Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The aging process

At some point I am going to sit down and write a long, cathartic post about what it feels like to be getting older, to see a show on TV called "Men of a Certain Age" that's about a buncha older dudes about to turn 50 and realize that is exactly what I am...but today is not that day.

Instead, I just want to mull over the photographic evidence. On a thread on the Internet today someone posted an old photo of me, and, looking at it just now, it made me realize something: LIFE IS SHORT AND OMG I AM NOT THE GUY I USED TO BE.

Cuz here's that guy:

And here's the same guy about 5 minutes ago:

WTF happened?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Rant about the Spike VGAs

I kind of didn't want to write this, first, because it's such a bummer of a topic for an otherwise pleasant Sunday, and, second, because it seems like a fairly pedestrian point to make for anyone unfortunate enough to have seen the show. But, the truth is, if I didn't write this, it'd be sitting in my gut anyway, like a rotten bologna sandwich, and so I'd rather get it out on this blog than in some other more disgusting way.

So here's what I want to say: The Spike 2010 Video Game Awards Show was a fucking disgrace. It was an embarrassment and an insult to the industry it is supposedly saluting. Everyone involved should really take a moment, in the quiet of their own head to think about the kind of message they're sending--to game makers and game players both-- and whether this is really something they feel they should be proud of.

So let's acknowledge one thing first. We can take it as a given that almost every awards show in every medium sucks. The bar is extremely low. People can and do make the same kind of rant after every Oscar telecast, Grammy show, and so on. And I'll say this, too, in defense of the VGAs (and unlike, say, the Emmys, who impossibly never gave The Wire one stinkin' award): A good chunk of the awards handed out hold up to scrutiny. I mean, it's all subjective, of course, but no one is really going to deny that Red Dead Redemption is a credible choice for Game of the Year.

So the embarrassment and disgrace is not with the actual awards. It is with the show. If you've never heard of this event, it takes place on Spike TV. And if you've never heard of Spike TV, it is a television station whose website ("the premier online destination for men!"), at this very moment, has an article on its home page entitled "Denise Richards Discusses Her Boobs With Alex." So that pretty much gives you all the information you need. It's a TV station for guys, and for "guys" they pretty much mean the kind of neanderthal-like fratboy dudebro douchebag lunkhead who thinks a good use of his limited time here on Earth would be to click on an article in which Denise Richards discusses her boobs.

So, really, when you think about it, what else was there to expect? If you're on a TV station dedicated to pandering to every dumb guy's basest, most lowbrow taste, why would your awards show be any different! It's not like Spike TV is going to start showing reruns of "Upstairs, Downstairs" any time soon. One caters to one's own audience.

But here's the problem: The videogame community--those who make them, those who play them--encompasses a much larger, broader base than the Spike TV dudebro douchebag contingent. Really, saying the "videogame community" at this point is all but archaic, anyway. Because it seems that, with FaceBook and Angry Birds and Kinect and every other industry-broadening milestone, everyone is playing games now. There are people who love games, who care about games from all walks of life, both male and female. So when you aim your show at the station's primary demographic, rather than those who love gaming in general, you are alienating and insulting all the rest of us who would like to participate in and enjoy the event too.

I'll say this: It's been worse. And Neil Patrick Harris, slumming as he was, was still the best host I've seen in the times I've watched this. It doesn't hurt that he seems to be functionally incapable of not being completely cool and charming and funny no matter what situation he's in, but, on the other hand, you didn't need to be a psychic to see in his face, at times, embarrassment over some of the drivel he was presiding over, and he even made offhand comments to that extent over the course of the show. As for the rest of the presenters, probably the less said the better, though, as most of them looked like they either didn't want to be or know why they were there, except for Olivia Munn, who knew exactly why she was there, which is to show her boobs, which she did.

But, really, complaining about the lame presenters and even the tone of the show is me mostly missing the point of the entire affair, to those complicit in its making, which is the exclusive game trailers and announcements. Because really, that's what this is: One two-hour commercial for the big game publishers to plug their upcoming games. You can bet your ass that most of the behind-the scenes "editorial" work that goes into the making of this show is the wheeling-and-dealing with the EAs and Ubisofts and Bethesdas and the like to get those exclusive trailers on the show. And the game publishers, still dazzled like the little children they are in the bigger universe of the entertainment industry, get seduced by the idea of being on TV, of the "glamor" and "prestige" of it all. Think of the numbers! Never mind that it's a bottom-feeding station that most people over the age and/or IQ of 12 would never turn to in a million years! We're on TV, bro! Look at all those cameras and lights! We have a red carpet, just like at the Oscars! And, hey, look, over there--it's Nathan Fillion! We got him to show up! That makes us almost celebrities now too...right!? And of course the folks running the show need the trailers, too, because without them they've got about 15 minutes of content, tops, and content that in their hearts they have to know isn't that great or interesting. And by running announcements like Bethesda's new Elder Scrolls game (and, yep, I'm as excited as you guys are for it), they give themselves the veneer of importance simply be serving as the vehicle for a commercial. The publishers get their free ads, the awards show gets its exclusives: Everybody wins! Everybody, that is, except for the poor gamer, who may have naively turned on the show expecting to see something with a modicum of respect and sincerity for the industry it was supposedly saluting. I watched this show by myself and was still embarrassed, and was monitoring the remote control in case my wife or kid came down and saw me watching. And, yeah, I know exactly what that sounds like.

Fortunately, the gaming industry has other awards shows, like the Game Developers Choice Awards and http://www.bafta.org/awards/video-games/, that actually know how to salute the industry without relying entirely on Olivia Munn's boobs and marketing-department-produced TV commercials to do so. But it would be great if, in the coming year, the folks behind the Spike VGAs could look into their hearts, look around at the vast, multigenerational, multicultural, gaming landscape and come up with a show that truly celebrates all of gaming for all gamers, that treats videogames not as things to be laughed at or apologized for, but as the incredibly complex and sophisticated pieces of entertainment they are. Way more sophisticated, at the very least, than the sophomoric, tacky spectacle that you put on to "honor" us.

Monday, December 6, 2010

On Cataclysm Eve, A WoW blog.

As I write this, it's less than 4 hours to go until World of WarCraft: Cataclysm launches, and, yes, I, a man dangerously close to the age of 50, am actually counting the hours. Some might call this sad--I call it a testament to the power of WoW, six years after its launch.

Think about that for a second. Because, in videogame time, 6 years is an eternity. For reference, the year that WoW launched, 2004, was also the year of Half-Life 2, Ninja Gaiden, and Halo 2--one console generation behind. Even more significant, most MMOs flatten out or just slowly die of attrition after a few years. But WoW, incredibly, just keeps getting bigger.

And, yes, like everyone else, I've had long periods (sometimes over a year at a time) in which I burn out and bail and swear I'm never coming back. And during those periods when I *am* out, I always feel a sense of liberation, because I can *finally* play all those games that WoW prevented me from playing. Because WoW is a cruel and demanding mistress. You can't be heavily into WoW *and* be playing other games, because there is always simply to much to do in WoW once you willingly invest yourself. Playing other games feels like a betrayal, as well as a waste of time, when, really, you should be in WoW working on your gear--or whatever.

But the reason we keep coming back--or at least the reason *I* keep coming back--is just that it's just such a goddamn good game. And, yeah yeah, MMOs might not be yer cuppa joe, and that's all good. If you're not convinced yet, I certainly can't and won't now. I'm mainly talking to the converted here. And yeah, it's gotten easier over the years too, even though, for certain really old-school folks (and I'm not talking about myself, because I lived through the hell that was earlier MMOs) it already started out too easy. But for those of us already in the congregation, you know what I'm talking about. WoW is the Disneyland of MMOs. And some of us happen to love Disneyland. Even when we're pushing 50.

This particular expansion is drawing many of us back (and until a month ago I had been off for about 16 months), because Blizzard's Chris Metzen and gang are fulfilling a promise that they announced years ago, before they had even figured out a way to make it possible: They're fundamentally changing the entire old game world, forever. If you've already patched up the game prior to tonight's launch, you've actually seen a great chunk of it already: Almost all the old zones are redone, revamped, changed forever, thanks to the cataclysmic event of the expansion's title--and changed, of course, with all the things that Blizzard learned about how to make their game better over the course of the past 6 years. As a design decision, it's a simple but brilliant one. I mean, there was no way I was ever going to want to quest again in Wetlands, The Barrens, and, god forbid, Stranglethorn Vale again. But now? I can't wait to see what they've done with it all.

When I first wrote about World of WarCraft way before it first launched, in the first magazine story ever published about it (see what I did there--I'm bragging!), I was marveling at how Blizzard was so smartly rewriting the rules of what an MMO could do by actually making it easy and accessible for its players, with such then-revolutionary and now seemingly banal ideas as the now-ubiquitous question marks over quest givers in-game zone maps. In the old days, ya see, you had to figure all that out for yourself. Even the notion of "quests," while present in some MMOs, was not really fleshed out. Mostly you just logged into the world and, well, good luck to you. Was that fun? Often, yes. Very much so. Some of my experiences in EverQuest, the long-ago former king of MMOs, remain among my fondest gaming memories, exactly because of the kind of hardcore, unforgiving bullshit it put us through. For you players who "grew up" on WoW, EverQuest was---well, I'm not going to say it was our "'Nam", because that would be both moronic and disrespectful, but let's just say it makes WoW look like just the kind of "baby game" its detractors accuse it of being.

