Viral marketing at its best.
Monday, November 30, 2009
So I’ve been out here for about a year now, and even though there have been some tough times, moving out here and finding the career of my dreams has been the best thing to ever happen to me. I’m so thankful for it. Sometimes I stop and think how lucky I am to have had so many random things come together to lead me here, both good and bad. Being in debt which made me need to look for a better job, having a cousin who lived in Edmonton who I knew I could ask to stay with while I worked a job in Edmonton that paid better, finding out he could get me a term position at Bioware, and then finding it was more than just a cool job, but a career I could be passionate about. But looking even further back: getting my license because I wanted more independence, then a year and a half later, feeling completely lost and deciding to take a road-trip to try to “find myself”.
Of all the many random things that came together to bring me to where I am now, the road-trip has always stood out in my mind as the real moment I took control of my path, and directed it somewhere better. Before the road-trip I never quite felt truly independent in mind. I lived with a subtle fear that motivated all my actions. I always had someone to fall back on, and rarely had to deal with things on my own. At some point in my formative years, I’d made some subconscious decision to succumb to fear, and it had informed all subsequent decisions in my life.
But the shelter it provided started to get pretty confining. And because my actions were all limited by that fear, the person I presented myself as never quite felt like me, but instead I felt defined by those fears; no one understood who I was behind them all. And then I realized they were right. It’s not who you are behind all your fears that defines you. You are what you do, not what you wish you could do. No one has any right to demand respect for intentions or dreams alone. It’s your actions that define you.
So I decided to go on the road-trip. I made some sort of internal mental commitment to it, and refused to back down, even though everyone who said they’d come backed out, which in the end was for the best. Then there was car troubles, work issues, and many attempts to talk me out of it from concerned friends and family who were not used to seeing me take risks like this.
Yes, I was still scared as hell, but I knew this was it. This was a defining moment, if for no other reason than I’d made it one. This moment would set the precedent. If I backed out now, my life would continue to be a series of missed opportunities, compromises, and the justifications that follow. But if I broke that pattern by taking this risk and living the adventure that would follow, it’d be the beginning of a life of pursuing my true ambitions and taking chances on the things I believed in.
So June came and I packed my car and hit the road. It was the best thing I ever did in my life. For just under 3 weeks I lived an adventure that, to this day, not a single other soul truly knows. I was the only constant, and it was fueled by my willpower alone. For 3 weeks I trained myself to follow a dream and to power through those feelings of self doubt and fear. And I learned that it’s always worth it in the end. You only get one life, and it goes by a lot faster than you plan. I want so much more out of that life than just comfort.
When I returned home, I returned to a life that no longer reflected who I was. I’d changed. I was ready to follow my dreams, overcome fears and enjoy the adventure. But this was a life I’d created while paralyzed by fear. It just didn’t reflect the drive I now had. In the 3 weeks I had been gone I’d learned so much: There was always going to be reasons not to follow your dreams, routine would always be easier than change, and talk and action are 2 very different things. Sometimes you need to break your own patterns, and take irrational risks, because your dreams should weigh in on your decisions.
The true changes I’d gone through didn’t become apparent to me until I was back home, and it just didn’t quite feel like home anymore. I ended up getting a tattoo to commemorate that lesson. Sometimes, despite all reasons not to, you gotta follow your dreams and just run the red.
I broke a pattern that summer 2 years ago, and began a new one. Ever since, I’ve followed my dreams and taken chances. No doubt it has made life harder, but it’s also made it worth it. Every dark day I have here has a sense of purpose. I used to have such a propensity for long deep depressions, because when I felt low, that was all there was. The risks I’ve taken have led me to a life where even the dark days are just a step on the path to my dreams.
For a decade my life had been pretty stagnant, not much changed year to year. But in the 18 months since that road-trip I now live 2 provinces away, have an entire new group of friends, have found the career of my dreams and have my next steps planned out for that career. I make twice as much money doing something I love, have dated some really nice girls, learned how to weather the dark times and truly enjoy the good ones, and have changed as a person more than I thought possible. Or maybe I’ve just learned how to be myself. I can honestly say I didn’t truly grow up until a year ago. My teenage life lasted well into my 20’s. But better late then never.
