INSURANCE HELP

I find it incredible to believe that, should all go well this week, I’ll be taking possession of a brand new apartment in exactly seven days. I’m not really sure if this is actually happening.

In any case, I have a whole new set of responsibilities to take on now that home ownership is imminent. One of the first things I need to do is ensure my apartment is covered by home insurance. As a renter, I never bothered with tenant insurance as a combination of being lazy, cheap, and not owning expensive items led to me dismissing the peace of mind. It’s amazing how buying (and going into debt for) something for a couple hundred thousand dollars can change your mind.

For those who live in the Greater Vancouver area, I am asking you for your suggestions on where to buy home insurance, specifically condo/apartment unit insurance. If you yourself don’t have any, I’d welcome advice from family members or friends who do.

This is one of the many, many things that I never had to deal with and I am going in kinda blind. I would appreciate any suggestions you might have, lest I go with Lenny’s Crib Insurance and Tanning Salon.

STILL NO END TO THESE GRIM TIMES

The video game development community in Vancouver continues to be rocked by major job losses. Just today, Propaganda Games, which is owned by Disney, laid off a significant amount of people. While that was happening, fifty-five people at nearby EA Canada got their walking papers today as well.

It’s been a stunning week of developments for anyone who makes video games in the Vancouver area. Starting with the 100+ people out of work last week from the action at Black Box, then the complete closure of Humanature which affected about ninety, and then today’s events, I conservatively place close to 300 hundred developers are now unemployed in the city. It is my opinion that the job market never fully placed all the people from the massive layoffs at Radical months ago and now to have all these people join them makes for a dire situation.

On a personal note, two of my most loyal blog readers were among those who got laid off today. Out of respect for them, I will not identify either party. I will say I was extremely disappointed to hear that news. Please know that if there is anything I can do for either of you, do not hesitate to get in touch with me.

I will admit these events make me extremely nervous. The development community is very close-knit in Vancouver and it’s been tough to concentrate at work lately when people you know are reporting layoffs on what seems to be a daily basis.

I said it before but I will say it again, please let this be the end of it for a long, long while.

HOME APPRAISAL

There is so much to buying a home that I did not know until now. One of the steps that is required by a lender is to get a home inspection done on the property that is to be purchased. If you are managing to buy a home without getting a mortgage, this step is not required. The lender is just doing due diligence. They want to know if you’re overpaying for the home or if there is something that potentially may cause the home to be worth significantly less than the purchase price.

Keep in mind the appraisal is not a replacement for the home inspection. It in end, it’s the lender’s way of making sure they’ve helped you buy something that they can get their money back on if they are forced to take the property away from you.

It nearly all cases, the home appraisal is paid for by the purchaser. I paid $210 for mine, tax included. The appraisal fee falls under the awesome set of items called “closing costs” which is money you have to spend to get the privilege of spending a huge amount of money for the home itself.

My appraisal happened this week and I was looking forward to seeing the results. Of course, I was hoping that the appraised value would be higher than my purchase price. I was e-mailed a copy of the appraisal today. It turns out the appraiser believes I purchased my apartment for approximately 7.5% less than their calculated current fair market value. In other words, I got a good deal but it certainly wasn’t a bargain of any sort.

I told a friend of mine the good news and he suggested I immediately flip it for a tidy and quick profit. There a million reasons why that isn’t a good idea, not the least of which is the fact I’m tired of doing paperwork now.

GRIM TIMES CONTINUE

Today Nexon America, a Korean-based video game publisher, suddenly and unexpectedly closed their Vancouver development studio, Humanature. It has been reported that 90 employees were let go. The video game development community is quite close in Vancouver and it was not difficult to find people who knew someone at Humanature. I personally know three people who worked there. For two of them, this will be the second studio shutdown they have experienced in less than a year.

The last few months have not been kind to the development community in this city. In recent memory we’ve had the massive job reductions at Radical Entertainment, the relatively minor layoffs at Black Box and EA Canada in October, and then considerable layoffs at Black Box just last week. There are rumours that EA Canada will face their major reductions this week.

