Log in

Thank you for following me on LiveJournal! I just wanted to let you know that I've moved my blog to a new site. Mostly I wanted to make sure I had


so I could keep it out of squatters' hands!

Anyway.. you'll find a wordpress blog there where I'm going to continue my "20 Years and Counting" stories about the past 20 years in the game industry. I hope you'll join me there!

Thank you!


American Laser Games/Her Interactive

... and I continue my 20 years in the game industry posts... just cuz it's kinda fun to go back and remember stuff!

So, after almost four years of working at Origin Systems.. before, during and after the EA buyout, the inevitable layoffs came around. I was let go in the first round of what came to be known as "the night of the long knives."

It was horrible.

Because of the intensity with which we worked and the demands of the company that we employees make the company our life.. when they let people go they didn't just let them go. They demonized them... I guess this had to be done by the managers and the teams to convince themselves it was OK to lay off someone who had essentially become a family member. I guess in some way they had to convince themselves you were "unworthy" of being in the family any longer. And while I was laid off.. not fired... the accusations were quite cruel and quite false.

Once you were let go, it was a bit like being "shunned" in the old religious sense of the world. The doors just shut on you and that close, tight family you had been a part of for so many hours and days .. all closed ranks against you.... ceased communicating with you completely.

I'll never forget my first day of being unemployed. I got up as usual. Put the dogs out. Showered. Got dressed.... and then sat on the side of my bed. I was numb. I finally called my friend, Tim, who was still at Origin and all I could say through the tears was, "What am I supposed to do now?" For almost four years my time had been completely filled with Origin. With that gone, I was adrift. For the first time in my entire life I felt completely abandoned. It was incredibly difficult.

I left my "Origin Star Performer" badge I had just been awarded the previous quarter taped to my white board.

For the next nine months I was unemployed. I worked a string of temp jobs just to keep the roof over my head. Just a couple weeks before being let go I had closed on a little house in Cedar Park so I had a house payment to make. It was not a pretty time. But I skrimped and saved and put enough together to buy a ticket to GDC that year and worked as a volunteer cuz no way I could afford the ticket to get in. There I had two interviews, one with American Laser Games and the other with a little company called Square Soft.

They both offered me jobs as a producer and after much consideration I took the job with American Laser Games as they told me they were about to open up a division called Her Interactive to concentrate on making games for girls. (Yes.. I often wonder what my career would be like if I had taken the Square Soft job instead!)

American Laser Games told me they had a girls title named McKenzie & CO they'd had in production for full year and just needed me to come in to get it out the door for Christmas. Sounded good to me so I arrived on JUne 1, all ready to dive in.

THAT'S when the first surprise came.

I walked in the door the first day and was handed a big box with about 10 reels of shot movie film and a big three ring binder with a shooting script in it.

"Here it is," said my boss. "You just need to make a game out of it."

ME: Ummmm.... where's the code?

Her: Oh.. there's no code.

Me: Ummm.. where the design document?

Her: Oh... there's no design document

Me: Ummm.. how am I supposed to know what goes where and what this is?

Her: Oh.. see that guy there? (points to a fellow in a cube) He's the only one who really kind of has an idea of that. Oh.. and he applied for your job but we turned him down.. and demoted him too.

Me: -- blink --

Her: OH.. and it has to ship in Nov 1.

Me: OK.. so.. it's June 1... that means we have to beta October 1.. alpha Sept 1.. that gives us three months to do this... right.. *sigh*

And so I began the third worst crunch of my career. (Ultima VIII being the second worst crunch)

The execs started trying to get someone.. ANYONE to be willing to serve on the team. Unbeknownst to me, this project was a snake pit that NO ONE wanted to be involved with. But.. with some cajoling and pleading we finally got a team put together, albeit a reluctant one.

Our first task was to identify what we were gonna write the silly thing in. After a very short debate, we decided to use Director. We ended up making Director stand on its head and whistle dixie... we had it doing things it was NEVER intended to do. My programmers performed what I can only describe as pure magic with that program!

At the same time, I started by going through the shooting script and just trying to figure out what exactly they intended to do with each scene. I had scores and scores of flow charts taped up all over my cube. It was just nuts. Time and time again I'd run into a situation where I had one branch of a decision tree figured out, but there didn't seem to be another branch. So I'd go to the fellow who's job I'd taken and ask him. He'd lean back in his chair.. laugh .. and then shrug his shoulders and say, "Mmm.. don't think we shot anything for that."

