Seattle, Here I Come!

Nine months ago I moved down to Austin to take a job with Vigil Games. I left my wife Nicole and step-daughter Kate behind and I’ve only seen them once every 5-6 weeks. I knew it would not be easy and it was not. When I first got here, I got an apartment near work with a 10 month lease. The plan was that I’d work the job while Kate did her first year of high school in Seattle. Come summertime, we’d assess the situation. If things were going well, we’d consider moving Nik and Kate down to join me and we’d upgrade to a bigger place. If they were not, I could return to Seattle with some valuable experience under my belt.

In May I asked the leadership at Vigil if they’d consider letting me telecommute. I argued that my many months here had allowed me to learn the game and the team and that the major part of job, writing, was something I could do from anywhere. I also told them I’d be happy to fly down once a month for planning sessions, brainstorming, etc. They said they would indeed considerate it and for a couple of weeks I thought I might be able to both go home and keep the paycheck and insurance for the family. As it turned out though, the managers all agreed that telecommuting was right out. It was stay in Austin or leave the job.

This was a tough decision. On the one hand, I wanted to return to Seattle and rejoin my family. On the other hand, the factors that had led me to take the gig in the first place (insurance in particular) would reassert themselves as soon as I quit. The other option would have been to sell our house in Seattle and move Nik and Kate down here. I had many months to chew on that and I decided I just couldn’t do it to Miss Kate. She was at her stupid hippie school for so many years and finally this year was at a decent school she was doing well at. She had also grown up in Seattle and I didn’t want to tear her away from her home and all her friends.

Meanwhile, my apartment complex had given me a deadline. I needed to tell them by June 16, two months before my lease ran out, if I’d be renewing it. If I lived anywhere near the cool things in Austin, if the city had a decent public transportation system so I could get around on my own, if I had found the work more fulfilling–well, maybe the choice would have been harder. In the end though, my heart knew what it wanted: a return to the Emerald City and my family.

Folks at Vigil were understanding and we’re parting amicably. I’ll be going to GenCon as planned and returning here for one more week of work. Then Nicole and I will have another four day adventure moving all my stuff back home. I should be back in Seattle by the 20th or so. I will then return to working for Green Ronin full time and consider my options. We may be destitute by Xmas, but at least we’ll be together.

While these past nine months have been challenging in many ways, I don’t want to give the impression that it was misery either. I knew some people from the area before I got here and many of them have become real friends. There are many cool and talented people at Vigil and I made some good friends there as well. Without their willingness to take my non-driving ass around, I never would have experienced the better restaurants or gone to any punk rock shows. So thank you, Austin friends. I’m sure we will game and eat BBQ again together in the future.

Now I need to pack, plan for GenCon, and think about my next move. Seattle, here I come!

Originally published on LiveJournal on July 20, 2011.

An All Too Brief Interlude

When I took the job at Vigil six months ago, I knew it was not going to be easy. I was moving 2,000 miles away from not only Nicole and Kate, but also Seattle, a city that had become a home after 13 years there. And sure enough, the transition to Austin has been hard. I was lucky enough to have some friends here already, and more have moved to the area after me. Still, I miss my family, I miss my house, and I miss my city. Since the move, I’ve been able to see Nicole at least once every 5-6 weeks and Kate a bit less than that. These visits, be they here on back in Seattle, are the things I look forward to the most. After one particularly shitty day at work, Nicole texted me a simple message: “Three weeks.” That was the time until her next visit.

Said visit ended this morning when Nicole left my apartment at 4:40 am to catch her flights home. It was, as always, difficult to part. We had three and a half days together and they went too quickly. She arrived Wednesday afternoon and it was tough to get through those last few hours at work before practically sprinting to my apartment. That thing about absence making the heart grow fonder? Totally true, in case you were wondering.

While I was at work on Thursday, Nicole was on a mission. Back in Seattle, she would sometimes organize freezer parties with friends, which entailed people getting together to prep a bunch of freezer ready dinners that could be pulled out as needed. I can and do cook, but I don’t enjoy as much as Nik and I’m lazier about it. She was determined to leave me a freezer full of food that was ready to go. It was a freezer party for one. I was amazed how much she got done in a day and deeply appreciative for the culinary feat. I will be eating a lot better for the next month and a half.

