Category Archives: Real Life

Dungeons and Dragons at TfB

It all started with someone saying they had never played Dungeons and Dragons. It seems weird, working for a video game company that exists because of D&D, but many people didn’t get the opportunity to play growing up. I did. And I had even run games before, though for much less discerning players than a group of people who *make* games for a living.

4 years later, we have had two full campaigns and a short lived run through some Savage Worlds, but here we are, playing D&D again. I have played in some of it, but mostly I have been running games. Not just because it’s the easiest way to make sure we play and everyone is having fun, but more because this is what I find fun. Presenting a situation to players and watching them destroy it in the most beautiful ways.

I believe playing and running D&D games makes you a better game designer.

There are different kinds of DMs (dungeon masters) and different kinds of campaigns, but most of the players I have encountered agree that that whole point is to have fun. I have tried planning out everything meticulously and it rarely works. If I have a country road ambush, and I need the players to ride along a road at a specific time to have something specific happen, but I mention in passing while setting the scene that a monarch butterfly flits by – one of two things will happen – 1. The players will chase off after the butterfly certain that it is important because I mentioned it. Or 2. Turn around and ride the other direction because someone forgot to buy arrows or their cat is on fire back in town.

Over the years leading up to my career in video games I learned a great deal about D&D players. They might as well all be named Murphy. They will absolutely go the wrong way, do the wrong thing, at the absolute worst possible time. The job of the DM though, is to make sure they have fun doing so.

I learned to only vaguely plan what I wanted the session to be. It will always be shorter or longer than I imagine. They will have an easy time with extremely difficult monsters while dying to the fluffy bunnies of cuddles. They will bash down doors that weren’t locked, they will fall down shafts that have ladders, and they will drown in small ponds. They will also roll natural 20s (an automatic success) on unopenable chests, leap 40 foot crevasses, and drown bosses in pools of holy water without ever once touching him.

What makes D&D so much fun? What makes me enjoy running these games so much, despite it taking hours of my limited free time, excessive amounts of money for every book WotC prints, and so much mental preparation? Because I can always say YES to the player.

In video games, we are often limited by our tech or our scope. If the player in a game wants to go off the beaten path and chase down bunnies – they can’t always do that. And if we do let them do that, that takes time and money that could be spent on “more important things”. But in D&D – not only can the player do so, but I can twist the story and plan to make it so it’s important and what was intended ALL ALONG. There’s always an answer. Everything’s always connected even if it wasn’t intended to be that way.

To give a very immediate example – last night I presented my players with a room in a magical dungeon. The dungeon is magical because it creates challenges that are specific to THESE characters. This room was targeting towards our resident sorcerer, who’s day job is creating gaming supplies like cards and dice. The room was a handsomely appointed tavern room (yes, in a magical dungeon, it works because magic) with a single table and two chairs. The player immediately sat in the chair, while his party members stood back and watched, and a ghost appeared in the opposite chair to play him at a card game. As he spoke to the ghost he learned the specifics of this challenge. He had to win three bets against the ghost, before he lost 3. Of course, he lost 3 first. Now, I as the DM, didn’t have a concrete plan beyond – the ghost will attack him if he loses. That was it.

The ghost turns aggressive and attacks my player. Of course, his party members join the fray, but as they are level 1, and the ghost is quite challenging, they didn’t kill it. It however reduced my player to 0 hit points (in D&D this doesn’t mean he is dead yet, just knocked out and dying.) At this point, I could have the ghost start attacking the other players, they did after all attack the ghost. But that’s so… normal. So instead, the ghost reverts to its previous non-aggressive form and vanishes. I didn’t plan that. I thought of it in the moment.

As they revive the player, he once more sits down to play the ghost, who returns and acts as if nothing has happened and is willing to play again. They know they hadn’t beaten the room’s challenge and earned the reward. Only this time, the players change their tactics. They all start cheating like mad. Slight of hands, distractions, perception and insight rolls are flying around as they try to help the player win 3 rounds of poker. Of course, he succeeds this time – it was easy as he had 3 extra cards in his hand.

They successfully overcome the challenge and the ghost leaves, giving them access to a door that rewards them with a magical staff specifically made for the player. I didn’t plan most of it. I had exactly two words written down for this puzzle – “gambling game” and then a second note made later that said “v ghost.”

On the surface it seems like a really weird thing to have in a game. It’s not combat (well, it had combat, but it was solvable without combat.) It allowed them to fail and retry without “reloading” or sacrifice. It was still challenging, but not mindless. And yet, it’s exactly the kind of thing we frequently did in Skylanders (there was just a card game, and at times the players inexplicably had to beat them to proceed.) And mostly, the interactions, rolls, and events were generated on the fly to adjust to the players, their actions, their health and stats, and the general feel of the room.

Video game development is a weird beast. Very rarely does the plan set down at the beginning actually lead to the game at the end. Much like the adage about war, the battle plan never survives the encounter with the enemy. On the 4 Skylanders games I built levels for, never once did the order of levels survive 5 months without being changed. That’s not the first 5 months. That’s every 5 months. 5 months from CRC (the first attempt at a final build) at least one level would be moved forward or back to fix some weird issue with a story point, a mechanic, or a toy production issue. Being able to quickly think on your feet and improvise solutions using nothing but what is already in the game is a very valuable skill.

D&D is a group storytelling experience, in that the DM is taking all the threads of story being told by the players, weaving them together, then weaving them into a larger epic narrative. Many video game designers want to achieve this same goal. I have found these are generally the better designers in the game industry and often make exceptional games. They let the player affect the game, story, and experience, even if that means things break in unexpected and horribly broken ways. D&D makes me a better designer because experience DMing has taught me that saying yes to the player and allowing them to do ridiculous game breaking things often leads to the most interesting stories that get retold for years afterwards. It’s not my epic tale where I force them along a prescribed set of actions (that’s a book) it’s the group of us, working together to create hilarious adventures.

Not to mention that having a regular group of people willing to stumble and bumble through mechanics and puzzles is a really great testing ground for level design. In addition, playing with people from work leads to really amazing friendships and the ability to work really well together even when not in dungeons.

NaNoWriMo 2016

When I was 12, I got into an argument with my brother. See, I had showed him my “book” I was writing. And I said I wanted to be a writer. My brother was an artist, in that he drew, sculpted, and painted. He told me “Don’t be an artist, you don’t want to end up like me.” We argued because I insisted being a writer wasn’t the same as being an artist. To me, it wasn’t.

I see now what he meant, but even so, I still think I am right. It’s not the same. It is, in some ways, you have to be creative, determined, and dedicated. You have to practice and work at it to improve. But at the same time, his art required a dexterity of hand I did not have. My work required finding words fascinating and enjoying finding the right one.

In college I took all the English classes, including the one creative writing class. I wrote a 40 page story for my Humanities semester project. I loved writing stories, often writing down my own little head fantasies. I was in high school before I found out other people didn’t do that – have little plays in their heads.

I went off to Video Game school, determined to learn a skill that could be leveraged into a career. But I never stopped writing.

I never finished writing though. I would write for a few days, then not do it for a month, come back and the story in my head had changed. So I would write and rewrite. I would get distracted by games or tv shows. Work and side projects. There was always something.

A few times, I managed to press forward and get a hundred or so pages on some story, but it would always have flaws that kept me from FINISHING something I was writing.

This was about the time I saw NaNoWriMo for the first time. That was it. That was what I needed. A tight deadline. It needed to be a constant pressure on me to keep.writing. So I tried it for the first time 2009.

Except my job went into crunch and I had barely enough time to sleep much less write. I tried writing on the ferry and commute, but at the end of a long day of work, I was spent. There wasn’t anymore *juice*. I got about 10k words written.

It was weird – how much I felt like a failure. I hadn’t even signed up on the site. There was no one who KNEW I was a failure, but I felt like – that was it. I wasn’t a writer.

The next year, not crunching, in a much better place, I decided to try again. I planned my novel, got all my characters ready. I was good to go. I was unemployed too. PERFECT FOR WRITING. Then I literally got a job, and won a trip to BlizzCon. In November. I ended that one at around 5k words.

Even more of a failure.

The next year I just ignored it. I wasn’t a writer. And I was going to BlizzCon again.

The year after that – I had just had a kid, are you kidding me?

Then in 2013 I thought, okay, surely I can do it this time. I even had a different plan of attack. I would write it in tweets. It would take about 100 tweets a day, but it was so doable. I loved tweeting!

I managed to make about 200 tweets. Wah wahh. BlizzCon again. Man, was that convention a real killer. I would end up 5 days behind without even TRYING.

