NETWORKING 101.2

2012
04.04

Networking 101.2

I wrote a bit about how to use Twitter and Facebook for networking, now I want to talk about conferences and business cards and how important they are to networking.

Again and again in this industry you will be told “it’s all about networking. If you want in, you have to network.” That’s great, but what does that mean and how do you do it? I spent a lot of time going to industry parties, standing around, uncomfortably with a drink in my hand, smiling and wondering what else I should do… what else would be considered “networking.”

Somehow, going to the parties wasn’t enough. I always wanted someone to tell me exactly HOW to network. I wanted the steps.

Well, after 20 some years, I finally figured out the steps and now I’m going to share them with you. Because no one should have to stand at loud parties with a watered down drink in their hand wondering if they were doing networking “right.”

So, here they are.. the steps for networking.

Step 1

Go to conferences. This is insanely important. You have to go to the conferences if you want in this industry. If you can’t afford them, then go as a volunteer and work. In fact, this is an even BETTER way to network in the industry. If you are a volunteer, then you may find yourself in a room alone with John Romero helping him get his talk set up. What a perfect way to make a connection! So, get to the conferences, volunteer if you can.

Step 2.

Get business cards from everyone you talk to. You’ve probably already been doing this and what usually happens to them? You bring them home and drop them on your dresser or your kitchen table. They sit there for a few days til your cat knocks them off and chases them across the floor. Then finally you scoop them up and dump them in the trash.

Not any more.

Business cards are your key to the world of game development.  BUT there will be a process to these cards. When you get a card from someone, immediately turn it over and jot down a note about where you met them, who they were with and some other information that will remind you of this person.  Then keep it in your bag until you get home.

Step 3

When you get home, sort through the business cards. Separate out all the cards from people who you think can help you in your career. People who are senior to you in the industry. People who are in management. People who are working on a project that you particularly are interested in.

Then, write those people an email.

That’s right. Write them an email. Re-introduce yourself. Tell them how pleased/honored/happy you were to meet them. Thank them for taking the time to talk to you. Mention something they said that impressed you. Then sign off.  Keep it to one short paragraph. No more than just a couple sentences.

Here’s the important part.

DO NOT EXPECT A RESPONSE.

It is highly likely that the people you will be sending emails to will be VERY busy. They’ve just returned from a conference, they are digging out from under a week’s worth of email and backed up client requests. They are swamped. So do not expect a response and DO NOT give up hope if you don’t hear.

Frankly, think of this as a thank you note for a gift. The gift they gave you was their time. You don’t expect a response to a thank you note, so you shouldn’t expect a response from these people.

Step 4

Four weeks after sending that first email to those people, send them another email. That’s right, you are going to write to them again. You will remind them who you are. Where you met them. Then tell them about something you’ve seen or read that reminded you of something they said or did. Do NOT make this a fawning fan letter. Do NOT go fanboi over their work. Instead, mention how something they said or did influenced something you did. Then thank them again for their time and sign off.  Keep it short. Keep it polite. Keep it professional.

Again.. do NOT expect a response.

This is where it gets tough. It’s hard to continue to reach out without any feedback. You will probably worry about bothering them or irritating them. You won’t be, I promise. And if you are, they will delete your email and never think about it again. But the chances of that are small.

Step 5

Now, about four to eight weeks after that second email, you are going to write to them again. You will again introduce yourself, remind them where you met them. And again, mention something you’ve seen, read or done that was influenced by something they said or did.

Now here’s the trick.

Ask them something they can answer in ONE sentence.  Ask them if they will be at PAX East. Ask them if they have a book recommendation. Ask them what game they think you should be playing right now. Anything that can be answered quickly and in once sentence.  If you do this, it’s much more likely you will get a response.  If I get an email and they ask me something that I can answer quickly, then it’s very likely that I will simply hit reply and answer that quick question.

Then.. voila! You have made a connection in the industry!

Now like any tender young plant, this connection takes VERY careful tending. If this person does  answer, then you should respond with a VERY short “thank you” AND THAT’S ALL

Do NOT take this to mean you are now BFFs and inundate them with questions and long paragraphs detailing your latest greatest idea. You are not. You are now business acquaintances, so keep your correspondence just that. Short. Professional. To the point.

However, they may NOT answer your question. They may not answer at all. Do NOT get discouraged.

Continue on the path. Every other month, drop them another email. Short, professional. Tell them something that pertains to them and how they have influenced you. Do NOT regale them with tales of your latest great game idea. Do NOT tell them how it sucks to be wanting in the industry and not be able to find jobs and.. for god’s sake …

DO NOT ASK THEM FOR A JOB!!!!!