What I found was, in a lot of the decisions in the game, only what the founder felt was the "correct" decision for the player to make had been filmed. For instance, at one point the player was asked by her grandmother to help with a charity bake sale. A couple of scenes later, the player is asked to go to a party with her friends that happens to be at the same time as the bake sale. The player was presented with a choice... go to the party or help with the bake sale. The problem was... only the scene where she went to help her grandmother was filmed. There was nothing filmed for if she made the decision to go to the party! Sooo.. I had to either delete the decision points or figure out a way to have a decision point. It was a very trying and difficult process.

Then I had the problem of trying to explain to a fairly green team how the scenes needed to go togather. At one point.. I printed out the scene number and a brief description for each scene on individual pieces of 8X11 pieces of paper.. which I then taped to the wall .. and used different colored yarn to show how they all connected.

We spent the next three months in 6 day a week crunch getting it out. And that's when I found out my boss wasn't exactly.... stable.

Here's an example:

One day she showed up in my office and told me she'd figured me out. I was intending to take over the company from her. That I was an egotistical bitch who had an agenda to overthrow her and take the company from her. Needless to say I was a bit flabbergasted by this but managed to get her out of my cube and just wrote it off as her being in one of her "moods" again.

She showed up later that day.. apologizing and telling me she was sorry she was such a bitch to work with.

The next day she showed up in my daily team meeting and repeated the accusations again .. in front of my team. Then... after lunch that day I arrived in my cube to find a card stuck in my keyboard. It was one of those cheesy motivational cards with an eagle on the cover and inside said "Together we can fly" with a long rambling hand written message about how with me leading the project we couldn't fail and were going to do such great things.

The next day she called me again.. and for 45 min went on about how I was trying to steal the company from her.. and finally devolved into that she thought I was trying to steal her husband from her too. The leader of one of the other teams walked by my cube several times during this looking at me with very worried eyes as I just sat.. listening in complete shock to the crazy insults and accusations. Finally I got her off the phone. Then at 4:30 that day I got another call from her. She asked what I was doing. I said I was still working through the script files. She asked me to come over to the administration offices immediately (they were across the street) So I did. As I got out of my car in the parking lot, she came out of the front door and tossed something to me. It was the keys to her Jaguar convertible. She told me she had made me an appointment with her personal massage therapist and that I was to take her car over there... because I had been working so hard that I really deserved this.

ANother example:

The very next week I got a frantic call from our audio engineer and composer. Seems that our boss had called him in late night on a Sunday and asked him to come in and play some of the music for the game for her.

Now *she* had chosen a musical group called The Strawberry Zots to do the music for the game and the idea was we were going to include a disc of theirs in the box along with the game (and a free makeup sample... but more on that later) However, she had heard something in one of the songs she didn't like.. so she called Gino in to play it for her. One of the songs had the following chorus in it:

I've got a little secret
I've got a little secret
A silly little secret that no body knows

She looked at Gino and said, "So what's the secret?"

Gino said, "I don't know... it's a secret."

She said, "Well.. we have to know. We have to know what the secret is!"

Gino said, "But..I don't know what it is."

So Patty had him find out who the songwriter was... and call him... in the UK... right then. Of course it was in the wee hours of the morning for the songwriter. But our boss asked him what the secret is.. and he said, "I don't know.. maybe she's going to leave her boyfriend?" And the boss got VERY upset. "We can't have that! We can't have anyone singing about breaking up in our game!" With that, she slammed the phone down and told Gino to rip out all the songs in the game.

Did I mention this was about three weeks to gold master? Yah... big fun.

Anyway.. more on the looney bin that was American Laser Games/Her Interactive in the early days when I post next time.

Thank you again for walking down this crazy path of 20 years in games!
Thank you for the nice responses to my 20 years post. I figured I'd go ahead and post some more. This one will probably have mostly to do with Ultima VIII and Lost Vale.

I'm always amazed at the responses I get when I mention Lost Vale. So many fans want to know all about uit! Yet.. at the time.. it was such an unpopular product at Origin plus the environment it was being produced in was atrocious.

We has just come off the Ultima 8's death march, crunch. It had been 10 months of mandatory 12 hour minimum days, 7 days a week. Only in the last month or two did they start to give us a Sunday off every other week or so.. so we could do laundry.

They would bring dinner in for us so we wouldn't leave, cuz they knew if we did, we would likely not come back. Toward the end I was pulled in to my lead's office and told that I needed to find someone else to go to my house each night to feed my dogs - because it was taking me away from the office way too long in the evenings after dinner. ....but.. enough bad memories...

Anyway... Lost Vale.. let's see.

* It was after Ultima 8 shipped and we were exhausted. Warren Spector called me, Lisa Smith, Rob Corell into his office to tell us we were on the U8 add on. I will be honest and say we were NOT thrilled. We'd all had just about enough of U VIII and wanted to move on. But, it was a chance to do stuff, so we did it.

