Thoughts for a hot saturday in a very warm office

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Crunch time fun & frolic continues as we approach the finish line for our first game and it’s time to take a quick break from being level/legal guy  today (as always, I hate reading pages and pages of contracts) and write-up a quick post.

1) Our first game has turned out a bit more ambitious than originally intended. It wasn’t as much feature creep but quality creep. Andrew put it very succinctly the other day in commenting that we are taking a “AAA” approach to our first iPad game.  Pretty much sums it up. When I originally conceived the game I thought it would be about a 9 month project but we are coming in at a year. Not horrible, especially for a new team and the game’s quality reflects that extra time so that’s not so bad.

2) We’ve been in crunch for a while now and I am inordinately proud of our team. The guys and gals here have worked their tails off whether it is extended evenings and/or weekends without complaint. While the usual consequences of too much crunchy goodness are here, everyone is doing what it takes to get the game out the door. Reminds me of another young team from a decade ago and I hope to be able to share the same kind of financial success with them as I did with the Mythic team, as a thank you for their efforts. If I can do that in a few years, well, it will be a nice time to call it a career. In the meantime, I still have a bunch of games I would like to do, including another MMO.

3) The news out of Rhode Island about 38 Studios was and is very depressing. While Curt and I won’t be attending NYY/Sox games as best buds, the guy definitely had/has a passion for making games. We have too many people in the industry who don’t have that kind of passion (and his willingness to put his money/time where is mouth is) and I hope that things work out for him and the team at 38 as well as the taxpayers of Rhode Island. The MMO industry is really back on its heels now and if 38S ends badly, it won’t help things one bit and for the team itself, it would be a disaster. Hopefully things will work out for all concerned.

4) GW2 is looking like the most interesting MMORPGs to come down the pike in many years. I refuse to get excited about any game until after launch but from what I’ve read about the game, it seems like they are doing a lot of things right. It is definitely the game that most of us are talking about in the office (other than our game and possible future games of course). 🙂

5) The NHL playoffs have been amazing. As a big hockey buff, it’s almost everything I could ask for. Now, if the Rangers can win the Cup, well, that would remove the almost.

Okay, time to get back to work. Sorry if the post is even less proofread/grammatically correct than usual, I have figure out why one of our creations is acting up.

Mark

 

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Reflections from a quiet Sunday afternoon

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Sitting here in the office, on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, modifying my levels for our first game (20 down, 20 more to go), I got a bit more reflective than usual.  The result, well:

1) Two weeks ago I was speaking to an ex-Senior Executive from one of the game publishers and I asked him if he would return there under the right circumstances.  He answered quite quickly and said “No, I love the fact that now I only have to work with people who I like and respect.” I’ve thought about that answer since then and it makes a lot of sense to me. Now, I know most people aren’t fortunate enough to be able to dictate the terms/conditions of their jobs in the way that he can (and I can as well of course) but it really makes a difference when you are able to do that. I have nothing but respect for him as well as for those who stay somewhere because they need that job and have to “suck it up” in order to keep food on the table.  As I’ve said before, I know how lucky I am to not only be able to do that but also to be surrounded by a fine group of people all of which I both like and respect. To what my friend said, I would also add “and not have to work with people for whom a reality distortion field is part of their day-to-day existence.”  I’ve never been good at being anything but straightforward and while it has bitten me in the butt many times, I am not going to change that trait of mine anytime soon and I want this studio to be place where there is no room for a RDF and so far, CSE is exactly that. Oh, and for those who think that “reality distortion field” thing might be a subtle swipe at EA, nope. As I’ve said before the guys I reported to at EA never asked me to distort anything and they always have my respect for that.  And besides, if the day ever came that I wanted to talk about that kind of stuff, being subtle would never come into play.

2) As our game comes together nicely, I’m still blown away but they way our artists have been able to bring our ideas for our game’s inhabitants to life so quickly and with so much character. We’ve been working on this game for way less than a year and the things that they keep churning out just keep getting better and better. While this is certainly not my first rodeo, I’ve always been and remain deeply envious of people who can take a simple concept and bring it to life by drawing it. I can’t draw a lick and that is something I always wished I could do.

3) As I’m playing through our game I’m also blown away by how solid it is technically. Now, I know this doesn’t compare to an MMO in complexity but the way that our team has gone about programming this game has really made me smile. Our modular approach, heavy reliance on code reviews and other good practices may have made this game take a little longer to complete than it might have but it is more than worth it in the end.