This is not about them hiring you. This is about keeping your name front and center so that when someone, somewhere mentions that they have an opening for a young environmental artist (or whatever) that they say, “Hm.. there’s this person I met at GDC last year. They seem very nice and professional. Let me send you the link to their portfolio.” THAT is how networking works.

So, keep up this file. (In the old days this would have been referred to as a “tickler file*”) and keep up your contacts. Follow these people on twitter. See if they will friend you on Facebook. Then look for them at the next conference party and then, instead of standing there, holding that drink, you will actually find yourself engaged in conversation with exactly the people you need to, to enhance your career.

Good luck.. and next time you get a biz card from me, I expect to see an email from you!

*A tickler file is a collection of date-labeled file folders organized in a way that allows time-sensitive documents to be filed according to the future date on which each document needs action. Documents within the folders of a tickler file can be to-do lists, pending bills, unpaid invoices, travel tickets, hotel reservations, meeting information, birthday reminders, coupons, claim tickets, call-back notes, follow-up reminders, maintenance reminders, or any other papers that require future action. Each day, the folder having the current date is retrieved from the tickler file so that any documents within it may be acted on. Essentially, a tickler file provides a way to send a reminder to oneself in the future—”tickling” one’s memory.

First Look at Star Wars, The Old Republic (TOR)

2012
02.03

First Opinions on The Old Republic

I know a lot has already been written about Starwars The Old Republic (TOR) but I wanted to add my two cents to the mix.

Let me start by saying I like TOR.It’s a fun game. The writing is good. I wasn’t sure I was gonna like the voice overs, but I do. The stories are entertaining and I like the plot twists. Overall, I like it.

However, the play experience in TOR is vastly different from other MMOs, and I don’t just mean the voice overs and stories. I’m talking about the complete play experience. Now that doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means it’s different.

Let me explain.

Playing World of Warcraft, or City of Heroes or Lord of the Rings Online or any of the other major traditional MMOs out there is a lot like playing cards with friends.

When you play cards with friends, you all sit around a table, facing each other. There is the card game going on, and at the same time there is conversation going on between the players. This conversation may be about the card game or it may be about something totally random. But in either case, the focus of the group is inward. The interaction is between players. You can play card games until the wee hours of the morning.

Playing TOR is more like going to a movie with friends. You all sit, facing the screen, usually in silence or in only occasional whispered comments. It is usually a 1 – 2 hour experience after which you may or may  not socialize for a short while afterwards as you leave the theater.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a bad thing. I LIKE to go to movies with my friends. It’s just the focus of the group is different than if we were playing cards together. And, like the movies, I find that after 1-2 hours of TOR, I’m ready to go somewhere else where I can talk to my friends.

And before you suggest that I simply haven’t found a group yet, I will tell you that groups of my friends from two of  my previous MMOs, all of whom I played with regularly, if not daily,  all went to TOR and started a guild of which I am a member. In fact, I’m in several guilds. Still, I find that the experience is not inwardly focused. It is not focused on the group. Instead it is focused on the movie we are all watching. My groups are silent. There is no chatter in guild chat.  And why is that? Because we are each watching a movie in which we are the star!

The question is, does that matter? Is the story telling enough to keep players playing (and paying) for TOR? I’m not sure. I have found that I leave TOR after an hour or so and return to my former MMOs mostly so I can talk to people. I actually find I get lonesome after a couple of hours of TOR.

Now it is said that social stickiness is the key to MMOs. That it is the social that keeps people coming back and playing. What about TOR’s social stickiness? I’ll take a look at that shortly!

Thanks for reading!

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2012
02.03

You know, I started to write more for my 20 years in gaming.. but sorta came to a stop. The reason was.. if I continued further into time, the companies I would be writing about were all still in business.. and I didn’t want to get into trouble with any of ‘em. So.. I’m gonna take a break from writing this for.. oh.. another 10 years or so ;) .. but I will keep writing in the Random Musings section.. so thank you for reading this far!

2011
07.02

Ah, summer time! As a wonderful birthday present, Tim took me on a cruise leaving from Venice Italy and crusing around the Adriatic with stops in Slovenia and Croatia as well as two other ports in Italy. We had a truly amazing time and are fully sold as Cruise Fans!

Of course, I took a bunch of books on my trusty Kindle again. This time, because we had a lot of time on airplanes, I managed to get through six books even though we actually spent less time on the boat and more time on shore excursions than usual.

Anyway, I thought I’d go ahead and run down the titles I read, just to give some insight into some summer reading

  1. After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn

Many of ya’ll know my predilection for super hero novels. Before we left on the trip I spent some time in the Barnes and Noble, looking for books to buy on my kindle. I found this one and knew it would have to be my first book. The basic story is over a set of Superheroes who have been patrolling the city for close to 30 years. Two of the supers are a couple and have a daughter who hasn’t manifested ANY superhero traits. Through the story we follow the daughter as she comes to terms with her lack of powers, her family’s notoriety and her complex relationship with her father. The interesting twist is, we also follow the family as they come to terms with the fact that their time may be over and the next generation’s time starting.