* the premise behind Lost Vale was a group of people had been locked away from the rest of Pagan and were still following the "old gods." These gods , the villagers believed, lived in a city at the top of a cloud shrouded mountain. It was forbidden to attempt to climb the mountains to see the gods. Two young boys, however, decided to see if they could do it, and attempted to climb the mountain. They fell to their deaths. At the same time, the Gods seemed to stop answering the prayers and withdraw their support for the people of the valley - taking away the seasons and causing crops to wither. The two families each blamed each other and a schism occured with the two sides blaming each other for the absense of the gods. They abandoned their town and seperated into small villages on either side of the valley..and a cold war was begun. Into this the Avatar arrives.

* I can't remember the name of the two "tribes" but I think they were based around the boys' names. One of the tribes, we (and ... actually I'll admit it.. it was my idea.. ) decided to make them talk like Yoda. This seemed like SUCH a funny, good idea ... in the beginning. After three months of writing the dialog.. Lisa gave up and said "Here.. YOU translate it..." so I ended up having to go through all the conversations for that tribe and making them all sound like Yoda.. OMG.. SUCH a bad idea!!!!!!

* One of the characters was a long time veteran of this war and we decided he was a PTSD victim. He had nightmares and flashbacks and was uable to work... one of the Avatar's quests was to help him.

* There was a woman who was the "wise woman" of one of the tribes. She wanted you to help fix this problem ... she's the one who sends you to "wake up the gods" and climb to the top of the mountain. But.. before she does that.. she sends you to get a particular plant from her garden. When you walked in to the garden. When you entered the garden, the gates slammed behind you and the plants attacked. They were also very poisonous. You were poisoned.. on a timer... and only had so long to get the antidote (which.. unfortuantely.. escapes me at the moment.) Come to find out.. she didn't trust you would actually help the people of the valley and so to make sure you will, she holds the antidote as a way to ensure you will finish what you start.

* When you finally work your way up the mountain (a jumping game) you find the cloud city is actually abandoned. There are no sleeping gods. The player must try to figure out what happens. Now. .. when you first entered the city.. you were hit by a magic spell. This magic spell pulls ALL your equipment from your body and sticks it to an obelisk in the center of the city. You have to figure out how to get it loose. The answer was in a room full of candlesticks. You had to light the candlesticks in the shape of an ankh to get it to release your equipment. (And.. I might add.. that was my work.. and probably the LAMEST design I've EVER done!!! LOL!) ANyway.. you finall figure out that the gods aren't asleep.. and they aren't gone.. they've been trapped.

* there were a ton of small side plots that I don't specifically remember.. but I do remember that to get to the room where the gods were sealed in amber, you had to use the TinyTar spell.. a spell which shrunk the avatar down to a tiny little miniature version of himself. This started as a joke. John Watson figured out how to do it and showed it to us. We all thought it was really funny.. so decided to make it an important part of the plot for Lost Vale. You had to cast it and enter the ruins of the temple there in protest. Seems to me you had to reassemble the two halves of a shield there to free the gods.

* Lost Vale was finaled and gold mastered. The eve of it being sent to the publisher to be reproduced, Warren told us the decision had been made to not release it because U8 had just not sold enough copies. We were also told at that time that they didn't really have anything else for us to go to and that we had better start talking to other projects to see who might want to pick us up.

Some of the Lost Vale memories.. more from 20 years of games in future posts!

Looking back on 20 years in the industry

With the 30th of October being my 20th anniversary in this industry, I thought I'd take a minute and look back at some of the moments I remember and share 'em. I'll start with Origin Systems....

** My interview at Origin Systems culminated with an interview with Dallas Snell. Michelle Cadell (sp?) took me in to his office. He didn't turn away from his computer, but sort of waved a hand in the general direction of a chair. I hesitantly took a seat and Michelle left. Dallas continued to type for what seemed to me to be 2 or 3 hours. Finally he stopped.. swung around in his desk chair, leaned forward, put one hand on his knee the other on his hip, narrowed his eyes at me and said, "You're here for me to decide if I LIKE you." I was TERRIFIED.  Well, I guess he did, cuz I got the job but I spent the next year ducking and avoiding him as I figured if he ever decided he DIDN'T like me, I was in trouble!

** I spent the first month at Origin with no computer. After two days, I brought in a little Trash 80, just cuz I wanted SOMETHING to work on. That afternoon Jeff George (a producer at the time) walked in and said, "What's that?" I said, "It's a computer." He said, "Is it yours?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Well.. get rid of it! If they see you have a machine on your desk.. even one like that.. they won't get you a machine! Take it home!" I did.. and it still took a month to get a machine.