2014 I had the worst year ever and just completely ignored it.

2015 I decided to write about 2014. Turn my pain into art. I got 2 days in and realized, nope, there wasn’t enough distance yet. Just thinking about it made me sad and depressed. So I killed that one too.

Then it was October this year. I still really wanted to give it a legit go. This year though, I needed to do something different. The planning it out and trying to write it thing wasn’t working for me. So instead of doing one long novel, I would write short stories. But more than that, if I got bored with one I would just BAIL on it. Even if it wasn’t complete. Just keep writing. Write the 50k words and be done with it.

So day one, I started with a writing prompt from pinterest. I had a little plan in my head for what I was going to write this short story for, then get on it.

4 days later, I was still writing on the same story, and it was going places I TOTALLY didn’t expect. A week after that (the 11th) I hadn’t written on it in a week. WELL.CRAP. But I had a free night, and I didn’t feel like playing WoW so I started hammering on it. By the end of the night, I was only a day behind.

That was the moment. Realizing I could write over 10k words in an evening? Oh yeah, I could do it. And even better, it was fun. I felt energized and happy. Like I had accomplished something.

I was more consistent for the rest of the month, writing every few days for long blocks of time. And I finished early. Nov 27th, at 4am, I finished the book and the 50k words. I hadn’t meant to stay up to 4am, it just kind of happened. (Gamers – it was 100% a 1 more turn thing.) And even funnier, I had written one long story. I never moved off the first prompt. It had gotten interesting and I was enjoying watching it unfold. I was entertaining MYSELF by writing.

I had done it. And it was like – my brain went – Oh right, no, I can do this. This is easy. This is fun. And it’s something I like.

I took the next day off writing. But by Monday evening, I was antsy again. I decided that while my first draft was “settling” over December – I would do it again. 50k more words in 30 days. And it doesn’t seem insurmountable. It seems easy. Totally doable.

So here are the things I learned from finally succeeding:

  • Sometimes you can over plan.
  • It’s more about staying the course of writing every day than writing the right thing.
  • Writing the right thing comes in the revision stage. That will take longer.
  • Sometimes you have to just write – [Ugh – explain this later] and move on.
  • Sometimes you just have to write [And things happened – but they end up here.]
  • DO NOT RESEARCH. It will kill your progress.
  • Give characters stupid names. It’s fine. Replace them later.
  • I write better in long blocks. I will get more done in a 4 hour writing session than 4 1 hour sessions.
  • It’s possible to not know the answer to a question a character asks – and as you are writing their response you write out the answer. Without having known it. It’s super weird.

I decided to trust Stephen King and Neil Gaiman and let my work sit for a bit before the first revision. I am actually very excited about going back and rewriting parts and reviewing it. I also found my brain expects me to write. I can do it faster and easier now. Like this whole blog post took 30 min.

Maybe I am a writer after all.

Wasteland Weekend 2016

It all started with my friend, Ryan, asking us to save Bottle Caps for him. We asked him why, and found out about Wasteland Weekend. A 4 day event in the desert, intended to serve as a living homage to Mad Max and the world created by George Miller.

“You are a crazy person.”

“My idea of camping is a hotel with slow wifi.”

“I am pretty sure I would just spontaneously combust in the desert.”

These are all things I said, back in 2013 when I first heard of Wasteland Weekend. Fast forward to 2015, during which time, Ryan and I decided to see how the amazing friendship thing we had would work as maybe a more than friendship thing. Only now, I was sitting there watching a person, who had previously not been that important to me, but was now extremely important, pack and prepare to head out to the desert.

I was NOT happy. I had seen pictures from previous years. Bandaged eyes, sunburn, and cuts and scrapes. Even worse, he was turning off his phone for the whole time. I wouldn’t even get a “I’m alive!” text for 5 days. While he was gone, I SCOURED the internet for Wasteland pictures. I stalked social media, found people to follow, and inspected every face, looking for the one I loved so much. A friend of mine on twitter was there. And she had her phone on. And lived tweeted the event. The tents, the hanging out, the Thunderdome, a wedding, food, all of it. She painted a very different picture than the ones I was expecting. I started thinking… could I do this? Could I go with him next time?

A year is a long time in a new relationship, but so far, we had meshed together as if we were always meant to be. So maybe. It was a thing I needed to think about. Time passed and we kept making plans for future things. Things 3 and 4 months out. Instead of me expecting to be broken up with at any moment, I was finding myself making plans for things that were a long way away.

Then, one night, slightly drunk, I informed Ryan that I wanted to go to Wasteland Weekend with him. I was terrified. What would I do if it was horrid? How would I deal with the heat and sun? I was torn. I didn’t want to go, but I kinda did. I wanted to SEE this thing. Tickets were purchased. Now I was invested.

I did a ton of research, turning to Pinterest for information and ideas. Planning would save me. Ryan started talking about costumes and tents and masks. Every time the subject came up I wavered and considered asking him to let me out of it. But surely anything can be endured for 5 days right?

We ended up being crazy people and moving in together much sooner than expected, to help us both add stability and peace to our lives. After a bit of work crunch, the preparation for Wasteland began in earnest, as the event was RAPIDLY approaching. I still wavered a bit, in my own head, but I was determined to make the best of it. I bought 4 long sleeved athletic shirts from Old Navy, after all – I wouldn’t have to worry about sun screen coverage if everything was covered with cloth! I got several pairs of pants to “wasteland up”. I started making old key necklaces, bottle cap earrings, and such. I got my camel pack and Ryan attached the awesome shoulder armor he made for me to it.

Suddenly the days were all gone and we were packing for the weekend. I had no idea of what to take, so I ended up panic throwing things in the car. Five bottles of sunscreen sounds about right for 5 days in the desert right? Two bottles of rum? How about a first aid kit, solarcaine for when I got burned, and advil pm for when I couldn’t sleep. The trip down to California City was pretty much me staring out the window an anxious bundle of nerves.

We got down there super late at night and stayed in a hotel, one last shower before we headed out into the desert the next morning. I AM A REDHEAD. I burn in INDIRECT SUNLIGHT. I hate heat. I get crabby when I am sweaty. WHAT.THE.FUCK.AM.I.DOING. I am 90 percent certain the only reason I didn’t panic attack out that morning was I was too TIRED.

People keep asking me – Did you have fun? The answer is not nearly as straight forward as yes or no. How do you boil down a set of completely surreal, torturous, and outlandish experiences down to “Yeah, it was fun.” This is usually followed by a “Well, will you go back?” to which I answer – a solid Maybe***. Yes that’s 3 asterisk contingencies.

So one of the things about Wasteland is – it’s in a desert. It’s not a permanent location. It’s just a large open sandy area. No bathrooms. No showers. No water. There is ONE concrete slab that has been graffitied. That’s it. It’s all in, and all out. The Rust Devils, the tribe I was joining, run a bounty hunting game. They are inside the city walls. There’s city walls built with buses, junked up cars, sheet metal, and ply wood. Outside the city is Tent City. Our camp has to be “on theme” – meaning it has to look post apocalyptic – more specifically very Mad Max-ish. The tribe has been doing this since 2012, so they have a bit of practice.

Wednesday morning starts with everyone heading out to the camp site at oh my god it’s early o’clock and starting to unload the uhaul. Then we put together the three car ports. One is the bounty office, one is the dining area, and one is the lounge. They are arranged in a U shape, along the boarders of our camp. We cover the tops with canvas and netting.Then, along the outer walls, we attached old rusted sheet metal, and wooden fence bits, to form an outer wall. The old busted limousine the tribe owns, The Mutie Beauty, was parked along the left wall, so she would be seen by anyone as soon as they entered the main gate. In the center of our camp, one of our more clever Rust Devils put together a wooden tower, which allows for a birds eye view of the whole city.

Ten minutes in to Wednesday, I am already coated in sunscreen, sweaty, and covered in dirt and sand. I didn’t have goggles, so I just wore my sunglasses. Thank GOD I had prescription sunglasses. I swapped from my normal flip flops into a super old pair of Timberland boots. A pair I almost DIDN’T BRING. I cannot express how glad I am I did. By around 6, we had the camp mostly together. Someone mentioned that we only had an hour or so of sunlight left, and I started to panic again. We hadn’t put our tents up. We were waiting on someone to come back to put their tent up first, and they weren’t back yet. Oh yeah, and at this point the ONLY food I had had was raw hot dogs. I mean, I like raw hot dogs, but after 8+ hours of physical labor, I am fucking hungry and this was NOT acceptable. So I pushed to get the tents set up. After a moment of discussion, people agreed to positions and we got it set up. By this point, I was on the brink of tears. I was tired, physically exhausted, hot, hungry, and 100% out of patience. I was snapping at people I liked and I needed to lay down away from everything for even just 10 minutes.

