THE EA UNIVERSE

When I was kid, I immersed myself in a lot of fictional places, worlds, and universes that came in the form of books, comics, TV shows, and movies. The best fiction always found a way to be somewhat believable, fantastic, daring, consistent, all with a pinch of crazy.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about fiction was when two separate worlds I really liked connected in the most briefest and smallest manner. The stereotypical example of this comes from comics where one superhero will have a cameo in the issue of another superhero. How many times has Spider-Man teamed up with another costumed crusader to save the city? Because this happens so much, this type of interaction is less special.

These cameos also appear in sitcoms as well. In years past, characters from Mad About You appeared on Friends. In movies, such interactions exist also. One of the most well-known examples occurred in the second Predator movie. At the end of the film, we can see a whole group of Predators in their spaceship. Among the many trophies lining the ship, one can easily discern a skull of the unmistakable species from the Alien movies. Though the skull appeared on-screen for mere seconds, it sent sci-fi fans into a tizzy at the thought of Predators engaging in combat with Aliens. The inclusion of such a prop eventually led to the Alien vs. Predator movies.

Of course, cameos can also be found in video games and this is where the story becomes personal for me. About one year ago, our brothers and sisters over at Criterion released their fantastic driving game Burnout Paradise set in the fictional setting of Paradise City. In Paradise, there’s an in-game narrator of sorts named DJ Atomika. One of the stories he relates to you is how he was previously partying with the skaters of San Vanelona. Of course San Van is the fictional city setting for the original skate. This one little bit of audio was Criterion’s subtle tip of the cap to us at Black Box. It also meant that the two cities existed in the same universe, whatever that happened to be.

I thought this was awesome for Criterion to do and I really wanted to return the favour. At the time though, we were in the very early stages of making skate 2, so anything I came up with had to be first cleared with production and any actual work had to wait for much later. It wasn’t until very late into the summer of 2008 that I decided to get the ball rolling on this. In the interim, I had managed to have a quick discussion with our studio head about my idea and he was cool with it. By the summer, I also decided that our nod to Criterion should probably be in the form of some billboard ad. To me, it would appropriate if say the tourism council of Paradise City decided to adverstise in New San Van.

I first contacted the environments producer Shaun, who brought in the art director for the city, Caroline, for all of us to have a quick chat about what we wanted to do. I mentioned my idea but gave full creative control over to art since that’s what they do best. In the end, two billboard designs were made, one tourism related and the other comparing New San Van to Paradise City. Seth, one of the FE artists on the team, created each of the billboards and he showed me the results on a fine summer day. When I saw them in-game for the first time, I was extremely pleased.

Now while we were finishing up skate 2, there was an unexpected cameo in another game. In November, the team upstairs released Need For Speed: Undercover which takes place in the fictional Tri-City area. In that driving game, there’s a copious of amount of radio chatter between cops and dispatchers while you drive around. In one instance, a patrolman reports in that he’s discovered an unconscious skateboarder in the road. The patrolman further goes on to say that the ID of the skater states he lives in New San Vanelona, the setting for skate 2. Wild! So now we know that Paradise City, New San Vanelona, and the Tri-City area all exist in the same universe.

Just two months later, we managed to get skate 2 out the door, with our two Paradise City billboards located in various parts of our city. At first, I wondered if anyone would notice our small nods to Criterion. Sure enough, after just a week or so, people started posting their findings on message boards. One user even posted a video. Now I only wonder if anyone at Criterion has seen the billboards.

I’ve had the privilege of being part of many cool things while working at EA but this ranks up there with everything else, even if it was a super tiny element of the entire game. Thanks to Shaun, Caroline, and Seth for listening to my ideas. Thanks also to Tom and the other Shaun for placing the billboards in the city.

What other secrets are there to be discovered in the EA universe?

