THE COMPETITION

They say competition is a good thing in the video game industry. For the last two years though, there has been only one active franchise in the skateboarding genre and that’s been us, the skate franchise. That all changes on Tuesday when Activision and Tony Hawk returns to the market with Tony Hawk: Ride.

After taking a two year break after nearly a decade of yearly releases, the Tony Hawk franchise looks to come back strong with a new way to play skateboarding games. The skateboard peripheral is certainly a fresh new approach but it will be interesting to see if gamers respond positively to its rumoured $130 price tag.

I am personally excited to try out the new game. I don’t think it’s a surprise that we’ll be buying a copy of the game on Tuesday and we’ll take it for a spin. Let’s see what they got!

DINNER

As far as OT meals go, I had a damn good one tonight. I almost went for the roast pork but it just didn’t look like I was going to enjoy it. Instead, I went over to the grill station. I was tempted to get a beef burger but then I remembered I had ground beef lasagna for lunch. Ultimately, I opted for a chicken burger with a grilled chicken breast, topped with bacon, cheddar cheese, and a single sliced pickle. My toasted bun was lightly brushed with mayo. Though I should have salad as my side, I went for the fries.

I don’t remember the last time I had such a satisfying meal for dinner while working OT. So who’s playing Modern Warfare 2?

WORK DAY

Given all the strife of the last few days on the company front, I found it somewhat of a relief just to have a normal day at work today. I realize that for most of you, it was Remembrance Day, a holiday. We’re trading in that holiday for Christmas Eve.

So I had a leisurely commute into work today, where I watched some Remembrance Day ceremonies on TV. Lunch was catered for us, a feast of meat provided by Memphis Blues. That place never disappoints.

I’m hoping things continue to return to normal going forward.

SAFE FOR NOW

In my previous post, I mentioned how there was supposed to be a big meeting today where my and all my co-workers immediate employment futures were to be discussed. As expected, before the meeting I detected a slight bit of nervousness from everyone in the studio. At least among the worker bees, no one knew what to expect.

As I also mentioned, in attendance was a high-level executive from corporate headquarters. Because of the all-seeing eye of Google, I won’t state the name of the executive but he’s essentially one level down from the CEO position. He addressed the entire studio at the beginning of the meeting. The first thing he got out of the way was to say to he was not here to close down Black Box. He seemed to think such a thing would be ridiculous to do but I believe there was some honest and actual relief when we heard that.

He also then reiterated the company’s commitment to Black Box as a studio. He wanted to make it clear that the company saw talent and value at Black Box and they’d be behind us, at least in the near future. There were a few organizational changes that he discussed as well but this isn’t the forum to reveal what those were. Then came the Q & A portion of the meeting.

I’m glad it didn’t take long but one guy essentially got right to the point of asking, “How many of us are going to be part of the 1500 reduction in staff?” The answer was, at least for Black Box, the reductions were already done. So anyone who was in that meeting today would not be part of the 1500. This was a much bigger relief for me as it meant my team was free to finish the game we’re currently working on.

There were of course more questions but nothing of note that I want write here. So I really have nothing to worry about, at least for the next five months or so. I understand they can’t promise me eternal job security, nor do I expect it. Even in the best of times, when a team finishes a game, there are always adjustments to team sizes. Given the current tumultuous nature of the games industry, things could have gone a lot worse for me and my team today. We’re going to finish this game and it appears that we have the support of our corporate leadership.

I’m back to focusing on making the best game I can before we get this thing out the door for May 2010.

LAYOFFS, AGAIN?!?!!?!?

As many of you already know, my employer, Electronic Arts, announced today their plans to reduce their workforce by 1500 employees. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because we went through this before less than a year ago. The announcement today didn’t catch me by surprise completely. Last week, a few of my co-workers knew of a small number of layoffs on the Need for Speed team though these were not widely reported. So today’s announcement didn’t signal the beginning of the reduction, it had already started.

Also, just before the weekend started, a studio-wide meeting request was sent out to all Black Box employees. The meeting was to be for Monday morning. Given that we still had last January still fresh in our memories, it made me and a probably a few of my co-workers a bit nervous. Well, we had that meeting this morning but there wasn’t a whole lot that was told to us. We were just informed that the games industry was going through some changes and it’s been a tough go recently. We were also told that there would be some changes related to our studio but no details were given. It was a bit odd.

Everyone came back to their desks to only find stories all over the Internet about 1500 person reduction in the workforce. As crazy as this seems, a lot of people seemed to not even flinch with all this going around them. Those people just put their head down and got right back to work as if everyone was perfectly ok with the world.

