Of all the money that ere I had, I spent it in good company.
And of all the harm that ere I’ve done, alas was done to none but me.
And all I’ve done for want of wit, to memory now I cannot recall.
So fill me to the parting glass. Goodnight and joy be with you all.
- The Parting Glass, Irish traditional folk tune
It is time, my friends, for me to move on.
Last week was my last with KingsIsle and the Wizard101 team.
Five years ago I had wrapped working with a great team at Webkinz in Toronto in order to spend some time at home with our young daughter when I got a text from Jason “ALHAZRED” Durall.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Quitting!” I joked.
“That’s funny,” he said, “Todd and I were just talking about you. How you should come down and work with us.”
“The Greatest State.”
“Hahah,” I said, “You tell Todd to call me, and we’ll talk.”
You see, I had had this general conversation with Todd once a year or so since the first time I moved from Toronto to Austin, in 2005. And it never went farther than “we should talk about working together.”
Later that night the phone rang and there was Todd.
A couple or three years ago, sometime after we had settled in Austin and working on Wizard101 had become a comfortable rhythm, I had lunch with a pair of co-workers and we talked about our interests and hobbies. One of those fellows was Mark Vittek – a serious veteran of the video game industry (whose credits go back to Ultima VIII and Crusader: No Remorse); Mark’s hobby (well, two of them) are filming and photography, and he’s done some great photo shoots, worked on a bunch of film projects, and has a ton of knowledge, gear, and contacts.
The other fellow was James Leary (@jimmyLeary), best known for his role as Clem on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the NutriGrain “I feel GREAT!” Superbowl-spot-that-never-aired, but he’s done a telenovela (Los Beltrán), a spot on the upcoming season of the webseries ATown, and a host of voices for Pirate101 and Wizard101, including El Toro, the Frogfather, King Pyat MourningSword, and lots more.
Mark wanted to film something, James wanted to act in something, and I wanted to write something. We bounced a number of ideas around, and came up with the idea of “the Office” meets the Game Industry. We didn’t want to try to emulate the mockumentary style, particularly, but the “slice of life” element, where you are eavesdropping on characters in a realistic, if slightly (slightly?) absurd setting. We got together at various lunch times – and brilliantly called ourselves LUNCH CLUB to start – and each wrote out a few ideas. I believe Mark’s first script was the basis for WHAT PROJECT!? while my first was something called FROGGUN.
I believe this write-up is from the fourth game of the 1st Season, Skaven vs. Nurgle. Nurgle is a Chaos team, dedicated to the eponymous great Chaos God of Death, Decay, and Pestilence. Mostly Pestilence.
A few months ago a number of office mates started up an online Blood Bowl League, playing on the PC game developed by Cyanide. This computer game has a tremendous amount of, uh, quirks (to be kind). They took the original Games Workshop minis/board-game, which has a lot of moments of built-in frustration, is heavily luck dependent, and occasionally rewards Holy Hell Rand! plays while punishing basic strategy, and adds a layer of bugs, poor UI, and peculiar oddities.
Yet the fun of playing in a league, and sharing your pain (and the losers’ humiliation), and your victories, and the intense flavor that GW develops so well, makes it worth it. Well, almost worth it. It’s a very easy game to rage at when the dice decide to hate you and are doing everything in their power to turn your brilliant strategy to ashes.
For the first season, we had 10 teams. I played SKAUS’s Screamers, a Skaven team. And after the third or fourth game, I decided to start writing up game reports, in-character; assuming that character to be a strange mash-up of Friday Night Lights Mojo Radio (with a heavy nod towards radio personality Slammin’ Sammy Meade), a bit of Howard Stern, a dash of Hunter Thompson, and a few bottles of Dwarf Skull Grog, all in the character of the Orc Blind Bastard Barnebas (with a heavy nod towards Happy Harry Hardon).
The first of those write-ups follows.
HAIL and BRIMSTONE, all you out there in interweb land. This is Blind Bastard Barnabas with another epic tale of woe and damnation. So feed the hogs, kick up the fire, lock up your daughters, siddown and shaddup, cuz it’s GAME TIME, you rotters!
October was a very busy month. And November doesn’t look like it will let up much, but considering I just made it through: getting a big “chapter” of story contributed to Wizard 101; GDCOnline; and the Austin Film Festival; I figured it might be worth posting a few things, for posterity if nothing else.
First up, today marked the release of the new Wizard 101 trailer for Zafaria – I was the main writer for this “act” of the ongoing storyline, under the direct supervision of Jason Durall (and of course tons of input from the whole team).
PC Gamer describes it thus:
Wizard101 players will soon be able to explore the Spiral’s ninth and newest world, Zafaria, a savannah and jungle-themed place that takes its inspiration from Africa. It also plays a major role in Wizard101′s ongoing storyline, forming the “second act” as Morganthe, the Umbra Queen, makes her return.
And here is the trailer video on IGN:
I’m super excited to be a part of this great game — it’s a wonderful team, and they turned a bunch of mad ramblings into something epic. Now I’m crossing my fingers that the players like it, too.
Having been sans famille (which is apparently teaghlaigh gan in Irish; thanks iGoogle) for a few weeks now, I’ve managed to catch up on a number of movies and TV that I have missed on these past couple or five years.
I’ve managed to watch:
* Iron Man 2 (entertaining, and frustrating because it had all the working parts of a good movie, except for perhaps a coherent story)
* The Brave One (a terrible Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard flick from 2007)
* Hustle and Flow (a surprisingly good Terrence Howard pimp-turned-rapper movie form ’05)
* Swingers (revisited, to see the storytelling technique Jon Favreau first developed, to be ultimately used on Iron Man 2)
* Rounders (revisited, probably my favorite poker movie)
* the first half of the last season of Friday Night Lights (amazingly one of the best TV shows of the last few years, though nothing compares to its phenomenal first season; Go Lions!)
