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Musings about working with Jeff

I originally hadthis post about the HotSpot, and this one about Jeff mushed together, buteach needs to be its own separate thing.

I wanted to say a few words about Jeff. For about the last year or so that I worked at GameSpot, just before I left for Blizzard, Jeff was my boss.I worked primarily as a reviews editor for him in that final year at GS. Most of you know Jeff as that funny off-the-wall guy who charismatically carried On The Spot with Rich, and also my own podcast, the HotSpot. And he is that guy. The side you might not know is the Jeff who wouldn't hesitate to go to bat for his people. I wrote quite a number of reviews while working for Jeff--not all of them were particularly flattering of course. And once in a while some angry marketing flack, or on occasion, producer would contact me, irate over my lambasting their game. All I ever had to do was forward them to Jeff, and he'd bite the bullet for me--he'd deal with their angry tirade and shield me and all the other reviews editors from all that nonsense.

So what you say? That's his job as head of the reviews department, right? Well here's the thing. He stood by me even when I was in the wrong. Some of you may remember the gaffe I made on a certain high-profile review, regarding certain online features of the game. That was totally my fault, and my oversight on a high profile game. Even though it was a relatively innocuous thing that didn't materially affect the rating, it turned into quite a fuss, primarily because fanboys of a certain major game company think the review scale for that company's games should run from 9 to 10 instead of 1 to 10. And if a review dare drop below 9, the facts and assertions in that review better be bulletproof, lest you incur their eternal ire. In this case, it was not.

So it was scandalous and embarrassing for GameSpot to deal with that mistake. And Jeff could have easily thrown me under the bus. But he didn't. We had a discussion about what went wrong and how I missed it. I told him what happened, and that I was terribly embarrassed by the whole thing. He and I then sat down together and tested the specific features I missed. He agreed with me that they were immaterial to the score, and then we added the amendment to the review. There was no yelling, no threatening, no passive aggressive bullsh*t. He treated me like a professional, worked together with me to make it right, and discussed how to avoid making that mistake again. If there was any fallout or angry phone call from the publisher on that issue, I never heard or knew about it--he or one of the other senior editors handled it, because they always believed it was important forthe reviews staff to be independent and not worry about outside pressures.From start to finish, he stood by me and my work even in the rare case that it wasn't up to GameSpot's high standards. And I always appreciated that.

It's what makes it extra sad to me that Jeff was dismissed. Apparently there was no one above Jeff in the GameSpot hierarchywho would do the same thing for him that he did for me -- stand by him and the work he did.

Musings about the HotSpot

That was possibly the best HotSpot that's been recorded to date. I was moved at the heartfelt earnestness of those who spoke on the podcast, all of whom I had the privilege of working with during my stint at GameSpot. What hit home for me is the part when Ricardo talked about those who work at GameSpot being a family, because it's absolutely true.

When I first started working there in February of 2003, I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive. Since GameSpot was part of CNET, I was worried that the folks working there would be all corporate, and there'd be a coldness to working there. Prior to my arrival at GameSpot, I'd just come off of working for FiringSquad and Gamers.com, companies which were founded by people who became close friends of mine. I recruited my college buddies to work there, and we all took to working together, and that was a big family atmosphere. Matter of fact, during my stint at FS and Gamers, I turned down one or two chances to work at GameSpot because I felt too much loyalty to my friends at the startup.

So coming to GameSpot, I didn't know what to expect, but I thought for sure, it couldn't offer the same cameraderie that I enjoyed at FS and Gamers. I couldn't have been more wrong. In my roughly three and a half years at GameSpot, I forged quite a number of friendships that persist to this day and will continue to flourish. Sure the site had the trappings and backing of a big corporation, but you'd never know it from the atmosphere in the GameSpot portion of the office. There was and probably still is a marked difference in feel when you walk through the edit, video, engineering, production, and art portions of GameSpot vs. any other floor in CNET, which might as well be Initech from Office Space for what I could tell.With the GameSpot floor, there'sa palpable difference in attitude and culture. Sure it's a lot of fun loving guys and gals, but every single person took their work seriously, because anything less would be letting down the rest of the family, most of whom were your friends.

