24 March 2014

Another Sporadic Update

I really should try to update this blog more often. I don't usually think about it, to be honest. Life consists of work, family, and the occasional game. Is there really enough time to write on my blog? Or, better yet, do I have anything interesting to say?

This evening I'll be appearing on my friend Peter's vidcast, Mythwits, to talk about games, gaming, and (of course!) my contributions to WildStar. If you're free and willing to listen to (and even watch) me discussing the creative endeavors of my life, tune in. The show starts at 9:30pm EST (that's 6:30pm for all us west-coasters).

Work at Carbine has been hectic. WildStar is set to launch in June, and there are plenty of things for me to work on in the meantime. This is pretty exciting, overall. I haven't launched a title since the late lamented Warhammer Online went live. There are some parallels to WildStar and WAR, but not many. WildStar is definitely its own beast, and one that I'll be proud to see running free out in the wild.

I've also continued to freelance. Most of the projects I've contributed to haven't been announced, so I can't so much as tease you with generalities, much less specifics. One title has been announced, though, and that's Fantasy Flight Games' Age of Rebellion. It's the second of FFG's Star Wars role-playing games. Whereas Edge of the Empire covered the fringes of galactic society and the scum that dwell there, Age of Rebellion focuses on the war between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance.

My contribution to Age of Rebellion is the adventure that appears at the end of the book. I'm very excited to see it in print later this year. I haven't had an RPG product with my name on it since Galaxy of Intrigue was released by WotC back in 2010. Part of the reason I stopped freelancing back then was lack of time, but I think it mostly had to do with Wizards' loss of the Star Wars license.

Ever since, I've missed freelancing. I mean, it's awesome being able to write about the things you enjoy and to create things that other players will find interesting and fun. Plus, it's Star Wars, which I've loved since I was three or four. My kids are also coming to grips with what their dad does, both in the office and when he wears his mercenary freelancer hat at home. My little girl spotted a book I'd worked on years ago (the Future Player's Companion) and was delighted to see my name on the cover.

As far as gaming is concerned, I'm still plugging away. My home gaming group and I have been playtesting my last freelance project out (sorry, I can't tell you what it is). It's been fun so far. At work, I started a Hollow Earth Expedition game with six of my co-workers. We've played one session so far, and it's going to be interesting to see where it goes.

Oh, and this morning, I found out that Dave Brockie died yesterday. Dave was the lead singer for GWAR, one of my favorite bands dating back to my high school years. I've seen them in concert about four or five times, the most recent show being last October. It's not like I knew Dave personally (though I did shake his hand once), but I've certainly enjoyed his antics. I wonder if the rest of the band will keep GWAR alive or not.

That's about it. Time to get back to work!

31 December 2013

Another Year Gone

I don't place much stock in the new year. I never make resolutions, but as much as I'd like to keep my eyes forward, I always end up looking back.

This was the first full year I've spent back in my home state of California since Amy, the kids, and I left for Virginia (and EA Mythic) in 2007. I'll admit, I like the familiarity of this place, even if a couple of things have changed since I was away. I'm not all that fond of Santa Ana weather (then again, I never was), and I could do with a bit more rain.

As far as my job goes, WildStar is a lot of fun... not to mention a whole lot of work! I continue to learn a lot and improve in my craft (I hope). There are a lot of great people there - folks from 38 Studios, folks from EA Mythic, and many, many folks I'd never met before I started - so I'm in awesome company.

One good thing that happened this year is that I was given the chance to freelance again. So far I've worked on four projects, and I've enjoyed the hell out of them all. I figure they'll start to hit the presses in 2014, and I'll have my name in print once again after all this time. That'll be a trip and a half, let me tell you.

Gaming... I've done some this year, though not as much as I'd like. Feels like there's too much going on, and I'm not as young as I used to be. After all, I turned 40 this year! Life goes by so fast, and it never seems like there's enough time to do all the things I want to do.

I'm trying to learn guitar, but I get increasingly frustrated at my fat fingertips. Practice makes perfect, I suppose. If I can write well, I can learn to play guitar... right? RIGHT?

So there it is. Not a lot to say, really. Not much of a retrospective. But it's the thought that counts. I'm looking forward to 2014, because there's a lot of great things on the way. As those freelance projects begin to come together in a more official capacity, I'll be sure to let you all know about them.

Happy New Year!

14 July 2013

Victory... for the Time Being, Anyway

I've forgotten just how exhilarating it is to hit a deadline. It feels pretty good, actually.

Even a small project (which, admittedly, would have still made me nervous back when I was originally starting out ten years) is nice to wrap up. Not that my current gig is completely wrapped up - I still have a few things to do - but I'm meeting my obligations as well as enjoying myself.

I've got my fingers crossed that this leads to more work. I appreciate you crossing your digits on my behalf, as well. Every bit helps.

