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Game Developers Conference 2009 - Day Four Coverage
Posted on Friday, March 27 2009 @ 03:23:20 Eastern

Contents: LBGT Game Development Community, Journalists Becoming Developers, Sake Is Always Good

I had to miss most of what I wanted to see this morning and afternoon because of this week's podcast. But that doesn't mean I can just cop out and miss GDC completely. This time around, though, I needed a change of pace and go to panels that I wanted to see, forgoing some of the more universally interesting panels, but nonetheless, I happen to believe that I should be choosing what to cover (that is, what I think you should be reading).



Thursday, 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM
Speaking Out: The LGBT Community
Moderator: Jeb Havens

If you haven't been to my profile yet, know that I'm gay. And that's as loud as I'm going to make it. I don't make it out to be a big deal in my public life, since I think everyone should be free to choose their sexuality and just have others accept it and move on. Of course, this roundtable discussion is to "speak out" about LGBT issues in the gaming community, whether it's the ban of a lesbian on Xbox Live or discrimination against gays in development studios. These are both important issues that need to be in the open once in a while, so before you think I'm just shooting rainbows up your ass, know that a casual talk about the heavy stuff is healthy, ya? (Why the hell am I channeling Wakka?.....)

So then, what does all this LBGT stuff have to with you? Well, in short, they have a hand in the games that you play, from design and audio, to graphics and production. Instead of jotting down the people's names at the roundtable, as many of them aren't out in their workplace (~50%), I compiled a list of studios (and other places) that the LGBT community is a part of (from just this session): EA Maxis, Atari, n-Space, LucasArts, Kryptic Studios, PC Magazine, Activision, Fuel Games, Teacher at Flashpoint Academy, Cisco, Lazy 8 Studios, Legacy Interactive, and Microsoft. Combined with other LBGT people that I know from other studios and press - Harmonix, GameSpot, Joystiq, and your trusty Game Revolution - it's safe to say that the community is one that that gaming - and gamers - should not ignore.

Much of the discussion was about how to approach instances of discrimination against gays, and it would seem that the best solution is to match the level of activism to the level of the transgression. That is, if someone just says "***" or "gay" as a loose adjective for "bad", then let that person know it's not cool but don't claim outright racism like in Resident Evil 5. On the other hand, if people at your workplace are sending you derrogatory and suggestive emails, as graphic designer Jamie Durrant has experienced at Lionhead Studios, (and telling HR hasn't changed anything) then suing the studio might be your only option. (But there, match the transgression as well - Jamie is also suing for $66,000 , not millions of dollars for emotional damage...).

It's also interesting that though the arena of QA testers is rampant with people who say "gay" and "***got" as if it's part of the common vocabulary, they are young and a part of (so far) the most accepting people of gays in general, and are easier to correct. In fact, it's the homophobic company manager and boss who are the hardest to change, and due to their top-down influence, may be the force that needs the most adjustment and will over time. Now, many companies have included discrete terminology in their policies about harassment against LBGT employees, and HR deparments have been cracking down on employees that disregard these policies, if just out of fear of a lawsuit (that's the best way, really).

And so, the answer for the LBGT community is to hope in small steps, to create islands of civility and hope that they spread their influence to the rest of the community. And also to work hard, as if no one is treating and will treat you differently because of your identity. How Microsoft plans to solve the blanket censorship of LBGT Xbox Live users (where people not tolerant of gays start reporting them as offensive), and resolve the lawsuit at Lionhead Studios, remains to be seen. But we can only hope for a time when no one unfairly discriminates against someone else and wins for it. That's a loss we cannot accept.



Thursday, 4:30 PM - 5:30 PM
But What I Really Want to Do is Make Games
Speakers: Scott Jones (Crispy Gamer), Jason Bergman (2K Games), Byran Intihar (Insomniac Games, EGM), Kraig Kujawa (Capcom), Lisa Mason (Destineer), Luke Smith (Bungie)

This panel consists of people in the games development community who were once a (pure, unspoiled) journalist. Surprisingly, this expo pass free session, which meant that anyone with a GDC pass could attend, was packed (the longest line I've seen for any session). Most people didn't really get too much out of the panel, since they were not journalists (or aspiring journalists), but it was informative about the differences between the two. Unfortunately, Emil Pagliarulo (the lead designer for Fallout 3 who was also a journalist) wasn't there... but that would be tomorrow... morning... at 9am... ugh...

(Scott Jones) People on the panel have been writing for games professionally (yet everyone on the panel somehow found something, err, new), and now they have money… session should have really been called “How To Buy A House”

Backgrounds
(Jason) Publishing Division, Producer at 2K (Civilization Revolution, Bioshock, The Darkness), did PR for 2 years, originally journalist for seven years (Shacknews.com), freelancer for Gamespot
(Lisa) Game Informer, 4.5 years. Switched to design two and a half years ago. A lot of small family-friendly titles (or admittedly, stuff that gets a 4/10 in, err, Game Informer...)
(Kraig) Director of Design at Capcom. Dark Void. Flock. Age of Booty. 2 years ago was at Midway doing Blitz: The League.
(Bryan) Website design. EGM, 5 years, senior editor. Ratchet & Clank.
(Luke) 2 years at Bungie. Halo 3. 1UP and Kotaku.

