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

 

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.

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

Look Mom, I’m Blogging…

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Fair warning, the entry that follows is not funny, snarky, inflammatory, etc. and probably isn’t what you are expecting from me. It’s a piece that I knew I was going to write once I made the decision to start blogging. So, unless you want to read a serious, sad and possibly maudlin piece, please stop here, do not continue.

In one of those delightful ironies that life seems to love to throw at us, the month of September has become one of the most challenging for me. First, we have the ongoing anniversary of September 11th. Like many people, especially those New Yorkers like me, this is a day I’ll never forget for a host of reasons that I won’t go into here. If that wasn’t enough, it is also the month in which my mother told me, two years ago, that she was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. It is also the month I was born as well as the month that my mother died. And of course, it is also the month that WAR is coming out. So, why I am telling you all this? Well, maybe there’s a lesson or two or three here.

It is now the first anniversary of the day I went up to NYC to spend the final weeks in Sloan-Kettering to be with my mom. Until she died, my sister and I took care of her, keeping her happy and calm, lying to her about her condition and doing everything we could to make her remaining time with us as peaceful as possible. I instituted the “Lois Rules” (my mom was a devout Yankee fan) which was that no doctor, nurse or family member would do anything in front of her to upset her. Every day I read some of the final book of Harry Potter to her (thank you JKR my mom adored your work) and when she lapsed into a coma I still continued to read to her but yet she still reacted to both the funny, scary and sad parts. The doctors and nurses were amazed that she stayed with us as long as she did for the cancer had spread rapidly at the end but we’re a family of fighters so I wasn’t too surprised. And on my birthday, still sticking to the Lois Rules, I continued reading to her hoping I could finish the book before she was taken from us. And I swear to you, when I was done, she seemed to relax and stopped fighting the inevitable. A few hours later, she died peacefully with my sister and me holding her hands and talking to her, telling her how much we loved her.

If you are still reading this, you may be wondering why I’m sharing this with you. It’s in the hope that maybe something good can come out of it. Now, I won’t preach to you about how important it is to be with the people you love or tell them you love them or anything like that because quite frankly, we all should know that by now and if we don’t, well there’s a million other people telling us the same thing. Over the decades we tried to get my mother to quit smoking (no, this isn’t just an anti-smoking ad), she wouldn’t no matter what anyone in the family said to her. Her answer was always, “Well, it’s my life and if I lose a few years toward the end of it, that’s no big deal”. Well, that’s exactly what happened and I know from spending the last year with her and how the chemo and radiation made her feel that she might have changed her mind. I also know that she realized that she was going to miss out on a lot of things that she now wanted to see. As the saying goes, life comes at us very fast.

So, as to what I hope may come out of this are as follows:

1) If you are doing something in life or doing something with your life that could shorten it, think about how you may feel if you suddenly find that the piper has come for his due a bit earlier than you expect.

2) Take the above one step further and then ask yourself how your family or those that you love and love you will feel if they have to spend what remains of your life watching you slowly die by inches and no matter what, how they will feel when you are gone.

3) And possibly the best lesson that can be learned from what my mom went through is when she was told she had to quit smoking, she found the strength to do what she swore she wouldn’t or couldn’t do before and she went cold turkey and quit. She found the inner strength and willpower I knew she always had; I just wish she had done this decades earlier. So if you have been thinking about or would like to make changes in your life but wonder if you have the strength to do it, you do, you just have to want it badly enough. If my mom could quit after 50+ years of chain smoking, you can change your life too. Just make sure you do it before it’s too late and somebody you love is thinking the same thoughts that I am tonight, that I wish she was still here with us so she could call me up to complain about the Yankees or to ask me when is the next time I’ll come up to see her in NYC. I would give anything for that.

I turned off comments so please don’t comment on this piece anywhere on my blog. I didn’t write this for me alone, it is also, I hope, for at least one of you reading it. If this piece has moved you in any way and you want to do or say something nice in return, what would make me happy is that if you know someone in the similar situation to my mom that you tell them you don’t want to lose them and that you want to help keep them with you for a long time. And if that person happens to be you well, you know what to do.

In closing I’ll simply say I love you mom.