28 January 2010

So Long Star Wars

There was some talk among freelancers as far back as GenCon of last year that the Star Wars RPG (published by Wizards of the Coast) was in trouble. At the very least, it wouldn't be seeing further support. Looks like it was more than just talk, as this post on the Wizards forums shows.

The salient details are as follows:

"After a lengthy evaluation, Wizards of the Coast has decided not to renew the Star Wars license with Lucasfilm. We’ve had a long and fantastic run, but with the economic downturn, we have made the tough decision to discontinue our Star Wars lines."

As a freelancer who had the privilege of contributing to a number of Saga Edition products, it's heartbreaking to see another good game take a dive. I'm hoping that another studio can take up the reins.

Update (1/30/2010)
There's a news item on StarWars.com about WotC's decision to ditch the Star Wars license. You can read it here.

25 January 2010

My Best (Cat) Friend

Well, here we are in Massachusetts, though we lost one member of our family in the process. Not that I feel the move was responsible for our loss, but it certainly set the tone for our long drive north from Fairfax to Maynard.

Merlin, my cat, died yesterday as the movers were loading our belongings into their truck. I had taken the kids out to the Fairfax mall to keep them out of the way. Just as we parked, I got a text message from Amy: "Please come back. Merlin just died."

Stephen's high chair was like Merlin's throne.

An unobtrusive (though not unfriendly) black cat, Merlin had been a part of my life for damn near 12 years. When Amy and I worked in the fan factory, the company owner had a couple of cats. After one of them (a fluffy white and quite nearsighted cat named "Mozart") met a grisly end beneath the tire of a passing car, he bought a new kitten who would come to be known as Merlin.

Merlin wasn't the first "Merlin" to rule the company roost. The original Merlin had succumbed to some kind of heart failure, and had been replaced by Mozart. The boss had a thing for black cats named "Merlin," so before long the newest Merlin became a part of the warehouse staff (which, admittedly, consisted of Amy and myself).

Coincidentally, Merlin's arrival at the fan factory corresponded to the death of my own cat, Polly. Polly was an inbred calico with extra toes, and I'd been very close to her. She died suddenly of kidney failure (an autopsy showed that she'd only been born with one kidney to begin with). I didn't want to get attached to the new kitten at work; I was still mourning Polly's death. But I couldn't help it.

As a warehouse cat, Merlin had a special love for cardboard boxes.

While Merlin was also an office cat, he was most definitely a warehouse cat from the beginning. He spent much of his kittenhood atop our workbench, sleeping, eating, playing, and cuddling. It made an otherwise unpalatable employment opportunity acceptable, and in time Merlin came to view me as his person (with Amy running a very close second).

As much as I loved Merlin, he wasn't my cat. He belonged to the boss. However, the boss being who he was, Merlin didn't see the kind of veterinary care that he really deserved. His teeth were in dire need of cleaning, but the boss wouldn't spend the money required to get the job done. Amy and I ended up taking Merlin to the vet, and we paid something in the neighborhood of $300 out of our own pockets for a variety of tests and to have his teeth cleaned.

When the boss heard about the vet bill, he did something that we didn't expect: He gave Merlin to us. We were all too glad to have the little guy, given that the boss permitted the factory cats to wander outdoors in a very busy industrial park (which is what led to Mozart's death). The cats were very much property items to him, and though I figure he liked them in his own way, I doubt he really respected (or viewed) them as living, breathing individuals.

From that point, Merlin came to live with us in our apartment. He adjusted rapidly, for an apartment has creature comforts not typically had by warehouse cats. Sofas, beds, pillows; all were his for the having.

Never has a cat looked so hip in a Halloween sweater.

He was my shadow, always looking for a quick cuddle (though he would likely cuddle for hours on end, if I'd let him). He was vocal, too, and we had a lot of conversations ... mostly about food, I reckon. At night, he would invariably curl up next to my head on the pillow, and if I was taking more than my share he would touch his cold nose on my cheek until I made room for him.

The night before he died was our last one in Virginia. He didn't seem particularly nervous or worried as the movers packed our stuff on Saturday. Mostly, he sat on the bar in the kitchen and watched as things happened around him. Later that night, I shared some left-over roast beef with him as Amy and I, devoid of internet access, watched Anthony Bourdain on television. That night, like many others before it, he slept next to my head.

Madeline and Merlin, cuddling.

On Sunday, when the movers came to load the truck, we put the cats in the bathroom to keep them from escaping out the front door. My last interaction with Merlin was scooping him up and depositing him in the bathroom with Amy's cat, Hastur. Of course, I didn't realize it'd be the last time I'd see him alive.

Amy found him later on, laying dead on the bathroom floor. From the looks of things, Merlin passed swiftly and without any real muss or fuss. He was about twelve years old, I reckon; maybe a little older or younger. Since our move to Virginia, he'd developed a cough which I suspected to be asthma or allergies. Despite a number of trips to a cat specialist and hundreds of dollars in tests, we never figured out what was wrong with him.