But the proof is in the numbers. WoW beat them all back then, and continues to beat them all now. The number of MMOs (many of them dubbed "WoW killers" either by their creators, publishers, or the media) that have come and gone in the 6 years of WoW's unrivaled reign is long and sad. What's amazing is not one of them--including the ones still fumbling along with whatever loyal fanbase they've scrounged together--has ever even come close to competing on WoW's level. And what's even more amazing than that is that WoW has deserved it. Blizzard has kept the game alive and vibrant and fun and funny for six long years, and, with Cataclysm, they're doing it again. It's a dangerous drug, this WoW thing. But, me? I'm lining up with the rest of the addicts, happily waiting for my new fix.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

GreenSpeak: The Season Premiere!

Hey everybody! Welcome back to the Greenspeak blog! It's been a long break since the heart-pounding season finale back in September, and you may recall we left on quite the cliffhanger! I was heading off to the PAX convention in Seattle to attend a bunch of panels, and secretly to interview for a new job, though you couldn't have known it at the time. Well, I mean, I did. But you didn't.

So many questions were left unanswered in that finale! Did I even make it to PAX? How did my panels go? Did I get reamed by EA's lawyers and cadre of PR thought police for saying things I shouldn't? Did any PAX attendees accuse me of being their father?

Well, now. Here we are with a brand new season, and like any truly annoying television show, I'm not even going to begin to answer any of those questions, other than to say that, yes, I made it to PAX, and yes, I *did* get that new job, which, ya know, is the real reason there's been a season break anyway! Funny how that happens! (And I was just kidding about EA. They were just peachy. Ya know. Relatively.)

So I work at PopCap now. My official title is Director of Editorial and Social Media. Though honestly we kind of made that up. I mean, I didn't replace anybody. We created the position 1) so that I could work there and 2) to hopefully add value in areas that PopCap is keen to explore. My love affair with PopCap is a long and very public one. I'd written about them numerous times at Computer Gaming World, and blabbed enthusiastically on various podcasts and video shows about my love of all things Bejeweled, Bookworm, Peggle, and, most recently, Plants Vs Zombies.

So it should come really as no surprise to anyone who's followed my career in either a stalker-like way or even in a casual, disinterested way that I should end up here. Humor-wise, I've always felt a deep affinity for PopCap. There's always been a subversive, wiseass quality about all their games, even if it isn't always readily apparent to some of their core demographic. Clearly those dayglo, Teletubby-like cute animals in Peggle aren't meant to be taken at face value---or are they? And the quality of their games has always spoken for itself. Back when I was still a civilian and had nothing invested in PopCap, career-wise, I argued on the Area 5 show, upon the release of PvZ, that it was time for the gaming industry to start thinking of PopCap like the best of the AAA developers---the Blizzards, Biowares, and Bungies---who consistently deliver quality product each and every time out of the gate. And that it was only PopCap's position as a "casual" game developer that prevented it. But the truth is, at this point, when a new PopCap game comes out, everybody that *I* know who is a gamer gets just as excited--and addicted--as with games that cost 3 times as much to buy and 100 times as much to make.

Anyway, yeah. I'm here now. And if I sound happy about it, well, yeah--you betcha. I am. And really, it's kind of like this: Fucking finally. Finally I'm at a place where I have nothing but respect for the people in charge, and finally I'm at a place where I feel like they "get" me and what I have to offer. Because I'll admit I was gun shy. At the end of the interview/hiring process, they were doing a hard sell on me. Because I was a bit loathe to take another game company job. I had a pretty sweet press job kinda/sorta/almost mine (though we hadn't gotten to a formal offer yet), and for awhile there I definitely thought that's the way I was going to go. "Back where I belong" as lots of folks were telling me. I'll tell you, at the end of my time at EA, I was practically dreaming about being back in the press, I wanted it so bad.

But, as much as I think that press job could have been great (and I guess we'll never know), I think my desire to get back was less about that than about my utter unhappiness amd wretched emotional condition to my then-current status. And I'm not going to start belatedly ragging on EA now, because, well, who cares? It's over. The thing is, it's not necessarily that anyone there did anything "wrong", it's just that, in retrospect, and from the position now of being at a place I actually fit in and like, it's clear how utterly mismatched and out of place I was there. It was just such the wrong environment for me, both on The Sims group and later in the online group, that the real lingering feeling that I have is one of anger at myself for stubbornly trying to make it work for so long. I was there for 2 years but should have bailed, seriously, after 2 months. Because I already knew. I just kept trying to convince myself that if I hung in there long enough, somehow things would turn around for me there. Kids, it really can't be said often and emphatically enough: Your gut is almost always right.

So now I'm at PopCap and I am fucking loving life. As I've said to friends and family, for awhile I kept waiting for a "shoe to drop" after I signed on. Like, okay, they SEEM cool, but, really, there's gotta be a bad side, right? But we're up to 2.5 months and I haven't had one single bad day--or hour, or meeting, or conversation--yet. Everyone is as cool on the inside as their games appear from the outside. This is why their games are cool.
The stress I feel now--and the reason this blog has been on hiatus---is the stress of wanting to give it my all and show them I am worthy of belonging. I've got my hands (and brains) in a dozen different projects, and they're all ones I *want* to be working on, and they're all with people I *want* to work with. Not many people ever get to say that, and lord knows, it's been a long time since I have. Some of these are just now starting to see the light of day, like the live videostreams I started doing, but mostly they're all works in progress still that I can't wait to reveal. But it's been draining--even physically, as I'm commuting weekly from Berkeley to Seattle and back---and it hasn't left me time for much else. I've wanted to give my all to a job that I'm truly thrilled to have.

I still am going to do that. But now that the dust has settled *a little* and I feel a bit more sure of myself (I had been telling my boss and others that I was like a battered dog for awhile, flinching and twitching until I was sure they weren't going to bite my head off every time I, say, posted a tweet), I am ready to cue up the theme music to this here blog o' mine (What is the theme song anyway? The Hustle? Mr Roboto? I'm open to suggestions.) I have a lot on my mind these days and more shit to get off my chest. So I hope you all have had as good a three months as I have since I last said hi here. Welcome to the new season!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Attention stalkers! PAX schedule updated!

In about 13 hours I will be getting on a plane for Seattle, Washington in order to attend the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) Prime convention. I like PAX. I am happy to be going. I am especially happy to be going this year as a "free agent," unencumbered with any actual work to do, which means I basically get to be a "fan" like everyone else, and look at and play games as I like. It's practically a vacation. Well, it would be a vacation if I had a job. But since I don't, I guess it's just....more days without work.

Huh. That's kinda depressing.

Err...anyway! Yeah. I just wanted to update my schedule here for friends, stalkers, and the like, in light of the Brodeo reunion cancellation (*sadface*). I'm showing up on a couple other panels now instead, so if you simply can't get enough of me (and, hey, I don't blame you! I can't get enough of me either!) I am providing you with this handy reference sheet. Please feel free to share this, post on bathroom walls, whatever. My bodyguards will keep you rabble away anyway.

Here's the new schedule:

Friday, 2:30 PM - 3:30 PM, Pegasus Theatre
1UP Alumni Impromptu Reunion
We spend a good deal of time sitting around drinking and remembering the good old days of 1UP (you know, way back in the mid-'00s?). A last minute cancellation opened up an hour in the panel schedule and we're ready to fill it...with beer and good times. We're inviting all of PAX to join us for a loving walk down memory lane. Cheers!
Panelists include: Jane Pinckard, Che Chou, Ryan O'Donnell, Andrew Pfister, Patrick Klepek, Karen Chu, Jeff Green, Garnett Lee, Cesar Quintero, Jason Bertrand, and maybe more!

Friday, 8:30 PM - 10:00 PM, Pegasus Theatre
Giant Bombcast Live!

I'll be joining the Bombcast dewds at *some* point for a special lil' segment along with my old pal Gary Whitta and one other GAMING INDUSTRY LUMINARY. This will either be great or a fucking nightmare.

Err, I guess the rest of my schedule hasn't changed. There's this one:

Saturday, 8:00 PM - 9:00 PM, Serpent Theatre
Twittering for the Man: Social Media & Game Publishers

Community managers have long been an asset to game developers -- but spokesgeeks for publishers? That's a fairly new one. Some of the biggest publishers are building direct lines of communication to their biggest fans and harshest critics, so GamePro�s editor-in-chief John Davison will ask some of the most well-known architects -- Microsoft's Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb, Activision's Dan "OneOfSwords" Amrich, EA's Jeff "Greenspeak" Green, and Sony's Jeff "JeffPS" Rubenstein -- to explain their unusual roles, carefully balanced between the fans and The Man. How much freedom do they have under a corporate umbrella? How much are they making it up as they go along? And how come none of them seem to do their jobs the same way? Their answers will Twitter your Facebook off. Or something.
Panelists include: Larry Hryb [Director of Programming for Xbox Live, Microsoft], Dan Amrich [Social Media Manager, Activision], Jeff Rubenstein [Social Media Manager, SCEA], Jeff Green [Editor-in-Chief, ea.com, Electronic Arts], John Davison [Editor-in-Chief, GamePro]

And this one!