In 2006, I remarked how it was undoubtedly a job seekers market for the video game development. Back then, I had so many options to choose from, beyond just EA. Times are now different. From actions from just the last two weeks, there are now approximately two hundred people in the local area now looking for jobs relating game development. I am sure there are much less than two hundred open positions in this city. I am not even sure if there are two hundred positions open in all of North America.

Though the action Radical was probably not related to the current recession, I am guessing that the other layoffs were. By my count, before this one, I’ve lived through two recessions: one in the 80s and other in the early 90s. Of course, I was just a kid in those times. When you’re a kid, you don’t really pay attention to these things. Also, I’m pretty sure my parents shielded me from concerns that I had no control over.

Things are different now. I’m an adult and I need steady employment. Hell, I’m on the verge of legally owning an apartment and having a mortgage. My concerns are very real-world. Though I am not in a state of panic, a small part of me remains cautious and slightly nervous about where the world economy is headed. How much worse can it get? No one can answer that of course and that’s why people are worried now.

Let’s hope this is the last of the bad news coming from my industry.

RETURN OF THE THONG

I’m not sure if everyone remembers but about three years ago, I ordered up about 20 custom made t-shirts with my web site address on them. When I gave them away for free, I suggested the possibility of next time ordering women’s panties/thongs with my web site address on the front. Though unfortunately the comments have been deleted since then, I got a very tepid response from my female blog readers at the time which led me to shelve the idea.

Last Thursday, when my co-workers and I were sitting in the pub in post-layoff shock, I was updating my blog to let all of you know I had survived the massive layoffs. A few of my co-workers didn’t know I had a blog. The talk turned to how I promote my web site and I mentioned the t-shirts. I also mentioned the less than enthusiastic response to my underwear idea. Two of my male co-workers immediately let me know they were pretty sure their significant others wouldn’t really mind wearing such things. Having met both of their partners and finding them to be very upstanding women, I was delighted to hear this.

Over the weekend, both of my co-workers confirmed that yes, their lady partners would be willing to wear erwintang.com underwear. In fact, one of them said that if I ordered items of a high enough quality, my underwear might even make it into her “rotation”. Well, what better response could I have hoped to get?

Now if money weren’t completely tied up in buying and furnishing my new apartment, I’m pretty sure I’d be ordering a dozen thongs with my web site address on it. In fact, just for fun, I actually have a quote for such an order. As it stands, I’ll have to probably continue to shelve this idea despite the new positive response. For all you ladies who frowned upon this idea earlier, have you changed your mind?

THE WEEK THAT WAS

Last week was a rather eventful one to put it lightly. Three events occurred that even by themselves would have been momentous but having all three happen in about 48 hours made the week all the more distinct. Somewhere between the beginning of Thursday and the end of Friday I experienced: the joy of skate 2 hitting the shelves, the sadness of seeing many of my friends lose their jobs, and the uneasy apprehension of essentially finalizing the deal for my apartment.

Usually a launch week for a studio is a happy time. At Black Box, they usually put up some decorations, setup a demo station for the whole studio to try the game, and there is usually free swag being given away. The studio management invariably also send out a congratulatory e-mail to whole studio, thanking the team in question for their hard work. Of course, none of this happened this week since the massive layoffs coincided with the launch. Bad timing indeed.

Despite all of this, our game appears to be well-positioned to be a hit (fingers crossed, knock on wood). I had a chance to hear some marketing peeps and they said we’re above pre-sell numbers on skate 1 and above projections as well. Apparently, a large game retailer in the US has already re-ordered our title as their initial shipment has been already sold or spoken for. Anecdotaly, on the weekend, I checked out the Future Shop in Coquitlam and I was told skate 2 was completely sold out on both Xbox 360 and PS3, and had been for two days now. The local Best Buy appeared to be out of PS3 versions with just a few left on Xbox 360. If you go to either of the web sites for those retailers, you’ll see both platforms have been sold out! Such examples are truly a testament to the creativity, hard work, and intelligence of my co-workers.