And everything I have now, I can trace back to that road-trip. It’s the one common denominator that let me become capable of all this. It was that first decision, to go on the road-trip no matter what, that then spawned all subsequent decisions that led me here. It sparked a commitment to truly better my life, no matter the cost, no matter the fear or doubts. That was when my life truly began, because it’s when I finally learned how to actually live.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Found a cool free program called Rainmeter that lets you customize your desktop to have all sorts of functionality, but you can “click-through” it so it’s just like it’s an informative wallpaper. Also, very little memory usage. Here’s my current desktop! Pretty! Click pic for bigger sizes.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Bioware released its first small-game today. A flash game for Facebook called Gift Of The Yeti. I gotta say, it’s super addictive, and I normally don’t like these types of small games. It takes a few plays to get the hang of it, but it’s great arcade-style, high-score earning fun. Give it a shot, click the pic!
P.S. Some of Nathan’s friends were visiting and the team needed some voice-work done for the yeti. Caleb, a friend of Nathan’s who I’ve hung out with a few times, ended up doing the “Yeti, Set, Goooo!” at the beginning, and some of the Yeti grunts. Now we tease him about it :P
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
This is hilarious. The band ‘The Swell Season’ was at a bar while on tour and were bought drinks by 2 celebrities, who turned out to be Jason Segel and Paul Rudd. They became buddies and Jason agreed to be a surprise guest on their tour and sing a song. This is the song he came up with.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Last night was Nathan’s last day at BioWare. His year contract was up and he had to take the 3 mandatory months off. Hopefully he’ll be back as soon as those 3 months are up, and from the sounds of things it’s quite likely, which is good. So for his last day a group of us took him to OPM and treated him. Ironic, because a year ago to the day was our first day and BioWare treated all of US to OPM.
That evening, after work, we all met in the BioWare audio room and hooked up the 360 and Wii and played videogames (on a $40,000 audio system and really nice TV), drank beer and ordered pizza. It was a really fun night, and the last of us didn’t leave till about 1:00 AM. A great way to send Nathan off.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
I’ve had some songs I’ve been meaning to use in a playlist and just never got around to it. I’ve also found some great new music lately as well. So this time around, the playlist will be mixed with some brand new tunes and some old one’s I’ve been hoarding. But if you haven’t heard it, it’s new to you! As always, playlist is to the right -->
- Muse – Guiding Light
- We Are Scientists – After Hours
- Death Cab For Cutie – My Mirror Speaks
- Florence and the Machine – Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)
- Noah and the Whale – Blue Skies
- The Streets – On The Edge Of A Cliff
- Zero 7 – The Road
- Guster – Happier
- Mother Mother – Burning Pile
- Muse – MK ULTRA
- Florence and the Machine – Cosmic Love
- Death Cab For Cutie – A Diamond And A Tether
- Mother Mother – Wrecking Ball
- Dredg – Sang Real
- Matthew Good – The Last Parade
- Matthew Good – The Boy Who Could Explode
- Devin Townsend Project – In Ah!
- Guster – Ruby Falls
- Anathema – Flying (Acoustic)
- Porcupine Tree – Arriving Somewhere But Not Here
- 30 Seconds To Mars – This Is War
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
For those of you who are not familiar with Yahtzee, he is a game critic who does reviews called “Zero Punctuation” because it’s just one long rant with hardly a breath taken. He tends to be extremely critical, and it’s honestly an honor to have a review by him. And if you’ve seen his other reviews, you’ll be able to tell he actually liked this game!
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Bunker down for a long read.
So Dragon Age is out. It’s getting stellar reviews, and outselling our wildest expectations. We’ve broken several EA records. It’s so rewarding to see people loving what I sunk so many hours in to. Though PRC is where I was put into a more important role with more creative input, so it’s the PRC that is my real baby, and I can’t wait for people to see what Bioware has planned. The initial DLC has already sold over a $1,000,000, so I think it’s safe to say people are liking it so far.