Sunday, 12:30 PM - 1:30 PM, Serpent Theatre
Rookie Years: Stories from First Projects

How did you get that gig and what happens after you've landed your dream job? Julian Murdoch (Gamer's with Job's podcast) uncovers the stories of four new developers and their first projects. Developers including Jeff Green (Electronic Arts) and David Heron (Hothead) reveal their shared experiences, misconceptions, successes and failures. Audience questions will be answered.
Panelists include: David Heron [Game Designer, Hothead Games], Julian Murdoch [Founder, Gamer's with Jobs], Jeff Green [Electronic Arts]

Both should be LOLtastic.

See ya there, nerds!


Sunday, August 29, 2010

A music post.

Hi! So, over on The Twitter earlier, I mentioned, as I always do, that Amazon is having a sale on MP3s. A whole buncha albums for $5 each. Why do I do this? Is it because Amazon pays me a royalty fee when I pimp there site? Why, no, it's not! I get Jonathan Shit (that's the formal version) for doing it! Really, I just do it because I love music, I love deals on music, and I love sharing those deals with you, The People.

So Amazon has a deal every single day. It's called the Amazon Deal of the Day. They're so clever over there, with the naming and stuff. I guess that's why they got so big. Anyway, today's(Sunday's) daily deal is a group named Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. I don't know shit about them, other than they look like one of them new breed of faux hippies that seem to be spreading over the indie scene like a bad case of dandruff. Not that I have a problem with hippies. Of course I don't. I live in Berkeley. I'm something of a stealth hippie myself, if you must know the truth. Anyway, I'm not going to buy the record, because it doesn't sound that interesting to me, even though, after watching a YouTube video by them, I've determined that the brunette female singer is totally adorable. But that's something that wouldn't really come through on my iPod, so fuggit. The point is, if you were the type who liked that band, the album is only $2.99. That is ridiculously cheap for an entire album. That's cheaper than they were when I was buying them in the 1970s, back when there were real hippies. So this is why I go to that site every day. Because of deals like this. If you like music, and you like music deals, you should go there too. Here's the link:


Okay, so. In addition to the daily deals, Amazon also has monthly $5 deals. And this month they have 1,000 of them. Ay caramba. That's a lot of deals. I think we can all agree on that. A lot of them are just total no brainers if you don't own them already (like Radiohead's "OK Computer") so I'm not even gonna bother recommending those ones. You certainly don't need me to tell you that you should own OK Computer for $5, do you? Wait--I don't even want to know.

Here's some other no-brainers from that list, okay? Let's just pretend I didn't even bring them up, because I'm assuming you know this already:

Jimmy Hendrix's Band of Gypsys
Belle and Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister
Outkast's Stankonia
Air's Moon Safari

You could argue a whole bunch more out of that 1000 belong in the no-brainer category, I suppose. Or you could remove, say, Belle and Sebastian if you don't like twee stuff. Which is fine with me. This is a democracy after all. These are just suggestions.

Anyway, what I really wanted to do was just suggest a few that you may not know or otherwise find. The alt/indie rock and hiphop and electronica is all stuff that you hepcats are all familiar with anyway. I'm late-to-the-party on half that stuff anyway all the time, because I'm old that way. (But okay, get the Black Keys' Rubber Factory and Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest if you don't own 'em yet!)

So here's stuff that an old dude wants to recommend that you may not know. I swear by all of these. And if you buy them and they suck to you? Well, I guess you're out that money, which pretty much sucks for you. That's what you get for listening to the recommendations of a guy you don't even know! HA-ha!

Little Feat's Feats Don't Fail Me Now - Classic 1974 blues/funk/rock from an awesome white-boy blues/funk/rock band, led by Lowell George, who just absolutely killed on the slide guitar, and a rhythm section as tight as The Meters. If you like stuff like early Ry Cooder, you can't go wrong here.

Buzzcock's Singles Going Steady Essential, killer 1979 collection of singles from one of the great first English punk bands. Listening through a 21st century filter, it practically sounds like pop, it's all so catchy. So it's hard to remember that at the time this would have been impossible to hear on the radio because it was considered too "raw." And even though it's a compilations, every song is so damn perfect, and it's all sequenced so well, that it's considered by many to be one of the best punk rock albums ever. Including me.

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
Coltrane at his most luscious and romantic and accessible, accompanied by the beautiful baritone voice of Hartman. Some may find it "corny," but, if so, I suggest you unsnark yourself from the age of irony and just listen. Coltrane's solos are masterpieces of understatement and control and emotion. When my wife and I got married, this was the first record we played at the wedding. It's music as love, love as music.

Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers Moanin' It's hard to recommend jazz, mostly because most people don't like it, are unfamiliar with it, or don't know where to start. This is one of those great "starter jazz" albums, but that doesn't make it any less awesome than it is. Smoky, smooth jazz from 1958, Moanin' is quintessential "hard bop," the kind of jazz most people tend to think jazz is, and I'd contend that if you don't like this, you're probably never gonna get jazz at all (which is okay). The title track alone makes the whole damn record worth it--especially Lee Morgan's trumpet solo, which, when I first heard it, convinced me to put down the trumpet forever. And if you don't know what else to do when trying to listen to this record, hang on to Art Blakey's drumming, which drives this whole thing along with amazing force. (There's actually a bunch of great jazz on this list. Others I'd recommend: Grant Green's Idle Moments, Coltrane's The Ultimate Blue Train, Cannonball Adderley's Something Else, Lee Morgan's The Sidewinder.)

Rodrigo Y Gabriela's 11:11 You will not believe that this is just two acoustic guitars. Well, okay, minor exaggeration. You will believe it, you'll just be amazed and delighted that two acoustic guitars can kick this much ass. If you told me a year ago that one of my favorite records of the year would turn out to be from a Mexican flamenco duo, I would have coughed politely and then quietly taken leave of you. Now I try to push this one on everyone who will listen. Catchy, joyous, and technically mind-blowing.

So...that's it. And shit, what the hell do I know? Half my friends know more about music than me. I just make up this stuff as I go along. And I'm still learning and exploring too, and always will be, because music is one of the things I live for, that inspires me and informs everything I do.

Here's hoping some of this stuff does the same for you. Happy listening!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

PAX Brodeo Reunion Canceled. Children (and Jeff) Weep.

Hey guys. Just a semi-quick update for those who follow me but aren't hip to The Twitter: What the headline says. Sadly, we've had to cancel the GFW Radio Reunion panel that was to take place on Saturday night at the PAX expo in Seattle next week. And I promise that no one is more heartbroken over it than those of us in the group.

Unfortunately, it couldn't be helped. We tried. Oh boy did we try. There was an email thread that went on and on with lots of suggestions and sidebars and whining and cajoling. But the sad fact was that no amount of talk was going to change what had, unexpectedly, happened just two days ago: Two key members (and, hey, we're ALL key) of the Brodeo were suddenly not going to be able to attend the conference. For work reasons. Actually, I'm fudging the truth a little. One of them we knew about already. But that we knew months ago, and had a contingency for. So, at that point, the show was still going on. But when the second one dropped the other day, that effectively killed the panel. (And I'm not naming names because it really doesn't matter. It's just internal drama, but we're all still cool with one another. It was just one of those things, and I'd rather no one be the "bad guy." )

We contemplated doing it without those who couldn't attend. We contemplated getting substitutes. But this was my stance, and I was the first one to openly say, "I think we should cancel": My stance was that without all of us there, it's not a "reunion." One maybe, but not two. At that point, it was just going to be a gimped, compromised version of us, because it was the combination of personalities that made it what it was. And I didn't feel like substitutes would work either, because, again, it's a chemistry thing. And it didn't seem like that's what folks who would be standing in line would be thrilled to see. As I said to one of the Brodeo dudes in a private email, I said it would be like this: "Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together and welcome to the stage Emerson, Lake, and Bernstein!" I decided it would be better to bite the bullet and wait until we could do it RIGHT, with all of us there. We never compromised ourselves when we did the podcast itself. I didn't want to start now.

So, there it is. To those of you who were looking forward to it, and/or who included this in your reasons for attending, you have my sincere apology. It just couldn't be helped. I do promise you we will do this again, hopefully at an upcoming PAX. And of course I'm still going to PAX, still appearing on the other panels mentioned one post down, and am probably going to drop in on a couple others I've now been invited to crash.

Really just a blip of a bummer in the grand scheme of things. Somehow I think we'll all manage to carry on and have a great PAX anyway. (And if you see me, you're required to say hello, ALRIGHT?)

Here's to a Brodeo Reunion 2011! Keep Hope Alive!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My PAX Prime Schedule!

Okay, so, I'm posting this as much for myself as for anyone reads this. I don't want you think I have such a big head as to think my schedule is of grand interest to humanity at large. But in case you did want to stalk me, consider this a handy reference guide! You're welcome!

