient for. For me, it's the new Oz: Bad men behaving badly and violently, a super tough soap opera for guys, a fantasy trip about power and dominance, with bursts of yeehaw action and bloodshed for us cheering but harmless plebes in the bleachers. Oh yeah, for the snobs in the house, it's also been explicitly stated by the creator that this is all based on Hamlet , if you must know, but that's just if you want to not feel guilty for watching. It's also not really about the motorcycles,either, which is fine, because even though I ride one, I obviously couldn't identify less with these characters. It's not about a middle-aged Jewish guy commuting to his job in the videogame industry. Ron ("Hellboy") Perlman is great as always, doing that gigantic guy with a heart thing he does so well--but the writers are also clearly muddying things up, as he does some extremely bad things that, like Tony Soprano, would make him a villain in any other story.

Adding even-worse bad guys this season--some despicable white supremacists led by Adam Arkin and former Black Flag lead "singer" Henry Rollins--makes it easier to root for our motorcycle gang heroes, but, again, like The Sopranos, and The Shield, you're constantly being forced to consider just who and what it is you're rooting for. Even though you do hope they kick ass.

So that's my Now Watching list. Mostly. Needless to say, there's still The Daily Show and Colbert Report, though not as daily as they should be. And House, because Hugh Laurie can do no wrong.

Really, though, all this stuff? Just biding time until Lost returns.