Archive for the ‘ A Quiet Normal Life ’ Category

Snapshots of PAX East

If You Can Read This Sign

Red-shirted Enforcers, the utilikilt wearing stasi of PAXes, waving us back as the doors slam shut on the third level of the Hynes Convention center. “Balcony is full,” one of them says, conjuring the crowd backwards along the skylit corridor. Later, when we try to make it in for the Penny Arcade panel, they will give us the same bad news. By Saturday evening, I’ll have learned to expect this at every panel I want to attend.

But Are You Impressed?

A curly-headed kid in a grimy T-shirt going, “Whoaa! Whoaa! Whoaa! Whoaa!” as he plays the 3D-enabled demonstration of Metro 2033 at the nVidia booth. His eyebrows keep jumping above the black 3D lenses like jittery caterpillars. He is playing terribly, unused to Russian FPS’s with their ruthless and reliably fatal consequences. He takes careful aim at a monster’s head, but the shot flies wide and hits it on its shoulder. It looks up from its meal, doubtless another American gamer, more startled than angry. The kid shoots again while dust motes dance between him and the monster  (“Whoaa!”) and now he has its attention. It charges, and because I’m wearing the other set of goggles and am standing over his shoulder, I start co-piloting as he calls out questions. “How do I melee?”

“Try right clicking! Middle mouse! I don’t know, get the fuck out of there!”

“Whoaa!”

Tie Me to the Mast

I’m standing in a corner of the Compleat Strategist booth holding a copies of Memoir ’44, Ticket to Ride, and Carcassonne.  I’m explaining that Ken Levine, Soren Johnson, and Julian Murdoch have recommended each of these games, respectively. Surely those endorsements would appease MK if I brought this stack home? Tom Endo, my former editor at The Escapist and my wingman for this first day of PAX East, is giving me a knowing smile. “This is dangerous. You’re feeling it. You’re standing in a vortex of nerd energy, and you want to surrender to it. Maybe you should sleep on this.”

I Should Probably Buy It, Huh?

Time and again I see something amazing on a screen and ask, “What is that?” Tom says, “Bad Company 2.”

Bostonians Love It When People Do This

We’re heading a party at the TCS lounge and have no idea where the hell we’re going. As we pass the fire station on Boylston, I joke that we could go in and tell the firefighters that there’s a huge fire at the TCS lounge. Then we could just follow them. A moment later, Troy Goodfellow has knocked on the door to the firehouse and is getting directions from a stereotype: ruddy complexion and ginger hair, vowels that could span the Charles. Just as the fireman is about to go back inside, Troy turns to Jenn Cutter and says, “Now there’s your Boston accent.”

So Babe Wasn’t a Documentary?

Tiffany Martin is explaining why pigs are assholes and she hates them. “They’re not filthy or anything that people usually think about them. But they’re smart, and they’re always getting loose. And then you’ve gotta chase them, which is just a huge pain in the ass. It’s not like it is in the movies, where you’re running around with the Benny Hill music playing in the background. Pigs are smart, right? So they figure out what you’re up to. So you have to triangulate a pig and like herd it toward someone who can tackle it. Then you have to pick them up, and they make this sound. It’s like a human scream. Oh, and if you’re not careful, they’ll bite your hand off.”

Move Over, Saxton Hale

Tom Endo is explaining that he’d like to hunt coyote. “I don’t know why. I just really want to hunt one and, like, kill it, skin it, and, uh… I don’t know. Make a bracelet out of it. Or something.”

I Really Need to Do Something about My Weight… and Height… and Shoulders

Julian Murdoch, on meeting me in person. “My God, you’re a monster!”

Russ Pitts, on meeting me in person. “You’re huge. That doesn’t come through in your emails.”

Maybe Just a 1-Year Subscription

John Davison has just explained, during the “Death of Print” panel, that he was brought in to run GamePro because the owners wanted it to have an identity, to stand for something, at the end of its life. Jeff Green turns to him and says, “Wait a second. They brought you in basically so you could help this thing die with a little dignity, and you took that job?”