I'm appearing on three panels at the convention, which I'll list below. One is the second annual Brodeo reunion, and if you think you are looking forward to it, I'll take your enthusiasm and quadruple it. Cuz I lurv those guys and I miss talking with them. As was the case a year ago, this'll basically be the first time we're all back in the same room again talking. So whatever happens, I think we'll just be happy to be in each other's company again. The other two panels are somewhat related to my now-defunct EA jobs. One is about the whole "game publisher representative" thing that I tried and failed to do--but that others on the panel are doing a fine job of. So I will be there representing the What Not To Do point of view, I suppose. :) Good times. The third panel is with folks who switched from the journalism to development side, and that one should be lots of fun. It won't be a dish-dealing kinda thing, because, as I've already said, I'm not really interested in doing that, but it will be fun to relate some of the lessons I learned while in the Sims group.

More important than my dumb panels, however, is the show itself. Because PAX (both West and East coasts) is now my favorite convention to attend. Why? Because of you: The People. It is three days with the nicest, most enthusiastic horde of nerds you could ever hope to assemble. Being in that convention is like being Home. The one thing that everyone always comments on every PAX is just how dang *friendly* everyone is, despite the long lines and the fact that everything is packed to the gills. There's just a shared sense of camaraderie and belonging there, so much so that everyone takes the logistics and long waits in stride---usually with a Nintendo DS in hand.

This year, I'm looking forward to taking advantage of my newfound freedom to do what I usually never get to do: Walk around the show floor with impunity and play games. Yay! I have no official "work" agenda now other than to show up for my panels, leaving all the rest of the time wide open for me to dork around. And dork around I shall.

So, ya know, if you see me and recognize me, come say hi. I don't bite. MOST OF THE TIME.

Anyhoo, here's the schedule of my appearances, cut and pasted straight from the official PAX website!

Saturday, 8:00 PM - 9:00 PM, Serpent Theatre
Twittering for the Man: Social Media & Game Publishers

Community managers have long been an asset to game developers -- but spokesgeeks for publishers? That's a fairly new one. Some of the biggest publishers are building direct lines of communication to their biggest fans and harshest critics, so GamePro’s editor-in-chief John Davison will ask some of the most well-known architects -- Microsoft's Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb, Activision's Dan "OneOfSwords" Amrich, EA's Jeff "Greenspeak" Green, and Sony's Jeff "JeffPS" Rubenstein -- to explain their unusual roles, carefully balanced between the fans and The Man. How much freedom do they have under a corporate umbrella? How much are they making it up as they go along? And how come none of them seem to do their jobs the same way? Their answers will Twitter your Facebook off. Or something.

Panelists include: Larry Hryb [Director of Programming for Xbox Live, Microsoft], Dan Amrich [Social Media Manager, Activision], Jeff Rubenstein [Social Media Manager, SCEA], Jeff Green [Editor-in-Chief, ea.com, Electronic Arts], John Davison [Editor-in-Chief, GamePro]

Saturday, 9:00 PM - 10:00 PM, Unicorn Theatre
CGW/GFW Radio "The Brodeo" Reunion #2

CGW/GFW Radio "The Brodeo" Reunion #2: Even Eli Knows What That Means At PAX '09, Jeff Green (EA), Shawn Elliott (Irrational Games), Ryan Scott (GameSpy/Geekbox), Sean Molloy (former CGW/GFW editor) and Robert Ashley (alifewellwasted.com) assembled to relive the podcast glory days of CGW/GFW Radio "The Brodeo" in a rollicking (and often hilarious) panel that discussed the demise of Games for Windows: The Official Magazine, how they "stumbled" into writing for a magazine, why some articles never saw the light of day, personal anecdotes of PR gone very wrong, and diapered anime fans. Come see what dark corners of the Internet they explore this year!

Panelists include: Robert Ashley [alifewellwasted.com], Sean Molloy Ryan Scott [GameSpy/Geekbox.net], Shawn Elliott [Irrational Games], Jeff Green [EIC EA.com]

Sunday, 12:30 PM - 1:30 PM, Serpent Theatre
Rookie Years: Stories from First Projects

How did you get that gig and what happens after you've landed your dream job? Julian Murdoch (Gamer's with Job's podcast) uncovers the stories of four new developers and their first projects. Developers including Jeff Green (Electronic Arts) and David Heron (Hothead) reveal their shared experiences, misconceptions, successes and failures. Audience questions will be answered.

Panelists include: David Heron [Game Designer, Hothead Games], Julian Murdoch [Founder, Gamer's with Jobs], Jeff Green [Electronic Arts]

Hope to see ya there!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Where I'm At

Well, first, I'm sorry it took *this* to get me back to my personal blog after a horrific 3-month absence. However, now that you know, maybe you'll understand *why* there's been a horrific 3-month absence. Because a cloud has been hanging over me for a long time. And it was seriously stifling both my creative instincts as well as my desire to empty my head in a public forum, as I am wont to do. I mean, if I can't speak openly and honestly on this page, then, what's the point? So I've been hibernating.

Anyway, yeah, if you don't follow Twitter--and, hey, I don't blame you, the thing is evil and should die--I've left EA. The details of the hows and whys and wherefores are mostly better left unsaid, for all sorts of reasons. But to get the one thing out of the way that everyone wants to know---did he quit or was he fired---the answer is: Kind of neither. The folks who run the website wanted to change directions. That direction didn't include the creation of original content. So my job description was changed. And since what I do best (well, other than play games, eat pizza, and lay on the couch and do nothing) is create content, it clearly was no longer the best fit for me. So I'm out.

But, again, who did what when and in what order is not necessarily important, and I've left with warm feelings and high regards for a great many of the people at EA that I've been lucky enough to work with. That place is just freaking loaded with talent and big brains at all levels of the company. Definitely some of the smartest and most creative people I've ever met or worked with. And I wish them all nothing but the best.

What I was trying to do at EA was something I truly believed in, and which I think companies are going to continue to do and get better at as this nascent "social media" thing progresses. My pal Dan Amrich over at Activision is already doing a better job than I was able to do, and I think as other companies get on board with the idea of More Transparency and Better Ways to Communicate With Their Audience, we'll see further cool developments and ideas. I had all sorts of bigger plans for ways to entertain from within the rubric of EA, and, hey, maybe those will still happen further down the line. I think I was probably pushing a little too hard for something that wasn't quite ready to happen yet.

So, to use a phrase I absolutely loathe: It is what it is. I'm not gonna slag on EA because they did what makes the best business sense for them right now, and, ya know, that's what it is: A business. And I had to do what's right for me because I am what I am: A doofus.

As for my next move, there's been lots of speculation, and lots of folks thinking I'm holding back on some kind of announcement, but the more mundane truth is that I actually don't fully know yet. I have at least one big pending possibility that I am in love with, and possibly one other after that. In the short run, I have one neat thing happening, which is that I've contracted to help write a (nonfiction) book in the next few months. And beyond that, I've been talking with all of your favorite game websites and magazines and already have more articles assigned than I can handle, and will probably be late on. Just like the old days! Yay! And I'll be doing a big round of podcasts, just to reconnect with that side of me--though if folks are expecting a big round of hate from me on my old employer, I'm going to disappoint. I'd rather just talk about fun stuff and happy stuff and the future.

I'm also going to use this bit of "down time" to do all those things that are hard to do when one is working full time at a big company. Such as: Spend more time with my wife/kid before school starts again. Get back into all my writing projects, which includes both this blog and my Cudgel of Xanthor novel, which is anxiously awaiting its first revision. Get my fat ass up and exercise more. Finish all these games I have sitting around. Spend time with friends again, who I have neglected for far too long.

Like I said when I left Ziff Davis, change is hard. And I'm really bad at it. (Thus my 17 years at Ziff.) Two years was far too little time at EA, and I'm filled with regret that I couldn't really get done what I wanted to do there. But maybe some other time. Because, like I said, I still like them a lot, and would pick up that mission again when we were all ready. In the meantime, all I can really do is look forward, push ahead, and strive for more. I have all sorts of things I still want to accomplish with my life and my talents. And I guess now is as good a time as any to get to it.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

London Calling!

In 1984, I was five years into an undergrad education at UC Berkeley, and still had no degree in sight. I was lost. I was heartbroken over a girl. I had no direction. My GPA was in the gutter and I didn't know why, or what I was doing. So I did what any red-blooded American would do: I ran away. I bought a Eurail pass and took off for Europe with my backpack, some clothes, a journal, and some music tapes for a few months. It was one of the greatest things I ever did.

I arrived in London in September 1984, soon to be 23 years old, and it was the first time I'd ever been out of the country. When I emerged from the Tube station in Piccadilly Circus, it was the first time I'd ever laid eyes on land or buildings or sky that was not part of the U.S. It was intoxicating. So much so, in fact, that I lost my camera right away, on that first day, in that first half hour. Which put all my romantic notions in check and reminded me again what a freakin' doofus I can be. It was just a minor setback.