** I spent a couple of months researching the correct usage of "thee" and "thou" and then going through every conversation in Ultima VII to make sure it was being done properly. Then Richard and Raymond  went over them and some of them were changed back cuz they liked the sound of the incorrect way better.

** "Sparky" the little boy in Trinisic who follows you around in the beginning of Ultima VII was written by Raymond Benson  and based on his son. The idea was cute, but the character got annoying really fast.. particularly for the testers. They would regularly  dress him in a dress and then starve him to death until he became a ghost following you around. Raymond really didn't like this. Raymond also wrote the "barks" for the party as they followed you. Iolo saying "Let's sing a sea shanty" when you came close to the ocean was one of the most infamous.

** My first office at Origin was a "fishbowl." It was on the second floor in an interior office with big windows into the hall. My desk was pushed up against one of those windows so it was a bit like sitting in the hallway. (Coincidentally the office directly across from me had a window into the hall too... and was occupied by Steve Beeman!) On about the third or fourth day at my new job, I heard the sound of Kazoos. Then down the hall came a HUGE bunch of helium balloons (obscuring the person carryingi them) and a parade of people all playing Taps on their kazoos. Of course I had to join the parade and see what in the world was up. We made our way through the building to the smokers' porch. There the person with the balloons stood up and gave a speech commemorating the valient work of G.I. Joe and his contribution (as the rotoscope subject) to the Wing Commander project. They went on to talk about how they were now sending him on to his next assignment. And sure enough there was a GI Joe tied to the bunch of balloons. He had a note tied to him, telling whoever found him to report his location back to Origin and we'd send them a copy of Wing Commander. Then with applause and laughter the balloons were released and GI Joe was lifted high in to the sky. And.. actually about six weeks later we did get a call. He'd been found in an oil field outside of Houston Texas!

** Originally Bill Armintrout and I were doing the initial design on Serpent Isle. The mandate we were given by Richard and Jeff George (the producer at that time) was that it was to be about the conflict between Brittanian magic and VoDun (VooDoo) magic. And that the island was to be called Serpent Isle because it we were suppoesed to make it in the shape of the snake necklace that Richard wore (and still does, I think.)  So I spent a month at the UT LIbrary checking out and reading books on VoDun as that was my side of the design. We'd been in design about three or four months when there was a "re-org." Jeff George quit and the game was given to Warren Specter to produce. We were told to essentially toss everything out and start over. I recently gave the maps and docs from the earliest part of that design to the Origin Museum.  

** It was during the reset of Serpent Isle that I came up with the Order + Chaos = Balance religion that made up the base of the current Serpent Isle. I had it all on a white board in the office and was trying to explain it to Bill Armintrout. Bill refused to see it and kept saying "You can't add things that aren't numbers. This makes no sense. Things like that don't add together. " I got SOO frustrated with trying to explain it that I pulled in Brendan Seagraves and explained it to him. He saw that it made perfect sense and then he explained it to BIll.. and only then did Bill "get it" and agree to put it in the game. Prem Kirshnan and I then worked on putting it together and coming up with the final components.

** Brian Martin and I worked on a title that was never released called Arthurian Legends. The basis of the game was Brian's idea and was based on an event he had developed for his SCA group. It was a title we were originally working on under Richard and then it was moved to Warren. Warren wanted a game where you chose a Knight of the Round Table and then played his adventures. This is where I started my "but what if the player is female? There are no female knights!" And we convinced Warren to let you play as your own character and just work with the various knights. Brian wanted the game to be based strongly in the actual Arthurian Legends, not the Disney-fied versions. So we went to school on the legends and build an entire game where you basically helped each of the knights with their specific quests in your quest to save Camelot.

The game had actual art done.. maps... quests.. everything, but people kept getting leached off the team to other teams. Brian and I voiced our concerns. Warren took us and the rest of the team (all four of us) to lunch at Fuddruckers and told us not to worry that he'd just come from a Producers meeting and the hopes of the company were riding on this project. But still folks got leached away. Finally it was just me and Brian... and then one evening, Warren walked in and told me the game was cancelled. Brian wasn't in the room at the time, so I had to break it to him. We were heartbroken.

Before we left that night, Brian laid down in the common area that was right outside our office and I went around his body with masking tape... like a chalk line... we added the outline of a crown and the outline of a sword. We then draped our door in black cloth and put up a sign that said, "The King is Dead. Long live the King." .... and a very odd thing happened. The next morning when we arrived, there were flowers by the outline. as the day wore on more flowers arrived.. and a candle.. and some coins were put on the eyes... and a poem arrived... it was uncanny. This went on for several days with the alter growing more and more. Finally, we were told we had to take it down, because there was a press junket coming through and they didn't want the press seeing it.