Somehow, Surely, You Could Make This Game Sound Less Interesting

At the APB booth, the producer is explaining what makes his game different. “It’s the three Cs – combat, customization, and celebrity.” In other words, approximately 1/3 of this product involves actually playing a game. In the background, it looks like a war has broken out between hipsters and cops, except that some of the hipsters appear to be cops. I see a firefight taking place amidst shipping containers. Despair threatens for a moment. Then he begins talking about character customization. One of the hipster character models appears on screen, her pants changing colors and style, her shirt getting longer and shorter. Then the guy working the demo machine zooms in on her narrow, sculpted ass and slaps Cartman sticker on her right butt cheek. I leave. I assume the third C, celebrity, involves an avatar sex tape.

PAX Break

I’ve been in a bit of a writing funk lately that’s been really frustrating me, and now that it’s finally ending and I have a million thing I want (and, for my editors, need) to get down on paper, it’s time to take a break for PAX East. That’s about the only downside, however, to a convention for which I am very excited. Yesterday I made the trek across the Harvard bridge, over the “Smoot” marking and past a major fender-bender – actually, let’s make that a crumple-zone crumpler – and arrived in Back Bay to meet Troy Goodfellow and some other writers for dinner. On the corner of Mass Ave. and Boylston, a large man wearing a too-small Ghostbusters T-shirt slammed into me while playing on a handheld system, and I knew I’d found PAX.

Then I promptly got lost, having not noticed that there is a jog between Hereford and Dalton, so I kept looking for a through street which doesn’t exist on the north side of Boylston. But I eventually found my way thanks to a laconically polite BPD patrolman.

Anyway, I highly recommend PAX-goers check out these helpful guides from the Phoenix’s Mitch Krpata: food, sights, and getting around. One bit of advice is so important, I must repeat it here:

Please don’t take your picture outside of Cheers, attempt to speak with a Boston accent, or wear any New York Yankees paraphernalia.

There. Mitch just saved your life.

I should also mention that the Eastern contingent of Three Moves Ahead will be having a little breakfast get together on Sunday morning. I will be there, as will Troy Goodfellow and Julian Murdoch. One or all of us may be savagely hungover, but there’s nothing for a hangover like bracing conversation! Here is what Troy had to say about it.

After checking reviews, schedules and locations, I’ve settled on the Trident Booksellers & Cafe around the corner from the Hynes Convention Center.

For now, I am planning on Sunday at 10 AM for the meeting, but I may bump it as early as 9:30 depending on a number of things. Don’t be afraid to come late, and please let me know if you plan on coming so we can try to get a reservation or something a couple of days ahead. I may have to leave by 11 to help with something else, but no one has ever needed me around to have fun.

I strongly urge you to come to this meeting if you like strategy games, Three Moves Ahead, or just some of the guys who are on Three Moves Ahead.

But where else might you find me during PAX East? Here are some panels that I am likely to attend:

  • Penny Arcade Panel #1 – Main Theatre – Friday, 4:00pm
  • The Future of PC Gaming – Wyvern Theatre – Friday, 10:00pm (this is a long shot for me)
  • Kotaku and Croal: In Search Of The Best Games Ever – Manticore Theatre -Saturday, 11:30am
  • The Death of Print – Manticore Theatre – Saturday, 1:00pm
  • Naughty Dog LIVE – Naga Theatre – Saturday, 4:00pm
  • Podcasting (f)or PR – Naga Theatre – Saturday, 5:30pm
  • Everything … About Game Journalism – Manticore Theatre – Sunday, 2:30pm
  • Sequelitis Snake Oil – Manticore Theatre – Sunday, 4:00pm

What do I look like? Well, take a look at this gentleman here and picture him with a beard, a black topcoat (if the weather stays cold) and surrounded by less vibrant foliage. He will probably be standing toward the side or back of a room, looking like he’s asking himself “What would Darcy do?” (probably not attend PAX). That is me, and you should absolutely say hello. We are, after all, members of the same tribe.