Friday I took a personal day and we decided to drive over to Houston, a city I’ve only ever flown through. Nicole had a friend there she wanted to visit and I was ready for some time away from my apartment so we took off late Friday morning. We had hoped to squeeze in a trip to NASA in the afternoon, but we got a slightly later start than we wanted and then we spent an hour in traffic once we got to Houston before we made it to our hotel. So instead of exploring space we began eating and drinking early at Pappasito’s Cantina. While a Tex-Mex joint, this is part of a local food empire started by a Greek family. Too funny. We met Nicole’s friend Ruth and her boyfriend Bill there and had a surprisingly tasty dinner. It was way better Tex-Mex than anything I get near my office. I did notice one small nod to Greece in the appetizer section though: flaming cheese. This brings to mind one of my old sayings: “I like my cheese flaming and my wine fortified.”

After dinner Ruth invited us back to her house and we sat out on the patio drinking and talking until midnight. Ruth is a teacher and she invited over one of her cohorts who’s a game nerd. He’s a music teacher primarily but teaches a mini course about board game design, which is quite cool. There was no one teaching game design anything when I was in middle school.

Saturday we spent most of the day at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. I had been drawn there by the USS Texas, a battleship launched in 1912 that fought in both World Wars. I enjoy touring old warships, particularly from World War 2. Reading about ships like this is one thing but getting inside one is something else entirely. Standing under those 14″ guns, it’s still hard to imagine the heat and the noise that must have erupted when those things were fired. Once we got to the bowels of the ship, however, I found it all too easy to imagine drowning down there. I snapped a lot of photos and I’ll be making a Facebook album for them shortly.

After touring the ship we drove across the park to the big monument (or as I jokingly called it, the “penis of Texas”). It commemorates the Battle of San Jacinto, fought on that spot in 1836. This was the battle in which Texas won its independence from Mexico, so it’s an important part of state identity. The monument is large and suitably impressive and you can take an elevator up to an observation platform, which we did. Below there’s a modest but well put together museum about the fight for Texas independence. We watched a 35-minute documentary on the topic in a theater by the museum as well. There appeared to be some markers out on the battlefield itself, but they were not organized into a walking tour like you can find at Manassas, for example. That made it harder to get a sense of the ground, but we enjoyed the museum and the view from the top of the monument.

On our way out of town we stopped on Bellaire Blvd, which seems like Houston’s equivalent of the International District. We tried a place called Crawfish and Noodles that Nicole had read about. We had Viet-Cajun crawfish and spicy basil fried rice and both were fantastic. We did not overdo it on crawfish so we felt justified walking across the plaza to a place we had spied on the way in: Chez Beignets. This silver lining of French colonialism made us beignets to order and I got some chicory coffee as well. Steaming hot doughnuts is a fine way to end any day. With full bellies, we then listened to Tin Fey’s book Bossypants on the three hour drive back to Austin. It is, as you’d expect, quite funny and her reading makes it even better.
So now I wait for another five weeks. Next time I get to see Kate and other friends in Seattle, so I’m looking forward to it. In the interim I’m actually going to Brazil (visa willing) in mid-May. More on that another day.
Originally published on LiveJournal on April 25, 2011. 

The Pramas Fall Tour

The last two months has been one the most intense periods of travel and activity of my life. This is how it went down.

It started with a weekend trip to Vancouver, BC with Nicole. At this point we knew craziness was about to descend, so we decided to get a weekend to ourselves in and enjoy one of our favorite cities. We returned to Tojo’s, a great Japanese restaurant Nicole first introduced me to in 1995, for the first time in many years. We also took the opportunity to see Machete (awesome), The Girl Who Played with Fire (very good), and The American (meh).

We got back late on a Sunday night. The very next morning I went to the airport to fly back to Canada. This time my destination was Edmonton. I spent a couple of days visiting BioWare’s office and talking about all things Dragon Age. I got to see some of Dragon Age 2, which looks awesome, and had good discussions with the folks there.