My hope was that the move to Massachusetts, as well as a new house, would alleviate Merlin's symptoms. Now I suspect the problem might not have been with his lungs, but with his heart. Still, it doesn't look like I'll ever know for sure. Though he seemed as calm as ever, perhaps the stress of the move was too much for him.

Bedtime will never be the same without him.

I'll miss you, Merlin. You were a good friend, always there when I needed you. I'll miss you sleeping near my head at night, sitting nearby as I wrote for this freelance project or that one, and staring at me, annoyed, while I devoted my attention to Warcraft or some other video game. I'm sad that you won't be here to share this new chapter in my games career with me, but I will never forget you.

Happy trails, little buddy.

11 January 2010

House Hunting, Day One

I viewed about six or seven properties today with the aid of my faithful real estate agents. Along for the ride was my friend Leonor, who I know from our mutual days at Mythic. The places got better as we went along, and on the way to the best of the lot (in my humble opinion), we were rear-ended at a stoplight by (of all things) a garbage truck. A FRICKIN' GARBAGE TRUCK.

I've been in one other rear-end collision, back when I was around 17 or 18 years old. That was a pretty major accident; I was sitting at a stop light, minding my own business, when a flat bed truck came from out of nowhere and turned my car into an accordion.

The differences between that accidnent is that I heard that truck's tires squealing as the driver attempted to avoid hitting me as I sat (quite stationary) in his path. Today's accident included no such sounds: no squealing tires, no screaming brakes, just the bone-jarring impact of a very heavy vehicle plowing into the car I was riding in.

I'm feeling somewhat stiff and sore. Whiplash is not a myth invented by litigious ambulance chasers, as many of you probably know. I expect tomorrow will be a kaleidoscope of full body discomfort. And before you ask, I've got a follow-up appointment with a chiropractor in the morning.

In any case, the police and fire department showed up to clean up the mess. The real estate agent went away in an ambulance, and Leonor and I continued onward with her business partner to view three more places (after securing another car to drive). The next house was, frankly, awesome. It's only got two bedrooms, but it's in a very nice location and it's very, very big. Hopefully I'll be able to secure it.

Of the last two places we saw, one was promising (though not ready for occupancy, as much of the interior is being finished). The last place, at least from the outside, was (as Leonor put it) "sketchy," so we opted to drive by and head back to the agent's office to get the paperwork moving.

In a nutshell, the day was interesting. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

10 January 2010

Back in the Saddle

I've got a job waiting for me now with 38 Studios in Maynard, Massachusetts. I won't say all the stress I felt was for nothing. It certainly was a learning experience. I got to spend a lot of time with my kids, for one.

My story of being laid off has been told, but I've been pretty quiet about the weeks and months that followed.

I started out sending resumes to every game company and studio with an opening that even remotely fit my skill set. I even sent my resume to some companies that didn't, in the hope that these blind overtures might pan out. I never expected to hear back from any of those studios, but one of them (38 Studios) contacted me after a mercifully short amount of time. For that, I am very grateful.

The initial email contact evolved into a phone conversation with the studio recruiter, followed by a phone interview, which was quickly followed by an on-site interview in Maynard. What I saw there impressed me, and it wasn't just what little I was shown of the project that got under my proverbial skin. It was the people, above all, that made me want to land the job. Everyone I spoke to brimmed with enthusiasm, talent, and (above all) excitement. They all loved the jobs they were doing, whether it was implementation, design, or art. It was like a breath of fresh air.

The on-site interview was a long process that lasted an entire day. I spoke to a number of people, all from different disciplines. I did a lot of talking, naturally, answering questions and asking a few of my own. At the end of the day I was exhausted, but hopeful, and I wanted it to work out even more. It went well beyond the fear of being unemployed and wanting a job. By that point, it had come down to a very genuine desire to lend my skills to a project that I could really, truly believe in and contribute to in a meaningful fashion.

The offer came before Christmas. It was the best Christmas present I could've hoped for, and I enjoyed my holiday even more knowing that there was something waiting for me ... even if it was nestled in the icy chill of Massachusetts. Lovecraft country, truly! And once we're settled, I plan to explore the places that inspired some of Lovecraft's greatest tales: Salem, Marblehead, Ipswitch, and Bolton.

Today, I fly up to Boston in search of a place for Amy, the kids, and I to live. I don't want to be away from my family, but I see the necessity of the trip even as I feel the pain and worry of leaving my wife and kids behind for a relatively brief time. Once we lock that in, we'll be able to get our stuff moved and start over in a golden (if cold) land of opportunity and adventure.

Yeah, I'm a geek. But I'm an employed geek, using his geeky skills to contribute to the future of MMORPGs.

Things are going to be just fine.