4) The last three years have given me more time to spend with my family than ever before (spoken by the guy in the office on a Sunday of course) and for that I am deeply thankful. Growing up I was a gym rat which segued  to a gaming geek so it’s safe to say that I can be a bit “obsessive” about things at times so being able to spend more time at home, especially as my son prepares for the SATs, has been a really nice bonus for me.

5) Lin-Sanity will calm down and when it does, the Knicks will have a team that can really do some damage in the playoffs. They are not likely to win everything this year (the Heat couldn’t win in “Three Amigos Year One” last year) but next year looks interesting for them. They should have all their key players back and with a couple of tweaks they could be a serious contender for the title. The NY Rangers on the other hand, look capable of winning it all. I just hope Glen “I never met an overpriced player I haven’t liked” Sather doesn’t screw things up by giving away the store for Rick Nash (a great player but not worth what the GM is supposedly asking for him). Stay the course Glen, you have a really good team with a great young nucleus and some top junior/collegiate players. Don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

6) I’m still a big believer in Rex Ryan. Maybe this year will be the humbling experience that we all need every so often in order to grow as both human beings and in our chosen professions.  It’s amazing what that can do for someone.

Okay, enough for now, time to get back to the levels, now where do I put that…

Gosh, it feels like 1995 all over again!

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Folks,

There’s an old saying that you can’t go home again.  While I still believe that to be mostly true, the last few months have had an eerily familiar feeling to them.  As to why, well, here’s a look at some of the stuff that has happened in CSE during the Fall/Winter:

a) While CSE was desperately looking for a first-rate modeler to join our team, he appeared.  Eerily like when Mythic needed another artist ASAP and the talented Lance Robertson simply walked our door and asked for a job. Since joining our team, Mike has frankly, kicked serious ass;

b) I  drafted and executed a Term Sheet with another company and then wrote a first draft, hog-choker of a contract with said company.  We have a fine attorney, as we did then, but saving some significant money by me doing the grunt work is always a good idea;

c) Worked on a “Vision Document” and presentation  for two new games to show to our partner.  We were always “presenting” things to partners or potential partners back in the day.  The difference is this time, we don’t need to, as I used to say, “put on the Presidential kneepads” and beg for funding, now its to talk about JVs or distribution;

d) Got to work and hang out with an outstanding bunch of guys and gals, a team composed of a mix of industry veterans and less experienced folks who, working together, are focused on building a new studio and who are all excited about all the interesting opportunities in a growing gaming space;

e) Me, smiling broadly as the entire team contributes to our game both from within their work discipline and outside of it.  Our last two major design ideas came from our artists. That’s one of the many things that make CSE different from many (not all) other studios.  Everybody is part of the design, incubation and development process whether they are a programmer, artist, finance, HR, etc.  Lucas, one of our industry vets, confirmed that this was the first place he has worked at where everyone truly has a voice in the process;

f) The studio hired what should be our last major team member for a while, we now have everyone we need to be successful, now we just have to deliver.  It was the same back at old Mythic, we had a small team and we simply had to go out and make games that were fun to play;

g) Nerf guns firing within the office as people bring their kids and pets (including one very cool Bearded Dragon) to our space and bad jokes, puns and other assorted witticisms flow like water from the Nile (during its flood stage of course);

<<<drum roll please>>>

h) Back hurts again, not as bad as when I was walking around various E3s with a walker/cane/crutch but painful enough.

So, while this is not exactly the same as 1995, it is pretty damn good and I’m one happy camper.  As a matter of fact, I’m happier than I’ve been since the middle of last decade (way before the EA acquisition). And that alone makes it all worthwhile.  All in all, I consider myself truly blessed.

Mark

P.S. I’ll have a follow-up post that will focus on the guys and gals of CSE and why I think we have a real shot at success.  No guarantees as usual in this business but we are off to a great start.

P.S.S. More teaser goodness tomorrow.

Flame on!

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Okay, this should be interesting.  Glenn Beck has launched a new web site entitled TheBlaze.  I’m sure it won’t generate any controversy, personal attacks or rotten fruit hurled at him and I’m sure it will restore balance to the force and bring about world peace.  I can just imagine how his critics will have fun with the site and its name.  Tasty linkage here.

And just to clarify things, I’m not endorsing/criticizing GB, his views or anything else.  I’m just going to grab a nice big bowl of Edamame (I can’t eat popcorn on this damn diet) and watch the ensuing fun.

Mark

President Obama IS Muslim – Pruuf here!

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And besides that, he is also Christian, was born overseas, racist, hates white people, hates black people, is part of a polygamous marriage and has superpowers.  He also knows where Jimmy Hoffa is buried, can raise people from the dead, is secretly a communist and is a sleeper agent for an alien invasion force.  And this being the Internet, all someone needs to do is say it and suddenly, a whole lot of people believe (or say they believe) that it’s true, it’s true.