I bought a new camera right away, and then set about exploring the city. And fell in love. I loved everything about it that was not the U.S. I loved everything about it that was not my life. I loved the accents, the clothes, the architecture, the atmosphere--even the weather. I loved the music in the record stores. I went to my first English pub and ordered a half-pint, only to be told by the bartender that that's not what men do, as he put a full Guinness in front of me. I met an expatriate American waitress in a cafe who said it was easy to get work and I should never go back. I read George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London and Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer and felt more "European" for doing so. I bought a black overcoat and took my picture in front of the factory that's on the cover of Pink Floyd's Animals. I met other lost, excited, bewildered young travelers at the youth hostel for food and drink and random exploring. I met a Canadian woman in line at a phone booth, and she said to come with her and her English boyfriend to a pub, so I did. We played darts and got drunk, and then we piled into their VW bug and drove to Salisbury, where they said I could stay overnight with them at his parents' place. Except his parents didn't approve of them bringing home a drunk American kid, so I spent the night in the VW bug, freezing and drunk, and then had to take a bus back up to London the next morning where all my stuff was. I went to plays and museums and vintage shops and Indian restaurants. I bought U2's Unforgettable Fire on cassette tape and listened to it over and over in my hostel bed and on the buses. I read David Copperfield. I took a day trip to Brighton and sat on the beach and pretended I was a mod in Quadrophenia. It was all so romantic and silly and awesome. I wrote a line in my journal one night that was a direct quote from a David Byrne song: "There is nothing that is stronger than the feeling that you get when your eyes are wide open." It was me, alone, learning how to live.

I'm leaving for London tomorrow, 26 years later, a completely different person. I look back on that kid and I feel kinda bad for him, kinda embarrassed for him, but also with great fondness at the memories. That was just one stop on my four-month trip, but it was the beginning, and in many ways was the beginning of my adulthood and the person I became. It changed everything.

Now I'm a middle-aged dork representing a videogame company, and am traveling with my co-workers to do some filming, podcasting, and writing, in London just for a day, and then to Guildford for the rest of the week. It's so odd to me that for all the traveling I've done over the years, I've never once been back to London, except as a stopover. And though I only get one day in the city, I'm looking forward to coming up the Tube station, just like my earnest and naive and much skinnier younger self did 26 years ago, and marvel at the sights and sounds of London.

Friday, May 7, 2010

O The Books I Haven't Read!

Hi guys! Wassup? We all know what I haven't been doing, so we won't even go there, sister, but one thing I can tell you that I *have* been doing a lot lately--due to a springtime hibernation mode--is reading. I was reading so much, in fact, that I decided to get hip with the Internet thing and sign up over at Goodreads. Just so I could start tracking stuff, and just be all anal about everything. You know, the way geeks do. And I gave you that link there so you can be friends with me there. Go ahead! Be not shy! I shall accept your friendship, and we shall talk about books, and all shall be good.

So, as I was adding books to my collection, and looking through others, and, while simultaneously looking at books that my kid is reading in school this year, I realized something quite shocking: There are a whole bunch of classics I've never read. Okay, maybe it's not shocking at all. I suppose it's true for a great many of us. Still, I like, in general, to think of myself as "well read," given that I've been steadily reading since, well, I learned how to read. And ya know, I was an English major at UC Berkeley. That was four (okay five) years of reading right there. But once I started making a list of those classics that we've supposedly all read, I realized how many I missed. This is just off the top of my head (there are many more):

Jeff Green's Pile of Shame
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (now read)
The Catcher in the Rye (reading now)
Moby Dick
The Grapes of Wrath
War And Peace
East of Eden
A Tale of Two Cities
Les Miserables
Most of Hemingway
...and this is not to mention all sorts of old Greek stuff, etc (though I did read the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid.)

Really, this list could go on and on. I think what I've been most bummed about is the American classics I've missed, especially Huckleberry Finn, which is what started this whole "I can't believe I haven't read that" thing in the first place. I've spent a whole lot of time reading humorists and other funny/satirical writers (Flann O'Brien, Bill Bryson, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, etc etc, but to have missed out on this book, and on Mark Twain in general, feels like such a gigantic fail. And now that I've read Huckleberry Finn, the fail is even more confirmed: It's a masterpiece, genuinely laugh-out-loud funny in places and an absolute triumph of a unique, sustained, unreliable narrator voice. Yeah, I agree with the general consensus that the last section with Tom Sawyer gets fairly insufferable, but there is so much that is so good up until that point, that, for me anyway, all is forgiven. That he wrote this over 100 years ago and still is as biting as ever makes it--like Don Quixote, another comic classic--genius in its timeless portrayal of human behavior in all its clueless, hapless indignity.

Interestingly, from here I've gone straight to Catcher in the Rye, and without ever having taken a course on either book or read one hifalutin' academic treatise on the subject, the link between Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield is palpable and obvious. What I wasn't expecting out of this book, since all I knew about it was that it's the bible of teen angst, is how damn funny it is, too.

In fact, though I'm beating myself for not having read these when younger, I think the greater truth is that I'm glad I'm reading them now, in my 40s, when it's a matter of choice, rather than a forced class assignment, with no one telling me how I should think or feel, or Why These Books Are Important. Also, I've just lived a lot more life myself. I can differentiate and appreciate better between what Huck and Holden are saying, and what the authors are saying about what they're saying. Reading reader comments about Catcher in the Rye, I see so many complaints about how unpleasant and screwed up Holden is, how he is not some kind of arbiter of cool teen angst, but all I can see is, well, yes, of course, because Salinger doesn't see him that way either. Is it not clear, from somewhere around page 3, that this kid is writing from some kind of loony bin/retreat, that his life has completely broken down? It's the very definition of an unreliable narrator. So though Holden makes us laugh, though we can cheer on his cutting dismissal of phonies and hot shots, the fact is, he's a mess, he's pathetic, and he's completely in denial of his own misery.

But, hey. Now I'm writing an English paper. Yikes. SCREW THAT. All I wanted to report here was how much I am enjoying my belated foray into the American classics. I've got two sitting on my nightstand coming up next: The Grapes of Wrath, and Faulkner's Light in August. All I've read of Steinbeck is Of Mice and Men. Faulkner, I'm a tad better on, having read a few in college, as well as The Unvanquished a few weeks ago. But I'm looking forward to continuing on.

And don't worry, I'm not forsaking my geeky and/or lowbrow reading! If I can't quite muster up the energy to go straight into Steinbeck, I may sneak in Jim Butcher's first book in the Dresden series, or maybe Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon. I will always be "slumming." Right now, though, I'm enjoying the meatier stuff. It's coinciding well with my hibernation, my feeling of needing to regroup and reassess before going forward with my life.

Now all I need is a desert island, and an endless supply of coffee, and I could just read for the rest of my days.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Hi! So, guess what? I don't have any overarching theme or anything to lecture you about today. Yay! So you don't have to worry about any righteous moralizing about motorcycling, or any overly self-obsessed navel-gazing. Frankly, I JUST DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THAT TODAY.

1) Birthday party for 20-year old twins (friends of the family) soon.
2) Humongous Cal-Duke game today in NCAA tourney.
3) Desire to finish Dragon Age: Origins so I can move on to Awakenings.
4) Need to start playing still-unfinished new Sims 3 expansion cuz they asked me for feedback.
5) Need to plow through more episodes of Breaking Bad season 2, since season 4 starts tonight.

Good god that is a lot to deal with on a Sunday!

First, just in case I run out of time here, and in case you don't follow me on Twitter, I need to repost a photo I took yesterday at the Berkeley Marina that I am extremely proud of. Maybe it's just me. You may think it's stupid. That's okay. It's still making me laugh. The Berkeley marina is a very popular place for kite flying, and with Spring now fully in effect, the kite fliers were out in force yesterday. Occasionally, you see folks manning these humongoid, balloon-type kites, which are awesome to look at even if there doesn't seem to be much point to them. Oh wait--the point is that they're awesome to look at. Right. Anyway. While rounding the bend along the marina walking path with my little dog, Mila, we came upon one of these humongoid balloon-type kites, which was essentially a giant, floating lookalike to Mila. So, quick-thinking chap that I am, I crouched down to dog level and snapped this shot:

My dog contemplates boarding the mothership.

I just like it. Sue me.

TV UPDATE: Breaking Bad
might just be the best show on TV right now. I'm LTTP myself--just catching up on Season 2 on Netflix now, as Season 3 starts tonight--but I am in love with it. Bryan Cranston is an acting powerhouse on this show--pathetic, sad, funny, desperate, angry, sarcastic, bitter, devious, scared--and if you know him only from Malcolm in the Middle, prepare to be blown away. The plot is like a darker version of Weeds : Milquetoast, browbeaten high-school chemistry teacher finds out he has incurable cancer, and, in attempt to earn money for his pregnant wife, and son (w/cerebral palsy), hooks up with a lowlife former student to become...a crystal meth dealer. It's as sad and depressing as that sounds, yes, but it is also very, very funny at times (the creator, Vince Gilligan, said in one interview I saw that you really could see the show as "a comedy"), and is also scary as HELL, quite often. The first few episodes of Season 2, in fact, is some of the most terrifying TV I've seen in years--truly. The wife and I watched every minute in edge-of-the-seat dread. Just the extent to what the writers put this poor guy through, and watching him try to extricate himself, is exhausting and agonizing but extremely entertaining, if you like that kind of thing. And I do. A lot. And on top of everything else, the cinematography of the show, which takes place in New Mexico, is just gorgeous, every episode. I highly recommend it if you haven't watched yet. Just be forewarned, there is some gruesome, awful stuff in this show, both in terms of physical *and* emotional violence. (Also still digging Damages, keeping my hopes up that Lost will deliver, and marveling at how damn funny Ugly Betty has been in its final *sob* episodes).