The day after I returned from Edmonton, the Green Ronin crew began arriving for our annual summit. This is usually a three day affair at which we make our plans for the following year and discuss the overall state of the company. We extended it one day this year so we could have most of the staff in town for our 10 year anniversary party at Dragon’s Lair in Bellevue. Summit and party both went well, and we had a productive few days and a bit of fun.

Before all the Ronins had even left Seattle, I was on board another plane and heading to Chicago. I was there for a week, primarily to attend Riot Fest. I saw 24 punk bands in 5 days and had a blast. Most awesome for me was finally getting to see Articles of Faith, one of my favorite hardcore bands of all time. I had waited 23 years for the opportunity and they did not disappoint. Since they also played a “secret show,” I got to see them twice. Bonus! Other great moments included the Busted at Oz reunion show (featuring bands like the Subverts, Silver Abuse, and the original lineup of Naked Raygun) and a terrific performance by the Zero Boys.

The punk rock was awesome but that was only part of the Chicago fun. Ken Hite was kind enough to put me up at his house and when I wasn’t at punk shows I was eating my way across Chi-town with Ken and frequent guest Will Hindmarch. Had some great food at Hot Doug’s, Frontera Grill, Xoco, The Publican, Kuma’s Corner, and Dawali Mediterranean Grill. Also got to see a Nazi u-boat, play For the People, and talk a lot of history with Ken. I squeezed a lot into those 7 days.

I got back to Seattle late on October 11. I then had two days to pack because I was moving to Austin! Thankfully, I was not trying to pack up all my shit, just what I thought I’d want to have in Texas in my new apartment. In moves that were very much us, Nicole started by packing up kitchen stuff so I could cook, while I picked what games and miniatures to bring so I could play. By Thursday morning the U-Haul was packed and ready, and we’d even squeezed in a dinner with Rob Schwalb, who was in town visiting his corporate masters. Always great to see Dr. Evil.

We took off on the 14th and we had four days to get to Austin. Nicole had a clever plan to stop in Portland and go to Ikea for the furniture I’d need. Since there’s no sales tax in Oregon, we saved a bunch of dough. The drive was about 2500 miles and Nicole had to do it all since I have no license. She was awesome and did not blanch even at the 15 hour day we had on Saturday. We listened to two audio books on the way (American On Purpose by Craig Ferguson and Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett) and they really helped pass the time. We went east through Oregon into Idaho, then south through Utah, and southeast through Arizona, New Mexico, and finally Texas. We arrived at my new apartment on Sunday night. Phil, Gina, and Andrew helped us with the move in, for which we were very grateful. Then at 9 am the next day I started my new job at Vigil on the 40K MMO.

I’ll talk about Vigil and settling into Austin later. For now suffice to say that I had a couple of weeks to acclimatize to both new city and new job and things are going well. Nicole flew back to Seattle after the first couple of days. It was weird to live alone all of a sudden but I had something to look forward to: NeonCon. This convention in Las Vegas happened to fall just a couple of days before Nicole’s birthday. We decided to meet there to celebrate. This gave us a chance to see a bunch of our friends and enjoy Vegas for a couple of days. It was a brief reunion but we made the most of it. I won’t see Nicole or Miss Kate now until Christmas (boo!).

You’d think that would be quite enough travel for the time being but I have one more trip this year. On Thanksgiving Day I’m flying to London. I’m going to be a guest at Dragonmeet, a one day game convention held on November 27. I last attended Dragonmeet in 2002 and it was a great time. I’m looking forward to going again, seeing many of my UK friends, and squeezing in as much London fun as I can manage. After that the whirlwind really will subside. The return to a day job means accruing vacation days and such, so such travel won’t be as easy. I also won’t be as broke, so it’s a trade-off. I guess I really need a day job that’ll pay me well and allow me to travel a lot, but for now the grim darkness of the far future will have to do.

Originally published on LiveJournal on November 10, 2010. 

Vancouver Weekend

This Thursday is Nicole and I’s 9 year wedding anniversary. Since I’m going to be up visiting BioWare Monday to Wednesday and on Thursday the guys are arriving for the Green Ronin Summit, we decided we had best celebrate over the weekend. So Friday we drove up to Vancouver, dropped Kate off with her dad, and checked into the Hyatt downtown. Our plan was simple: spent time together alone. Our apologies to our Vancouver friends, but we just wanted to relax and be together. We did not bring computers and tried not to worry about work, money, or my impending move to Austin.