I have been informed we will properly celebrate but not until a bit of the dust settles. When we do have the wrap party though, everyone who worked on skate 2 will be invited, no matter what their current job status is. I understand if some won’t want to attend but I look forward to everyone gathering together for one last time to celebrate our collective achievement.

Almost lost in all of this was the fact that I went ahead with my real estate deal. It’s not final yet and the apartment isn’t legally mine for a few more weeks but I can’t really back out of it now. The deal isn’t subject to any conditions now and on Friday, I gave a whole big whack of money to my realtor to hold in trust while a lawyer goes to work on the conveyance.

Last week was one of those times when your life is at a crossroads and you’re actually aware of that fact. Had I been one of those who got laid off, I am not sure if my lender would have given me the mortgage and I probably would have lost the apartment. I’d be jobless without any clue when I’d be able to buy a home again. Instead, I retained my job for reasons that I’m not entirely clear on still. Having a job will now allow me to buy the apartment. Instead of job hunting, I’ll be furniture hunting, what complete opposites.

In the next few weeks, I’d prefer if things just settled down and life became more predictable. Let’s hope for some calmer waters ahead.

A GRIM DAY AT BLACK BOX

As my last post reported there were significant layoffs today at Black Box, the studio that I work at. As of this writing, many of us still don’t know the extent of the layoffs as no clear number has been reported.

Unfortunately, today’s action was not a complete surprise. For months, rumours had been swirling that Black Box was going to be affected by EA’s cost-cutting measures. Just last week there were new rumblings of impending action. It finally came to a head yesterday afternoon when a studio-wide e-mail went out, asking all employees to be at work by no later than 9:30am the next day. Management would be addressing all the rumours at that point.

To make a long story short, it all went down like this today. Some employees got an e-mail at 10am to proceed downstairs for more information. The rest did not get any e-mails at all initially. Once the first group had vacated for the ground floor conference room, the remaining employees finally received their e-mail. The ones who had left were now out of a job. The ones still at their desks still had a job… for how long, who knows? For whatever reason due to whatever strategy they used, I was in the group that made it through.

We were told to leave the studio immediately so that the others could pack up in private. We had the day off from then on but we were told to report to work the next day at 10am sharp. At that time, we were to meet at a nearby hotel ballroom so that more info could be dispensed. If you want to read the whole e-mail yourself, you can find it here. To be clear, I was not the one who forwarded this e-mail to outside sources.

Because we all left hurriedly in random groups and didn’t want to stick around outside the studio, we dispersed into mixed clumps of people. I wound up at a nearby pub with remaining skate team survivors, mainly engineers with a random designer mixed in. We started drinking immediately and it wasn’t even 11am yet. The mood was a mix of shock and disappointment, sombre overall. There was an intial flurry of texts and cell phone calls as people phoned to let loved ones know they were ok. We were also phoning to determine who had made it and who had not. I remembered I had my Dell Mini with me and I was soon connected to the free pub wi-fi. Almost immediately I was inundated with queries across Facebook, e-mail, and Messenger about my status. After allaying people’s fears, I started using the power of the Internet to attempt to figure out who had made it and who had not. It was tough finding out more information. Then things got a bit weird as we all wanted to read what gaming sites were writing about the situation. The layoffs were reported across nearly all the major gaming sites and in quick fashion, given we hadn’t been out of the studio for even half an hour yet.

For the next three hours we basically spent the time having a few drinks, eating, talking and making random calls to get a better idea of who had made it and who had not. In the end, we still didn’t figure out exactly who got the axe and who didn’t. As you can guess, it was a very unpleasant day overall. Several of the people that got let go had become good friends of mine. Some I have known for going on three years now. In a few cases, those who got laid off had significant others laid off as well in the same week or previous week. I will find it quite difficult not seeing some of my friends at work on a daily basis.

As I made my way home, I was able to contact a friend that was part of the unfortunate group. He told me that the severance package he received was quite generous so that was good to hear. He also said that he felt no ill will towards EA which is only his own personal feeling but it hopefully shows me that EA was as professional and polite as they could be in handling the situation. Still, it sucks. Also, I was informed that where possible, people were given opportunities to find employment on other EA teams.