I tried a different coffee place this time around - The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Oceanside. It's small, though there is abundant outdoor seating. If my monitor was easier to read in bright light, I might even sit outside. My impression is positive, overall. The staff is friendly, and coffee refills are a dollar. The wifi is a little on the slow side, and you have to refresh your connection every couple of hours, but that's not really a problem.

On a non-writing tangent, I was able to see Pacific Rim. It's about what I expected it to be, which is to say, I wasn't disappointed. No, it wasn't a particularly original film, but I still enjoyed it. It's riddled with a lot of cliches and the dialogue isn't always awesome, but I'm almost certain that was intentional given the film's roots. I enjoyed the action sequences a lot... how can you beat giant robots fighting giant monsters? It was all very well done.

Anyway, I'm going to wrap this up and get back home. My kids have demanded ice cream, and who am I to deny them?

07 July 2013

A Lot Out of Date

I just went through all the links to the right side of this blog and cleaned them up. The ones that didn't lead anywhere are gone, and some of the others have been updated.

About the only thing I haven't touched yet is my little list of published work and the links therein. Most of those products (if not all of them... sigh) are out of print. I'll have to go through and see which ones are still available out there, but I doubt many of them are.

Oh, well. I guess it goes with the territory. I've got a respectable body of work, but the nature of the industry -- the constant influx of new editions and versions of games -- means that there's a lot of "out with the old, in with the new" when it comes to the work I do.

I'll be adding new works to the list eventually. I suppose it depends on how easy I find it to slip back into the freelance mindset, balance it with both my home and work lives, and please the clients and companies that I'm writing for.

I want to do it. I know I can do it. Now it's just a matter of making it happen.

06 July 2013

Back in the Saddle... Again

When last we left our intrepid hero, he was jobless and thousands of miles from home.

Fast forward to just over a year later and he's back in California, employed by Carbine Studios, and working on a wonderful project. I suppose bad times come and go, and last year was one of the worst. Things turn around, though, eventually, and with the help of friends and whatever gods we pray to, we manage to get back on our feet.

This first post in, what...? Fourteen months? It's more or less a warm-up, of sorts. In addition to working at Carbine, I'm dipping my toes back into the pool of freelance writing and game design (and maybe even editing, given enough interest). Truth be told, extra money is always welcome... and if I get to work on an IP I love, that's gravy.

I can't say anything about the current project, except to say it's relatively small (in comparison to my past works), but it's an easy way for my client to try me out and see if I can produce what they need me to produce to the standards they require.

I'm also sitting inside an "It's a Grind" coffee shop in Carlsbad, of all places. Before I left CA for VA and EA Mythic, I used to do all of my freelance writing at the It's a Grind in Vista. That location went out of business, either just before I left CA or right afterward, but it was a great place to write.

The jury's still out on this location... it seems nice, overall, but we'll see how it feels to me once I've been sitting here writing for a couple of hours. Yelp reviews are largely positive, with one particularly scathing tirade amongst all the fanfare from someone who seemed to be protesting a bit too loudly. The iced coffee I ordered is really good, though.

Anyway, I better get to writing. I only have a few more weeks to polish off what I have to do, and I'd like to get it done ahead of schedule. First impressions and all that, after all...

Oh, and yes... I am gaming, actively. Not as much as I'd like to, but what else is new?

28 May 2012

It's Over Until It's Not

Being laid off is a very personal experience. This is the second time I've lost my job in three years, a risk that seems to go with the territory of game design. Is such a risk acceptable for a man with two small children to take? Should I turn my back on an industry I love in order to eke out a false sense of security in another, less volatile one?

Yes, 38 Studios is done, as is my time there. People have read the news, they've seen the clips on television. And if they haven't, well, they're probably not living in New England. It was a big deal here in Rhode Island, hearkening back to the days just over a year ago when we moved the entire studio from Maynard, Massachusetts to Providence. Back then, the folks around here were skeptical of us... and when I say "us," I mean the employees, too, not the company as a whole (though that's certainly been the case, as I don't know if ProJo has ever published a story about 38 that didn't try to make us look bad).

I was never personally affected by public opinion in a negative way, though I know some others who were. With me, it was my neighbors seeing my 38 studios t-shirt and asking if I worked for Curt Schilling. It was a minor (and fleeting) feeling of celebrity, little else. And to be honest, I was proud to work for 38, and I still am. 38 Studios was filled with the best people in the industry... some of the best people, period... and I was one of them.

I know people will have questions about the weeks leading up to the lay off. I can't really answer those. I only know how I felt, knowing that I wasn't being paid, not knowing how I'd make ends meet or keep the kids fed or pay the landlord. Simultaneously, there was the news, often being reported before we knew what was happening. It wasn't always accurate, but people will draw their own conclusions based on what they are told. We were in the news again, and in some cases, we were the bad guys.