Books: Finished Kurt Eichenwald's The Informant, which was fascinating--though it's quite amazing how faithful Steven Soderbergh's movie was. I saw the movie first, and wanted to get more insight out of the book, but, actually, the movie covered it all well enough. Now I'm contemplating returning to Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind, which has been the "it" book of the fantasy genre for awhile now--except I'm a tad fantasy'ed out right now, still. I have something like 30-40 unread books at home that I've bought (a horrible habit of mine--I just buy and buy), so I'm gonna sift through those to see if there's something that grabs me: LeCarre maybe? Not sure. I need something to keep me entertained during the long flight and back to PAX in Boston later this week.

Speaking of which: PAX East! Boston! I'm going to be there! Yay! I'm moderating one panel and speaking on two others, which, as far as I'm concerned, is a bit of overexposure, frankly, but what the heck. I will do my best to entertain, even if it means throwing in a little juggling or soft-shoe dancing. You can find the full schedule here if ya like--the one I'm moderating is the very first one listed. If you happen to be at the show, by all means say hi! I only bite Nazis.

Okay: the bday party beckons. I am off. Hope y'all are having a happy Sunday.


Sunday, March 14, 2010


It's "self-evaluation" time again at Electronic Arts, a formal process undertaken by all employees, no matter where you fall on the org chart, in which you must go over your responsibilities, goals, and effort of the past 12 months, and judge how well you feel you did. You also must solicit the opinion of a number of your peers as well, who will fill out a separate form and submit that as well. Eventually, I guess, the managers do something with all that information--and in the edge cases probably determine raises/promotions....and firings.

So I'm doing mine now--on the last day they're due, of course--and it's an odd one for me. Because in the past 12 months, the first 8 of those were still with The Sims group; only the last 4 have been as editor-in-chief of EA.com. The oddness comes from the fact that it seems like a lot longer than that. Two-thirds of the year in which I'm self-evaluating come from a job I'm no longer at, doing something I no longer do, and am quite likely never to do again. And because this form only really is only for my current manager, those 8 months aren't all that relevant to him either (and that's not just my speculation about the matter--he told me as much.) But, then, if I really only have to consider the previous 4 months....well...that's not a lot to go on. And I'm not sure how thrilled I am with my performance. Yet.

One thing I can say: It's been a tough transition for me out of the press and into this side of the biz. On the whole, I have learned a *ton*, and for that alone this has been an amazing life experience. And I've met all sorts of great people, both in The Sims group and in my new job, that have helped make me feel "at home" in what for me is a totally different world than the one I spent my 20s and 30s (and, heck, over half of my 40s) in. Even though I decided that it wasn't quite working for me with The Sims group, I did have moments of great creative challenge and satisfaction: working on the initial design of SimAnimals Africa, writing up sample puzzles, writing dialog and text for MySims Agents, collaborating with artists and engineers on gameplay features.

All of this and more was fascinating and rewarding in and of itself--it was just that in the grand scheme of things, I felt it was just going to take far, far too long for me to "prove" myself with this group, and to have the self-confidence on my own, to get the kind of responsibility I was hoping for in my head, before I took the job. It was no one's fault, and there are no hard feelings, which is why I'm still pals with the folks in that group. It's just probably something I should have thought of doing 20 years ago. As it was, it wasn't really benefiting anyone--not me, not the Sims group, not EA, not gamers--that I was essentially discarding 17 years of journalism experience to become a junior apprentice designer/producer (and one with no technical training, besides).

I've written about my transition to EA.com before, so there's no real need to rehash it here, other than to say: I pitched this job. It was born of my desire to apply the skills, experience, and talent I had from my days at CGW/GFW/1up to something new at EA, something that made sense for all of us. As soon as it crossed my mind that I could do this stuff for EA--host a podcast, write articles, dream up other content around EA games that the community might dig to read, watch, and listen to--I knew it was the right move, and I was thrilled to make the transition.

I still am. The thing is, it's just hard. Making this transition, and doing this job for the past four months, has turned out not to be the great deus ex machina for me, or The Answer To Everything...but simply another beginning. Doing this self-evaluation now, I realize I have a long, long way to go before I will feel like I've accomplished what I envisioned in my mind. I've put a couple pieces into play now--the EA Podcast, the Mailbag, a "voice" on blogs and Twitter and elsewhere--but this is so just the tip of the iceberg that it's both personally frustrating and disappointing to me that this is all I've done. I know, it's only four months. In the grand scheme of things, that's not a long time. It's just that I can see in my head where I want it to be, and it's just not remotely close yet. (I should be clear, here, I suppose, that I'm not looking for either validation or pity. I'm just putting my feelings into this blog post as a way of coming around to this dang evaluation form I gotta turn in soon. You are drive-by witnesses to my self-reflection.) I'd like to write a sterling evaluation of myself, but all I can see is what I haven't done yet. On the other hand, I *do* know what I *want* to do, and feel confident in my ability to do it. So I'm going to let that count for something.

Honestly, I'm enjoying the challenge of kinda "forging new ground," both for myself and EA, but it's certainly weird ground, too. At the Game Developer's Conference this week, I realized just kind of how in my own No Man's Land I really am. I weaseled my way into getting a press pass, but, that's the thing--I had to weasel my way into getting one. I'm not press anymore. But I'm not a "game maker" anymore, either. Nor am I in PR or marketing, though I suppose those are closer to what I'm doing. But not actually being part of those departments means I'm not part of *that* community either. I have an awesome partner in managing editor and podcast cohost Samantha LaPerre--thank god, or I'd be going insane by now--but it still feels a little like we're in a rowboat, in the middle of the ocean, with nothing but a Bic lighter to help illuminate the way ahead.

But: Forge ahead we shall! I just hope in the year ahead that I can make EA.com, and my job there, somehow equal to the ideas in my head, and worthy of folks' (and EA's) time and attention.

Angstily yours,

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Motorcycle Diaries, Pt III: Lanesplitting

In honor of the great big orange ball in the sky, which finally made an appearance again this week after being stuck behind rainclouds for what feels like months (and, yes I know, I'm in California and have no right to complain about the weather, let's just move on), I am focusing my steely-eyed (okay, no, actually extremely nearsighted) gaze today on the subject of motorcycling.

This is not me, nor my bike, but I kinda wish it was.

Not that I haven't been riding, even given the crappy weather. Because we only have one car, and because my job is 35 miles from my home, and because the public transportation system does not easily accommodate my particular commute, I take the motorcycle pretty much every day, unless the rain is just *so* bad that to do so would just be insane. But I have ridden in the rain quite a bit this winter. As an experience I would rate it someplace on the scale between Pretty Shitty and Remarkably Unpleasant. I mean, even with raingear on, it's just not fun. The roads are slick, I'm even *less* visible than in normal weather, and, ya know, there's no windshield wipers on motorcycle helmets. So the choice, regarding the latter problem, is to either constantly wipe the water away with one of my gloved hands, or to keep the helmet partially open--which then leaves my face exposed to the rain. Overall, though some folks claim to love riding in the rain, I think the sealed metal cage/heater/car stereo of a good ol' car really just trumps the motorcycle in inclement weather. Sorry, hardcore biker dudes! But, hey, I *do* ride in it. In fact, on most rainy days, my bike is guaranteed to be one of the only ones in the EA lot. Everyone else is either a lot smarter, or just has that spare car to use.

But here's how I meant to start off this blog. I just remembered. I was going to start off with this question:

"Are you one of those crazy motorcyclists who zip in and out between lanes all the time? Because that just makes me so mad and seems so dangerous!"

This question, and variations of it, might be the number one question I get when I tell people I ride. And the answer is that, yes, yes I am one of those crazy motorcyclists who do that. Because, really, if you're not doing that, you're missing half the glory (well, when we're talking about urban commutes, anyway) of riding in the first place. We don't have to be stuck in traffic.

CalTrans put these signs up recently. Lanesplitting bikers rejoiced heartily!

The first thing to know about lanesplitting (or lanesharing, which is the now more politically correct term to use, for motorcyclists who are trying to educate the non-riding public on the practice), is that it is perfectly legal in California. This doesn't really matter a whole lot when it comes to the safety issues, which I'll get to in a minute, but it is still important to note, since many drivers just assume that motorcyclists are doing something "wrong" when they're doing it. (In fact, just last night, I lanesplitted right behind a motorcycle cop for about 10 miles). It may annoy you, and seem "unfair" somehow, when you're stuck in gridlock or stop-and-go traffic, and you see a motorcycle coming up between two lanes, but, legally, it's pretty much a Tough Shit situation for ya, my friend. You can get a bike yourself if you want to avoid the traffic.

This is why it makes me laugh whenever I see a car or truck decide, for some idiotic reason, that they want to "block" me as they see me coming from behind between lanes--moving over so I can't pass. I assume that it's some kind of misguided righteousness: "He can wait his turn, like me!" Whatever the reason, that person is in the wrong. And, of course, they're going to lose that battle anyway, because all I have to do is go around the other way, which I do every single time, losing not even 2 seconds in the process.

You may wonder why this motorcycle practice is legal. In fact, the reason is not only sound, but I am grateful for it every day---and yes, from a safety standpoint, not just for the convenience of it. The main reason, as I understand it, is that the California Highway Patrol simply wishes that motorcycles keep moving when on the highway. Think about it. In a crawling, stop-and-go, or completely stopped traffic situation, the chances of rear-end collisions, fender-benders, etc always goes up. And who is going to get it the worst if one occurs? The unprotected sitting duck on the motorized bike, that's who. We are allowed to keep moving so that we don't get hit. It's really as simple as that.