I truly believe that on some level we knew that this was the death knell for Origin. It was the last of the truly grass roots games in production there.. the last one that was conceived championed and put into development purely by the actual developers, with no support or input from the executives. It was actually, kinda the end of an era for the game industry in general as it was also during this time that we were all adjusting to the very recent EA buy out of Origin.

** I want to dispell one of the biggest myths surrounding Ultima's. Lost Vale, the Ultima VIII add-on not only existed, but was completed and ready to gold mastering. It was not actually replicated and distributed because they felt that Ultima VIII had not sold enough copies to warrant the expense of selling an expansion for it. How do I know this? Because Lisa Smith and I were the designers on it. I do not believe ANY archive of it exists at all because at the time Origin had no real official "back up" policy. Nor did they have any process or procedure for saving anything that wasn't critical. So.. nothing was saved from those days. I will post some things about Lost Vale in my next posting.

It's kinda fun strolling down these memories.. I hope you're enjoying them too!


20 years and counting

So, today is a  momentous day for me.

It's my 20th anniversary of being in the game industry.

Some how.. this doesn't make me comfortable.

In fact.. just the opposite. It's got me rethinking my role in this looney bin.. why I'm still here after the tons of abuse and heartache and sleepless nights it's caused.

It's been a long rocky road. I spent nine month unemployed after getting laid off from Origin. I guess a smarter person would have left the industry at that point... but I didn't. I begged borrowed and stole my way to GDC (CGDC as it was called back then) and worked as a volunteer to be able to get in.. all to try to find work, which I did. I got my job at American Laser Games in New Mexico from that event.

Funny thing is, I got two offers at that event. I also got an offer to be a producer with a little company called Square Soft (as it was called back then) but I turned it down to take the job with American Laser Games. That is a road not taken that I often wonder about. Of course, it was American Laser Games that gave me the freedom to research the whole gender issues in game development.. and hence the book, GDC Game Developers' Choice award and onward.

I remember very distinctly the day I made the decision to pursue the whole "gender and games" thing. It was a very serious and deliberate decision for me. I knew that going to bat for women in games would probably be the death knell for my career. I knew that it would label and pigeon hole me. However, I do not think I realized what exactly that meant. I know I didn't expect the name calling and the complete ostracization by many men and women in this industry. And..I certainly didn't expect to EVER be referred to as "old news"... as I  hear I am being referred to now when I apply to speak at conventions. It's particularly disturbing when there are still SO many issues surrounding gender and ethnicity in this industry.

And, I can't say it hasn't hampered my career. When I was named to the top 100 women in games list by NextGen, I actually was told by someone on the Women in Game Dev mailing list that they objected to my being there as I "really not a designer.. more of an activist."

Wow did that hit hard.

So.. let me say this. the one thing I"ve learned in 20 years is this. ...

I am a game designer.

I eat, sleep, breath game design. I think about it non stop. I design games constantly..the entire Gender thing was something I thought needed to be said because it was a deficiency in our industry and certainly a market we were missing. I didn't think we could afford to be leaving out a market when we were such a young industry. That and *I* lIked games and thought that other girls should too. 

So.. here I am 20 years later from that first day when I showed up at Origin Systems in a dress, hose and heels, cuz to do otherwise just seemed odd to me... and was given a tour by my office mate Bill Armintrout whereby the programmers looked at me and said, "Ah Bill, that's not fair! You're married!" o.O

At lunch today, my coworkers asked me if I thought I'd still be here in 5 years. I said yes, I probably would be. I still have alot of games to make yet and alot of things to say. I hope the industry continues to give me the chance to do it!


Academics and Game Development

I've been thinking about this for a while and know that it's gonna ruffle some feathers, but there have recently been a couple of  articles and at least one speaker from the academic world who, to me, epitomize why game developers just do NOT have any respect for the academic world.

First off, let me say that I have the utmost respect for a great number of academics who are currently doing work in the area of games. Their stuff is insightful and helps us to build a solid foundation from which to continue to build better and better games.

... and then there are these guys.

First, is David Myers, a professor at Loyola University. He published a "study" in which he played City of Heroes (CoH)  as a character named Twixt. He set out to build a PVP character and then see what the response was to the concept of a hero who summarily always fights and defeats "villian" player characters.. regardless of situation or setting. 

In CoH players are either "heroes" or a "villians." The two factions can only interact in declared neutral areas where combat is actually impossible, such as the social club or in the PVP zones where combat is possible. Myers decided that in PVP areas he would always, without fail, fight villians,  and he would use * any means* possible to defeat them. Sounds all right at first blush, until the you realize that he decided to use methods which had been decided by the society of players as "unacceptable."

Myers then went to conduct what essentially was one long Breaching Experiment. in which he would purposefully break the unwritten social rules the players had set up to see what the societal reaction would be.