I mentioned I'd been laid off before. While that was a frightening experience I'll not soon forget, it was also, in retrospect, a gentler one. It was November of 2009 and I was working for EA Mythic (now BioWare Mythic) in Fairfax, VA. We'd launched the Warhammer MMO, and it wasn't performing to EA's expectations. We'd already experienced two rounds of layoffs prior to that one, and I'd somehow survived the cut each time. Information was scarce; we knew it was coming, but the secrecy surrounding it was ironclad.

Despite everyone I asked telling me that I shouldn't be worried about my job, I was. No one is indispensable. I may be good at what I do, but at the end of the day I'm just a number on a spreadsheet like everyone else. I found out about my own termination a day or two early, confirming it with a friend who shall remain nameless. EA doesn't do these sorts of things without planning ahead, though, so there was a severance package.

It was close to the holidays, and it didn't seem like anyone was hiring. I sent my resume out to a dozen companies, reached out to friends and recruiters, but I got nowhere. And there I was, thousands of miles from home and not knowing what tomorrow would hold... Yet, thanks to the severance, I was still drawing a paycheck, still insured, still able to pay my bills and my rent and keep the kids fed.

I did find a new job fairly quickly... at 38 Studios. I'd never heard of them before. Heck, I'd never even heard of Curt Schilling before, not being a sports fan. I did my research and learned what I could about them (which, at the time, wasn't much). Still, the interview sold me and even if I hadn't desperately needed the job, I would've wanted to work there all the same.

Here I am nearly two and a half years later, once more without a job, three thousand miles from home. The experience is a lot different in many ways. Whereas at Mythic, we knew the storm was coming, the events at 38 came out of left field. No one knew the wave was coming until it was on top of us, and no one was spared. Each day was a painful experience of waiting for news, checking email, and trying to concentrate on the job at hand.

Over the two weeks following 5/15, days filled with stress and gloom were occasionally punctuated by days of hope and optimism. But the former definitely outnumbered the latter, and by the time the email went out on 5/24, it was almost a relief. I certainly wasn't spending the days waiting for the end like a deer caught in a spotlight. I was looking for work right away, though I wasn't exactly crowing about it. The longer it went on, the more certain I was that we'd gone past a point of no return.

I'm a father of two, as I mentioned earlier, and I have no clear means to support my family at the present time. I have some irons in the fire, sure, and I'm hoping one of them pays off. I'm sure one of them will, but it's tough to speak of such things in absolutes due to the superstitious fear that I may somehow be wrong. I don't want to go through this again, but in this industry, lay offs are about as common as elves and dwarfs. What kind of stupid am I to stick with this sort of job?

Can we make the same mistake twice, being that the second incident is a conscious choice on our own behalf?

I love games. I've been playing games of all kinds since junior high school. Tabletop games in the beginning, computer games after I begged my grandparents to buy me a Commodore 128 when I was in middle school. Games are such a part of me that I can't imagine life without them. Now, making games--writing for games--is a dream come true. I could (maybe) go back to a purchasing job, but I'd never make what I was making at 38 (or even at Mythic) doing that. To top it off, no job is 100% secure, and lay offs aren't restricted to slaves of the games industry.

In this industry, it's passion that drives us. The passion to create worlds, the passion to play in them, the passion to learn and become better and chart new territory. The passion to prove that we can do it, and the passion to show that we can stand up after being kicked to the curb and do it all over again. It's not easy, no, and nothing we do is guaranteed to succeed. It's a gamble, yes, but so is every other decision we make in life.

So I'm sticking with it. My days at 38 Studios might be over, but I'm not done with this roller coaster ride just yet. You can't know what it's like until you've done it, and while there are many parallels out there that compare to the thrill of launching a game, there's nothing quite like it. Maybe someday I'll throw in the hat, but not yet.

09 March 2012

I Hate Chaotic Neutral

Just sayin'.

It's the alignment of "whatever I want to do," and I suppose it works to a certain extent. But it's one of those alignments that everyone really likes for some reason, and I really think that reason is that it's all about random amorality.

Neutral is a similar boat, but that's somewhat more manageable given that it's all about balance. If you consistently play a neutral character too far to the left or right, then you're not really playing a true neutral character.

The odd thing is, I don't have much to complain about in the games I'm running (well, I suppose I do, but I won't get into it). But going over first level characters, I'm always wary when I see "CN" scribbled in for alignment. Most of the time, Chaotic Neutral is played like Chaotic Evil Lite.

Anyway. I think it's more challenging for players (including myself) to take some kind of moral stand. Even if it's "Evil," it's still something. And while Evil PCs tend to lead to lots of inter-party strife, they can also add an element of fun insofar as character interaction is concerned. They don't need to be mindless killers.

Anyway. I'm done. Oh, and Happy New Year.

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