In my time there, it really was the best of both worlds -- the passion and familial atmosphere of a startup or blog operation, with all the resources that a major corporation could provide. And guys like Greg Kasavin and Jeff worked so hard to maintain that separation, the duality that made GameSpot such a success. Hopefully those who are left, especially those who handle the business side, can value and draw upon the experience of the veterans to understand how it's supposed to be.

I was heartened by what I heard on the podcast, because I know all those guys. There is no more dedicated or honest group than my old mates at GameSpot--if they say it, you're damned right I'm going to believe it. And as long as those guys are still there, the people I know and believe in, I'm going to keep coming to GS to read the news, read the reviews, and watch the videos, because I know I can trust them.

I don't ever have to question it, because I've worked with these guys, looked them in the eye, drank with them, and busted my ass at the same damn tradeshows with them for years. None of the guys I know is going to print words or say anything into the camera that he doesn't well and truly believe. Here's hoping that the company that employs them will continue to protect their ability to do their jobs the right way.

Review: Fast and the Furious--Tokyo Drift

Once a reviewer, always a reviewer I guess. Here's a movie review.

Score:
8.4

Pros: exciting car scenes; mad drift action; hotter chicks than the previous two movies; subtle angry-asian-man touches from director Justin Lin

Cons: they found a white guy who's a worse actor than Paul Walker; could have used more scenes with the scantily clad import models; too much talking

I stayed in the Bay Area an extra night to catch the premiere of Fast & the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and boy did I NOT regret it. If you love the series, this movie is twelve kinds of awesome. Yes the acting blows. Yes the script sucks even harder. But damn that's all just part of the appeal anyway--if you didn't get that into your head by this third movie, then you just never will get it. Stop reading now, and go back to discussing your favorite indie films with your other emo-friends over your decaf latte. Those of us who had red meat for dinner, keep reading. The F&F movies have been, are, and always will be about the car scenes and to a lesser degree, the girls. And Tokyo Drift delivers on both counts with authority.

For those who've only seen the trailer, you might ask yourself, how does a bumpkin-lookin cracka end up in Tokyo with Bow Wow trying to learn how to drift down parking structures and mountain roads against native Japanese drift champs? Is this an episode of Initial D or something? And where the heck did the dead-ringer-for-Brooke-Burke-but-younger-who-speaks-Japanese love interest come from? Pffft. Plot details. Never you mind. All you need to know is that the drift scenes and car chases in this movie are awesome and fun as hell to watch, and they come in just enough volume to keep you interested throughout the 90 minute or so runtime of the film. You'll come out of the theater wanting to fire up some OutRun or Ridge Racer. And almost as fun to watch are the sweeping, low angle camera shots of the races and parties where the movie would have you believe every other woman in Japan looks like a model straight out of Hot Import Nights, and dresses like there's a national shortage of fabric. Not that any red-blooded, heterosexual should mind, of course.

Director Justin Lin even manages to toss in a few subtle and not-so-subtle shout outs to the predominantly Asian American male viewership of the movie, like the scene where Han chides Sean about chasing DK's non-Japanese girlfriend Neela (aka Brooke Burke Jr.), "why can't you find yourself a nice Japanese girl like all the other white guys around here?" Clearly, Lin hasn't forgotten his Better Luck Tomorrow roots just yet, and while it's unfortunate he got stuck with such a lemon of a script for one of his first major Hollywood films, he certainly made lemonade out of it. Tokyo Drift is the perfect, mindless summer action flick, the kind of lightweight but engaging trifle that the film industry seems to have forgotten that us 18-35 year old males still like to see on the big screen.

PS: See if you can spot the MC Hammer poster that makes a cameo in the background of one (or more?) scene in the movie. It's like playing Where's Waldo. Except it's "Where's Hammer?"

