July 16, 2008

My E3, Come Back!

I am not sure what the deal is with E3 there days because I don’t buy this whole idea that E3 is too expensive to have it the old way. Last time I checked the industry has been growing each an every year and many reports state that the recession will have little to no effect. So what gives, it must be all that money being dished out to the teams actually making the games... nope. I mean come on putting on a show that gives the industry a week of positive media coverage must have its disadvantages, right? Well whatever the reason, the new show is asstacular… so indulge me in my fond memories of the real E3!

My E3 badges 1999-2006 (1998 is M.I.A.)

#10 – Crashing the Show
Making fake badges to gain entry in the hopes of landing a job in the industry. (It actually worked on both accounts)

#9 – Gotta Catch 'Em All
Battling people for Pokemon plush toys being fired out of a giant Pikachu cannon in Atlanta. I did not even know what a Pokemon was at that point but it was cool to catch them all! Oh yeah it was HOT as HELL in Atlanta but they did have Mo’ Better Chicken, great name, great food.

#8 – Kentia Hall a.k.a. Little Korea
I swear every crazy sprite based MMO known to mankind was shown in that hall at some point during the history of E3. Back in the day it used to be the best place to find free snacks but they too must have felt the money pinch because each year there was less and less snacks to be foraged.

#7 – The Pantry
If you don’t know then you missed out on the best place to eat during E3.

#6 – Exhibitor Badge
Oh man, you could go in early, stay late, go the day ahead of time… it was Glorious! Brady Games always took care of a few of us that used to write for them in the early days so thanks Christian, Leigh, and Ken! These people get extra props for bringing in Martin Leung to play any game theme under the sun.

#5 – Joel Jewett Face Plant
COMEDY, that is all I can say. Neversoft president drops into the half pipe at the Tony Hawk booth, slams face first into the ramp pulling off a jaw breaker grind. I heard there might have been alcohol involved but hats off to Joel for going all out. I wish there was a video of this because it puts the CliffyB chainsaw curtain entrance to shame!

#4 - Capcom Press Tournaments
Each year Capcom would hold these tournaments for the press but the usual suspects from the fighting game community would always sneak in and totally demolish the competition. I was fortunate to get into 3 of these, MvC2, SFEX2 and Power Stone. I lost to Alex Valle in SFEX2 and some crazy Cable shit in MvC2. Power Stone would be one of my lesser moments, as my first opponent was girl. All I remember was playing Gunrock, using the hammer and being boo’ed into the semifinals where I lost, sad day :(

#3 – The People, Friends, and Peers
I like playing a new game, talking to someone that worked on it. Talking games with old friends that have moved away to companies in other states or countries. Meeting people like Tim Schafer and him giving me the time of day, literally and figuratively.

#2 – X-men: The Next Dimension
The first game I worked on being shown at E3! There were these awful models at the booth dress like Storm, Psylocke, and Rogue, which we all know is code for this game is terrible. It was a proud moment to be part of the show for real but the game was really bad and I apologize if you bought it and hated it.

#1 – The Plush Carpet
The minute you hit the show floor there is this soft stuff under your feet making you feel all cozy. Sadly it is a horrible trick that soon wears off and leads to aching backs and sore legs at the end of the show. All that being said I miss that feeling under my feet so bring it back JERKS!

E3 is not always amazing, lots of headaches caused by loud music. Shitty crunch time leading up to the E3 demo always sucked. Traffic jams getting to Staples Center and the lame $20 dollar parking. Nintendo booth lines, they really have mastered the art of the queue. Smelly people! I am sure the list goes on and on but I want the old E3 back dammit!

I think Mouth from The Goonies said it best…
“Yeah, but you know what? This one, this one right here. This was my dream, my wish. And it didn't come true. So I'm taking it back. I'm taking them all back.”

Here are a few pictures from my very first E3 when none of us made games and life was a whole lot simpler. People were skinny back then!

July 7, 2008

Little Jimmy in Iowa

I recently went back home to Ohio to see my cousin graduate from High School. The trip was a quick 4-day stay full of family and friends that felt long over due, there’s just something about Ohio in the summer.

Anyhow, there was this graduation party for my cousin and her boyfriend where they told me one of their friends was really excited that I was coming because he loved the God of War series. Now I am not one for attention of any sort so I was feeling a little awkward about the whole encounter, luckily there was this amazing graduation cake there which I had 5 to 12 pieces of to ease my mind. Then out of nowhere my cousin taps me on the shoulder and says, “there he is, be ready”. The kid wanders around for a good hour before coming over to say “hey, don’t want to take too much of your time but I love the games and thank you”. I am like hey thanks, no problem, glad you liked them etc… and he starts to walk away.

Suddenly I get this flash back to a late night on God of War where Dave, Derek, and I are working on some battle tuning and Dave gets all pissed shouting “Little Jimmy in Iowa will fucking hate this”. It’s late mind you and everyone is on edge and we are like what in the hell is he going on about now. After a few minutes we get it and remember what it is like to be playing a game that feels like it was made just for you, the little guy out there bored and looking to be entertained. Dave wanted God of War to fulfill the promise of being made just for you, not for designers who think they are cool and clever, but a game made for that monster hiding inside all of us. So that became a motto for the team and one that you will still hear at Santa Monica Studios. No doubt David Jaffe has instilled this idea into the people at Eat Sleep Play for his upcoming projects. Hell, I made sure to pass it along to the Ready at Dawn team when I started working with them on Chains of Olympus. I am sure Derek Daniels has passed it on to the many teams he comes in contact with over at Activision. Even our good friend David Sirlin has adopted the phrase in a few blog comment posts and other media. It’s that good and everyone can get behind it and run with it, think of it as Babel Fish for ideas that will resonate with the masses!

Side story – example: I remember when Dave first showed me all the things that were unlocked when you finished the game for the first time, I was like AWESOME, I love that so much is unlocked at once… he goes “Really, not too much” to which I reply no way! A few days later some decisions were made about this and that with regards to the unlocking which significantly decreased what was unlocked that bummed me out. Well, when Dave saw this he threw a fit (rightfully so in this case) and said “If this is not fixed we will not get that AWESOME face lighting up that Eric had when Little Jimmy in Iowa finishes the game for the first time”. Of course it was fixed and the tradition of unlocking lots on first finish was echoed in all other GoW titles.

Sometimes a simple motto is all the team needs to drive the soul of the game home no matter if it is a puzzle, boss fight, or the reward for finishing the game. I believe “Little Jimmy in Iowa” became a decision-making filter for the intangible and incompressible parts of the vision so the game felt cohesive and consistent.

Back to my meeting at the graduation party, as the kid was walking away, I go damn this is living breathing “Little Jimmy in Iowa” or in this case “Not so Little Josh in Ohio”. I stop Josh and say hey what are you going to school for to which he replies Computers or something. We start chatting about how he might be able to get into games and what to take in college. At the end I was smiling knowing that we hit the mark with our motto and it made me very proud to be a game designer. So this one is for you Josh, take care and hope to see you at the table designing games one day for “Little Jimmy in Iowa”!

p.s. “Little Jimmy in Iowa” used in conversation by Derek Daniels

Mr. Barlog: Haha - of course you didn't get everything that you wanted (and for the record neither did El Jeffe) it was an exaggeration to get a point across. Your job (or anyone doing your job) is to push the team to get the most out of them and to do what is best for the game. Your job's #1 priority should always be about the game (aka little jimmy in Iowa). The producer's job should be able to figure out how to get that done without killing the team.

p.p.s. Just think it could have been you Missouri, you’re in the middle too.