Ryan got our tent set up, I immediately crawled inside, laid down, dirt and all, and just let myself cry a bit to feel better. Oh did I instantly start to feel better. After about 30 minutes, I got up, grabbed a plastic cup, my bottle of rum, poured a drink and went to rest in the shade. The temperature started to drop and suddenly I had to pee. I had been drinking water all day and sweating all day, but hadn’t had to pee. It was surreal, realizing that I hadn’t had to pee because I was SWEATING it all out. Fortunately the Rust Devils pay for a private porta-potty. So at least THAT was a bonus. Around 9 pm, we finally ate – pulled pork sandwiches. I scarfed two of them down so fast, I barely even remember how they tasted. There was chatting and such, but mostly I remember heading to bed.

Thursday morning came EXCESSIVELY early. It got super bright, then it was already getting hot. I could hear people talking and making noise. I crawled out of my tent because it was too warm and I needed to pee. Getting dressed in a tent you can’t stand up in is NOT an easy task. I walked into the main part of our camp to grab an energy drink and someone, I don’t actually remember WHO, asked me to help them do something. The look I gave them can only be described as WITHERING as I grabbed the garbage can lid we had tied our porta-potty key to, and stomped off. It turns out – this was around 8:30 am.

So it turns out, I am allergic to baby wipes. Or at least the regular ones – not the “free and natural” ones I used on my kid. I was allergic to disposable diapers as a baby, so when I had my kid, I got all the super duper hippy organic stuff even though I generally don’t believe in buying organic. But I didn’t realize this until Saturday. So Thursday morning, I took a wet wipe bath, which included wiping down my face. I reapplied sunscreen and headed back to camp.

People were bustling about setting up the final touches. Dogface was trying to cook bacon, but it was so windy already, the stove wouldn’t stay hot. So – no breakfast. The event starts at noon, so I went to get my costume on, wake Minion up, and get ready for the starting time. Of course, in reality, it was more like 1. I had my camera and took pictures. Our whole camp was there and talking, joking, and having fun.

After the opening parade, we settled in to open for the day. We do bounty hunting, and how it works is – you sign up, we give you a finger, then we take your picture and make a poster of you. That poster is then stapled to a board, and OTHER people can grab your poster, then they come find you. You talk and play rochambo, then if the hunter wins, you give them the plastic finger, and they bring it back to us at the Bounty Office, and we give them caps for it. There are printed Hunter caps and a few Last Chance casino caps. Our neighbors across the street run a casino with caps – playing games like roulette, craps, and black jack. The rewards are things like – shots and such. No real money.

People start showing up. All kinds of costumes and personalities. Skimpy outfits, complete body covering outfits, vault dweller suits, punk rock looking costumes, everything. There was a woman in a wedding dress. A man wearing a loincloth and nothing else. Weapons of all kinds – bats with nails, swords, guns, scythes, etc.

I wasn’t on shift, so I sat in our camp and just watched the insanity. And it was insanity. People would walk up and hug each other, and only once they started talking did I realize – they didn’t know each other. People would walk into our camp and offer us food or alcohol. One of our tribe members pulled out his 5 gallon metal gas can, that was filled with home made rum.

As the day went on, the wind got more and more aggressive. Then the alert went out – a sandstorm was headed in, with high winds. We started securing the camp. Have you ever tried to run a generator or a printer in a sandstorm? It doesn’t work. So we shut down the bounty office and hunkered in.

They couldn’t keep the stove going, so once more, food was scarce. I discovered, thanks to a well prepared tribemate, that Lembas bread is apparently a real thing. Only it’s called Mayday. The afternoon and early evening was spent wearing a pair of over my glasses goggles and avoiding being sand blasted. Luckily for us, our camp was quite secure, and with one minor incident, we didn’t have to scramble. Other camps were not so lucky. Losing towers, having to take down their tents, and effectively being hammered by sand for a few hours.

When the wind finally died down after dark, we shook off what sand we could and settled down for a drink. After much chatting and talking with people who stopped by to visit, we headed to bed, only to discover we hadn’t covered the vent on our tent. So our tent had about an inch of sand in the whole thing.

I went to bed, tired, a bit drunk, but marginally feeling better about the trip than I had been.

Friday, once more I was woken up early, crabby, and exhausted. My face felt tight and swollen, but I assumed it was just the sun. Even though I had not gotten burned, I am still very sensitive, so it made sense. Food was functional, so breakfast sandwiches were had. I got wrangled into doing the opening shift, so I got dressed and ready pretty early.

Then came the two hours of awesomeness. We run a bounty hunting game, and use an app to take the player’s picture, then print out a poster with them as a Wanted Person. So I got to take pictures. I got to talk to all these interesting and fascinating people. Their costumes were endlessly beautiful and unique. After 2 hours, I really didn’t want to stop. I did though, because I was tired and hungry. Although I had been bribed by one gentleman, who asked me to hold his poster for a while. He gave me a shot of fireball for it. Deal!

That afternoon, I took my parasol and walked about with Minion. Minion is Ryan’s “wasteland name” and as I found out, people generally stick to them in a dedicated fashion. It’s almost like roleplaying. I wasn’t Kim anymore, I was Ember. This also lead to a very strange form of fluid hierarchy of power. Logically, I would have been low on the ladder, since I was new. But for some reason, I floated up. I am not sure if it was my extrovertedness, my nosiness, my bright feathered shoulder, or my smile. Hell, it may have just been my blunt and assertive nature. Whatever it was, people were automatically deferential and respectful to me outside of the camp. Inside, it was like being in the middle of a family with a bunch of loud siblings.

As we finished an AMAZING tri-tip dinner, we found out the band, Ahtck was about to perform, so we headed over to that. It’s weird, being at a festival where there are so few people, you can just stand in a loose crowd to watch a show. I am not a fan of heavy metal, but Ahtck is really good and as most of their songs are Wasteland themed, very appropriate. The singer started with a comment on all the Wastelanders we had lost over the year, and I have FEELINGS on that I need to write down later. The concert began and it was probably the best one I have ever gone to. It’s very different, standing to watch a show, when the person you are standing with likes to hold and touch you. Minion kept his arms around me the whole time, but loosely so I could twist and kiss him. This of course, inspired Dogface to yell “GET A ROOM. OR A TENT.” which became a joke.

After the concert, we went back to camp, hung out around our fire for a bit, then headed over to Ghoulcrest, a hunting tribe. They had a two story structure and allowed us to go up to the Members only top section. It was amazing, in the cool night air, chatting with people, and staring up at the cloudless sky. You are so far out in the desert the stars are so clear and easy to see. I could see the cloud of the milky way. Just beautiful and perfect. If I go back, I have to take a picture with it. We returned to camp, drunk and silly.

One perfect example of how the rules had changed – a man walked into our camp, walked up to me, took the lid off a jar and held it out to me. Inside was a red liquid. I looked at it, took it, then asked “What is it?” “Truck Punch!” he replied. “You know, calling it truck punch makes it sound like an alcohol fermented in the engine of your truck right?” I said. “That’s exactly what it is!” he laughed. And I took a drink. It tasted like strawberries, wine, and cream soda.

Here I also met a guy named Tauntaun. I made the obvious joke of “Well – you don’t smell THAT bad on the outside.” since it was likely he hadn’t taken a shower in 3 days at this point. He laughed and said “I will keep you warm at night!” I pointed at Minion and said “That’s his job.” The dude immediately responded in a laughing manner, nodded at me, then told Minion “You are one lucky dude.” Yes, yes he is. And I am one extremely lucky lady.

Here’s where I made a mistake. I hadn’t been drinking as much water as I needed throughout the day. It had been 76 and cool, and we had run out of coke zero. I drank too much and asked a tribemate if it was time to do the Tetanus Shots. The Tetanus Shot is the Rust Devil’s signature shot and the previous TWO days many a comment had been made about “You’re not a Rust Devil until you’ve had a Tetanus Shot.” I felt I had done my time. I was ready to stop feeling like the newbie. UNFORTUNATELY, the mats to MAKE a Tetanus shot were not present. I got upset, for some stupid reason – I think that I felt like people had made this comment, but were now preventing me from getting them to STOP and preventing me from feeling like I REALLY belonged here. I was still just a girlfriend. I ended up a bit more belligerent than normal. Lucky for me, my emotions swang to sadness fast enough I ended up storming off to bed. Minion came to talk to me, and I think I was just at my limit for the day for dealing with anything and everything. He offered to take me to a hotel, and instead I stayed and just went to sleep.