I really liked this book. It’s the first by Carrie Vaughn that I’d read and I found it to be quite satisfying. I enjoyed the bits of realism it brought to traditional super heroes and also, although I saw it coming a long way off, was pleased with the revelation of the romance story. I recommend this as great airplane fare!

2. The Midnight Hour – by Carrie Vaughn

This is the first book in Vaughn’s well known werewolf series. I have enjoyed a number of my paranormal book series but have been totally horrified by the lack of quality in others. So it was with trepidation that I bought this one. However, buoyed by how much I enjoyed her superhero book, I launched into this series with this opening title

I enjoyed this, albeit not as much as her superhero title. Maybe it’s just that I’m not as much a werewolf fan. I did get a kick out of the reactions of the non-paranormals to the werewolves however and I did enjoy the story. I will even admit that when I got back to US soil, I went ahead and bought the second in the series, tho I haven’t read it yet.

3. Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

I’m ashamed to admit that I have never read any Neil Gaiman before this book. I don’t really know how he slipped past my notice, likely that I do not normally read comics nor graphic novels so somehow just didn’t manage to pick up his fiction either. Wow.. what a shame that has been! Neverwhere is a dark urban fantasy about a girl named Door from London’s “Below”  a fantasy dimension and what happens when a Londoner from “London Above” happens upon her lying injured on the street.

I completely enjoyed this story. It was evocative and interesting. Being a designer I’m always interested in new takes on magic systems. The idea of a family who’s magic consists of “opening doors’ was refreshing and I enjoyed it very much. That said I did find it a bit “fluffy”. Of course I didn’t realize at the time it was the compilation of a television series from the 1990s, which could account for the “light weight” feel of it. However, I found his writing to be delightful and his characters interesting. I will be looking for more of his stuff in the future.

4. Married with Zombie – Jesse Petersen

We all know that zombies are hot right now and this book is a fun  trip on the zombie bandwagon.  The story begins as our two heroes are going to see their marriage counselor. Imagine their surprise when they find their good doctor chewing on the arm of her previous patient. This begins their wild ride through zombie mayhem as they try to make it to his sister’s house and work through their marriage problems all at the same time.

This was the last book I read on the trip and I admit to being pretty tired on the flight when I read it. I enjoyed it and found myself chuckling out loud at times, but I really think I would have enjoyed it more if I had not been so tired. It was a different twist of the whole “zombie” craze and alot of fun to read.

I think if i had any criticisms of my book selection for this particular trip it would be that ALL the books I took were light and fluffy. They were VERY quick reads and I found myself kinda wishing I had a bit more meat to sink my teeth in to. But, it was a fun summer read and there isn’t one in the group that I regret spending the time on.

Does he fit in?

2011
04.23

I recently did a talk at the IGDA Leadership Conference on the top ten ways to get and retain diversity in your company. Lately, however, one of the the main topics in that talk came up again in casual conversation with a couple of industry veterans as we were talking about hiring for our companies.

“Finding qualified talent is really tough,” I said.

“Yah, and finding qualified talent that fits with our company culture is even tougher,” One of the vets responded.

“Huh,” I said, warning flags beginning to raise in my mind. “What do you mean by that?”

“Well, I mean, someone who.. you know.. fits in. Someone who we all would like to work with and who ‘gets’ us,” he said.

And there is one of the most basic problems in hiring in our industry.

How many times have you gotten an email notice that a candidate was being brought in for interviews and your scheduled time with them was from 3-4pm. You are only told ‘See if you like him. See if he would fit in.”

When someone is told this, what they are actually being told is “see if he’s just like you.”

Don’t believe me? It’s natural. We all tend to like people who are like ourselves. It is because we can easily identify with them. We share similar backgrounds and experiences. We ’speak the same langauge.’ We have common interests, likes and dislikes so it is only natural that we would feel most comfortable with those people who are just like us. And the converse is true. Someone who doesn’t share a similar background or experiences may, at first, not feel as “comfortable” to work with.

The problem with this is, while it may produce an office where everyone is very comfy working together, it also produces an office that is completely homogeneous. An office of people who are all alike in looks, background and even life experience. So, an office full of young, straight, white, able-bodied men will, unless coached differently, naturally want to hire other young, straight, white, able-bodied men. .. and this is how we end up with offices that are completely non-diverse.

To overcome this we need to stop the practice of, when all things are equal, hiring the candidate who is most ‘like us.” This means we have to train the people who are doing the interviewing on *what exactly* to look for. Skill sets, experience, tools, problem solving. And we need to not even mention the  “do they fit in.”