For what it's worth, Breaching Experiments have been around a long time. A breaching experiment studies people's reaction to an experimenter who breaks small, everyday rules such as "Don't litter, use a trash can." The strength of the reaction is taken as an indication of the strength of the rule. The interesting part is these experiements are so well understood now that Breaching Experiments are often used in job interviews to measure a candidate's stress response. 

Apparently the societal rules within MMOs are pretty strong as Myers got very strong, negative reactions from people. Initially the community talked to him and tried to explain the "rules." Myers continued breaking them. The community got angry and ostracized him. He continued to break the rules. The community shunned him and in some cases became verbally abusive, with threats to him personally.

Now here is where I get sideways with Myers. He performed a breaching experiment. People responded the same way in a virtual world that they do in the physical world. That is kinda interesting as it means we carry the concepts of the breaching experiment with us into virtual spaces. But rather than focus on this, Myers did nothing more than express completely SHOCK that he had been verbally abused. He went on to write a paper (yes I've read it.. a couple of times now) and is actually doing speaking engagements on how completely shocked he was and "Oh how terribly violent is the virtual world!!!!!" 

Really? REALLY? He preformed a breaching experiement and was shocked when the people reacted like... well.. people in all breaching experiments? Come on! He's a professor of sociology! He should know better than most that breaching experiements and the human response to them are VERY well documented! So that he would act  with surprise and shock when people respond to the breaching experiment with anger is perposterous. And it is nothing short of ridiculous for him to not only perform the behavior, but then act bewildered when the threats become more violent the longer he breaks the rules.

If he really wanted to look at the interesting results of this "study" he should have focused on the fact that PVP'ers actually DO HAVE rules of behavior. Not only do they have rules of behavior, but when someone broke one of those rules, they made it a point to explain the rules to that person! 

But no, instead he chose to concentrate on the senstaional. The "OMG I WAS THREATENED BY PVPers!! OMG! OMG! YOUR CHILDREN ARE IN DANGER! " Well, I guess it works for the main stream media today, why woulnd't it work for him? 

So, I'm gonna call BS here...  He isn't doing a new experiment here. In fact, what he's doing has been going on since the first Masters' thesis was written about the social dynamics of Everquest.  These aren't academic works. They are justifications for someone's MMO habit!

Case in point number 2 -

Dmitri Williams at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, carried out the study with colleagues at Indiana University, Ohio University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute. He told New Scientist that the mismatch between real-world and videogame populations could be excluding some groups of potential players from games."

Sooooo.. WHERE exactly has this person been for the past 15 years? I (and many others) have been screaming this from the highest roof tops! It is the basis for all my work in women and games. And this person gets a grant and academic acclaim for proclaiming it? This is just crazy.

Like I said.. there are certainly a TON of academics out there who do really fascinating and incredibly useful work. Nicole Lazzaro's work on what is fun, Carrie Heeter, Jasmin Kafi and other's work on gender in games... on and on the list goes. But it's "academics" like the two above who play on the media's love for the sensational that bring down the credibility of all scholastic work in the area of games.

As long as things like that continue to grab the headlines, game developers will continue to have no respect for the world of academic research and games. ANd that's too bad as there is SO much good that can come out of these two groups working together!

Germany and GDC Europe!

I'm in Germany for the GDC Europe. This is my first time to GDC Europe and my first time to Germany so I thought I'd record my thoughts about the event.

GDC Europe:
Frankly, it has one of the best VIP suites of any conference I've been to.. period. The room is large enough that everyone can find seating and it's comfortable and within discreet distance from each other so that business meetings can be had. It also has a nice mix of casual seating as well as tables and chairs. There is plenty of power and the refreshments are simply out of this world. The little salmon and caviar on sliced bagettes in the morning is just delicious. The assortment of German pasteries is scrumptious. Really really nice!

The panels have been a mixed bag. Some have been quite good.. Don Daglow's talk was, as usual, inspirational as well as informational. Steve Meretzki's talk on casual games was a bit beginner level, but he's always fun to go hear. Some of the panels have been not quite as good. But, for the small conference it was, overall I'd recommend it.