Now, to all of us who have spent way too much time on the Internet, we are used to this sort of stuff.  Accusations fly faster here than orders do at your local IHOP on a Sunday morning.  The fact that maybe as many as 20% of Americans believe that he is Muslim and/or was born overseas, shouldn’t shock anyone, yet it always seems to shock the journalists who then in turn, ask the prez if he finds the numbers shocking as well.  IDK, maybe they are all working on their best Claude Rains impersonation just in case Hollywood ever decides to remake Casablanca? I’m not surprised that 20% of Americans answered the question that way since you could probably survey people and ask them if they though William Shatner and Roseanne Barr ever recorded an operatic duet and many would say yes.  Well, maybe not that many but you get the point.

The real point though is that nobody should have to go through what President Obama is going through now.  He doesn’t get a free pass because he is the prez but he also shouldn’t have to answer the same questions over and over again simply because he is the prez.  And when he says “I can’t spend all my time with my birth certificate plastered to my head”, that sardonic remark sets more Internetizens reading his lips, looking for tells and then bashing him some more.  Unfortunately, this is all par for what became a worn out, par 2010, American golf course that is full of water traps, sand traps, bunkers (oh gawd, I said bunkers, conspiracy alert) and other assorted gotchas.  When President Bush failed miserably at pronouncing nuclear, the left bashed him, so now that the US has a Democrat/Progressive/Liberal/Communist/Socialist/Muslim/Martian president in office, it’s the other side’s turn to take potshots at the man.  What’s amusing in all of this is that during the election campaign, Obama was bashed because he was supposedly a devoted follower/adherent/love slave of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright who nobody would accuse of being a Muslim. In the real world, you can’t have it both ways.  Oh, never mind, it’s the Internet, of course you can.

FYI, I’m shocked as anybody that I’m writing a piece in defense of President Obama since when political discussions occur, I’ve sometimes been accused of being just a little to the right of Attila the Hun (which I guess puts me to the left of Glen Beck?).  As far as I’m concerned, since he was born in the US and he has said that he is Christian, why keep asking him, why keep the rumor going and worse, attacking him on it?  And since someone asked (though I thought I made this clear), I don’t care what religion he is.  I think that when anybody has to answer the same damn question time after time after time it doesn’t mean that the rumor is true.  Sometimes there is smoke but it’s not fire that is causing it, it’s somebody trying to blow something up your …

Oh, Mr. President, while you’re answering questions, could you please use your superpowers to tell me where my car keys are, I’ve misplaced them again.

Mark

Update: Made a slight change to wording for clarity’s sake.

Thank you – Bite sized, chunky peanut butter version

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Assorted thank yous, bite-size and gathered together for tasty goodness.

Mike Crossmire – Mike was a friend of mine before he worked a day for me at Mythic.  Mike was one of the earliest members of Old Mythic (pre-DAoC) and I’ve known him forever.  Mike is a very talented artist, a hard and loyal worker and somebody who doesn’t come into work with an agenda other than helping to make great art.  Well, other than trying desperately to survive in the lan-based shooters we played at OM, when Brian “The Assassin” Axelson would frag poor Mike repeatedly and the howls would shake the building.  So, unless a team needs a talented artist who is also a killer at the latest and greatest FPS, Mike would be a great fit. And even if being that good at an FPS is a requirement, Mike is worth an exception. 🙂

Scott Jennings – We hired Scott at the perfect time.  He really needed a job and we really needed a DB programmer who could code fast, code well, code cheap and who wanted to take a chance with a small barely funded team in Fairfax Virginia.  He came in, saved our bacon (on more than one occasion) and I was proud that I hired him.  Over the years we have certainly have at times wanted to express our opinions of what the other was doing rather, ahem, forcefully but he really came through for us when we needed him so many years ago.  Much kudos to him for that.

Mark Gagne – After we did the deal with TA Associates, Mark came on-board as our CFO (the first true CFO we ever had).  Even though he came in through TA (which of course made us sort of suspicious), Mark (and TA) proved that he was there for one reason only, to help us become a better company.  I’m proud to say that I also considered Mark a friend and he did a heck of a job for us over the years.  After the EA acquisition his job was done and he started his own company.  He’s a very smart and talented guy and I still miss going out to lunch with him and talking sports and life (he was a die-hard Red Sox fan but nobody’s perfect).

