There are a lot of myths and a lot of misconceptions about what it's like to work this kind of job, and to be honest, listening to some of the "theories" people have about what guys like me do each day, and how guys like me operate, can get pretty old sometimes.
But every so often, something happens that reminds me of how fortunate I am to be where I am. The other day I attended a press event and saw Neverwinter Nights 2 for an exclusive preview I wrote for GameSpot, and got a one-on-one demonstration from Obsidian Entertainment's Chris Avellone, a game designer and writer for whom I have tremendous respect, and whom I was convinced I was doomed to never meet in person. Earlier this year, I arranged a studio visit to Obsidian from which I had to excuse myself at the last minute; later I booked Avellone and studio president Feargus Urquhart to appear on GameSpot's live E3 stage show, although during the broadcast, I was on the other side of the convention center on the way to various appointments to cover different games, pushing past crowds of people who had absolutely no business being there, rather than hanging out at our stage.
For those who don't know, Avellone was lead designer on Fallout 2 and Knights of the Old Republic 2. He also did most of the writing for one of my all-time favorite games, (and one of GameSpot's Greatest Games of All Time), the text-heavy Planescape: Torment. In my book, he's one of the best writers in the game business--I feel he's especially adept at creating believable, memorable characters that are endearing by not being cliche sympathetic characters (victimized damsels in distress or soft-hearted, spineless do-gooders who bend over backwards for everyone they meet), but rather by being complex, yet having relatable issues that don't seem petty or self-indulgent.
The Nameless One, the protagonist from Planescape: Torment, is probably my favorite character in any game I've ever played. Yet there I was, finally meeting Avellone, and finding that he was nothing like I expected him to be (soft-spoken, talkative, and not quite as tall as I thought he would be), and exactly as I expected him to be (bright, insightful, and passionate about good stories and game development). The guy who created my favorite character in one of my all-time favorite games looked me right in the eye, shook my hand, and actually remembered me from all the emails we'd swapped in the past--a game developer ready and eager to show me the new project that he and his colleagues have been working so hard to create.
I don't get starstruck. I'm always pleased to make new acquaintances, and revisit existing ones, with developers in the game industry, all of whom I respect greatly for their hard work and creativity. But meeting with game developers for the purposes of covering their games is part of the job, and it's a job I take very seriously, because if I didn't, frankly, I wouldn't deserve it. However, Avellone is one of the last few game developers on my informal (and extremely short) list whom I both hold in the absolute highest regard, and whom I hadn't yet been able to meet in person. But now I'm sitting here and going back over my week, which also included a visit from Blizzard Entertainment on Friday to get a firsthand look at World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade, also for another preview I wrote for GameSpot. And earlier that Friday morning, I met with Shawn Firminger of ACES Studio for a hands-on demonstration of Flight Simulator X, the next game in what is possibly the longest running game series in history (the series has been around for 25 years and counting), also for another preview I wrote for GameSpot.
At the beginning of the week, I conducted a telephone interview with the one and only Will Wright for an interview I wrote for GameSpot earlier this week. Wright is a game designer so accomplished and so talented that everyone in this business--everyone knows of him, and everyone respects him. Wright's unique and maverick creative vision helped give rise to classic games like the SimCity series and The Sims, and now the designer is working on Spore, which, of all the games that are currently in development on all different game platforms, I probably want to play the most (and this is coming from a guy who would probably donate various body parts for a shot at Resident Evil 5 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars). Yet Wright greeted me over the phone the same way he greeted me at this year's E3 when we met face-to-face again; he alleged that "it was good to talk to [me] again" as though he actually remembered who I was. Whether or not he really did, or if he was being polite, doesn't matter, now that I think about it. Because how often does anyone get a chance to chat over the phone with Will Wright?
Within the past 12 months or so, I've sat down to discuss Civilization IV with Sid Meier, the legendary (and very down-to-earth) game designer whose tenure at both Firaxis and Microprose has given rise to classic game series' like Civilization, Pirates!, and many others. I've interviewed Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games, formerly of Cavedog, and the creative mind behind both the well-loved strategy game Total Annihilation and its highly anticipated successor, Supreme Commander. At E3, I caught up with Irrational Games' Ken Levine, the designer whose creative vision helped produce System Shock 2 and the Freedom Force series to talk about GameSpot's E3 Game of Show, BioShock, for the extensive E3 preview that Brad and I put together. I've even met a few more times with Cliff "CliffyB" Bleszinski, who has contributed to the development of such games as the highly anticipated Gears of War; the Unreal Tournament series, which has been an outstanding series of first-person shooters in recent years; and the Jazz Jackrabbit series, which has...certainly been a series of games. This is just to name a few of the highly accomplished game developers I've had the opportunity to meet over the course of what has apparently been a career for me all these years.
But the point I'm trying to make isn't about dropping names or bragging about how I've met all these people and you haven't. It's really more of an affirmation, for myself as much as for anyone else, of how fortunate I've been to be where I am, doing what I'm doing. There may or may not be a lesson in here for you, somewhere. There's definitely one here for me.