Write About Games / How Does This Happen
- Think about what we are as journalists in the business. For what purpose?
(Jason) 2004-ish went to PR. Fallout of advertising market. Forced to get a day job with games writing. Heard at Rockstar that there was PR position. Great learning experience.
(Lisa) No major impotence to leave. But 5 years in, I was getting too comfortable. I want to keep learning, so I went into designing at Destineer, once I felt I wasn't challenging myself anymore. Gradually loved theory of games instead of primarily criticism.
(Kraig) Got a call.Got four random people to test Madden 95. The sports reviewer at EGM. Made relationship with Midway. Got into doing Blitz Pro.
(Bryan) Build relationships with people of games that you like. Right place at the right time.
[Follow what you like and you’ll likely end where you want.]
(Kraig) Doing interview, I was aksed "Why did you give this game a 6.5?" That was uncomfortable...
(Luke) I was an jerk throughout my career. Wrote a story called “Halo 2 is broke”. Yes, it was a red flag to Bungie that said I was a jerk, but at the same time, they thought "maybe he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to our games". Also felt washed up with journalism. Got an interview and then left. But it was sad to leave Ziff (and now to see its troubles).

Saying Farewell To The Journalism Team
(Byran) I cried when I left. All my friends were there. Working at EGM was what I dreamt of when I was young. Confident that this was right for me, but it was sad.
(Lisa) My friend got pale. And he got overly concerned about my assignments for that issue [perhaps to cover that he liked her, eh?].
(Jason) Shacknews is a few vocal community. I was the only console reporter. So it was kind of like "Oh my God, we are going to go PC-only! No one is going to care about us anymore! *scream*"
(Kraig) Some things that you miss. You can’t see everyone game’s early. You can’t get free games. It’s a big change.
(Scott) You Can’t Go Back…

Knowledge Gap
(Scott) Game development is tech-heavy, isn’t it?
(Kraig) Journalists can make a strong step into the industry. We're very articulate and can communicate well. And we're reflective and know what works and what doesn’t. Knows what will resonate in the market.  But in terms of execution, you have to learn how that works.
(Jason) There was software like bug checking that you have to learn very fast.
(Lisa) Be shameless when asking questions. Learning wasn’t a problem, since I always asked questions. What’s a "lock check"? The approval process with Nintendo. Oh.
(Bryan) Now I know what I’m actually saying now! Learned the terminology between different teams like programmer jargon, so I know what things actually mean.

Why'd they pick you?
(Jason) They knew us. And don’t be a dick. Well, Except for you, Luke.
(Luke) Yeah, my whole career is based around being a jerk.
(Jason) Yeah...
*cue crowd laughter*
(Lisa) Already used to weird sleep schedules.
(Byran) Why not look at someone that loves your games and has a distinct and intelligent opinion about them?
(Luke) I played an embarrassing amount of Halo. So why would Bungie not pick him?

Unique Application as Journalist in Game Development (Saw something no one else saw)
(Luke) Though, it’s like stepping onto the Lakers team as the n00b, and you have something to say.
(Byran) Spoke out. And some of the changes he asked for were actually changed.
(Kraig) Sometimes you see videos and screenshots that suck; you can’t accept them.
(Lisa) Good to give criticism to a small publisher. Asset-related problems as well. Wait, I can’t send those screenshots with a model of the characters with a grid in the background. Need something with fireballs? Hello?
(Jason) Dark rooms. Any journalist learns how to write in the dark. So I was natually suited for being super observant of how other people are playing that game. Also good at noting user feedback.
(Lisa) Kind of like "reverse reviewing". Instead of this is bad, because of this and this and this. Instead, do this and this and this, and therefore this is good.

Questions
- Current state of journalism, on the decrease? What’s the future? Yes, newspapers are having a hard time. Online journalism is frequently misquoting us, too. Hate lazy journalism when it’s about you. Also harder to accept something when multiple reviews say the same thing.
- (My question) Something you complained about when you were a journalist but now appreciate now as a developer? Just how much screenshots are annoying. And how difficult it is. (Damn, thought I good grill them for practicies like exclusive reviews...)
- Don’t be a dick? Well, you’re not exactly hired because you agree with the developers. They just want to see that you’re thoughtful about your opinion. That you’re not just making one-liners. That you’re making a valid argument.
- Time machine, can become journalists again, would you? No. No. No. No. No. Can play games as a civilian again. And really, when Sid Meier is sitting in front of a computer, asking you for advice, you can’t go back to journalism.



Also met Ethan (producer at EA) with Greg Damiano (pic above), along with Doug (student) and Brad (programmer). Ate Thai food at Osha on 2nd Street and Mission. Had Taro Fried Rice in a clay pot. Sake and raw fish with wasabi was on Ethan's tab. I felt my Asian-ness flow through me. So happy, I flew from bamboo reeds.
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