I'll acknowledge what some of you are thinking: There are tons of terrible, assholish, irresponsible lanesplitters on the road. Just as there are with automobile drivers, there are motorcyclists who are just far too aggressive and thoughtless, putting both themselves and everyone else around them on the road in danger. Believe me, I get it. A few of those dudes pass me every day too. (I just move to the inside of the lane and wave them on to pass me). They lanesplit too fast and they cut it too close. When I see these guys (and inevitably, it's guys), all I can think is, "your time will come."

Here's me on my normal daily commute!

I do not know exactly what the law is, if any, regarding the speed that lanesplitters may travel, but I do know that, unofficially, the accepted wisdom is that you go no more than 10-15 mph at most above the current flow of traffic. That means if it's at a dead stop on the freeway, you should be lanesplitting at about 10 MPH. Why? It's obvious. You need enough reaction time when (forget "if") a car in either of the lanes you're splitting doesn't see you and tries to change lanes right into you. How often will something like this happen? Try every day. My bike is big enough and loud enough (with the standard pipes) that most drivers can hear me coming, but that's not even remotely a guarantee of safety. Every day someone will change lanes while I'm splitting, because they don't see me.

Here's the thing though, and this is the key to all successful motorcycle riding: We see you. That's all that a motorcyclist (well, a smart one, anyway) is doing on the road: watching and reacting. When I took the Motorcycle Safety Class way back, we were preached the gospel of the SIPDE system: Scan, Identify, Predict, Decide, Engage. This is what we're doing over and over, every second, while riding. Every second I'm on the bike is spent doing everything I can to stay alive. And to lanesplit without getting bashed means that you have to be going slow enough to be able to hit those brakes if someone a car length ahead starts moving into the lane.

It's not foolproof, of course. The one accident I've had so far, years ago, on a different bike, was for this very thing: A guy (on his cellphone) merging right into me from the right. I had done everything I could in advance. I was in full-on SIPDE mode, too. In Scanning and Identifying, I'd seen the guy on his phone ahead of me. Person on cellphone always = "get away from this person." The Predict phase is, "this asshole won't see me because he's yapping on the phone, and will therefore merge into me." So, that night, at that instant, I Decided and Engaged my split-second decision: Hit the accelerator and get past him, quickly. But I wasn't quick enough. He did, in fact, merge without looking, and his left front bumper hit my right wheel--I'd almost made it. Miraculously, I didn't get hurt or even fall over, but the bike itself was totaled. (And after I got a new bike, I was scared off of lanesplitting for awhile, until I couldn't take it anymore.)

The fact is, if you are on a motorcycle, it is just a glorious thing to be able to do. I save myself an insane amount of time every day by doing it. As I zip through the lanes, past the crawling parking lot of frustrated drivers, I thank Xanthor every day that I have this way out. Even when traffic is moving, the ability to lanesplit will allow me to get past incredibly annoying situations, like, most often, the selfish or obtuse dillweeds going too slow in the fast lane, not moving over to the right, and thereby backing up the highway for miles. This is something else I see nearly every day. I'll be lanesplitting through crawling traffic, wondering if there's an accident ahead, or if it's just a bad, crowded day, only to get to the head of the clump of cars and see a completely open highway, but no one able to go fast because some moron is going 50 in the fast lane. Thankfully, I can zip right around him--but I sure feel sorry for all the drivers stuck behind him. (And it makes me think, every single time, that the CHP oughta ticket those folks sometimes for impeding the flow of traffic.) On the autobahn in Germany, those people would seriously just get run off the road. If there's one thing the Europeans definitely have over Americans, it's the fundamental understanding that the left lane is for passing . And if someone comes up on your ass behind you in that lane, you don't be a dick or righteous Keeper of the Speed Limit---you just move the fuck over.

Fahr'n fahr'n fahr'n auf der Autobahn

So: I love lanesplitting. To keep myself honest and aware of the dangers, though, I've made myself watch some scary, nasty videos. And I make myself read every single news article when yet another rider goes down, often when they were lanesplitting. It's a constant reality check. Another thing I do, which I got inspired from doing on a motorcycle forum I hang out at, is I imagine that there are photos of my wife and kid on my handlebars. This has stopped me more times than I can count from taking that chance, and just being patient instead. Because the temptation is constant. "Can I squeeze between those two trucks? Because if I do, it'll be clear sailing, I can see it.") It's just not worth it. If I just sit back and relax, a better moment will come. There's simply no place for impatience on a motorcycle. I've had it, believe me, and I usually end up regretting it every time. Not because I've hurt myself, or hit anything, or anything physically bad whatsoever, but just because, in the end, I know I've saved myself, what, a couple seconds? But had it not gone my way, well, who knows what horrible consequence could have happened? I'm making literally hundreds of split-second decisions every single time I ride. I'm not happy with every one of them every time, but I do my best to keep in mind that, in the end, getting to where I'm going alive is the one thing that matters most.

Does all this seem stressful to you? It is, but it isn't. Think of it like skiing, if you've done that. 99% of the time you are just having a kickass great time. It's fun, it's a thrill, it makes you happy. At the same time, you are concentrating intently on getting down that mountain without breaking your head open. Even if you're a veteran and it's all second nature to you and you aren't consciously thinking about it, your every microsecond is also spent--while having a grand ol' time--making one decision after another with your body. It's the same thing on a motorcycle. For me, for those who ride, it is just a constant thrill and source of happiness. But with great power....well, you know the rest.

Ride safe,

Sunday, February 28, 2010

In Which Our Hero Checks In Again. (Also: The Year of Film, Part 2!)

Wow--I made it at the last minute! Had I not posted today, then the entire month of February would have gone blogless. So sad. When you combine that with no Out of the Game podcasts in months, it would appear that I have gone dark on you people. However, if you do feel that way, then I submit that you haven't been paying attention! Because I have been very busy and prolific, albeit elsewhere than my usual haunts, like this here home of mine on the Internet.

I know that none of us, including me, particularly like blog posts apologizing for not blogging, so, I'm not doing that. However, some acknowledgment is still in order. Why? Because I need to confront a weird demon: For the last few weeks, I've had an outright *aversion* to this page. When I accidentally clicked on it a couple times, I immediately navigated away rather than have to look at it. Baffling. Upon analyzing the situation, though, I realize that while this may have been partly a matter of guilt--my standard emotional response--it, in fact, was maybe more a matter of being stretched too thin lately.

Forget Twitter. That's not the issue. The issue is more that I've been trying to step up my efforts lately in blogging at my workplace, ea.com, as well as spending a lot of my time when not blogging sitting in meetings, composing emails, talking to folks ABOUT issues around blogging, social media, etcetcetc. I spoke at a conference about it a little while ago, and I have two more speaking engagements coming up at PAX East in Boston in a few weeks. The point is: I've been a bit tapped out. While I had been kind of informally blogging here on the weekends, over the last few weekends, I have felt the need to tune out entirely. Just: not write. And not be online much.

This was the third weekend in a row--it's now Sunday evening at 5--in which my time was mostly divided between reading (right now I'm plowing thru Kurt Eichenwald's The Informant, an awesome account of the 1990's ADM price-fixing scandal, which then became last year's movie w/Matt Damon...), playing Dragon Age on the PC, and watching movies, both with the family and on my own on Netflix Watch Instantly. In short, I've been hibernating.

Anyway, there's a lot of shtuff I could yabber on about here--like my recent 12 pound weight loss--but instead, before it gets completely out of hand, I will attempt to catch up, somewhat, on my Year of Film mission, which I am hopelessly behind on documenting. In fact, I know I can't date stamp it anymore, which kinda blows in terms of anality. And I know I'm going to forget a couple here and there. And the writeups are going to be perfunctory. But still. THE HISTORY MUST BE RECORDED.

In no order than what pops into my head, here's what I've seen since last we met:

Harlan County USA - An absolutely riveting documentary on the 1973 coal miner's strike in Kentucky. Maybe one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. And if the topic sounds "boring" to you, I guarantee you it is as suspenseful as any fictional thriller, right down to having one of the creepiest "bad guys" in film history. (You'll know him when you see him--he actually pulls a gun on the filmmaker--a woman.)

Big Fan
Not what I expected--but not bad. I was thinking it'd be more funny than sad, since it stars stand-up comic Patton Oswalt and was written/directed by a guy from The Onion, but this story of a grown-up obsessed with the New York Giants, who then gets beaten up by one of the guys on the team, is kinda heavy--reminding me of Frederick Exley's great hilariously pathetic memoir, A Fan's Notes.

Brick -- Very very clever mashup of detective/film noir style/dialog within the confines of a high school story. All the kids sound like they walked right out of a Philip Marlowe novel. I liked it, but didn't fall in love with it like some folks. It never moved beyond feeling more like a stunt than anything else, really. Still, some scenes are just terrific. Like the hardboiled "tough guys" all sitting around the kitchen table, while mom serves them food. Worth seeing on novelty value alone.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
- No-nonsense but thorough and devastating account of the Enron scandal. If you need more reason to hate on wealthy, white corporate execs getting rich of the suffering of others, here's your movie. By the time it ends, you're ready to fry these guys alive. Or dead, in Ken Lay's case.