In short, we have to be willing to hire outside our comfort zone to hire the best, most diverse workforce possible.

It is this way we can begin to build products that reach the broad market we all want to reach.

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Intro To Networking

2011
03.30

I recently had lunch with my brother and he was asking about Twitter. He’s heard me talk about it but simply didn’t understand how it worked or why it would be important. I did my little spiel for him on how and why you should be using Twitter and Facebook. I realized that it probably wouldn’t hurt to put it up here… so.. here we go.. Intro to Networking 101

Twitter and Facebook are probably the two most important tools for networking today… particularly if you are in the game industry. (For other industries, Linked In takes the place of Facebook – but the games industry is SUCH a family, that we use Facebook!)

Here’s the deal with Twitter. Twitter is the break room of the virtual office you share with EVERYONE who is important to your career.

So, say you are a programmer in the game industry and you walked by the break  room and John Romero was there, talking about the latte he got on the way in that morning… .. and you DIDN’T say “hi”… how dumb would that be?

And how dumb would it be if you walked by the break room 50 times that day.. he was in there all 50 times.. and you never said “hi” … would be pretty catastrophic for your career, huh?

Well.. Twitter is that break room… and the best part is YOU get to decide who is in that break room and who YOU want to say “hi” to every time you walk by!

So it works like this.

First  – Sign up for Twitter.

Second – Find someone you know who is active on Twitter and go look at the list of who they are following.

Third – follow the people they are following who are relevant to your career.

Now comes the tricky part

Watch what they are saying, when they say something that is particularly relevant to you or is something you have a good reply for… Reply to the tweet.

By replying to their tweet, you will send a tweet out that has their name attached to it. It’s highly likely they will look at it. Come on.. it’s like vanity surfing, we all do it and when someone says something that mentions you, of COURSE you are going to look!

So.. reply to something they say. Make it short, make it polite, make it relevant. It is HIGHLY likely that person will see it. If you do this a couple times (NOT all in one day please.. then you just look like a stalker) and you have smart, thought provoking POLITE things to say, it is very likely that person will look you up.. see who you are.. maybe even reply to you. Heck .. they may even FOLLOW you!

Then.. voila’ ! you  are having a conversation with someone who is very important to your career!

Now just because you have made contact with these people won’t immediately make that person your new BFF. Just as saying “hi” one morning to John Romero in the break room doesn’t mean he’s gonna invite you to lunch or something. Those people are busy! So it is up to you to FARM that contact. By careful tending and maintenance, you can grow it up into something very valuable. But, it will be up to you to do it!

How do you do this? You do it by continuing to respond to things they say, tweet some things on your own that pertain to them and include them on the tweet… etc. Then, if and when you ever get a chance to meet that person, you can tell them “Hi, I’ve exchanged a few tweets with you.. ” and it’s likely they will say, “Oh yes, you’re the one that responded with that New York Times article..” or something similar.

So.. Twitter is the breakroom for the world’s office.. and one of the strongest networking tools out there.

Facebook, for the game industry, comes in a close second. The trick with Facebook.. and ANY social media for that matter is.. NEVER PUT ANYTHING ON FACEBOOK YOU WOULDN”T PUT ON YOUR BUSINESS CARD.. because that’s what it is. It’s your virtual business card. It’s where people will go to look when they are going to interview you. It’s where people go when they want to think about hiring you. It’s what will be brought up when it’s job review/promotion time. So, let me repeat

NEVER PUT ANYTHING IN SOCIAL MEDIA YOU WOULDN’T PUT ON YOUR BUSINESS CARD!

So, here’re the rules

  1. Change your facebook status daily
  2. Tweet twice a day.
  3. Never put anything in social media you wouldn’t put on your business card

That’s it.. do it.. just do it like its your regular job. Because it is!

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20 Years and Counting

2011
03.24

20 Years and Counting

So after Sirenia Software shut down, I was at a loss as to what to do next. There really weren’t any game companies in the area that were looking for designers and I was getting kind of desperate.  But, it was the beginning of the “Dot Com” era, so there were tons of people looking for anyone who had any experience with computers. I started applying for editing and/or tech writing jobs.

I was getting worried until I got a call from Metrowerks. This was the company that originally made the Code Warrior compiler. They were looking for someone who could set up a webportal for the Code Warrior users – particularly the game industry. And then serve as the game industry liaison.

In this position,  I would be actually be responsible for designing the site, getting the bids, overseeing production of the portal and then managing the content for it.  Seemed like aperfect way to stay in touch with the game industry, while making some money.

So I thought.

At that time, Metrowerks had JUST been purchased by Motorola. So they were in a state of transition. I dove in and started working on my assigned product right away. I talked to everyone involved, gathered requirements and built an RFP. I feted the RFP to all the “powers that be” and was then asked to do a full presentation at the newly organized monthly “brown bag” sessions. I did the presentation, complete with my development plan and timeline. Six months.. I’d have it up and operating in six months.