And boy did Saturday morning hurt. I woke up feeling awful. And not just hung over. I was, but that was only part of it. My eyes were practically swollen shut. My whole face was one big swollen puff ball of pain and itchiness. So I walked to the porta-potties, trying to figure it out, went to wipe my face with a wet wipe and almost screamed at the pain from it. That’s when I figured out – I am in fact allergic to regular wet wipes. OW. I headed back to camp and tried to drink some oj to help with the hangover while I thought about what to do about my face. My stomach was having none of that, so I ended up puking my oj back up into the garbage can. Lucky, it was just the oj. The Great Demander, a professional photographer who works the event, happened by and saw me, swollen face and all, and brought me some Benadryl.

Have I mentioned how *nice* everyone is at Wasteland? It’s like one big family. I mean, yeah there are assholes, but here they are clearly enjoying themselves and thus being nice. People are totally willing to barter and trade. Willing to do anything to help. Even share Benadryl.

I spent most of the morning feeling awful, but by my shift in the bounty office, I was feeling much better. The swelling had gone down and I was game for just about anything. The afternoon passed in a blur of sunscreen, good food, chatting with crazy people, taking pictures, posting bounty posters, and just hanging out. It’s also really funny to walk up to people with a bottle of water, hand it to them, then turn around and say, “Fill me up!” as they pour it into your camel pack. Note – building your costume off a camel pack base – excellent fucking idea.

Saturday night, I went easy on booze, but they finally had the stuff for tetanus shots, so I took one of those. It’s fireball, rum, a Tabasco sauce, with the rum floated on top and lit on fire. It was great, until the Tabasco went up my nose. WHEW that burns. We had dinner of ribs and ravioli which were both crazy good. I got to feeling exhausted, so we headed to bed. By this point our tent smelled like dead feet, dead farts, dead animal, and funk. This is where I discovered the problem with trying to go to bed SOBER at Wasteland. It’s SO LOUD. People are playing music, talking, etc etc until late at night. And tent walls do NOT stop it. Minion also decided to start telling me a story about seeing a Tarantula by the porta-potties. I informed him that if he EVER wanted me to come back he needed to STOP SPEAKING IMMEDIATELY.

At 4 am, I forced Minion to walk me to the porta potties, came back and took a Advil PM so I could get SOME sleep.

Of course, at the crack of fucking dawn on Sunday, here goes people talking. Including overhearing a story about a woman who was sexually assaulted, but Wasteland taking care of their business and her. It was a scary story, with the best possible ending. I got up, feeling like my entire world had shifted. I hadn’t cleaned out from under my finger nails in days. I didn’t even try to put on deodorant anymore. My hair had more sand than anything else in it. It shockingly didn’t look that bad. I really wanted a fucking shower. My definition of “dirty” was so dramatically shifted – pretty much unless it was a pile of dirt – it wasn’t too dirty to touch or even eat. My teeth crunched with every bite from the sand in my mouth.

We ate breakfast. Have I mentioned how GOOD all the food at Wasteland was? I am not sure if it was the cooking or the sheer level of hunger I built up each day. Midway through breakfast, here comes a tribe member telling us the wind is going to pick back up. We need to start breaking down now. As hard as it is putting UP a camp in the desert, that’s how hard it is taking it DOWN. In increasing wind. About an hour into breakdown, I felt like I was more in the way that helping, so I went and took down our tent, and prepped our stuff for leaving. It was around that time I noticed… I wasn’t sweating. Like at all. It was 90 degrees, noon-ish, and I wasn’t sweating a drop. I needed to rest, so I sat in the shade of a van, and drank water. The longer I sat, the worse I felt. First like I needed to vomit, even though I wasn’t hung over. Then came the chills. Did I mention it was 90 degrees, I was wearing a long sleeved athletic shirt, and pants? I should not have been cold. I felt even worse, realizing I was sitting on my ass while other people packed up the camp. I got up to help. Have you ever tried to lift something and your arms just said “Nope.”? That shit sucks.

I ended up sitting more than helping at this point. Finally, our camp doctor came over, put his hand on my head, realized I wasn’t sweating and forced me into the uhaul truck to sit in the ac. It really didn’t help.

Around 3 pm, we had nearly everything packed, and headed back to town. We had to haul out all our garbage, so we had to find dumpsters that weren’t overfull. Then we headed to the storage unit. We can’t take this shit home, so we pay to store it there. Once there, I helped by organizing and sorting things and getting it all to fit. I am super at Tetris, so this went really well. About halfway through I started sweating again, and I can’t even tell you what a relief THAT was.

Wasteland is in the desert, and it’s “bring everything in, take everything out.” So we brought alcohol, but somehow, despite drinking the whole time, we brought more alcohol home than we took. Weird.

We finally got everything packed away. The discussion started up about who was driving the uhaul back. I wasn’t on the list, I didn’t have my license, and I had been promised a shower, so fuck it, I was out. I just walked away. Minion caught up with me and we headed back to the hotel. There was the comment though of “I have to get Kim to a shower before she stabs me.” which is making some pretty large comments considering I didn’t have a weapon on me, or anything sharp at all.

We got back to the hotel, and I got in the shower. It maybe wasn’t the best shower in my life, but it was DEFINITELY in the top five. I wiped my face with the wash cloth and it instantly went a dark brown. I just kept scrubbing until it was white-ish again. I washed my hair 4 times, with two rounds of conditioner. Once out of the shower I started rubbing burt’s bees foot repair into my hands and feet, and blood orange coco-butter into my legs, hands, arms, and neck. The lotion sunk in like water into the desert sand.

We went to eat Chinese for dinner. The poor waitress couldn’t keep our water glasses full. This was goodbye. That night I slept like the dead.

The next day we headed home, discussing the trip and events. I talked about what we would do “next year”. So maybe that answers the “Am I going back?” question? *** These contingencies were – 1. Bigger tent. 2. Have our own dry food supply. Our own drink supply too. 3. Camp.SHOWER. This is of course, assuming Minion and I don’t break up. If we do, love you Rust Devils, BUT OH HELL NO. The final tally on Sunscreen bottles was 1.5. I miraculously didn’t get sunburned. I am still digging sand out of my nose and ears. I think my hair may never recover.

Was it fun? There were fun MOMENTS. I wouldn’t call 12 hours of manual labor, not showering for 5 days, constantly battling the elements, not eating properly, having to worry about what exactly electrolytes are and why you need them, and then having severe dehydration FUN. None of that was fun.

Seeing Minion happy? That was fun. Meeting all those weird people, making new friends, discussing costuming, D&D, games, WoW, Savage Worlds, Rum, and drinking until my liver cried – all very fun. Having people compliment me on my shoulder armor? Awesome. Having someone ask to buy my necklace – super cool.

The thing that most sets the ton for how my trip to the wastes was – here I was, a week later, wistfully thinking of my new friends, wishing I could see them, and wondering when I would see them again. Then taking over the Rust Devil’s twitter account and making a plan for how to grow it.

Maybe it was fun.

Game Developer Barbie

“It’s really not that big of a deal.”


I will admit, my response was probably not the most polite or appropriate for the situation. But I was not wrong. Mattel announced new Barbies today. And while the news of new body types (holy hell they added a curvy barbie!!!) was enough to draw me to the site, what made me gasp with joy was the Game Developer Barbie.

She’s got a computer accessory. She’s got long red hair, with headphones snugly in place. She’s wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a light jacket. She’s got sneakers on her flat feet. She’s me. (Actually, if they made the curvy version it literally WOULD be me.)

She’s me. I’m a game developer, and this summer, I will have a Barbie doll that looks just like me, dresses just like me, and DOES MY JOB.

When I was in High School, I was one of the smartest kids in my class. They made us talk to a guidance counselor about what job we wanted so we could plan out our college path to get there. After 30 minutes of her trying to convince me to be a Doctor, Lawyer, or Teacher, I finally just said, “Look, I am gonna go to college, I will figure it out there.” I was steered away from being a writer (“You don’t want to be a starving artist do you?”) They pushed the Doctor and Lawyer hard – as expected for a poor area. But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do something amazing.

I went to college and my “plan” became Take as Many Classes as Possible, and Figure it Out Later. 4.5 years later, I was planning on being an English Teacher. Then I discovered the Guildhall and literally said “Wait, I can make games? They have schools for this kind of thing? I am going THERE.” And I did. But that moment struck me because no one – in all my years of playing video games, ever once said “Why don’t you try to make them?” I owned a computer, and worked on them, but never once thought – hey let’s make a game. Hell, I BUILT LEVELS for Heroes of Might and Magic and Neverwinter Nights, and never once thought, I should get paid to do this. Because no one ELSE did. Games were a “waste of time”. Always.