My contract was supposed to end today. I started at Bioware on November 20th last year, and the longest you can have a contract by EA rules is a year. But because I’m on the PRC team and they need me for at least a while longer, my contract was extended to the end of January. I’ve watched a lot of my friends leave Bioware now that their contract is up, and it was hard to see. Some day my contract will be up too, even if I did manage to squeeze an extra 2 months out of it. There was a time when the PRC team planned on getting me fulltime, but then the harsh realities of the economy forced Bioware to change their plans as far as hiring new people go.
Now I watch my contract end date get closer and closer. Dragon Age main game is out, and it’s no secret Mass Effect 2 is coming out soon (January 26, 2010). QA as a department will be shrinking severely due to these projects ending. Dragon Age as a franchise still has a lot coming, and Mass Effect is a trilogy, but QA terms aren’t generally needed until the second half of a project. A QA Design Analyst however, is invaluable to the first half of the project, and that’s the job I’ve been fighting for, and more or less the job I do now, even though I’m only technically a QA term by title (and pay).
I had some friends, Chad and Colin, who worked as QA Terms for the main game and they were sorta the superstars of QA at the time. Their contracts ran out, and they were forced to take their 3 months off. Well it’s been almost 5 months and they’re not back yet, though not for lack of trying. Like I said, the QA pool is shrinking, so getting into a shrinking department is not easy.
Needless to say I’m concerned. Everyone I’ve worked with at Bioware seems to be very happy with my work. My old boss from when I was on the main game, Zac, was impressed by my work, as were the PRC lead I work for now, Jason, and the QA leads, Vanessa and Ferret. They all tried to get me fulltime. But the economy is bad, and the industry is feeling it more than ever before. EA just laid off 1500 people, and while it was no one from Bioware, it still reflects the times we live in.
Sadly, the reality of the situation seemed to be that whether or not I get full-time has less to do with my work ethic/quality and more to do with budgets and fiscal year projections. So I really started to get realistic about things, and even started planning for the worst.
The possibility of leaving at the end of my contract and then waiting months to get back into Bioware, either in a fulltime position or even just another year long term, and not getting it month after month started to scare me. I pictured being in Edmonton for 6 months after my contract ended, but just working some entry level job. I moved out here for Bioware, and Bioware was my chance to get into the industry. If Bioware was no longer available to me, what would I be in Edmonton for?
The idea of eventually moving back to Winnipeg started to seem like a possibility… Even though it would only be temporary, because I know I’ll never give up on getting into the industry. But if I’d just be biding my time while applying at studios, I might as well consider doing it from Winnipeg where cost of living is cheap and my oldest friends and my family live. But I like Edmonton and have made friends here too, and do have connections in Bioware here… Either way, It was time to make a backup plan.
So today I had a meeting with my boss, and I told him about my concerns and subsequent plan, and he sounded quite a bit more optimistic than I had been. He told me several things which raised my spirits:
- The company is aware of me and the hard work I’ve contributed to the projects I’ve been on. They do want to keep me, and are just waiting for the opportunity to arise to allow them to do so.
- There is the odd full time position that opens up, probably more so with the natural restructuring that comes when projects are completed and new ones begin, and he’s definitely got my name in mind for one of those positions.
- I can email my resume directly to Zac when my 3 months off are up, since he’s in charge of hiring and is impressed with the work I’ve done. This will make it much easier to get back in after my 3 months off, instead of taking my chances with the regular hiring process.
- Even if Bioware doesn’t work out, he made it clear that with my experience at Bioware, one of the top studios in the industry, and with references from some important people within that studio, not to mention some very successful products with my name on them, my chances of getting a fulltime position somewhere within the industry once I start looking are much higher than I originally thought.
- He also told me of several other opportunities which I unfortunately can’t write of in a public blog, one of which being the best of them all, the one that makes me the most optimistic.
While Winnipeg remains a possible backup plan, fortunately it looks like I have a lot more options to pursue before it comes to that.