Yah… right.

Everyone applauded and I got many thumps on the back for it. The Marketing VP made over it and went on and on about how this is how projects should be run. I was home free! I sent out the RFPs to the selected vendors, got the bids back. This narrowed the list down to three and I set up site visits. I took my boss with me and gathered notes. When we were done I decided on what I thought was the best vendor and then wrote up a report for the marketing VP and the Prez with the info on the three finalists, my report on the visits and my recommendation. Done, right?

Wrong.

Then the politics started.

“This looks alot like a content management system,” said the docs manager, “Maybe we should look at something more all encompassing. I’ll set up the meeting with Microsoft.”

“I think this is something IT should be more involved in,” grumbled the IT manager. “I’ll get them to look at some alternative solutions and then set up a meeting with all the IT staff. I’ll get you a report on that outcome.”

“Oh! I saw something just like this at the last convention I was at! Only.. it did PR stuff too!”  said the PR person. “I’ll call that vendor and we can have a phone meeting about it!”

“Wait… this is just too expensive! We could do it with freeware ourselves, in house,” said a programming manager. “I’ll get a prototype together.”

And.. so the squabbling and indecision took over. For the next THREE YEARS.. my project  – that should have taken six months, soup to nuts -  waffled in executive indecision as everyone wanted a piece of the pie.

During this time I was moved from department to department,  I managed IT content, but not IT. I managed some outside websites, but not all. I chased down who owned what and dealt with a squatter that picked up one of the motorola URLs when it went unpaid. But.. mostly.. I waited.  .. and waited… and waited.

During that time, the Dot Com turned to the Dot Bomb… and everyone got the yips about doing anything on the web. The tool provider that I had originally tagged as the vendor I wanted, went bankrupt. Metrowerks got notice they were being moved .. consolidated into one of Motorola’s other locations… and at that point we all knew the handwriting was on the wall.

We all started preparing for the layoffs a week ahead. By the time the dreaded day rolled around, we had it all planned.

When you were laid off from Motorola you were marched out the door. You didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone so there was no closure. To deal with this, we all made an agreement. The first to be let go would head over to Star of India restaurant and grab the big table in the back. Then, as others got the axe, they could join us. That way we would have SOME amount of closure. Of course, anyone who wanted to join us could come along and many did, even those who hadn’t been let go, as it gave everyone a chance to say goodbye to friends.

So I was back on the streets.. wondering what I was going to do next.

2011
02.02

20 Years and Counting: THe Sirenia Year

Well, it’s been over a year since I started recounting my experiences in 20 years in games, so now it’s 21 years. Hard to believe!

So I left this story with me and Tim leaving Her Interactive and returning to Austin to start our own software company dedicated to girls games.

We did. We came back to Austin and established Sirenia Software. We contacted our good friends Steve and Ellen Beeman who had just set up a company called Illusion Machines here in Austin. They offered to let us sublease some room in their offices so we’d have a place to work.

I began work with a prominent games industry business agent at that time. Mr. Agent was (and still is!) one of the nicest, smartest, all over greatest guys in the industry. At the time the concept of girls and games was still pretty new but he “got it” immediately and we set up to figure out how to get Sirenia Software into production on a girls product.

We had just raised our first round of “friends and family” funding.. a whopping $50K dollars. Hey.. that was a HUGE amount of money for us! I had a great idea for a game where girls would be able to own and care for a virtual horse. They would take care of the animal and then participate in virtual horse events, such as hunter/jumper events etc.

The concept was one player would set up an arena with jumps and obstacles and then invite up to 8 of her friends to come compete. Other friends could attend teh event and “watch” via chatting to each other. How well the player did on the event was a combination of their skill playing the game and how well they had cared for their horse. They kept their horse in a personalized “stable” where they could brush, feed, play and train their horse. They could also display trophies and ribbons as well. They could own as many or as few horses as they liked. We called this game A Horse Of My Own and went to work building a prototype.

We were about three months into this process when I got a certified letter.

We were being threatened with a lawsuit from Mr. New CEO and the board of directors of Her Interactive. They claimed I had stolen their technology when I left.

This both terrified and infuriated me. We had to retain a lawyer of our own and a series of letters went back and forth. No law suit was ever filed, but it did end up costing us almost $5K to defend ourselves from this attack. That was a full 10% of the ENTIRE amount of investment capital we’d been able to raise. At the end of it all, our lawyer told me that I should have NO contact with these people without legal representation present. This was to come back into play later.

Anyway, while that was being settled, Mr Agent began to try to dig up not only places to pitch A Horse of My Own, but to see if we couldn’t find some regular dev and pub stuff to get us going. I guess during that time I must have flown into LAX 20 or 30 times. However, again and again and again we sat in offices and had door after door slammed in our face.