I'm learning many things in Germany... for instance:
  • The red area on the sidewalk that is outlined in white is the bike lane. Enter it at your own risk as the bikes DO NOT slow down!
  • The escalators that aren't moving aren't necessarily broken.. they operate via a sensor and will start moving when you step on.
  • Drug stores don't sell drugs.. not even asprin. For that you have to go to an Apotheke.
  • The train ticket vending machine doesn't take bills or debit cards.. coins only so come prepared or you'll have to hike somewhere to get change.
  • The little icons on the train ticket vending machine are a bit obscure. The little tiny stick figure was obvious a child.. but there were two "regular" sized one.. one which had little white lines on its legs and one that didn't. Apparently the one with the little white lines is the sneior citizen one... why I don't know
  • Tomatoes here taste AMAZINGLY good!
  • They have no ice here... no where.. not any where at all. I ordered a fountain drink from the Subway sandwich shop.. turned to the drink fountain to fill it and .. no ice dispenser! ACK!
  • In restaurants, there is no water on the table and when you order it you will be given a bottle of water for a fee. No free refills on anything.
  • "Sticky Waffles" are neither waffles nor are they sticky! But if you want a complete sugar rush like non other. I highly recommend them!
More as I encounter them!

Job Interviews Gone Bad

There has been a thread recently on the women's dev list about the mistreatment of job seekers during the interview process. We were asked to post stories... I thought I'd post mine here instead.

Now, I don't usually tell horror stories.. cuz I just don't think they do us much good. I'd much rather focus on positive forward growth in the industry.  But.. sometimes.. when I get to cataloging all the things that have happened to me during my journey in this insane industry... I think maybe sometimes I should tell these stories, if for no other reason than folks need to know I didn't just blythly skate to where I am now.. it's been a rough and, at times, very painful road.

So.. here .. in a nutshell.. are some of the most awful game industry job interview things that have happened to me:

  • My first job interview where the fellow who would be my boss shut his office door.. turned off the overhead lights (leaving only one small table lamp and the light in his 100+ gal aquarium on) and proceeded.. for 2.5 hours.. to tell me how the game industry had ruined his marriage.
  •  The interview where after a full day of questions (10am to 5:30) the CEO brought me into his office.. propped his feet on the desk and put his hands behind his head. He leered at me for a sec then said  "Well, you sure have the experience we are looking for.. but.... you know... we just don't think you could make *real* games." (a sports game company with no women.)
  • And the interview where, after a day long bunch of questions (most of which I quickly figured out were to pick my brain) I was taken out "clubbing" during which they all got very drunk (I nursed a glass of wine.. I don't like to drink at business functions) .. they then put me in a taxi back to the hotel and told me "You sure seem to know your sh*t.. but.. we have a 'fraternity' here... and we don't wanna do anything that might upset the camaraderie. You understand, right?" (yes.. and all male, traditional console game company)
  •  But... I think the absolute worst was one right here in Austin. I submitted an application for a production position with a game company that had a reputation for being open to hiring diversity. They called me..said they were interested and wanted to interview me. So they set up an appointment.
I arrived, as usual 10 min early. The receptionist didn't know I was coming and didn't seem to know what to do with me. She called the person who had set up the appointment... and asked me to take a seat. Which I did... for 45 min. Finally the person came and got me and took me into her office. There she asked me one or two VERY general questions and then excused herself and left me sit her in office... for another 30 min.

Then she came back and said she needed to find other people to talk to me.. and took me to a conference room.. where I sat for another 15 min. Finally a young guy walks in. He introduces himself and says he's a "junior designer" (read - intern) and was told to talk to me. I quickly found out he was a HUGE Ultima fan and I spent the next 30 min answering his questions about Ultimas and working at Origin. He then left to find someone else... I sat for another half hour. He popped his head back in and said everyone had gone to lunch...and left. Leaving me to find my own way out of the building.

yah.. good times...

How we got started racing Corvettes.....

This post is also non-games related.. but a lot of people have asked me how I went from showing dogs to racing Corvettes... well .. here's the tale! 

One afternoon after work in 2000 after Sheri has just followed Tim home and watched his 1991 Dodge Stealth blow blue smoke for miles.

Sheri: "Tim,  your car is smoking."
Tim: "I know. I'm taking it to the mechanic tomorrow."
Sheri: "OK"

{next day}

Sheri: "What did the mechanic say?"
Tim: "He said I need a new engine. It'll cost $6k."
Sheri: "Um... your car is worth about $2K."
Tim: "I know... I'm gonna find someone who will do it cheaper."
Sheri: "Why don't we just get you a new car?"
Tim: "Because I want to fix it."
Sheri: "Ooookay."

{Two weeks later}

Sheri: "Hey.. what's the update on your car.. it's really smoking now."
Tim: "Yah.. I found someone to replace the engine for $3K."
Sheri: "Um.. that doesn't change the fact your car is worth in total $2k!"
Tim: <turns on TV.. loud.>

{9am that Saturday}

Sheri: "Tim.. wake up.. come on.."
Tim: "huhh? What?"
Sheri: "Come on.. we got to go."
Tim: "Go? Where?"
Sheri: "Don't ask.. just get up."