I just applied to the small Bioware studio that opened in Montreal for a fulltime QA Design Analyst position. It’s a much-vied for spot though, so I’m not kidding myself about my chances on that one.
I’m at Bioware until the end of January. After my visit to Winnipeg I’ll have about 3 weeks left. My bosses have said they’re still looking for ways to get me fulltime by then, but that it’s sadly unlikely due to budget restraints. But I can still hope, and it’s not entirely impossible.
If nothing happens by the time I get back from Winnipeg, which is the likely scenario, then I will have 3 weeks to start applying at every other studio I can think of, across Canada and the U.S. The references I get from the people I’ve worked with at Bioware will go a long way. I’ll get an entry level crap job once my contract ends, and keep applying at studios the whole time.
If I don’t hear anything back from any other studios, which is actually kind of unlikely, I will stay in Edmonton for my 3 months off, working that crappy entry level job to make rent and keep myself from going insane. For those 3 months, the PRC team will still be looking for fulltime positions for me. But if nothing comes up, then after the 3 months are over I’ll email Zac about getting another year long term, which is relatively likely since Zac was always impressed by me. Then I can try again for fulltime over the length of that contract. By the end of it I’ll have 2 years experience in the industry, and hopefully the economy will start looking up, and my chances at Bioware and/or other studios will go up even higher.
Not to mention the biggest and most likely opportunity which I sadly cannot describe in this blog, as I said.
But in the unlikely worst case scenario in which that opportunity doesn’t pan out, I don’t get the Montreal position, 5 months go by after my current contract ends and Bioware still isn’t in a position to hire me, even just for another term contract, and no other studios have expressed an interest in me, I’ll have to start asking myself why I’m still in Edmonton… I love my life here, have made some fantastic friends and had some great times. But if all I’m doing is working an entry level job to pay the bills, it might make more sense to be somewhere those bills are cheaper and I can see my family and oldest friends more than once a year. So at that point, if nothing was on the horizon from Bioware or any other studio, I’d probably at least consider the idea of moving back to Winnipeg. Not permanently, I’m never going to give up on this industry; whatever it takes, this is the industry I will form a career in. My dedication alone seems to be a major factor that has started to set me out from others in my ambition to get into the industry, no matter how long it takes. And that dedication is unwavering. But if I’m just biding my time, applying at studios every few months, I’d at least consider doing it from Winnipeg. Though I’d definitely then miss my friends and life here.
If Bioware isn’t the studio I end up working at, then chances are I’ll end up moving to either Vancouver or Montreal in the end; those are the 2 major gaming hubs in Canada. Winnipeg is conveniently right in the middle, and it would be nice (and help deal with the inevitable depression) to spend the time between real jobs with close friends and family. On the other hand, just living in a city where I have contacts through Bioware and my cousin could go a long way, not to mention I really like the friends and life I’ve made here… Lots to think about.
The industry is in a tight spot. I’m trying to break into the industry at the worst time. But I’ve proven myself with my knowledge and ability, the right people are aware of me, and I have several ways available to me to deal with this. The absolute last one being my backup plan, which is the temporary move back to Winnipeg / biding my time in Edmonton. But as I look at all my options, and take in all the info I got at my meeting today, I don’t think that’s something I need to worry about after all. WHAT happens is very up in the air right now, no question about it. But I do think chances are actually pretty high that SOMETHING will happen, something that does not involve taking more than 3-4 months off or moving back to Winnipeg.
So while it’s definitely stressful, it’s also exciting. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable in my new life here, and change is now on the horizon once again. One way or another, change is coming. And while it’s pretty likely it’ll get worse before it gets better (contract ending), all signs are pointing to it getting better in the end. All the things I listed here, and the few I couldn’t write about lead me to believe I have a bright not-so-distant future ahead of me. I feel good about my prospects right now, despite the stress and uneasiness that comes with the uncertainty.