Probably my favorite moment was sitting in the office of BIG PUB COMPANY and having the VP of Dev pick up a phone call and say, “Seriously? We got BIG LICENSE NAME HERE for only 1.2 million dollars? That’s amazing.” Then he hung up the phone, turned to me and said, “So, girls game huh? What can you give me for $15oK?” That let me know right there what the “girls market” was worth

(Please see Pink Poison on this blog for more on the “pink games” movement”)

We drug that game all over and back, trying to find someone who’d fund it or take a chance on it. Today, it was what would be called a “casual” MMO. But back then there was no such category. Heck, there weren’t even MMOs. I could see that the people we were pitching to simply did not get it. They couldn’t see what I could, that the future of the female game market was in games with a strong social component.

One of the more “eye opening” moments in that was  from BIG NAME TOY COMPANY with BIG NAME GIRLS LICENSE. We had done a pitch for them and they had looked at me with no understanding. But they called me a few days afterwards. “Are you sure about this?” they asked. “Tell you what. You bring us some demographics.. show us that girls like horses and that there is a market for a girls’ horse title.. and then we’ll talk”

???

I could only wonder what planet they’d been living on if they really didn’t know that girls liked horses and that they would spend money on horses. It was finally Barbie Riding Club that proved that for us.

However, the final straw was Microsoft. We had begun talking to Microsoft early in founding Sirenia and they had shown an interest in the girls game market. Mr Agent talked to them about us and they were intrigued. They showed up at one of my talks.. then they brought me up for a paid consulting gig where I talked to them about designing for girls. Then we pitched our idea to a high ranking female programmer in the division we were working with and she completely “got” the idea and loved it! Finally, we had all our ducks in a row and pitched the head of the division.

By now we had a working demo of the game and went in to the pitch with high hopes. He really seemed to like the idea. He asked intelligent questions and began to look at the budget. We went away from that meeting optimistic.

then we waited for a reply.

A few days goes by.

Nothing.

Another few days.

Nothing.

A week.

Nothing.

Finally,  two weeks later, we contact the high ranking female programmer. She puts us in touch with the division head’s assistant. She tells us we should expect an answer in the next day.

the next day we got a one line email from the division head, sent from his blackberry.

“We don’t think it is the time for us to do girls games.”

And thus ended Sirenia Software.

Back From Vacation

2010
11.29

I just got back from a vacation – seven nights on a Royal Caribbean cruise to the Caribbean. I don’t think I really realized just how much I really NEEDED that vacation… and I don’t just mean from a “wow a vacation would be nice” way.. but in an actual physical health way. I hadn’t realized just how much pressure I’ve been under and how it was affecting me.

When I was at SOE, the stress was much more of a “fight for your life” type of stress… a “you are in a death trap and the end is inevitable” type of stress. When I was at the end of my time there I actually had lost over 30% of my hair  and was suffering from heart arrhythmia. (both verified by my doctor.)

This time the effect was much more subtle and much more… well.. private. I do not want to go into details here, but suffice it to say that by the third day of the trip it was VERY obvious that my body and brain needed the physical rest. The odd thing is, I wouldn’t trade my current job for anything in the world. I love my boss, my coworkers, my teams.. just everything about it. However, it’s now plainly clear that I have to figure out how to manage pressure… in a way that DOESN”T have a bad effect on my time for work.. which is nearly impossible.

So… if anyone has any suggestions, I’m open to ideas!

Now.. on to other things. Before I left on the trip, I asked folks for book recommendations. I thought I might tell ya’ll what I took and do a brief review of each.

So here’s what I read:

Talking to Myselves – autobiography of Jeff Dunham

Firefly Rain – Richard Dansky

Angelology -Danielle Trusonni

Orcs – Stan Nichols

As an author myself, I’m sensitive to writer’s feelings, but I’m going to be honest in my opinions …

” Talking to Myselves”  by Jeff Dunham

This may seem like an odd choice, why would anyone want to read the autobiography of a comic.. and a ventriloquist at that? Well, I’ve long been fascinated by ventriloquism, and since the days of Paul Winchel and his side kick Jerry Mahoney, I’ve loved to watch good vents work.. plus, a little known fact about me.. I’m also a ventriloquist… and won many a 4H “share the fun” contest as well as performed at churches and schools when I was a teenager and in early college. I gave it up, tho, when it became too “weird” and ended with me being shunned and made fun of  by peers. BUT.. I do love it.. and still find myself wandering over to the websites of various figure makers and thinking ‘what if…”

So.. back to the book. I have to say I COMPLETELY enjoyed this book. It was a unique look into the mind of a person for whom stand up comedy is an artform and an artform he has chosen to pursue in a unique way. It hurt my heart to see him run up against many of the same prejudices that I did (albeit in a much smaller way) from people who see ventriloquism as a “dead medium” or “quaint” vaudevillian skill. It made me smile to see he’d started from the same books and records I did when I was just about the same age as he was. I don’t think I realized just how far he had to travel to make himself the “overnight success” he was with Achmed the Dead Terrorist.