Crips and Bloods: Made in America
- Another documentary, though I was a bit more "meh" on this one, which surprised me, being an LA native. The movie does a good job of tracing the social conditions/racism/economic realities that led to the rise of the gang culture in LA, and the early footage/info on the earliest gangs is interesting stuff. However, I was disappointed that the movie didn't really get much into the rivalry of the two gangs, which itself is so tragic and pointless--and the movie does get a bit bogged down in endlessly repeating the "it's not their fault, they were born into it" mantra. (True or not, it just makes the film feel more defensive than anything else.) Still, some pretty cool archival footage if ya like that kind of thing.

Cool Hand Luke And now for something completely different. My god, what an awesome movie. At the end of it, it led me to tweet, "What happened to all the 'man's man' movies?" Because, seriously, they don't make them like this anymore. Just a great, balls-out adventure story, with beautiful performances by he-men Paul Newman and George Kennedy, as fellow lowlifes on a chain gang, along with great turns by Harry Dean Stanton and Strother Martin and others. Just one classic scene after another, with a great musical score and that now-gone 60s undercurrent of "fuck The Man" anti-establishment vibe that Hollywood was in love with at the time. (The heroes are the crooks on the chain gang; the bad guys are those in authority. See also: Bonnie and Clyde,, Easy Rider, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, to which this really has a lot in common..) Overall, though, it's just fantastically entertaining--a suspenseful, funny, poignant, action-filled adult drama that seems impossible to imagine being made today.

A Serious Man - Took me awhile to get to the latest Coen Brothers movie, but OMIGOD, what was I waiting for? Goes way high up on the list for me, along with Big Lebowski (of course), Miller's Crossing, and Fargo. I don't think you had to grow up as a Jew in the 60s to appreciate it, but it sure didn't hurt. As usual for the Coen Bros, the film *looked* beautiful, and every bit of casting, down to the smallest part--like the beleaguered faculty member always leaning in Larry's doorway, and, best of all, the insidious "friend" Sy--was inspired genius. Probably my favorite movie of the year now, after The Hurt Locker.

Speaking of which, I finally saw Avatar--and hey, I didn't hate it! Sorry, I know that in the Geek World I was supposed to see this on opening day and love it, but I could never get past the feeling that it was more tech demo than movie. The fact that most people who saw it early defended it by saying, "well, yeah, sure, the story sucks, but it LOOKS amazing!" only really confirmed that for me. If the story sucks---why do I want to see it exactly? But, hey, I finally succumbed, and did it full on--IMAX 3D--and, yes, it is quite the amazing spectacle. As an amazing spectacle, I was thoroughly entertained. Just like I am when I go on Disneyland rides. And just like on those rides, I know that I'm being manipulated, that it's all technology--but it's manipulation and technology in the service of mass entertainment, and, ya know, I'm okay with that. Truly, it was a marvel to look at. I was never bored. I knew exactly where the story was going and how it would end the entire time, and yet I didn't really care. For the time I was in the theater, I was glad I was there. Will I ever see it again? No. Do I think it will hold up in years to come on a TV screen? No. But as An Event, I was happy to take part in it. And when it wins Best Picture, I still won't think it deserves it, but I'll understand more why it did, and won't begrudge it.

And, to catch me up to last night, the only movie on this list actually watched with my daughter: Hamlet, the 1990 version with Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, and Helena Bonham Carter, cuz the kid is studying the play in school, and, hey, Gibson actually doesn't embarrass himself! Zeffereli doesn't do anything radical with the play, but it's a fine mainstream interpretation, and Gibson handles the soliloquies really nicely. I never did like the Olivier version, just because it's so freakin' reductive of Shakespeare's text ("this is the story of a man who can't make up his mind"= ORLY?), and so was glad we saw this one. Others have since pointed out to me the more complete and faithful Branagh version, as well as the recent BBC one with Patrick Stewart, so, duly noted. It's just too bad Kurosawa never tackled this one, though, because both Throne of Blood and Ran are two of my favorite Shakespeare movies ever. Just think of Toshiru Mifune as Hamlet, with samurai swords! It'd be a better world today if that had happened.

Okay, so we're mostly caught up now. Unless I forgot something. I'll think on it.
And this starts and concludes my blogging for February.

Bring on March!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tomato On a Stick

One of the most off-putting questions I ever get as a dad is when someone, upon seeing my daughter, says to me, "Where did she get her red hair?" The question in and of itself is a fair one, and not off-putting at all, on the face of it. But to me it is, personally, because, as long as I've been alive, I have always identified myself as a redhead. So every time I hear the question, part of me can't understand where it's coming from. Until I look in the mirror, and am reminded that the current reality no longer matches what my brain perceives as "the truth."

Hair color is on my mind today for two reasons: One because I just finished Malcolm Gladwell's great essay in What the Dog Saw called "True Colors," which discusses the changing Madison Avenue slogans of women's hair color products as reflective of and contributing to the attitudes and psyches of 20th century women (from "does she or doesn't she?" to "because I'm worth it"). The other reason is because my kid, the flaming redhead, had a bunch of her friends over for a study group today, and three out of five of them were also redheads, which, given the statistics, is just kinda crazy.

But what's on my mind in particular is my own hair color, and how it has changed, and changed my own psyche, over the course of my 40+ years. Because when you have flaming red hair, as I did all the way up until my early 20s, when it mysteriously started to turn brown, it is an identifier (some might call it a stigma, others might call it a blessing) that you are stuck with, that defines, to some extent, who you are. I had the added fun, too, of having a last name that was also a color, so "Red Green" or "Jeff Red" and so on was my particular stoopid cross to bear.

Though I recall getting compliments on it from adult females at the time ("Oh my god I'd pay to have hair that color!"), that didn't really do much to appease my young and adolescent self when all I really wanted to do was fit in and not feel like a freak. I imagine it is probably worse for redheaded boys than girls. Or it was, anyway. I get the feeling now, in the more enlightened 21st century, where kids have all sorts of ever-changing hair color, that maybe it doesn't matter as much now. Or at least here in Berkeley it doesn't. All I know is at the time I hated it. It didn't help, either that I grew up in Los Angeles, where the pale skin that goes with the red hair further separated me from the Tan and Beautiful. "A tomato on a stick" is one of my asshole adolescent "friends" called me at the time--referring to my red hair on my rail-thin body. And the thing is that, whether positive or negative, you hear about it all the time. Daily. It's the way people identify you.

See what I'm talkin' about? This guy is a REDHEAD.

It was only as it started to go away, of course, that I finally began to appreciate it. Even before I had my kid, when I was 32, it had long been turning brown, and so when folks would see my driver's license, which said "red" under hair, or heard me refer to myself as a redhead, they would look oddly at me, or question it to my face. But of course I was a redhead, I'd reply. That was who I was. And when that point was disputed, I realized that I was actually bummed by the new truth. I dunno if it was Stockholm Syndrome or what, but after actually being a redhead for so long, I really didn't want to be anything else. I'd grown into it. I think I actually didn't change the "red" to "brown" on my driver's license until about 8 years ago---right about the time that it really, maybe, should have started to say "grey," simply because I didn't want to believe I wasn't a redhead anymore. Both my dad and my grandmother and my first cousin and now my daughter: all redheads. Redheads in the media and popular fiction, like Ron Weasley: my brethren. This was the club I belonged to. And I wanted it to stay that way.

The brown hair I never really enjoyed too much. It was what it was, to use the past tense of a phrase I hate. Now I'm in a whole different ballgame. Happily, though, I'm already over denying the gray. Hey, it is what it is. I'll admit that it bugged the crap out of me at first, of course, but my period of denial was much shorter this time around. It didn't help that the signals were coming in stronger: The number of times I was being called "sir" multiplied exponentially. I somehow found myself cruising past lines--like airport security lines--that used to seem to take longer. I was in the old white male club! Just like in that classic Eddie Murphy sketch! The turning point, at least in terms of my own denial/awareness, came back at 1up.com, when my friend Dana, after returning from a trip with the 1up gang to the sports bar outside our office, said that the bartender had said to her, "Where's the silver-haired guy who's usually with you guys?" I took it badly at first. "Silver haired guy? Huh?"

But still. Could be worse, right? There's the whole "bald" thing, which, knock on wood, looks like I'm likely to avoid (not that there'd be anything wrong with that). My hair is bozoid thick. Second, if one has to go gray, there are worse ways for it to happen then getting these "wings" I have sprouted. I mean, who doesn't mind looking like these guys:



I get asked all the time now if I'm going to dye my hair. Almost every time I get my hair cut I get asked. But the answer is always the same for me: Why? Who would I be kidding? Anyone who already knows me would know what I did, so that'd just be embarrassing. And anyone who doesn't know me, well, who cares? What do I care what they think? And what would they think, anyway--if they thought about it at all, which is unlikely since they have their own lives to lead and probably aren't wasting a whole lot of brainpower on me, no matter how solipsistic I want to be? "There goes a gray-haired guy!" Well...so what?

That's what I am now. I'm a gray-haired guy. Just like I was a redhead before. Only this time, decades later, I'm going to embrace the hand (or head) I've been dealt. If it's good enough for Paulie Walnuts, it's good enough for me.

Bada Bing!