* and the first four episodes of The Wire.
But you knew I was going there.
Funny ole world, innit? In 2005 I was given the opportunity to move from Toronto, ON to Austin, TX. I went to work for NCsoft as the Community Writer for City of Heroes, and ended as the writer for about 60% of the slate of NC-games. It was a good year, despite some personal and professional challenges, but in the end I decided Toronto was where I needed to be.
Returning to the Great White North, I spent some time resting and recuperating and trying to figure out what to do next. I went on safari. I did some freelance work. I wrote a script (well, the first draft at any rate). And I managed to catch the eye of the people at Ganz, the makers of Webkinz.
I worked with several teams at Ganz – on some Webkinz projects, on some top sekret prototypes, and eventually on the recently announced Tail Towns. (Also see: Tail Towns Insiders for some actual shots of product and things for the game). I met some amazingly talented people there, who I hope to work with again.
But last summer I made another big decision and elected to stay home and take care of our daughter (then 18 months). I snuck in a few freelance projects (“dad-by-day, freelance-crimefighter-by-night;” which is to say I also managed a bit of Batman: Arkham Asylum).
I could wax on about my experiences as a Stay-at-Home-Dad, but that probably requires its own entry. Let it be said that the seven months I stayed home were some of the most fun, and some of the most taxing, of my life.
And Now You Are Two. Merry Xmas. Also, We Are Moving To Tejas.
My daughter was born right before Christmas (‘08), so I have learned (and will continue to learn) how stressful-crazy-OHGOD the December build-up is. This year was complicated by a major job offer. A “can we upset everything in our lives (again) and do we do this” offer. A “I don’t think I can say no to this” kind of offer. I said yes. R said yes. Our daughter said yes (actually, she probably said, “Mama and Dada and A-nana go to Circle Time,” but she was supportive). I would go back to work, and R would stay home and take care of A.
Once again I was moving from Toronto to Austin.
It meant pretty much all of our energies were being spent on packing up the house, planning for A’s birthday event, and somehow squeezing in a bit of Christmas cheer. Oh, and while my Mom was around and being a tremendous help, she was also in the process of separating her stuff from our house and moving it to Montreal. Hectic is nowhere near strong enough a word. Three-fingers of 12-yr Cragganmore was almost potent enough.
And so it came to pass that I broke the news to the inner circle in early January. I didn’t want to distract people with our fuss while they were in the midst of their holidays. But damn I had a lot of people to try to say goodbye to in Toronto. I regret missing a bunch of you, but it gives me an excuse to do better next time I’m up north, or you come down here, or we meet in San Francisco or Berlin or Shanghai or Ulan Bator – wherever the next GDC-franchise happens.
I flew down in late Jan to look for an apartment. Or as A started to say at the time, “Dada in AustinTexas to look at swimming pools.” Zipped home, finished packing, and returned on Jan 31st to start working on Feb 1st, at KingsIsle Entertainment. My car is somewhere between Buffalo and here. The apartment is chock-full-of-boxes. Work is already starting to build. But man, this is going to be a helluva ride.
NOTE: The awesome photo above was supplied by my new colleague, Mark “v-tek” Vittek.
An HDR shot taken by Michael “v-tek” Vittek
FanExpo 2010 has come and gone, and damn I’m tired. But it was a fun show. I organized two panels – Writers & Producers, and The State of the Industry in the GTA – and I moderated the first.
Writers & Producers
My first time moderating a panel, and no one burst into fire (spontaneously or otherwise), or was mangled, or died, so I call that a success.
My two producers (Joseph Ganetakos from Ganz, whom I know well; and Alex Parizeau from Ubisoft, whom I just met and has a great rep) were terrific, and my two writers (Kim Sparks; Max Piesner) were awesome.
After the panel, Mia Herrera interviewed me about it for C&G Monthly. I think it went well, but I fear I rambled a bit while trying to restore my proper adrenaline/caffeine equilibrium. I’ll post a link when she shoots me one.
State of the Industry
Jason MacIsaac, from the IGDA & Electric Playground, graciously offered to moderate the second panel, and he did a fine job. Jason’s recap of the panel is here.
And one of our panelists, Ryan Henson Creighton, talks about it here. With much color.
The other panelists – Lesley Phord-Toy (Ubisoft), Ryan MacLean (DrinkBox), Ian Kelso (Interactive Ontario), and Philippe McNally (Longbow Games) were all very generous with their time, and I hope I thanked them all sufficiently.
It became very much a “how do I break into the industry panel,” but that’s ok as it’s clearly what the attendees wanted.
I’m already thinking of an expanded video game panel track next year, with a specific panel to address that. Not sure I’ll be able to put the time in, but I think we could easily cover:
* State of the Industry in the GTA
* How Do I Convince You To Hire My Rosy Cheeks?
* Writers in Video Games, and the Big Bad Boss Producers
* Bringing Your Art to Life – A Panel for Artists in/wanting to get into the Industry
* Hobby Games to Computer Games, Spanning the Bridge
I’m thrilled to announce I’m going to be moderating a panel at FanExpo this year:
Saturday, Aug 28
12:00 pm (noon),
While writing is essential in many video games today, the role of the writer is highly contested and often misunderstood. Writers are often seen at one end of the design spectrum, and the producer at the other. Producers are critical for getting the game done and out to market. Come join writers and producers to hear what challenges and hurdles they face; what producers are looking for, and the differences between writing for a cell phone game to a AAA game.
The list of panelists is terrific – click through to see the full list.