I’ve gone through many ups and downs in the last year: From wondering why I moved to Edmonton and thinking it might have been a mistake at first to then realizing I’d found the career and passion I’d been missing my whole life, then finding out the real impact the economy was having on the industry and seeing the hiring cap and contract limitations get introduced, to then being told by the PRC team that they were going to find me a fulltime position, only to then hear that it wasn’t likely to happen due to the unexpected implications of the prolonged recession, then getting my contract extended beyond the normal limit at the last second, to thinking I might have to move back to Winnipeg, to THEN finding out my prospects weren’t quite as bleak as that.
But through it all, I can’t help but be thankful. I remember what my life was like when I had no true goal or passion. And even though it’s been stressful at times, and a real rollercoaster, I can’t imagine life without this goal.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
A short clip from the Dragon Age release party. This was taken while they were setting up for the presentation (aka before the drinking!). It was a good time, and very cool to see the team celebrate such an immense (and successful) undertaking!
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Mark today as a very significant day in my life. Dragon Age hit shelves today. A year of working hard with a great team has paid off. There is now a fantastic product with my name on it. I’ve never had this sort of professional pride before. The reviews have started coming in, and they’re overwhelmingly positive! Some highlights:
GamePro – 100% (Editor’s Choice) – Full Review
Re-reading what I've written here, I honestly feel like I've barely scratched the surface of what Dragon Age: Origins has to offer, and in a way, I'm glad I'm not able to give too much away. Dragon Age is a spectacular experience from beginning to end, and with an enormous amount of choices to make, cities to visit, dungeons to crawl, NPCs to interact with, treasure to find, quests to complete and crafts to master, I feel pretty confident in saying that Dragon Age: Origins is, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable and immersive RPG experiences I've had since my Infinity Engine days. BioWare has crafted a spectacular journey with Dragon Age, and an unforgettable fantasy realm that's sure to resonate with fantasy and adventure fans the world over.
Giant Bomb – 100% - Full Review
This is definitely not the game for those frightened of the idea of micromanaging a game to the point where a large portion of it will be spent in a pause screen. However, as the sort of guy that has lovingly played an Infinity Engine game at least once every year for the past decade, I can think of no higher praise for this throwback than to say that Dragon Age: Origins leaves me feeling fairly confident I won't need to dig out the classics for this ritual next year.
1UP – 100% – Full Review
It's the best RPG of the year -- and maybe the best of the HD era.
USA Today – 100% – Full Review
RPG fans in search of a meaty game with plenty of depth and replayability won't be disappointed with Dragon Age: Origins, a masterfully crafted adventure that offers a lot of bang for your buck.
GameZone – 99% – Full Review
But for the true RPG gamer, this game is of a level that has never been seen before. It is the new benchmark. The story is rich and engaging, the characters are memorable, and the journey is one that pulls you in, captivates you and compels you to move forward toward the conclusion.
Meristation – 95% – Full Review
Bioware has managed to update and evolve the formula that made Baldur's Gate 2 a classic, creating an engaging, rich, and solidly fantastic universe that feels consistently coherent and credible. Dragon Age is a triumph that shows, among other things, how the core values of the traditional roleplaying genre are still valid, managing to include a complete and versatile combat system that welcomes new players and will challenge veterans, with difficult encounters where tactics are the key to victory. Overall, it's a really special RPG, which truly deserves to be called "epic".
Gamespot – 85% (360) 90% (PS3 – Editor’s Choice)
95% (PC – Editor’s Choice) – Full Review
Incredible storytelling, great characters, and exciting battles are just a few of the things that make this fantasy role-playing game so extraordinary. Possibly the best authentic RPG of the decade.
PC Gamer UK – 94% – Full Review
This is the most enormously detailed game world I've experienced, its history stretching back thousands of years, its cultures vivid, beautiful and flawed, the battles enormous, the humour superb. Roleplaying games now have a great deal to live up to.
PC Zone UK – 93%
Dragon Age: Origins is a brave and brutal return to form for PC fantasy roleplaying - bettering nearest rival The Witcher through both its combat and the innate lovability of so many of its characters...With Dragon Age: Origins BioWare have secured their position as masters of the RPG art. [Christmas 2009, p.68]
Strategy Informer – 93% – Full Review
Dragon Age: Origins is much more than a game – it’s the glorious revisiting of Bioware’s past and a look at where they are going in the future.