Barbie makes it so people WILL think about it. I remember thinking about careers like being a vet, a stewardess, a tv anchor, all because that was what Barbie did – AND I DIDN’T EVEN PLAY WITH THEM.

Further, I remember way back in 4th grade when we were asked what we wanted to be when we grow up. I said something weird and my teacher responded with “Pick something Barbie could be.” Yeah, it was a bit sexist because she didn’t say that to the boys, but her heart was in the right place trying to direct me towards real careers. I then switched to insisting I would be a mermaid, because I had an Ariel Barbie doll.

This is important. Very important for the next generation of girls. I wish I had had that vision when I was a kid. I would have been making games since I was 10.

You met me at a very weird time in my life.

It never fails. Someone says “I cannot wait until we get a new raid… I am bored/hate this one.” This always sparks the conversation of favorite raids and most hated raids. (For the record, mine are Naxx and ICC.)

Someone always brings up ICC. You know how when you smell something distinct and suddenly you are launched backwards in time to a significant moment – that happens to me every time someone mentions ICC or when I step inside the instance.

I was raiding on the Alliance side for the first time. I was healing for my raid. I was raiding with co-workers. We worked at Sega and it was fun. We would play at night, then in the morning there would be long discussions about what we did, and what we should be doing.

During this time, we were a team of 9 players. We needed another dps, so we stopped by Dalaran, pinged trade chat, and picked up a warrior. How was I to know that the pug we just picked up would end up not only joining our guild, but so would his wife. They would become friends. Fortunately they didn’t live that far away, so we even got to hang out in real life.

Then life happened. Sega closed our studio. People went to new jobs, with weird crunch schedules. Things… drifted away. But from that point on, meeting Misstorgo, raiding ICC, downing the Lich King, and working at Sega on Iron Man 2, all of these things were intertwined in my brain.

The real oddity is… this has happened before. Black Temple and Hyjal are intertwined with working at Mind Control. Kara was when I was at TG. Since then, raiding Cataclysm was a period when I was at TfB, but not raiding with co-workers.

It is odd to realize I am in the midst of creating another connection. My TfB raid team, finishing SoO, finishing Trap Team… it’s all interconnected now. My life is a series of events blended with in game events.

When I return to these raids or talk about them, I will have that moment of nostalgia. I will have that reminder of my life from that time. I wonder if other players have similar experiences, both in WoW and in other games.

The Moment of Longing

As always, WoWInsider has inspired me to write a blog post, discussing WoW and how entwined my life is with it.

Expansion launches are always a weird time for me. I am so incredibly excited for the new thing. I can’t wait to meet new NPCs, see new zones, conquer new raids… But… I will miss the old stuff. Even now, I go back to Dalaran, and I have this moment, right when I load in, where I feel that familiarity. The soft comfort of a place I know well and rarely see anymore.

It’s like going home.

I return to my parents town and home, and everything is hearthbreakingly familiar. So similar to how it used to be. The pond is covered in green algae. The roads are as twisty as they have always been. The cows still munch at the edge of the road, balefully watching cars, trucks, and the occasional tractor drive by. That one guy still washes his old red truck every day and waves at cars as they drive down the road.

Everything seems the same. But as I look closer, there are small differences. The Walmart has been rearranged. There is a new restaurant in the old Shoneys. A new fast food place opened up on the edge of town (but it’s not very good my mother tells me). That one friend now has 4 kids instead of 3. So and so married so and so. Those people got divorced (are we at all surprised?) But even with the changes… it’s still that same place.

The feeling that always strikes me though… I don’t fit. I don’t belong here anymore. I haven’t lived there in 10 years. I thought at first it was the time I had been gone, but even spending a more extended time there, I realized… I was different. I had changed in my time away. I grew as a person, I gained awareness of others, I learned about the world at large, far beyond the microcosm of my home town.

In a way, I feel this same emotion every time I return to old expansions. These cities, zones, quests, and raids were once my home. But I have grown up. I have changed and seen bigger bosses, and bigger trials. I have explored more interesting zones. My old haunts, while still beautiful and wonderful in many ways… they are a place a visit. I don’t live here anymore. This is not my home.

I move forward to something new and exciting, and yet… I will do many of the same things. I will make new friends, and old ones will drift away. A new expansion is still just that, an expansion of the journey we have been on. The adage says – the more things change the more they stay the same.

Oh Pandaria – I loved you. Thank you for being my home for two years. A source of joy and comfort, a balm for my sadness and heartbreak. I will move forward, but you will stay behind. I will return on occasion – to visit, finish achievements, perhaps even to farm up a piece of gear… but it won’t be the same. I have outgrown you, and while that is sad, it is for the best. Let us enjoy this one last hurrah and see Garrosh fall a few more times. (Also give me an heirloom.)

Gelatinous Cube Shots

In our weekly D&D group, we have a paladin dwarf. I granted him the ability to turn water into holy ale/beer as a silly ability that just adds to the flavor of the game. Very early in the game, he used this ability to turn a pool of water into holy ale and then the group dropped an evil skeleton into it. Of course, because I reward players doing wacky things, I let it do damage to the skeleton, who then rolled TWO consecutive 1s on the dice to climb out of the pool.

They still tell this story, almost a year later.

Now, due to work pressure, our group is filled with tired, overworked game devs who are literally giving up their only free time in a week to play D&D. So I have been far more lenient and letting them do all kinds of crazy and silly things with their characters and during battle.

This lead to a night fighting mobs of troglodytes and three gelatinous cubes.

After much battle, Davkul, the dwarven paladin is facing off against the Gelatinous Cube. A statement gets made that they are “mostly” water right?

Can you guess what he did next?

So now, my group of fearless adventurers are standing about a gelatinous ale cube. Sid, the drow rogue, made a joke to the effect of “Gelatinous Cube Shots!” and of course, this meant Davkul wanted to DRINK it. I had him make an endurance check – and he nailed it. It was over 35. Fine. Okay. You guys just DRANK a gelatinous cube. EW.

This lead me to Google and checking to see how one would go about making Gelatinous Cube shots. My search returned nothing. Surely not. SURELY someone has had this idea right?

Well here’s how to make Gelatinous Cube Shots for your Dungeons and Dragons drinking nights!


2 Boxes of Jello mix – whatever flavor.

1 cup Vodka.

1.5 Cups Boiling Water.

1 Cap of Wilton’s Skeleton Bones Sprinkles.


I picked Lime and Berry Jello, so it would be blue and green cubes. I also made the Lime with Vodka and the Berry with Rum.

Put the two boxes of jello into a bowl. Boil the 1.5 cups of water. Add the boiling water to the jello and stir for 2-3 minutes. Once it’s good and mixed, add the room temp1 cup alcohol. Stir some more. Pour into a small glass pan, and refrigerate over night. When ready to cut, set the glass pan in warm water for about 5-10 minutes, until it starts to separate from the glass pan, then cut the cubes and remove.

Now – about those sprinkle bones. I got them because it’s just not really a gelatinous cube without some adventurer bits in it. I added mine about 30 minutes after putting the jello in the fridge, which was clearly too soon, as they all sank to the bottom. I imagine about an hour would be right, though it might mean having to poke the bones down a bit. Also, it’s possible to make two batches and let the first batch set, then pour the bones in, then add another layer with the second batch – but that would mean doubling the recipe and a much bigger pan. The sprinkles didn’t melt when added to the jello, but when we cut the cubes, they did start to disintegrate and ooze. Honestly, it made it better.

DSC_0002 DSC_0003 DSC_0004 DSC_0006photo 1 photo 21619115_10152098175185876_3484592911143001907_nThe sprinkles and rum!





The Jello!




First set, blue!





Second set, Green!





Two trays of green and blue shots!





See the bones!





Up close cube!






I should also warn you, these pack a bit of a punch and are deceptively tasty. Nom with care.

Screen Time

“So Joyia, how are you planning on limiting your kid’s video game time? How are you going to keep him from playing your M rated games?”

This was a question asked of me by a World of Warcraft guild mate.

He didn’t like my answer – “I’m not.”

When I was a kid, my mom never limited my game time. We had a computer and an NES. Both were in the living room. Game time was limited only by one factor – is someone else using it already. Actually no, two factors, that one, and “Is your homework done?” My mother took a firm stance on kids should be allowed to spend their time how they want to. She had her own hobbies (including playing games). She didn’t have time to police ours and see if they were “worthwhile”. Once I had finished my chores (which were criminally few now that I think about it) and homework, I could do whatever I wanted. Sometimes that was games. But just as often it was reading, or writing, or talking to friends on the phone.

At the very least, at least she always knew where we were right?