NOW IF I HAD THE MONEY…


I was advised after my home purchase not to look at mls.ca and the listings on there, lest I see something that would cause me some regret. Of course, curiosity got the best of me, so I have indeed been looking. I found an interesting listing here. It’s a 3000+ square foot, 3 bedroom, 4 bathroom apartment located near Coal Harbour in downtown Vancouver. It is just blocks away from where I work (for now).

It takes up the entire 21st floor of the building its in. Just from the two pictures you see above, it is plainly clear the view is stunning. The wrap-around floor-to-ceiling windows afford you a view of the North Shore mountains, Stanley Park, and the surrounding ocean waters. Now if you could turn your gaze from the windows for just a moment, one would find the apartment itself isn’t too shabby. The kitchen island on its own is probably larger than my entire kitchen. I also love the light hardwood floors and the crisp white walls. I am now wondering how much it would cost to get my own place painted white and installed with hardwood.

Now you’re probably wondering how much this place is listed for. The seller, whoever that might be, is asking for just under $6.4 million. To put that into perspective, even if the seller decided to lop off six million from the asking price, I’d still have trouble buying it. The monthly maintenance fee for this apartment is over $1400 which is considerably more than my entire monthly mortgage payment.

I wonder if it comes with a parking spot?

MOUSER'S ELBOW

Nearly every white-collar job in modern society now requires a worker to spend some time at a computer. I am no different and unfortunately, I’ve discovered negative consequence to all this computer work. Is it carpal tunnel syndrome? Thankfully, it is not, though at least two of my co-workers have been affected by this. Is it strained eyes? No, but I probably am not doing my eyes any favours by staring my LCD screen all day.

What I have discovered is that I am causing tears in the elbow area of long-sleeved shirts on my right arm. Because of where I position my mouse and my body relative to the mouse, my mouse movements cause my elbow to rub against the desk surface. With short-sleeves, this is obviously not a problem. I have, however, caused irreparable damage to two button-down shirts this year, both of which I am quite fond of.

I should probably fix my body posture and/or mouse placement before I have to replace yet another shirt.

GOOD LUCK CONAN!

This past Friday, Conan O’Brien, hosted the last episode of his Late Night talk show. O’Brien is moving to Los Angeles to take over the reins of The Tonight Show from Jay Leno. Conan’s first show in LA will be June 1, 2009. After seventeen years, I will now have a good reason to tune into The Tonight Show.

When Conan started his show way back in 1993, he had some big shoes to fill. He was at the time, an unknown, caught up the in the late night talk show drama. He was almost an afterthought, with the controversy between David Letterman and Jay Leno dominating the talk show headlines. The first two years of Late Night weren’t the best and the rumours that he was nearly canned several times probably had some truth in it.

As the years passed, Conan and his staff found their own particular sense of comedic style and people responded. I will always love and appreciate Conan’s devastating self-deprecating wit and sense of humour. Throughout the 1990s, Conan became extremely popular with the college-age crowd, his goofy humour resonating with the coveted 18-24 year old set.

After sixteen years, O’Brien has more than earned his seat at The Tonight Show desk, where he will bring some fresh energy and new ideas to the show.

The segment you see above is from when Conan visited the FAO Schwarz store in NYC. While entertaining, Conan has stated his all-time favourite skit is from when attended a Civil-war era baseball re-enactment. Because of embedding restrictions, I can’t show it to you in this post but you may view it here. It is classic Conan at his best. Good luck Conan in LA!

SKATE 2 WRAP PARTY

On Friday night, EA will take over a restaurant/bar downtown so that the team can have a skate 2 wrap party. Yes, pennies are being pinched but kudos to EA for recognizing that it’s ok to spend money to celebrate the great work of over a hundred people. Before anyone gets on their high horse and mentions party money when EA laid off so many last month, don’t be a dumbass. The money spent on one party on a single evening wouldn’t have saved even one job. Also keep in mind, everyone who worked on skate 2 is invited to attend the festivities, that includes people who were laid off weeks ago.

In the last week, I’ve heard from two of my friends who just secured employment from other local gaming companies. That’s awesome news and I’m really looking forward to congratulating them at the party.