Stuff I'll miss about the Bay Area

Now that it's less than 16 hrs or so before I drive out of here for good, here's a list of stuff I'm going to miss about the Bay Area, in no particular order

- my friends, incl. all those goofballs I used to work with at GS

- daube de boeuf and tomato soup with puff pastry at Bistro Jeanty

- Steff's sports bar

- Corned beef and turkey sloppy joes at Tommy's Joynt on Geary and Van Ness

- 3-way combo plates at Everett & Jones BBQ in Oakland

- East Bay hip hop, incl E-40, Too $hort, Keak da Sneak

- friends and a board to play Settlers of Catan with

- being able to drive up to Napa on a whim and buy bottles and bottles of wine

- doing the HotSpot podcast

- monthly poker nights

- the pho place at the 99 Ranch Market shopping center (tho I'll be in striking distance of a bajillion Vietnamese places down in Garden Grove)

- playing basketball at lunchtime on Fridays, and at Lowell HS on Saturdays

- the girl who's cut my hair for the last 5 years

- The DFC (Durant Food Court in Berkeley, home of Steve's Korean BBQ and Meesha's Gyros place)

- local media coverage of Cal sports (Go Bears!)

- proximity to stores that actually stock a good selection of Cal gear

- Chicken tikka masala at the Indian joint across the street from the GS offices

- Cuban sandwiches at 21st Amendment

- garlic fries at Pac Bell Park (I'm not calling it SBC Park, dammit)

- Little Star Pizza

- Fat Tire Ale

- Chicken fried steak at Rudy's Can't Fail cafe in Emeryville

- workable public transportation

- good hole-in-the-wall eateries of varying cultural origin (the OC seems to be the home of national chain restaurants and white-washed 'ethnic' food)

- the arcade machines in the GameSpot lounge

- niu row mien at Gou Bu Li in San Pablo

- chocolate-raspberry cookies at Teacake Bakeshop in Emeryville

- sundaes at Fenton's in Oakland

- drinking pitchers of frozen margarita at Chevy's during lunch

- late night trips to Casino San Pablo and the Oaks Card Club

- Lester's smoked bbq pork ribs

- 20 people all doing an Irish Car Bomb at the bar

- Chimichangas at Casa Orozco Mexican restaurant in Dublin

- Drinking Red Devils at Thallasa in Berkeley

- The sight of ships in San Francisco Bay as you drive across the top deck of the Bay Bridge

- Seeing the sun set on the Bay from just about any elevated point of the East Bay

- Being able to say I'm from the 510, the East Yay, the home of hyphy and "yeeeeeee!!!"

- The sound of the cannon going off on Tightwad Hill when Cal football scores at home games in Berkeley.

- Laughing at all the poor stanfurd fans here.

- Followed only by laughing at all the silly Niners fans.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that like...80% of the list is food and liquor related. But yea, after living here for most of the last 11 years, it's strange to say that I'm going to miss it. When I arrived here in fall of '95 to start school at Berkeley, I absolutely loathed this place. I hated the cool and rainy climate, the car-unfriendliness, the densely packed and cramped feel of the cities and their general filth (particularly Berkeley and SF), and the liberal politics of the area. I guess over time I'd grown to appreciate everything here and now even see a lot of things through a different lens. Honestly, if I had my druthers I'd stay here where most of my friends are, but the promise and excitement of a career change compels me to go back south. Can't have it both ways, so be it. This seemed to be the only logical choice, and I can't say I hesistated much if at all in pulling the trigger.

I would like to add one more thing--it could only be Murphy's law in effect when two days before you move away 450 miles is when you meet a cute bartender/dancer who makes a pass at you and then responds favorably when you spit some game back at her. Some of us are cursed, I guess :P

Dead man walking

Ow, that laser shot to the face really stings. Damned Trivia Robot **shakes fist**

In any case, yes it's with mixed feelings that I announced my last week here at GameSpot, via the HotSpot podcast last night. It's been a good run of 3 years, 4 months, 6 days, but a new opportunity came along that I just could not pass up. It's weird to even say that, given what an incredible experience I've had working here. I've actually been writing about games for nearly 8 and a half years now for various publications. I loved it so much that I dropped out of college for a couple of years to pursue this career, before coming back later to finish, but I haven't regretted a minute of the journey. In that time, GameSpot has been, without a doubt, the most well-organized and professionally-run of all the operations I've worked for. I'll always appreciate what a privilege it was to work here and contribute to the world's greatest gaming publication.