Overall, I STRONGLY recommend this book to anyone who wants to see what kind of hard work goes into  being a successful stand up comic.. and even how much harder it was for someone who’d selected the path of ventriloquism as his medium of expression!

“Firefly Rain” – Richard Dansky

I picked up Firefly Rain for two reasons 1. the back cover piqued my interest and 2. I know the author.

Richard is a great guy who is on the path I hope to be on myself one day – a game designer turned author. So I was curious to see what sort of fiction he would produce.

The story is roughly about a young man who returns home to a small town after not making it in the  big city. But this isn’t your normal “coming home” story. When he gets there, the first thing he notices is while there are fireflies all around the area, they do not venture even one inch on to his property.

The mystery of the fireflies is woven through this nicely put together thriller/light horror story. The pacing kept me turning pages and the imagery was vivid . I even jumped a bit when the supernatural elements turned up a the heat a bit.

The only problem I had at all with the story is I saw the ending coming from quite  a ways off. The up side of that was, even tho I knew it was coming, the pay off was satisfactory.

Additionally, there was the time or two I felt a bit like I did when I watched Amityville Horror… I think I was more scared than the protagonist was.. or should have been! I found myself thinking “and WHY exactly would ANYONE stay in a house where that sort of thing is going on.. and how the HELL can he even think of falling asleep after all that has happened?” LOL!

Over all, I very much enjoyed the story and was satisfied when it was done. I would recommend this as great airplane/cruise/vacation reading as it’s a nice escape from the day to day.

Thank you Richard! I look forward to more

“Angelology” – Danielle Tussoni

So after I finished Firefly Rain, I was ready to dive into my next story and I chose Angelology.

Angelology has as its premise an interesting concept of angel hybrids living on earth. There is some basis for this in the Bible with the talk of the Nephilim and such. But Angelology takes it a step further.

You can definitely see that the “DaVinci Code” had an effect on the author as there is a convent hidden away with mysteries in its shelves and ties to a secret group of people, but I’m sorry to say that’s where any comparison ends.

I desperately WANTED to read this story. It’s a topic that’s interesting and the overall concept seemed intriguing.. however the writing was so substandard I just simply couldn’t get through it.

It seemed as though the writer was in such a rush to get the idea out.. she hadn’t worked out the entire ’story” part. Again and again she used alot of what the Turkey City Lexicon ( http://www.sfwa.org/2009/06/turkey-city-lexicon-a-primer-for-sf-workshops/ ) would call “fuzz” when she encounterd places where she needs her characters to do things, but hasn’t devised a reason why they would do it… other than they need to for the story idea to work.

“Fuzz”   was so rampant in this story that on ONE page the author used “Somehow” or “Didn’t know why, but..” or a similar bit of fuzz THREE times. The two main characters “somehow” felt they had to talk to each other, and “didn’t know why, but” felt they could trust each other… and “somehow” ran into each other on the stairs…so on and so on.

I gave her the benefit of the doubt and hoped “somehow” their forced actions would have a reasons, but by half way through the book, it didn’t appear that would happen.

Additionally, the author “told” rather than “showed” me things. I was “told” that the main character felt nervous, rather than being shown her nervousness by the way she acted. A little bit of this I can write off as a young writer and an editor that isn’t experienced enough to tell them how to correct it, but after a half book of this, it actually served to distance me from the characters. I felt like I was observing them from far away rather than being able to “get into” the action of the story.

Then finally, her characters “somehow” kept acting completely out of character! For instance, our young nun who had been in the cloister since she was a child and very definitely loved it… “somehow” didn’t think she should raise an alarm when she came across a strange man standing in the convent’s private and sacred library!

I do not recommend this book. I’m sorry to say I only got through half the book, and that’s too bad as lately I’ve had a bit of interest in “angel” lore and “angel” based fiction.

“Orcs” – Stan Nichols

I picked up Orcs a long time ago as I really do enjoy traditional fantasy told from an alternate view point. I think Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mist of Avalon was the first I read like that and so have a soft spot for it.

Orcs was a fun romp through a fairly traditional and, dare I say, cliched fantasy landscape. In short, a warband of Orcs finds themselves at odd with the evil queen and set about to save themselves and the entire world as they do.

I have to say, though, aside from the occasional superfluous comment about “My how sharp and yellow your fangs are”,  there really wasn’t much reason for the main characters to BE Orcs.  At any point the term “Orc” could have been replaced with “human” and there wouldn’t be any difference to the story.