I believe there will be good times to be had.

OVEN TOASTED

I was so proud of myself tonight. I managed to buy a toaster oven for my apartment without having to solicit opinions from anyone!

I bought a reasonably-priced stainless steel toaster oven from of all places, the Real Canadian Superstore. Not only did I buy it from Superstore, it was a President’s Choice branded toaster oven. I chose that particular model for several reasons. First, it was priced right for its size, which is to say 13L of toasting capacity. When I make toast, I make a minimum of 10L of toast. The stainless steel look of it also matches the rest of my appliances in my kitchen. Last but certainly not least, it has a blue LED-like light on it. Keep in mind, the light is “LED-like”. I don’t think it’s actually a genuine blue LED but it kinda looks like it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blue LED on a kitchen appliance before. Years ago, only super high end electronics had blue LEDs. Thanks to easier and cheaper manufacturing techniques, blue LEDs are almost everywhere now.

I’m hoping the bed and couch I buy will have blue LEDs on them too.

CYCLONIC ACTION

It seems like I’m looking to buy anything related to a household these days. While I have some cookware, cutlery, dishware, and a shower curtain now, I’d really like to buy a vacuum as well.

Does anyone have any suggestions on which models I should look into? Please don’t mention Dyson models. I am sure they are fine but I’m not willing to spend the premium prices for them.

PRICING FOR NEW PANASONIC PLASMAS

I’ve received a significant amount of visitors to this blog looking for details, especially pricing on the new line of 2009 plasma TVs that Panasonic has announced. I don’t believe Panasonic has released the MSRP for any of the models. That hasn’t stopped one Japanese web site from speculating what the prices might be. Keep in mind, this is only their guess, which has nothing to do with Panasonic officially:

“The new TVs are scheduled to be released in series from March 1, 2009. Though there are no manufacturer’s suggested retail prices, the expected market prices of the Z Series are about ¥700,000 (approx US$7,824) for the 54-inch model, about ¥600,000 for 50-inch and about ¥550,000 for 46-inch.

The expected prices of the V Series are about ¥400,000 for the 50-inch model, about ¥370,000 for 46-inch, about ¥300,000 for 42-inch, about ¥220,000 for 37-inch and about ¥200,000 for 32-inch.

The expected prices of the G Series are about ¥350,000 for the 50-inch model, about ¥300,000 for 46-inch, about ¥250,000 for 42-inch, about ¥200,000 for 37-inch and about ¥140,000 for 32-inch.”

If you want to read the entire article, click here. Who knows what the actual pricing will be, though for consumers’ sake, I sure hope these estimates are on the really high side.

IDIOT VALENTINE

You have no doubt have heard of men who are completely clueless when it comes to Valentine’s Day etiquette, ranging from forgetting the day entirely to being a moron on said day. This year, I got some first-hand experience at how dumb men can be. Let me explain in detail.

Last year, I started a tradition where I gave all the ladies on the skate franchise team a Valentine’s Day card and a generous amount of Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses on the big day. Twelve months ago, I bought a pack of cheesy Spider-Man V-day cards designed for kids and addressed them to the skate ladies. It turned out to be a big hit, so I decided to continue the tradition this year.

For 2009, I bought extra-fancy Spider-Man V-day cards. This time they were lenticular cards that gave wicked awesome 3D effects when you tilted the cards. I also bought red and silver foiled Hershey’s Kisses with some almond Kisses mixed in for good measure.

Now since we had some unpleasant “staff reductions” last month, the seating plan went to hell afterwards. Since we had people on different floors, there was a quick consolidation of team members to get everyone back on 12. Because of that, I couldn’t rely on the name bars on the cubicles to tell me where all the ladies were sitting. To help me, I asked Amie, our production coordinator, to assist my efforts, with the stipulation she would get an extra dose of chocolates. She easily agreed with my plan and she printed me up an interim seating plan with all the ladies’ cubicles circled for quick reference. With the plan in hand, before I left for home on Thursday, I laid out the cards and chocolates for all the lovely ladies of skate.