I'll still be hanging out here, reading the site, listening to the HotSpot, maybe adding a blog post here and there. After all, I gotta make sure Greg, Jeff, Alex, Carrie, Brian, Ricardo, Rich, Justin, and all the rest of the crew continue to keep it real, right?

As for what I'm doing next, I know that now's not quite the right time to say what it is in a forum like this--I should at least wait until I'm actually started working there. I'm not even sure what the etiquette is on this sort of thing...as excited as I am about it, I want to just scream out from the rooftops where I'm going and how stoked I am about it, but I just don't know that it's kosher to do that in a public space. In any case, I'm still staying in gaming, so don't worry that I've suddenly sold out and decided to go to law school or something. I'll still be up at nights playing World of Warcraft and trying to get 360 achievement points and spending way too much money on games and hardware.

Thanks again for all the well wishes!

The achievement points whoring has begun

Am I allowed to say that? Whoring? Whatever, that's what it is. As you can see, I've added my Xbox Live "gamercard" to my GS profile here now that I've got 2,105 points. Of course 2000 of those were gained in less than an hour this weekend after abusing 2K Sports' basketball games and their joke of an achievement points system. Now I just need to grab the EA sports games from the GS library and shake those down for some easy points. Also have King Kong here from GameFly for another g's worth of easy points. After months of making fun of Carrie and Jeff and Ryan for their legendary points mongering lifestyles, I'm officially joining the rat race.

PS: please don't try to add me on XBL if we don't know each other. Actually that applies to you guys who've tracked me down on other social networking sites too. It's nothing personal, I just like to keep my friends lists strictly to people I know in RL.

Bungee jumping video

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So it was only like 6 months late, but whatever. Here's me doing my first and only bungee jump ever, off a 171 foot platform in Las Vegas. This video was taken in late December of '05. Skip to about the 1:30 mark or so if you wanna get right to the jump. And thanks Rich Gallup for encoding this off the VHS tape!

I got punk'd

OK maybe more like, self-owned. So Half-Life 2 Episode 1 was supposed to launch on Steam today, June 1. Though Jason already had a chance to play the game earlier (see our preview), we wanted to give another reviewer (moi) a crack at the game. That meant jumping on Steam and playing the game right from the public get-go. The plan was that I'd preload the game on Steam, come in to the office at midnight and then crank through the game during the dead of night and be ready with a review first thing in the morning. The only reason I didn't do this from home, btw, is b/c my home computer is a bit on the pokey side, and I wanted to get a better gaming experience from my faster computer here at work.

Good plan right? I even slept at home from about 6PM to 12AM so I'd be bright-eyed and bushy tailed for a late night of HL2 action. So I stroll into the office tonight, all ready to go with some dinner and two tallboy cans of Mountain Dew Amp to keep alert. I open up the Steam app and find...the game is still locked. WTH. Then I realize...the game doesn't unlock on Steam until 10AM Pacific, not 12AM. pwnt.

Well, no sweat right? With no traffic in the middle of the night it's only a 20 min drive home from the office, so I'll just go home and try to go back to sleep. Except for the fact that CalTrans closed off all access to the eastbound portion of the Bay Bridge. All traffic on the 80 E was actually diverted to surface streets and all on-ramps to the 80 E in downtown SF were closed except the one on Bryant. This led to a gargantuan backup of trucks and cars at 2:30AM in the SOMA area. Rather than get in the stupid-long line of cars from 8 different streets trying to cram into a SINGLE on-ramp, I decided to drive all the way south on 101 to the San Mateo bridge, and take the long way around to the East Bay. The 20 min drive home turned into an hour long drive. Yea it wouldn't have taken that long if I just got in the line of cars, but that's just how I am...I'd rather drive miles out of the way to avoid slow traffic than willingly get myself into bumper-to-bumper grind.

The worst part is, I'm still awake. Time to try to get some sleep before I come into the office to start on Episode 1. For REALS this time!

Jeff and Alex definitely owe me a can of Hyphy Juice for this one!