Yes, people can get really sucked into video games, but they can also be just as obsessed over many other things. I read dozens of books every year. I spent at least a 1/4th of my childhood with a nose in a book. I was the only kid in my class in elementary school who wasn’t allowed to have books at her desk. Not even text books. I would read them instead of listen. (Though, really, wasn’t that the POINT?)

Further, I remember a girl in my elementary school who took a flute out to recess every day. The teachers tried and tried to get her into playing with the other kids, and she refused. All she wanted to do was play the flute. They let her because she said she wanted to be a flutist one day. They wouldn’t let me read, which was exceptionally annoying, despite the fact I said I wanted to be a writer. Fifth grade and we were already being judged by our activities. Here’s the thing though. That girl? Full ride to college on a band scholarship. Later she ended up joining some ridiculously hard to get into symphony in New York. At 11, she knew what she wanted to do and she didn’t let anything get in her way, not even well meaning teachers or parents.

I didn’t want to be a game designer when I was 11. I knew I liked games. I knew I liked books. I knew I liked making up stories with my friends. I knew I liked making up games to play with my friends. I wanted to make Calvinball. But no one, in all those years, ever told me making games for a living was a thing I could do. So yeah, at the time the hours and hours I sunk into playing video games was a “waste”.

What about now?

So we’re working on SSA, and we’re discussing what happens when one player does something like steal all the treasure in an area. They start discussing various solutions we could do as designers to fix this. I immediately piped up with “But we shouldn’t. That’s a real life problem to solve.” A few blank looks and I clarified – “If your brother steals all the loot, you punch him. That’s the POINT of playing games in local multiplayer. But more, we shouldn’t change it because it allows the players to game the system. You can power level characters if one can collect all the loot and exp. It also makes the game more of a mad dash.”

In the end, we sat down and played the game, local multiplayer, just like kids would. It was less than 3 minutes to the first “Hey! THAT WAS MINE!” and about 5 minutes to one player letting the other one die to get loot. Within 15 minutes, a huge crowd had gathered around the two players with much good natured jokes and laughter. We didn’t change the system. Let them fight over loot.

I am not sure I would have thought this way, if not for the experiences of playing all those games with my brother. All those local multiplayer games with my friends. I was also the kind of kid who would hook up two controllers to cheese the system and give myself help. I have two WoW accounts NOW just for that purpose. I always buy both versions of each Pokemon game, so I can trade between them.

Well, that explains the time limits… as long as homework is done, I don’t care. Maybe it will be his passion. Maybe it won’t. But there is no reason to enforce my hobbies and desires on him. He’s his own person, let him spend his time how he wants.

But what about M rated games?

Again, my mother never limited the books I could read. If we had it in the house, I could read it. I remember picking up a Stephen King book at 12. I tried to read it. Oh man was it DULL. I also remember watching R rated movies. In the living room. That was the thing about having the tv/console/computer in the living room. You couldn’t do anything without everyone seeing. It was amazingly good at limiting what I would try to watch or play. My mom would come in and say something like “Oh that’s gross, I don’t want to see that.” And switch it to something else. There was never a “You can’t play that.” It was always, “This isn’t appropriate for the family room.” Then a few times we had candid discussions about sex, drugs, and such, so that she knew I knew what was safe, what wasn’t, and how to deal with those situations. At no point was the line between reality and media blurred.

Talking to a kid and interacting with them on a constant basis really helps. So I hope when my kid gets old enough to play games, he plays them with me. Skylanders is a great family game. So is Minecraft. (As an aside, I do not look forward to telling him that Creepers – aka Booms – are not fluffy little friends like he thinks right now.) If he wants to play a game like Skyrim, I will let him, where I can see, in the living room. There will likely be discussions and conversations about the difference between reality and fantasy, but I have faith in his ability to learn. Also kids tend to be very self limiting on “adult” things.

In the end, I think my biggest issue with saying “I will limit your access and time to games.” is that not only was mine not limited as a kid, but how hypocritical would it be for me to say, “Sorry you can only play for an hour each day,” when I will be playing for at least 2-3? Yes, I will probably do the same thing as my mom and say, “I don’t want to see that on the living room tv, so different game.” but otherwise, I don’t really think I have a leg to stand on about playing too many games. Do what you want, as long as you are responsible and take care of your chores/work, then your free time is your own.

A different kind of crunchy mom

It never really occurred to me I should be writing about being a game developer mom. I am a game developer and a mom, but these two things don’t really seem to overlap very much in the public eye. Recently on Twitter, I made a comment to a friend about being a mom in game development, and she replied with surprise, as she rarely talks to other moms who make games.

At first, I thought this was rather odd, I mean, there are tons of moms who make games! But then I stopped to think about the people I work with and have worked with. Um. Well. I mean, none of my companies can be accused of hiring lots of women, but some are over the average (13% female workforce). And yet, I have never worked with another mother, unless they never talked about it. (I even interviewed at a company, that after a while, the guy got me to admit that I wasn’t planning on having kids anytime soon, and his response was “Oh good, you women have a habit of quitting when you have babies.”)

I have worked at a company where just as I started, a producer left on maternity leave. She didn’t come back when it was over. As this was in the middle of a death march of a crunch, I really couldn’t blame her. 60 hour weeks with an infant? You must be crazy.

I guess I am crazy. I got pregnant right as TfB geared up on Giants right after shipping Spyro’s Adventure. We had a 1 year turn around time for Giants. I knew it was going to be rough, but as long as we shipped in June, we would be fine, as I was due in July. No worries. Except for the tiny detail of “Games almost never ship on time.” It wasn’t too difficult, working on Giants. My studio is pretty stress free, friendly, and people worked to get my stuff done first “just in case”. In the end, I shipped my kid the same week we hit submitted. I worked right up until the Friday before my due date (the next Tuesday). I didn’t do this because I was told to, or asked to, but rather because I love my job, I love my game, and I really love the people I work with.

When I first got pregnant, it was always known I would take a few months off, then back to work and back to Skylanders. I never thought of leaving my career to stay home with my kid. I had worked very hard to get where I was in the industry and was very lucky to get a job at TfB working on a game I loved. No way I was going to put that on hold for 5 years. So I found a daycare within a mile of my office, signed Tiny Pittman up, and went back to work exactly 3 months after I left to have my son.

So what is it like being a game dev mom? Weird. But I expect many women feel the same in other fields. I really think though, crunch is the source of my biggest problems with being a game dev and a mom, and likely the reason I don’t find many others.

First, before I had my kid, I only remember one incident of a parent responding to crunch. At one company, we were in the middle of mandatory 60 hour weeks, including 2 late nights. One of the men who sat across the office from me would Skype his kids at home to say good night on the late nights. It was cute, and I really felt it meant a great deal that he was trying. Someone said something to him once about “being a good father”. Then, this very nice, generally calm man, snapped at the commenter with a very harsh “If I were a GOOD father I would be at home putting my kids to bed instead of here working on this stupid game!” It may have been stress, it may have been dissatisfaction with the way the project had been handled, but clearly this person was wildly unhappy about missing his kids, and no one even knew until that moment.

That moment really stuck with me, because I knew that’s how I would be. I was already cranky at working 60 hour weeks because it cut into my WoW time. How would I deal when it cut into my kid time? I talked to my husband about it that night and pointed out, we really needed to make sure our “crunches” never synced up. So at least one of us would always be able to watch the kid and the other could crunch. He is also in the game industry, but fortunately, always at different companies.

That’s a fear I have. I love working in the game industry, but it’s brought me all the way out here to California. My family, and thus my kid’s grandparents, are 3000 miles away. There really isn’t such a thing as 24 hour daycare around here, and even if there was, I wouldn’t be able to afford it. So on each project, I work in fear of hearing those words – “mandatory crunch”. You can mandatory all you want, but if me or my husband can’t watch the spawn, there is no one else. His daycare is open from 7am to 6pm. That is my availability to work. Period. He’s 20 months old, I can’t exactly bring him into the office. But regardless, that is a constant distant worry that hangs out in the back of my mind.

That’s without even taking into account how not spending time with my kid affects me. Right now my husband and I are separated, so every other weekend I have the spawnling. In our big push for a milestone recently, I came in on the weekends I didn’t have him. I worked 3 weekends, and every other weekday night. I managed to keep up, but it was exhausting. And not seeing my kid made me sad. When I did see him, I was tired mommy, not fun mommy. I was “here’s a quesadilla for dinner because I am exhausted and can’t make you something more nutritious”. It’s rough on families. I am not sure if it was working those weekends, but since that usually don’t bother me, I think it was not seeing the spawn, and it made me depressed. I wasn’t able to work as well, and I was noticeably unhappier to my co-workers. Even worse, there were people who commented that I wasn’t there every weekend. They weren’t my lead, or even in charge at all, but there was clearly resentment that I had not been there. My lead is understanding, and never batted an eye, but what about others? Now, whenever I interact with that person, their comment colors my view of them.