We have another meeting scheduled for tomorrow where the entire studio will be assembled again but this time, a high-level executive will speak to us and take our questions. Given all that’s happened today, I have absolutely no clue what is going to happen at that meeting. I could be given my walking papers tomorrow or I could be told I’m safe for now.

From a logical standpoint, it doesn’t seem to make sense to layoff a large portion of my team. We’re in a critical stage of the project where things are coming together for a big push to our May release date. I’ve never heard of a team being hit by layoffs so close to launch. Then again, nothing surprises me anymore so anything is a possibility at this point.

A lot of people lost their jobs today in Burnaby which is very unfortunate. No numbers were given for just the Vancouver area, so it’s difficult for me to understand how much smaller EA Canada and Black Box are now. It’s also an ongoing process as they’ve stated it’ll take until the end of March, 2010 for all the reductions to be complete. So while I have a job at this very moment, that may not be true tomorrow or next week or at the end of March.

I’m just going to have to take it day by day now. I’ll go to that meeting tomorrow and see what they have to say. If they’ll let me keep working there, I’ll show up and do my job until they tell me otherwise.

There have already been some unfortunate side effects by all of this. I canceled a dentist appointment today because the meeting request went out so late on Friday. Also, since tomorrow’s meeting was also scheduled at the last minute, I had to cancel the repair job that was due to be done on my bathroom ceiling.

I’ll let everyone know what happens tomorrow.

ALMOST HEAT

As many of you know, I’ve been trying to see how long I can without turning on my heat in my apartment. I came very close to turning on my heat this weekend.

The first enticement came on Saturday when a good friend of mine came over to my place to deliver some fried chicken. We wound up watching TV and playing video games. At one point, my friend mentioned he was feeling a bit cold. I got to turn on the heat but then he remembered my attempt to go heat-less. He then insisted that I keep the heat off and proceeded to put on his jacket instead.

Then on Sunday night, two out-of-town guests drove me home from dinner and they wanted to see my apartment. It felt a tad chilly when I let everyone in. They didn’t stay long but had they decided to stay just a bit longer I would have turned the heat on to make them more comfortable.

I think I may need to amend the rules and allow the heat to be on if I have visitors. That wouldn’t be giving up, would it?

SOLD!

Not sure why I started thinking about eBay tonight. I haven’t bought anything from eBay in years. Then I thought back to the two and only two times I’ve sold something on eBay.

Back in the summer of 2004, I sold two invitations to participate in the Gmail beta program. I think I had ten invitations at the time and I didn’t know what to do with them. Then I read somewhere that people were selling these things online. Since I didn’t even have to ship these invitations, I thought it would be a no hassle sale.

I put up one invitation for bidding and I wound up making about $20 of profit from the sale. Excited, I put another one up for bid. That invitation didn’t barely made my minimum bid and I believe I made $5 from that. I stopped putting up invitations after that.

Have you sold anything on eBay?

A MAKE-OVER?

It’s difficult to fathom but in about six months, I will have been blogging for eight years. I started this blog just weeks before I went to grad school, not knowing who the hell would be reading it. I’m estimating I met most of my loyal readers after 2002, those people coming mostly from grad school and the games industry (post-grad school). The rest are probably former classmates from my younger days and those I toiled in QA with.

Well, I’ve been thinking about this for a few days but I believe it’s time for this blog to get a bit of a make-over. I’m still using a blog template that I selected in 2002. I changed the colour scheme about three years ago but the template hasn’t changed cosmetically aside from that. Technology doesn’t stand still however. In seven years, a lot of neat little blog widgets have been developed but since my template is so old, it can’t support them. I did a minor refit a while ago to get a proper commenting system working but that was mostly a patch than a total redesign.

It’s a shame that work is taking up so much of my time but I am now casually looking at new, state-of-the-art blog templates. My intention is to pick a few that I like and hopefully involve you, my loyal readers, in the selection process. This won’t be a quick procedure but I do hope you’ll keep reading in the meantime.

TONY HAWK TELLS US WHAT HE THINKS OF EA'S SKATE

Tony Hawk has made very few public comments on the Skate game franchise, which I’m proud to work on. Digg.com interviewed Tony last week and one of questions posed to him was “Have you played EA’s Skate? If so, what did you think of it?”

Tony answered the question in the video above. I think you can interpret his answer in a few ways but here’s my take on it. He was first and foremost, polite and professional with his answer which I expected. He seems like a genuinely nice guy so nothing new here. He also described our game as “cool” and “unique”. I suppose that’s a good thing to hear from the man who brought skateboarding games to the forefront. At the same time, he seemed careful not to praise our game too much or give it too many accolades. I like how he transitioned quickly into talking about skateboarding games as a genre, taking the focus off a specific game.

Anyways, for a person who has done so much for the skateboarding world, it’s interesting to hear what he thinks of our little project.