Free at Last?

This is the first weekend I’ve had that I can remember where I wasn’t either at work or feeling like I was supposed to be at work. It seems that this entire year has been one long crunch mode. Over and over again I’ve turned down offers to go out and do stuff, because I just didn’t have the time. My Tivo is hemmoraging perfectly fine programming that I just don’t have time to watch. I’ve got a stack of videogames that I said I’d check out when I got time, a stack of DVDs I’ve bought and haven’t yet unwrapped, and (most daunting) a stack of books that I’m determined to read to make myself more literate.

And this weekend I did nothing. Yes, I spent a lot of it just sitting and staring. Everything seems like too much effort; even watching a movie. I just wanted to be. I’ve been in that weird state of hyper-boredom — plenty of stuff to do, but not wanting a part of any of it, and still desperate for something to happen.

I did finally go see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and I thought that it was just amazing. Except for Gwyneth Paltrow, but she gave it her best shot. There was just so much that the movie got dead-on right, that it seemed like it came directly out of my subconscious — that is exactly what a ray-gun is supposed to look and sound like!

Other than that, though, nothing. And it’s been driving me nuts. Maybe I’m still just decompressing. I hope it’s over with soon.

Corporate Rollout Strategy

This is the part of the year where I write stuff not because it’s interesting, but just because it’s something else. I left work at 5:30 AM on Monday after being there all day Sunday, then got back in at about 2 this afternoon. Or yesterday afternoon. I’m not really sure.

At some point during the day was our big two-hour all-hands corporate roadmap meeting. All highly classified, so I can’t divulge details. Except that the question came up of why we worked so much, including the teams that have mandatory 6-day workweeks (my team’s aren’t mandatory, they’re just required). The answer was, basically, “Because it’s the videogame business.” Of course, worded with a lot more double-talk. The dreaded phrase work/life balance was again used.

I’m honestly trying to get back my motivation for the whole games business, to remember the excitement and whole “creative impulse” I felt when I wanted to get into it in the first place. But then I realize that it’s 3 AM and I’ve only been home for an hour and I’m still alone and I don’t have any towels to use for my shower tomorrow because I haven’t been able to do laundry for three weeks now.

E3

This week is the Electronic Entertainment Expo down in Los Angeles, a trade show for the videogame industry. Every year it’s the same thing: we work like crazy for months leading up to the show date, trying desperately to get a game demo ready for the show. After that, there’s an explosive decompression as we go from working 12-or-more hour days back to having not much to do to fill up 8 hours worth of time.

It all really sucks.

First, because it’s a completely artificial deadline that is driven solely by marketing.

Second, because the crunch to get read for E3 is independent of the overall life cycle of the game — you go through two peaks of horrible crunch time (pre-E3 and pre-Christmas) instead of having a steady, manageable rate of development throughout the year.

And third, because it’s a loud, flashy marketing show, the emphasis is always on flash instead of substance. So all your shallow, glittering particle effects and button-mashing gameplay elements get all the attention first, while the overall core game design gets put off until the end.

I haven’t been to the show in the past three years, partly because it’s inconvenient (companies never pay for employees to go to the show unless they’re working at it, and EA makes employees take personal time off to see it). But mostly because it’s depressing to see the state of the videogames industry. Lots of stupid, flashy stuff with no substance.

I’d wanted to go this year, just for the novelty of it, but couldn’t book a hotel room. It’s just as well; it sounds like I need at least another year to get back in the mood to see another loud, flashy trade show.