Being a parent is all about time management. I have to plan everything and make time for everything. Showers, food, shopping, everything takes time and everything has to be accounted for. If I want to raid in WoW, it has to be with a guild that understands I can *only* raid from the time we start to our set end time. I can’t go 15 minutes over. If I could, I would have already planned it. We have done this on a few occasions, and every time it has lead to me and the kid being late to work the next morning. So having someone else come in and tell me how to spend that time is going to be a huge burden. Fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with this at TfB (all overtime has been voluntary and at a time of my choosing), but I can see very easily where it would quickly drive a woman to find a different job.

Say what you like about gender stereotypes, but in the almost 2 years since I had my son, I noticed that generally I am the one to give him a bath, clean his room, do the shopping, clean dishes, do laundry, pick up toys… All of this time spent doing things. Not to say my husband didn’t help, but the balance of chores was skewed towards me. When I work overtime, all of those pesky chores don’t get done. That’s the first thing to go. So the dishes pile up, the kiddo’s room looks like a tornado hit it, and there is a huge pile of clean clothes that managed to get washed but no way in hell they will get folded and put away.

To add to the already absurdly small amount of free time, I am a game designer. One of the things about being a game designer is you really need to play games. It helps you learn how other people are solving problems, cool things they are doing, and probably helps you make your game better. But with time already taken with work, chores, kid time, and husband time… that leaves how much for games? I don’t play nearly the number of games I should, and all to often now I just watch some let’s play videos, since I can do that while playing WoW.

When I complain about lack of time, people *love* to say, well yeah but if you didn’t play WoW, look how much time would you have! There are definitely some problems with that. First, WoW is what keeps me sane. It’s my stress release and brain dead time. It’s my hobby. I don’t watch tv unless I am playing WoW. I don’t watch movies unless I am playing WoW. WoW is why I still have friends I talk to more than on Twitter. People always say you should make sure to take time for yourself. Well, there it is. WoW is my one hobby I always hold on to. I quit a Wednesday night job I had teaching just so I would have more time for my kid and NOT have to drop wow.

So I decided to find out… how do game dev dads do it? How do they deal with the time issue and how does it connect to crunch? So I asked the guys I work with that I know I have small children. With varying degrees of gratefulness, relief, and awe, they all replied that it was their wives. Their wives kept their kids, home, and everything running smoothly. The dads who worked every weekend, their wives picked up the slack. A few expressed to me their worry at missing their families, but that was just the way life goes. A few implied, if not outright said, well, that’s the way the world works. (My feminist voice in my head screamed for blood, but I kept her quiet.) Much like in every other field, it seems as if the wife is expected to pick up the slack and tend to the family and home when the husband must work overtime. When I talked to a few women in the industry, sans kids, about how they would handle it, one replied, and I quote “That’s why I am not having kids until I am ready to leave the industry.” !!!

During one particularly long crunch at another company, they offered free laundry services. The employees could bring in a bag of dirty laundry and a few days later get back a bag of folded clean laundry. Someone joked, oh hey, it’s like having a company mom! I replied that it would actually be far more useful to have an onsite daycare for the hours of crunch. Everyone looked at *me* like I was crazy. But really: then employee could work, non-employee could get all the housework done, and there wouldn’t be that slightly squicky idea of someone touching your dirty underwear.

What about single parents? I asked a single dad in the industry. If he has to work, his ex-wife gets the kid more than her share and gets angry at him. So sometimes the kid spends time with his family. Lucky he has family in the area. Otherwise he wouldn’t be able to work.

Here’s another strange thing about this whole situation. Perception. I get in to work most days at 8:30. I only take a 30 minute lunch, then leave at 5:30 (my kid’s daycare closes at 6). That’s 8 and 1/2 hours every day. Most of the office gets in at 10. (When our core hours start.) One time, during a Friday afternoon break fairly soon after I came back from maternity leave, someone commented that I was one of those “6 hour a day workers”, with a laugh, then said they wished they had a kid to give them a convenient excuse to leave early every day. I nearly punched him. With a glare I pointed out that despite the fact that HE rolled in at 10:30 every day, didn’t mean everyone did, in addition to being a hourly employee, I clock in every day too, would he like to review my calendar to check I work more than he does? He apologized, and has never made such a comment again, but how many other people think this way too?

When I left for maternity leave, I left on a Friday. Our game went to cert the very next Friday. I missed 5 whole days of the project, in a time when the only people actually making changes were the programmers and only for vital progression or cert bugs. About a year later, talking about being pregnant and shipping the game, someone replied, “Well, yeah, but you left like 2 months before we finished.” My response: “WHAT. THE. FUCK.” I had to correct him too. When did we cert? When did I leave? OH RIGHT. 7 FREAKING DAYS. In his mind, I had been gone “forever” because I was out 3 months. (The 3 months between cert and ship actually.) People’s sense of time skews when it’s not them. But these perceptions matter when everyone is tired, overworked, and stressed.

My experiences are just mine, but I can very easily see women not being willing to put up with it. My kid is absolutely the most important person in my life, and if not for my sheer level of stubbornness and extrovertedness, I seriously would have considered being a stay at home and professional WoW player. Is this one of the reasons we have so few women in the industry? How do we fix it?

Well for one, schedule and scope our games better. All too often work gets re-done or wasted. Leads and Publishers want more than they are willing to give time for. May the producers who build the gantt charts and FORCE the studio to get it to fit within the time frame find eternal joy. (My favorite producer was the one who drew one out, it showed we had 6 months more work than time, and said, “Okay, no one is leaving until it works.” 3 hours later, a very weary set of leads left the room with a workable schedule that did NOT include crunch.) Second, seriously, consider onsite child care. First off, child care is the *most* expensive thing when it comes to having a kid. My child care is almost as much as my RENT, and I live in California. If a company could get me onsite cheap child care, I would do everything in my power to keep that job. I’d take onsite child care over every other perk I get at a company.

I plan on writing more about being a mom and a game dev, but this is where I had to start. The one thing that makes it super difficult to be both. The one thing that would make me leave the industry. I love my job, but my kid wins.

New Game Smell

I have many thoughts about Warlords of Draenor. I think there should be more women in the marketing. I think there is a noticeable lack of characters we can find heroic. I think their healing blog on the changes has me not wanting to heal.

When pre-orders went up for WoD though, I didn’t blink, I paid my $70 for the Digital Deluxe Version, and immediately started thinking about who I wanted to boost to 90. Today a Breakfast Topic on WI discussed the pricing of WoD. It’s the fifth WoW expansion, all previous expansions were $40, but WoD is $50.

The more cynical people think it’s “charging” $10 for the “free” level 90 boost. The more economics knowledgeable people point to inflation. But I am a game developer, so my first thought was – Yep, that price sounds about right, for a WoW expansion. But I was astonished at several responses, but none as much as this one “$50? That’s almost the price of a new game!” (Some used the CE pricing and said it was as much as a new game.) This was followed by claims of less content, subscriptions funding the expansion development, and comparisons to new games.

I am baffled by how many people commenting seemed to have no knowledge of game development, or even WoW’s development.

So here’s some food for thought, on why a mere expansion should cost the same as a “new” game.

First, I want to bring issue with the term expansion and the belief that our subs fund the development of expansions. Expansion is a word that is used to describe additions to a game that require the base game to play. Expansion does NOT necessarily indicate the number of hours of play added or the amount of content. There also seems to be some misconception about subs being used to support development, and while it’s possible they do, they are also used to pay for servers (and any upgrades over the years), server power, GMs, CMs, Customer Service, and all those other pesky things that come from running a massive live game like WoW. Then, any left over money likely gets split between investors and Blizzard, with a larger cut going to investors. (I heard rumors back in 2008 from a good source that indicated that the original deal of how sub fees got split actually meant Blizzard got very very little from it, but that is probably outdated now as those kinds of thing are occasionally renegotiated.) Regardless, that money doesn’t necessarily get spent on the development of expansions. Nor is Blizzard under any obligation to do so. Read the ToS. It says nothing about Subscription Fees or where they will be spent. You are paying for access, and nothing else. (Although the more I think about it, the more I expect that our sub does pay for the content we receive in patches, while the expansion price is paying for the huge drop of leveling content at the start.)