Additionally the action and the plot felt VERY much like a DnD campaign. The band of orcs got smaller and smaller, and yet they managed to take on major strongholds of entire races of beings with no problem. The author spent a lot of time describing each and every blow of each and every battle, but each battle seemed to be one on one, even when the chars were invading fully populated fortifications. But our heroes always managed to beat whatever was coming.

Finally, the arrival of “Seraphim”  – a human char who would show up on his white stallion whenever the players… errr.. characters…needed a nudge in the “right” direction and who would then just as mysteriously vanish  – felt WAY too much like the Dungeon Master popping in to make sure his players were moving in the right direction.

Overall I felt it was pretty predictable and, as a game master of many many years, it felt very familiar. I could nearly predict what was going to happen chapter by  chapter.

That said, I didn’t dislike it. I didn’t love it either, but I did finish it and I would recommend it to anyone who likes a good DnD romp with LOTS of bloody fighting in it.

So that’s my reading list for my vacation.Next I’ll do a write up review on the cruise itself .. I *may* even post pictures! :)

Avatar Representation in Games

2010
10.19

For those of you who have heard my talks and read this before, I apologize!

Avatar representation is always a hot-button issue. Whenever I talk about it, some guy always says, “Well, they exaggerate male characters as much as female characters and *I* don’t get offended. Girls are just too sensitive and should just get over it!”

In some ways he’s right, and in some ways he’s wrong.

An avatar is a representation of the user in the virtual environment. When we select something to represent us, we want that person to be a hero. In our culture today “heroes” have certain characteristics. They are young, strong, and virile/fertile.

These traits manifest themselves physically.

In the male physique, the physical traits that indicate youth and virility include:

  • broad shoulders
  • slender waist and hips
  • large legs and arms
  • long, thick hair

For the female figure, those traits that indicate youth and fertility include:

  • large breasts placed high on the chest wall
  • slender waist
  • round derriere
  • long thick hair

So we do exaggerate these things on both the male and female characters, and we do so because these things say, “I am a hero.” They are traits our players expect to see on their avatars. So much so that there have been times when these traits weren’t available, the players asked for them.

This specifically occurred in Star Wars Galaxies. The original character creator did not have the option to increase the breast size on the female characters and several of the playable races had females who did not have breasts at all. The players were not happy with either of these and overwhelming asked for changes. The most interesting thing about this was the majority of the players who requested this were female!

It’s when we get into more than just heroic proportions that we start to get into trouble and where we start to see where the difference in the portrayal of male and female characters.

On the female characters not only do we see the heroic traits, but we also see an exaggeration of those physical signals that indicate sexual arousal and sexual receptivity. In other words, on the female characters, we not only exaggerate those traits that say “I’m a hero” but also those traits that say, “I’m ready for sex RIGHT NOW.”

What are those traits? Any “Introduction to Human Sexuality 101″ course will tell you that the human body has several physical manifestations that indicate when we are sexually aroused.

When the human body is ready for sex, a blood rush to the face makes the lips fuller and redder and the eyelids thicker and heavier. Also breathing will become faster (which in art is represented by open mouth), and the nipples will become erect.

In female characters, not only are the “heroic” traits exaggerated, but these traits which show sexual arousal are also exaggerated. Once exaggerated the female character will also be dressed in a manner to emphasize and draw attention to those traits (chainmail bikinis, etc) and she will be posed in such a way as to indicate she is receptive to sex.

The interesting point is, the male body exhibits the EXACT same traits when ready for sex – the nipples, the lips, the eyes and, of course, one additional indicator – but we NEVER see those exaggerated on our male characters!!

So, the game industry says, “Here, girls, you get to be represented by this character who’s ready for sex all the time” and yet would never THINK of doing that to its male characters.

And why is this different from Cosmo magazine? Because when a woman reads Cosmo and looks at those sexualized women, she thinks “Wow.. if I use that perfume.. I can look just  like that WHEN *I* WANT TO!” In other words, she can look like that at her choice!

We do not give our female players that choice in our games. It’s be a hypersexualized female or be male. That’s it. And, just as guys are uncomfortable looking at hypersexualized male pictures (and if you don’t believe they are uncomfortable, come to one of my talks some day! ;) females are likewise uncomfortable looking at and being asked to identify with a hypersexualized female character. Instead, they simply don’t play the game.

Does this mean make our female avatars unattractive? NO!!!!!! Just the opposite! You want your players to be heros! Make them Heroic! Make them young, strong and fertile… JUST DON’T HYPERSEXUALIZE THEM!

Anyway, I guess the answer is to give our players a choice in their character creation…. but isn’t that usually the answer to most game design questions?? ;)