{rest of day is spent taking Tim from sports car dealer to sports car dealer... from Mustang to Porsche..trying to get him to look at sports cars... with no luck...}

{At Corvette Dealership}

Sheri: "Wow! This blue Z06 is beauitful!"
Jerry the Salesman "Here.. would you like to sit in it?"
Tim: <arms crossed, looking out window> "No... not interested."
Sheri: " .... "

{At home that evening}

Sheri: "Wow.. you really weren't too cooperative when I wanted you to try out those sports cars."

{30 min of spirited discussion follows}

Sheri: "Look... what would you say if.. oh.. say.. Jim.. told you he was going to put a new engine in his old Forester?"
Tim: "... <blink> ... I'd... say he was an idiot."
Sheri: <nods>
Tim: " .... "
Tim: "Can we go back and look at that Corvette?"

And so we went back and bought the Corvette.

{three weeks later}

Tim comes in back door.
Sheri: "Wow.. your face is very pale.. what's wrong?"
Tim: "I put the car sideways getting onto 183."
Sheri: "EEK!"

{next day}

Sheri: "Hi Jerry? You were talking something about drivers events? ... yah... The Drivers Edge? .. do you have that number? OK...thanks.. I'll call 'em."
Sheri: "Hello Drivers Edge? I'd like to buy a gift certificate for one of your driving events."

{Two weeks later}

Sheri: "Happy Birthday Tim! You get to go to a high performance driving event."
Tim: "YAY!!!!"
Tim's Mom: "AHHH!!!! Just kill me now!"

{One month later at Texas World Speedway in Bryan College Station}

Tim: "I have NO idea what I'm doing but MAN this is FUN!!!!"
John DeAndre: "Hi, I'm John and I have no idea what I'm doing either.. but WOW this is GREAT!!"

{ two months later}

Sheri: "Hmm.. I think I want a new car too.. those new T-Birds are sure cute! Hey.. what's that place? Corvette Palace? Ooohhhh.. what is that in front? That yellow corvette convertible is just the prettiest thing I've ever seen!!!"

{One month later... as 2001 yellow C5 Corvette Convertible rolls off the truck.}

Tim: "Honey, you're SO going to love this car!"
Sheri: <just big stupid grin>
Tim: "Now.. turn about is fair play!"

{hands Sheri a gift certificate to The Drivers Edge for the next high performance driving event}

...and that's how Tim and Sheri got started racing Corvettes.

For the record:,

1. I didn't know that the high performance driving events were actually race training. I thought it was just one of those "learn to drive your sports car" things.. a one time thing. I had NO idea it would turn into such a complete lifestyle/hobby for us!

2. I'm not actually competing.. yet. I still participate in the non competitive high performance driving events..usually about once a month. However, if the next set of mods work out on my car.. i just MAY be heading to the time trials as well!

3. Tim, however, is competing in NASA Time Trials and has qualified for Nationals this year. We will be attending those in September in Utah at Miller Motorsports Park.

the Drivers Edge: http://www.thedriversedge.net/
NASA time trials: http://www.nasa-tt.com/

If you've got any questions about the track or road course racing/ high performance driving in Texas, just let us know! We are also founders of the Austin SpinDoctors.. Austin's premier road course racing club!

Wish us luck!

Misogyny today

OK.. this isn't even game related, but I just couldn't believe my ears.

So I heard on a local radio program that they were sponsoring a  "Spinner's Bikini Contest" at a local bar. Naive me asked a friend what a "spinner" was. He hesitated then told me it's "guy slang" for a woman petite enough that  "she can sit on your dick and spin around."



I didn't believe him at first. I mean.. I understood that there might be guy slang like that... but that a radio program would promote something that used this slang... that was simply the most horrifying thing I'd heard in a very very long time.

But.. I checked around and.. yup.. that's exactly what they meant. The contest was for "women under 5'4" and under 120 pounds." 


The really upsetting part is that when I mentioned this to several of my other male acquaintances, they  just gave me a sheepish grin and maybe an uncomfortable laugh and then muttered something that more or less implied I was being too sensitive.

Too sensitive? Right... OK.. so.... let's try an exercise. ...

Let's put it into racial terms...

What if they said
"Come on down to the Velcro Bikini Contest! Where we will have small black women in bikinis jump on a mini trampolene to see which one's afro will stick to the velcro on the ceiling!!" 

What do you think the reaction to that would be? When the NAACP came out against something like that, would anyone accuse them of being "too sensitive?" Would anyone today even consider doing anything like this? 

Of course not.

SO... if we wouldn't permit something like this on a racial basis.. why do we allow it on a gender basis? Why is it OK to treat women this way but not racial minorities? 

OK.. that's it for today.. I promise more game stuff later this week.