TA Associates – After the success of DAoC, a number of VCs wanted a piece of Mythic as they loved the subscriber model and our ability to do a MMORPG for only 2.5M.  TA was the best fit of any of those companies so we did a $32M deal with them.  They got seats on our board and I got to know two of their people very well, John Meeks and Bruce Johnston.  While investor/developer relations are never perfect, they were as good as their word when it came to their promise not to interfere in Mythic’s operations.  They are a bright bunch and I learned many things from them.

Missy Castro – Missy was one of the first artists we hired and was part of the Old Mythic crew.  She was (and I assume still is) talented, a fast worker and one of those people who is a joy to have in an office.  She also had a really great dog who she would bring into the office.  When she had to move (though for a happy reason) it was a sad day for me and everyone else at Mythic.

Richard Aihoshi – ‘Jonric’ – I’ve known a lot of writers/journalists over the years and I always considered Richard one of the best in the industry.  Not only was he a great writer but Richard always treated us professionally and fairly.  By this I mean that he didn’t look to score points by being a jackass while at the same time, he was also willing to speak critically about our games.  One of the other things about Richard was that he never, ever broke an embargo (when journalists are shown things before they are ready for release at shows like E3, promo events, etc.) and when we spoke  off the record about things, he never used any of those discussions in any way for his (or our) advantage.  On a personal level, he is also a great guy and one of those people I looked forward to getting together with at E3, Mythic, etc.  I definitely miss getting together with him.

Mark

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday – August 29th

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As usual for this Sunday feature, a whole bunch of quick thoughts:

1) The J-E-T-S are not looking good right now.  A really disappointing showing against the ‘Skins, Calvin Pace hurt (and it looks like a minimum of 4 weeks according to published reports) and his replacement, Jason Taylor, taking more contact in Dancing With The Stars than he has had in the preseason.   Not what RR wanted to see from his team, I’m sure (this week’s episode of Hard Knocks should be full of more colorful language I’m sure).  OTOH, still no reason to push the panic button but not a great way to essentially end the preseason.  I’m hoping that when the season starts the offense (once it starts using its real game plan) will step up and the defense’s prodigal son will return.

2) The Jets cut Laveranues Coles today.  When they drafted him it was considered by many to be a controversial pick as he had some issues in college.  Once he got to the pros, he was a hell of a football player, a great teammate (by all accounts) and a standup guy.  Smart pick, smart guy and if his career is really over (and I hope it’s not and that the Jets pick him up after the season starts), a most excellent career.  Best of luck to him.

3) I’m intrigued to see how Guild Wars 2 Dynamic Event System works.  I’ve seen some stuff on the ‘Net where people have said it is just Public Quests renamed or just improved upon and the GW2 guys have been criticized by some people.  In interviews I did regarding PQs during WAR’s development, I said I expected it to be one of the most important features in WAR and I also expected it to be used/improved on by developers more than any other feature of the game.  All of our games are derivative from what went before us at some level anyway, so if other devs use and improve upon PQs, fabulous.  If the DES is derived in any way from PQs, I’m thrilled and I hope more devs use PQ/DES/etc. going forward.  If it isn’t derived from PQs, that’s great too and I hope it brings a new element to the MMO periodic table.  Gaming (MMO or otherwise) needs all the innovation it can get so wherever it comes from, I hope it works out great for them.

4) Here’s to GW2 and Final Fantasy XIV both being smash hits.  The MMO industry (and especially PC gaming) could use some good news other than Cataclysm (which will sell a ton of copies obviously).  Hopefully there will be some real spacing between the release of these titles otherwise, well, it will be interesting to see what happens.

5) What an awful summer movie season it has been.  I go to the movies a lot but this summer there seemed to be far fewer interesting/enjoyable movies to see.  Hopefully the Fall/Winter season will have some surprise hits and the big films that are scheduled to be released then won’t disappoint.

6) More pain resulting from the NYC WTC mosque controversy with a recent stabbing and destruction of property inside a mosque.  What didn’t get enough attention, at least on the national level, is how long it has taken all the parties involved to agree what to do with the WTC site itself.  The NY papers have taken the usual suspects to task over it as the years have gone by but the fact that it took almost ten years to get something moving there is ridiculous (story here).  Now even though it seems everyone is in agreement, the real question is how long will it take to get done.  At the pace they are going we may have flown to Mars and back by the time the new WTC site is finished.  I’m reminded of the wonderful, though historically inaccurate, portrayal of the NY legislature in the play/film 1776.  The delegate from NY were always abstaining because, according to the film, that in the New York legislature “They speak very fast and very loud, and nobody listens to anybody else, with the result that nothing ever gets done.”  Ten years, unbelievable.

Mark

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