PC Gamer US – 92%
Without any doubt, Dragon Age accomplishes the mission… To deliver the best story-driven RPGs in the world.
IGN UK – 92% (Editor’s Choice) – Full Review
Bioware’s achievements in all this are incredible. It cannot be stressed enough at the depth of the universe they have conjured. Every corner you look, there is a sense of age, of something old. Entire mythologies for multiple cultures have been brewed up, entire religions mapped out in their own belief systems, history that stretches back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Cities look lived in, worn – majestic and squalid places that spill with times gone by and a sense of place. The castles look like they have been there for centuries, and truly, there is an uncertain sense that they have been. That Ferelden and its inhabitants were waiting patiently in the wings for all this time, waiting for their chance to shine. Well, like the Grey Wardens, their time has come. Let us unite then, and in the words of an old friend: We shall show those cursed Darkspawn our hearts – and then show them theirs.
Absolute Games – 92%
You don’t need a thousand words to make you fall in love with Dragon Age: Origins. It has everything that is sought by the most jaded fans of the genre: at least 60 hours of adventuring, colorful, lively characters, flexible combat system, complex situations and quests, dialogues that are pleasant to read and even more pleasant to listen to… Dragon Age, like a good storyteller, captivates within minutes. It doesn’t rush the story, relishes in small details, goes into ornate lyrical digressions, and maintains the intrigue, keeping you at the edge of your seat.
GameSpy – 90% – Full Review
After logging over a hundred hours on Dragon Age: Origins, I still want to continue playing. I want to unearth more of its secrets, to better know its characters, to see how the decisions I make can impact its world, and yes, to see more of its endings. I can't think of a better recommendation than that.
Game Informer – 90% – Full Review
In addition to capturing the joy of battle, Dragon Age also provides an engrossing backdrop for the action. Even more than Mass Effect, the nation of Ferelden feels like a fully realized setting with its own history, conflicts, and power groups. This is one of the main reasons the game is so addicting; completing quests isn’t just about grinding experience and amassing loot – it actually feels like you have an impact on the world.
IGN US – 90% (Editor’s Choice) – Full Review
Incredibly deep and expansive, Dragon Age: Origins is one of those titles that can easily swallow up dozens of hours of play and keep you coming back for more. The fact that BioWare chose to include downloadable content, including a new character and side quest, on launch day proves that they have an extensive plan for supporting the game. Couple that with the fact that each character can be developed in radically different ways, and you have an adventure that earns its own place among BioWare's expansive RPG collection. This is the kind of adventure that fantasy RPG fans have been hoping that BioWare would deliver – a game with a ton of re-playability and an incredibly vivid world that is the start of an impressive franchise.
And for good measure, a video review:
Game Trailers – 91%
And here’s a few excerpts from some written reviews that had no concrete rating system (so no %):
Tycho Brahe of Penny Arcade:
It satisfied on the basic level of simple pleasures, like slurping a spaghetti noodle.
Perhaps the biggest testament to Dragon Age: Origins is the fact that after more than 40 hours of play time, I found myself contemplating my next character as the credits rolled, working out in my head what I would do differently the next time around. During the busy fall video game release season, when my response to completing even the most enjoyable games is "next," it takes an extremely compelling title for me to want to go again. Dragon Age: Origins is exactly that sort of title.
So clearly the game is being well-received! And now I can finally show people a screenshot of my name in the credits! Along with the amazing QA team I worked with, many of whom have become good friends over the past year. Click the pic to see a fullscreen version!
It’s been a surreal experience, and I’m honored to have been a part of it. Hopefully this isn’t the last game from Bioware with my name in the credits, because this team is truly amazing. Today was the release party, which was great. I’ll post more about that later though. Go out and buy yourselves a copy of Dragon Age: Origins today!!! (And if I find out you pirated it, we’re no longer friends!)
I leave you with the newly released trailer announcing 30 Seconds To Mars’ exclusive song released with Dragon Age!