If I could be completely selfish for a moment, today’s events have a significant impact on whether or not I complete the deal for my apartment. Tomorrow, Friday, is the absolute point of no return for the transaction. I either go ahead tomorrow and drop all subjects and give my realtor 5% of the purchase price or I walk away from this completely. I’m going to have a brutally honest sit-down meeting with my manager tomorrow to get some clear indication of what’s going on with my job. Only then can I decide what to do.

Despite all the real estate stuff I need to do the in next 24 hours, the whole day has left me exhausted. I just want to space out for the rest of the evening and go to bed early. To everyone who lost their jobs today, I hope all of you bounce back soon and better than ever. I will pour some out for you tomorrow at beer and cake. You are all in my thoughts.

I MADE IT

Today, there were considerable layoffs at the studio I work at. It’s been a very tough day for everyone. I made the cut but considerable questions remain. People I worked with directly were let go. I will have more later.

SKATE 2 OUT NOW!

The product of the hard work of many people (of which I am honoured to be included) is out today or tomorrow at the latest. Skate 2 should be out on the shelves of most retailers in your area.

This is the third game I’ve shipped and the first sequel I’ve ever had the chance to work on. Sequels are a touchy thing to be working on. If you helped make a great first entry, then it often becomes very difficult to follow up with something just as good or even better. In a way, it’s slightly easier if the previous iteration had numerous shortcomings because it’s just real clear what needs to be done for the next game.

For our first game, we received a lot of praise from the gaming community and it set us up for some high expectations for our second game. I was worried for a while we wouldn’t have something that would live up to the quality of the original. I fully admit that Skate 2 is not without its faults but it turned out to be a pretty damn good game, even if I’m biased. So far, the reviews have backed up my claim.

If I could put on my marketing hat for a minute, please consider checking out Skate 2 if you’re at all interested in an action sports title. Download the demo for the PS3 or Xbox 360 and take it out for a spin. If you like it, consider buying it at your local store.

I’m incredibly proud of and amazed at the team that put the game together. I hope we can share some of our hard work with you.

THE NEW GUY ON THE FIRST DAY

For some reason that I’m still not sure of, I’ve always been a big fan of the inaugurations of the US Presidents. I remember as a kid, I taped the inauguration of President George H. Bush so that I could watch it after I got back from school. Today, was no different but instead of a VCR, I used the power of the Internets to watch President Barack Obama get sworn into office. The above video is of him taking the oath of office and his speech immediately afterwards. I thought his remarks were great but certain parts of it stuck out in my opinion:

“We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.”

“As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.”

“Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.”

Each of these excerpts were essentially a direct criticism of the previous administration’s actions or lack thereof. The first was clearly a comment on the massive decline in science as a priority in the Bush government. From stem cells to intelligent design to global warming, look for the Obama White House to be lab coat friendly.

The second excerpt was a criticism of the loss of personal rights and freedoms suffered by US citizens, all in the name of being “safe”. Whether or not the Patriot Act gets changed remains to be seen but it’s clear that folks in the US might get a bit of dignity back.

The last comment was no doubt a direct comment on Iraq. To use an awful quote, it’s so nice knowing that the guy in charge now understands that “with great power comes great responsibility”. Maybe America will stop acting like a schoolyard bully now.

The great thing is that while President Obama was saying his remarks, just several feet behind him was the dude he was essentially taking to task for doing it wrong for eight years. When the camera was on Dubya during the speech I thought that was a priceless moment.

The last thing I’ll mention about the inauguration was how different it was compared to Dubya’s in 2000 and 2004. For each of those, there was tremendous ill will by many citizens in Washington. Organizers had to set up designated protest zones to accomodate those opposed to Dubya. He was booed both years during the parade and each time, people tried throwing things at his limo. In stark contrast, there was an overwhelming feeling of hope and happiness today. It’s good when the people of America get what they deserve.