Second, the cost of everything rises and games are no exception. I remember when the price on console games went from 50 to 60, and everyone threw a fit. But it stuck, and eventually everyone accepted it. Even at the time, the developer response to the cost increase was art. I am a game developer and I have shipped 4 titles, in addition to knowing dozens of game developers from games of all sizes. One universal truth is – art is expensive. Exponentially so. The higher the fidelity, the higher the cost. Artists make up more than half of the company at every company I have worked at. Creating a single environmental object for a game, like a tombstone or barrel, can take 8 hours, based on the complexity of the model, the detail in the texture, how long it takes to unwrap, etc. Then every piece of art has to be reviewed and approved. Things like characters can take several WEEKS to model and texture, then a few more to rig and animate. Once a piece of art is finished, it has to go to programmers or designers to be implemented and placed in the game.

So from Skylanders, here’s how it goes with a SINGLE destructible item. I needed a barrel for the Darklight Crypt level. That was 4 hours of an artist’s time. Then he sent the barrel model and the models for the 5 pieces of it that show up when it breaks. It takes me about an hour to get them loaded into a destructible level, with proper collision and that’s AFTER a great deal of development time spent setting up the “pipeline” so I just have to plug stuff in, as opposed to scripting it up by hand. But then depending on the item I might have to do more special case scripting on top. Let’s say I don’t, so now it’s up to 5 hours. Then I send an email to vfx, so they can add particles when it explodes that match the item exploding. They spend about 2-4 hours doing that. (A barrel is likely 2.) Then sound has to go in and add explosion sounds and adjust those for the specific item. (About an hour.) And here we are, a barrel, in the game exploding, right at about 8 hours. Oh, but this was Darklight Crypt… and there is a world swapping mechanic, so I need that same barrel, only for the other world, so it’s going to need to look different… Two days, minimum of four employees, for TWO art assets that are as simple as it gets in games. Imagine doing hundreds of these. How many different barrels and crates have you seen in WoW?

As the items get bigger and more complex, they take more time. Oh and on a game like WoW, where they are updating the graphics engine with each expansion they have to go back and re-do art to make it look better and fit with the new graphics. Otherwise you have the problem all over the game that you can see by simply standing a human next to a panda. Not to mention that graphics engine that got updated probably had a few programmers working on it. (I would bet Blizzard has between 5-10 at least.) I know how many people work on Skylanders (although, that’s JUST TfB, technically people at Beenox and Vicarious Visions are working on it too…) so I can just imagine WoW’s team must be at least 150-200 people – JUST for development. Do you realize how much MONEY it takes to PAY that many people? And these aren’t minimum wage employees either. These are highly specialized, talented people. If Blizzard isn’t paying them well, someone else will, and they will lose their talent. Game Career Guide does a salary survey every year. Programmers with 6+ years of experience get ~106k. Artists – 76K. Designers – 82K. Producers 66K. Audio – 93K. So if we average that, we get (round down) 84k. 84k x 200 people… That’s over 17 MILLION a year – JUST on salaries. And I am positive that number is low. Really low. Because that’s not taking into account leads, people with 10+ years of experience, or things like QA. Obviously, if we had more data, we would have a more accurate picture, but making games is expensive! (Here’s another post on this exact same thing.)

Now, to my biggest bone of contention, and the one comment that made my teeth grind. “But it’s almost as much as a WHOLE NEW GAME!”

How do you know?

We haven’t seen all of Draenor yet. We don’t know how big the space is. We don’t know how many “skins” the garrison has. (Blizzard calls them kits.) We don’t know how many quests there are. We don’t know the number of new pets, mounts, armor, etc. We only know the number of dungeons and raid bosses. We don’t know the time it will take to get to 100. You are speculating on content size without having seen it! Okay, fine, let’s make the assumption it is as big as Pandaria. (With equal numbers of quests, dungeons, etc etc.)

Alright – but how big are new games? People like comparing it to ESO or WildStar, but those games aren’t out yet either. (I would like to cut the speculation down as much as possible.) I didn’t play SWTOR, so I can’t speak to it either. So let’s look at some new games I did play. Dishonored! Great game, I highly recommend it. It took me 15 hours to beat. Content wise though, it has about the equivalent of Jade Forest. What about Skyrim, another excellent game I highly recommend? (Thank you Reddit dudes for actually timing this.) It takes about 30 minutes to run from one end to the other. So if we run from one end of Pandaria to the other… and it takes about 30 minutes (on the ground, not flying or flight paths). Hum.

Okay okay, what about GAMEPLAY. That’s what’s important right? So Skyrim, I played for ~300 hours. My /played in Pandaria (since you can see how long it has been at this level) is… 22 DAYS? Honestly I expected more. I have 5 other characters at 90 too. Quests! Skyrim has ~300 quests. Here they are – all listed on one page. Pandaria has 1551. (I am skipping dungeons as they don’t really compare easily – Skyrim has over 100, but they are significantly shorter, use modular art, and do not generally have boss fights for all of them.) How many animals? Mounts? Pets? Buildings? All of these take time to make and then implement. You can’t just reuse assets either, or players complain, or it just looks silly. You can’t use regular mailboxes in Pandaria, they have to match the aesthetic of the world.

In the game industry, you will often hear the saying “Good, Fast, or Cheap. Pick two.” This is why Skyrim took ~5 years to make. It’s a great game. It’s a big game. It took a long time. (I’d bet money it wasn’t cheap either.) Pandaria, as a stand alone game, has just as much as Skyrim in terms of content, gameplay, and awesomeness. But took 3 less years to make and cost $20 less. That kind of turn around is not cheap. That means overtime. That means more people. That means talented people who cost more but do the work right the first time. Consider that Vanilla took at least 4 years to make. And yet they are churning out MORE content in the expansions than they did in Vanilla.

I also see people saying because there isn’t a new race or class, it’s not as “much” as before. UH. You’re getting effectively 5 races this expansion. When they “rework” models, they aren’t faster and easier because they have been done before. You have to start fresh and the new ones are so much more complex. And goodness, who actually wants a new class? I don’t have time to play the ones we HAVE! Monks are still a fraction of the player base as compared to the older classes. So logically, why would Blizzard spend 100s of hours making and balancing a new class when it’s not going to be played? Many decisions made in game development change based on how much something costs to do versus how many players actually do it. (Why 100s of hours? Well first you have to think it up, then implement it – which could take a month or so, then art it just enough to figure out if it works/is fun/feels like WoW, then iteration to make it GOOD, then more art to make it LOOK good, then more iteration to make it balanced… so much TIME! Wouldn’t that time be better spent on things people who don’t want alts can also play with? Like… Garrisons? :))

So is WoD worth the extra $10? Is it comparable to a new game? Of course it is. It has far more content and gameplay than most games. The comparable games, like Skyrim, are known for being “massive” among gamers. Honestly, Blizzard could be charging $60 for it. We call it an expansion because it builds on WoW, but in terms of scope, it’s bigger than most new games.

If you take into account the time spent in the game, the “return on investment” says they could be charging even more, and it would still be worth it. I paid $60 for Dishonored and got 15 hours out of it (that’s about $4 an hour, not bad). I paid $120 (two copies, xbox and pc) for Skyrim and got 300 hours out of it (40 cents per hour, really great return). My time in WoW though… $60 for Vanilla, $40 for BC/Wrath/Cata/MoP each (really $70 because I get the CEs), plus $13/month since August 2005… ($340 for the games, $13×103 months = $1339, grand total – $1679) with a /played across my account (we’re going to ignore the SECOND account I also have that has been subbed continuously since 2007) of 432+ days. That’s over 10k hours. It ends up being… about 15 cents PER HOUR of enjoyment in WoW. Is WoD worth it?

If making games were easy, everyone would do it. If making money making games was easy, you wouldn’t see things like studio closures. If making GOOD games like Blizzard does was easy, you wouldn’t see games with sub 80 scores on Metacritic. $50 for a game the size/quality of Pandaria is a bargain. It’s possible the sales of the expansion alone won’t even cover the full development costs (especially if the game is purchased as a physical copy over the digital versions – Blizzard likely gets 100% on the digital sales, but about 50% on sales through retailers). The people developing this game (all of them from Metzen down to QA dude #300) don’t work for free. They deserve to get paid. Game sales, mounts, pets, services, and subs make sure they get paid and the game keeps getting worked on. In the end, game companies are trying to make money which means charging enough to make more than they spent on their specialized product.

Just like every other creative art product, if you want the artist to keep producing new stuff, you have to buy the old stuff. It’s why I buy albums, movies, books, and games from people who’s work I love. It’s why I buy books on my iPad AND physical copies. It’s why I buy tv shows on DVD. I want the people who make these things to make more, and that means supporting them now. I want to be playing WoW when I am 80, and if that means paying $50 over $40 for an expansion now, shut up and take my money Blizzard.