Scene in an Elevator

Yesterday MK and I were in an elevator with three other people, heading up to our apartment for lunch. After the doors closed and it started moving, I turned to her.

“So… while we wait for lunch to arrive you wanna… you know. A little Sins?” I smiled and wiggled my eyebrows.

“YES,” she said.

Then I realized the other passengers were giving us disgusted looks. And it occurred to me that they probably thought we were talking about something else, and didn’t hear the italics in the words Sins.

I turned red and directed my attention back to the non-judgmental elevator doors.

New Article and Weekend Note

I have a new article up at The Escapist this week called “A Gamer in the Kitchen”, and it is a near-total exercise in self-indulgence as I explain how cooking and gaming hit a lot of the same pleasure centers. While food was the theme of the issue, I have to admit that I was worried people would just say that I was stretching to make a connection that doesn’t exist. While I see clear similarities, there is always that worry that a personal perspective is just a little too individual.

Fortunately, most people seem to have gotten where I’m coming from and enjoyed the article. Now I have to go project my insecurities onto something else. I’m sure I have plenty from which to choose.

At any rate, I badly need this weekend. Between a podcast, a ton of blogging, finishing up production on another article that should (appropriately enough) go up on Valentine’s Day, and a lot of pitching, I am completely wiped out. Not unlike the gentleman across this library table from me, who put down his books, opened his laptop, and fell asleep on it.

So once I finish some proposals and correspondence this afternoon, I am going to get serious about relaxing. There will be drinking, West Wing on DVD, a new Adrian McKinty novel, unhealthy food, and lots of gaming. There will, under no circumstances, be work or thinking about work until Sunday afternoon. I hope you have a good weekend. I plan on having a great one.

A Brief Word about the Amazon Widget

Look to the right of this blog post and you will find a collection of recommended items relating to my current writing. If you purchase from Amazon through the links I provide here, I get a very small commission. But you already know how that works, so let’s talk about this blog and nasty, grasping commerce.

I primarily keep this blog as a place keep a portfolio, and stay in practice as a writer. It is not, and I never expect it to be, a money-making enterprise except insofar as it helps me generate more work. Still, it would be nice to defray some of the costs of running this website. Hence an Amazon widget, and the occasional appearance of an associate referral link, as a nod in the general direction of “monetization”.

A part of me that resents doing even this much. My encounters with sales have always left me feeling rather degraded. I remember once, the summer before I started college, I made the long, hellishly slow drive down US-41 in response to a want ad for sales reps. If I had been a bit more worldly, I would have realized that it was basically a Ponzi scheme, but I was desperate for a job and the ad called for someone with no discernible skills. So I found myself packed into a crowded conference room with about thirty or forty other men, most of us quite young but a few of us clearly older and recently unemployed. We were addressed by a twentysomething in a too-large suit wearing a watch the size of a tea saucer and a couple large rings on his fingers. He reminded me a lot of Boiler Room.

He wanted us to sell knives and cutlery, and talked about what great knives his company produced. God help me, but he cut through a tin can with a pair of shears and he cut through an old leather shoe. Then he talked to us about how much money he’d made the year before (it was a lot) and he put on a video from his mentor, who made even more money. And so could we! Now that we had seen firsthand how good, how cutting these knives were, would we have any objection to selling them to friends and family? Everyone agreed they were very impressive blades, and we’d be honored to have them in our kitchens.

Then the kid in the suit called us into his office for individual interviews. I sat down across from him and he said without preamble, “You know, Robert, based on what I’ve seen today, I think you’re exactly what we’re looking for in a sales rep. Do you think you could handle this job?”

What could you possibly have seen? All I did was sit and listen. But I didn’t say that. I said I could do the job, and received a packet and instructions to attend training the next week. I would, of course, have to buy a sample knife kit.