When I arrived at work on Friday morning, I had already received several thank yous via e-mail and got a few more while I was brewing my first cup of green tea. The strange thing was that while I was getting my tea, Sarah or Toshi as I call her, walked by and didn’t say anything. That was kinda weird since she’s pretty good at her “please and thank yous” and we get along well.

I didn’t think anything more of it and then I had hours and hours of meetings that day. When I returned to my desk around 3pm, I checked my e-mail and there was one from Sarah. It was short and to the point:

“I can’t believe you forgot about Toshi on Valentine’s Day. :(“

I was like “WTF?!” I distinctly remember putting her card on her keyboard and the chocolates on her desk. I got up immediately and walked over to the cubicle where I had left her stuff. Instead of finding Sarah, I found some random dude. She was sitting in the cubicle next to random dude.

“Sarah, you sit here? Why aren’t you sitting in this cubicle?”

It turns out she and random dude traded places but didn’t register the move with Amie, so the seating plan wasn’t accurate. Ok fine but the card was clearly made out to Sarah. If I showed up to work one day and found a card addressed to a girl and some chocolates, I’d make sure the right person got the card and chocolates. So now my attention turned to random dude.

“Hey! Did you find a card on your keyboard this morning you mofo?”

It turns out he did and he still had it on his desk. He then showed it to me.

“Did you turn the card over and read it?”

Yes, he had in fact read it.

“Did it occur to you that your name is not Sarah and perhaps that card was meant for the Sarah, the very same Sarah that sits right next to you?”

He really didn’t have an answer to that.

“Did you also find some chocolates on your desk?”

Yes, he did find some chocolates on his desk.

“Where are the chocolates now?”

He ate them almost right after he found them. Now, I was getting really annoyed with this guy.

“Let me get this straight, you found a V-day card that wasn’t addressed to you, along with some chocolates but you neglected to give the card to the intended recipient, who sits next to you, and you also ate the chocolates anyways?”

He nodded.

Random dude was still holding the V-day card at this point so I snatched it out of his hand in a manner that was so indignant, it was straight out of a movie. I then turned in place and politely gave the card to Sarah who had been watching and listening to my exchange with random dude the entire time.

“I’m really sorry. This is yours.”

Sarah thanked me but I really wanted to grill random guy again. Before I could, another dude jumped to his defense by saying random dude thought everyone on the team got cards and chocolates. That has happened in the studio in the past but my card was signed by me! It said “From: Erwin” on it! Anything from the studio says “From Black Box”! How stupid do you have to be to mix up those two things? Also, if I were in his shoes, I’d double check with the person sitting next to me to make sure everyone did get something (before tearing up chocolate wrappers). How hard is it to turn to the person next to you and ask, “Hey, did you get some chocolates too”?

I wasn’t buying any of that crap. I told random dude not to eat anything that wasn’t his ever again, especially if it was from me. What if I had put ex-Lax on his desk?

Anyways, I turned to Sarah and said I’d try to rectify the situation further and I’d be back. I walked over to Amie’s desk and explained the situation to her. She was quite sympathetic and she offered some of her Kisses from the mound that I had given her. That was quite sweet of Amie.

With chocolates in hand, I went back over to Sarah’s desk to make it right again. She was very thankful and seemed pleased once again. I apologized once more but before I left I shot random dude a dirty look.

I’m known for being a pleasant guy to be around on the team and one that gets along with just about everyone but random dude is testing my abilities in that regard. The shit he pulled was weak. It’s not that I feel bad for me but it’s because there were several hours there where Sarah thought I had somehow accidentally or purposefully forgotten about her. That’s the part I’m not cool with. I later found out that Sarah had asked some of the other ladies if they got chocolates and a card, and they had to lie so that she wouldn’t feel bad. That didn’t make me feel good.

Random dude, you best be changing your behaviour from now on.