I never did. I knew enough to be uneasy and didn’t commit to anything, and my father explained how lead-generation works and what the job would really entail: sitting in the kitchens of friends, family, and neighbors with a case full of knives and mutual embarrassment between us. Once I had run through my acquaintances, the cold-calling would begin. He said that some guys are good at it, and are built for it, but he wasn’t sure I was. Then, driving the nail into the coffin, he said, “It’s sort of like Glengarry Glen Ross. Do you think you could do what Al Pacino does?”

Years later, just before I started freelancing, I worked at a really low-rent content mill. I’d say more about the place, but I’m not sure what the terms of my non-disclosure agreement were, and they were some of the pettiest motherfuckers I’ve ever worked for. Suffice it to say that users submitted articles for free, stuffed full of links back to crummy online stores that sold penis-enlargement pills. I felt like I was standing on a corner in the worst slum of the internet, listening to all the cheap hucksters and shills screaming at each other at the top of their lungs.

I USED TO WORK A 9-5 JOB NOW I MAKE $1000 EVERY HOUR FROM HOME!”

“THIS IS A PHOTO OF ME ON MY PRIVATE BEACH IN MAUI!”

That was my life and I hated it, and I hated the con artists who were wasting it even more.

I can live with the Amazon links because there are some things I will recommend that you might not have heard of, and if you’re interested you can buy them through those links. I won’t ever be pestering readers about buying merchandise they don’t want through my referral links. If you want the item, and you want to do me the favor of using my link, that’s great. But I’ve no interest in being a sales rep in my own internet home.

The other thing I should mention is that if I ever do have enough traffic to justify putting up ads or seeking sponsorship, I will be very, very picky. Whenever I see a “Local Mom Lost 50 lbs Following ONE GOLDEN RULE to a FLAT BELLY” ad, with some low-res snapshot of someone’s love handles, I feel a little queasy. If I ever saw an Evony ad on my own site, I would just want to burn this motherfucker down.

For the foreseeable future, though, it’s just going to be the Amazon links and widget. I’ll try to keep them both relevant to what I’m talking about here, and I’ll try to make sure I’m pointing you to things that are maybe slightly off the beaten path, but certainly worth your time. That is, I hope, kind of what this blog is about.

Accidental Hiatus

At the end of every year, I tally the books I read. Everyone in my family does this and we usually end up comparing reading lists around Christmas. My father is a very fast reader and can burn through a couple hundred books a year. I’m not as fast a reader and only ever managed around 100, but it was nothing to be ashamed of. Besides, I usually made it a point to read a wide variety of excellent books.

This year I checked my tally. 47. The worst year on record. Even allowing for the fact that I moved from Wisconsin to Boston, and was preoccupied with getting moved and settled for about two months, it’s a depressingly low number. To be honest, it’s also not a terribly impressive reading list.

My partner is on break right now and, even though I meant to stick to a mostly regular work schedule through the holidays, I’ve found myself getting more and more disconnected from games writing, world news, and even gaming itself a little bit. Instead of spending two hours a day patrolling my blog reader, I’ve spent days curled up in my chair, reading books. I haven’t given much thought to games, haven’t played them too much, and haven’t given Twitter more than a few passing glances.

Vacations, especially the ones you didn’t actually mean to take, have a way of pointing out things that are wrong and the ways they could be better. What I’ve realized over the past weeks is that I have let myself become to distracted, multi-tasked into oblivion. I read too much crap that I don’t care about, because for some reason I think it might be important to be able to say I’ve read something that, if I were brave enough to be honest, wasn’t worth reading. I spend too much time being immersed in “virtual worlds”, but never manage to get lost in a novel.

Now that vacation is winding down and deadlines are starting to dot the horizon, I am reluctantly conceding defeat and coming back to the internet’s hyperactive embrace. I have good friends here. But I will also be making more time for reading in quiet rooms, watching sports, and taking walks through this city that I am coming to adore. I hope that it makes me a better, more prolific writer than I have been in the last few months. I am sure that 2010 will find me a happier one.