We’re back now and I have to say mission accomplished. We decided we didn’t want to run around a lot, so the basic plan was to eat well, see movies, and lounge around in between. We saw three movies: Machete, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The American. That’s the order we saw them in and also how’d I’d rank them for enjoyment. Machete was a blast. It delivered exactly what was promised in that original trailer and then some. Over the top, funny, and politically appropriate for this year. The Girl Who Played With Fire was also good. Both of the leads do an excellent job and the story continues to be engaging. The American I was lukewarm on. It was slow paced, didn’t have a lot of dialog, and didn’t do much to make me give a shit about George Clooney’s character. And the ending was pretty much exactly what you’d suspect.

For food we went to a mix of old favorites and new places. Friday night we just sort of stumbled on to a Greek place, Kalypso. While it was no Panos Kleftiko (our favorite Greek place in Seattle), it was decent and their calamari was excellent. Saturday we went to this placed called The Edge. We had picked it because its menu boasted things like poutine with ox tail gravy. On arrival we discovered that they were only serving food from their brunch menu, so no poutine. On the upside, the eggs benedict with sockeye salmon was delicious. Saturday night we went to Tojo’s, a great Japanese restaurant we’ve been patronizing since the 90s. We were saddened to discovered one of favorite dishes (Tojo’s baked oysters) was taken off the menu during the Olympics and has not been reinstated. We love that dish so much we had planned to order one for each of us and lick the shells clean. The food we did have was excellent apart from the snapper (which was a little tough and not nearly as buttery as the sablefish they typically serve). Sunday we went for dim sum at the restaurant formerly known as Bo Kong. It’s called the Whole Vegetarian Restaurant now, but the menu is exactly the same and just as good. We got many old favorites like fried bean curds in black bean sauce and turnip cakes, but also tried some new stuff like vegetable cutlets with orange sauce. That latter tasted uncannily like fried chicken and we devoured it.

Saturday we also spent a couple of hours browsing at Chapters. I always like seeing what Canadian bookstores have that you wouldn’t find down here. I ended up getting Juno: Canadians at D-Day, June 6, 1944 by Ted Barris. I noticed that there was a cookbook for Vij’s, a terrific Indian restaurant in Vancouver that we did not get to on this trip, and that came home with Nicole. I’m looking forward to tasting some of those recipes.

I’m glad we had a chance to get away, even for a couple of days. Cheers to 9 great years with my awesome wife. I’m going to miss Nicole and Kate hard when I’m in Austin without them.

And now that I’m back from Canada…I’m leaving for Canada in the morning. This time to Edmonton for business. I have unpacked and repacked and I’m ready to go. Maybe I can get some poutine up there…

Originally published on LiveJournal on September 27, 2010. 

In the Grim Darkness of the Far Future There is Only Pramas

As most of you know I spent three years working at Flying Lab Software on the Pirates of the Burning Sea MMO as a writer and then creative director. That ended last October and since then I’ve been concentrating on Green Ronin. It was nice to get a breather after working two jobs for all that time. The factors that led me to take the FLS job reasserted themselves after a few months though and earlier this year I started looking for another day job in the computer game industry. After much searching and many interviews, I have found the sort of position I was looking for at a good company. As an added bonus, it’s on a property I know and love.

Yesterday I accepted a position at Vigil Games, which is part of the THQ family. I’ll be a senior designer on the Warhammer 40K MMO, Dark Millennium Online. This is a narrative design gig, so I’ll be writing dialog, mission text, background material, faction info, and so on. In other words: the stuff I’m best at.

The wrinkle is that Vigil is in Austin and I’ve been in Seattle since 1997. Certainly I never imagined living in Texas. I hate hot weather for one thing. At least it’s Austin though, which is sort of like the West Berlin of Texas. Now my step-daughter Kate has just started high school and after all her years at that stupid hippie school she’s finally at a school that she seems to like and I don’t want to rip her away without notice. Nicole and I also own a house here, so it’s not easy to just pull up stakes on move on. So the plan is that I’m going to go to Austin, get an apartment, and work the job. Nicole and Kate will stay here at least until Kate finishes her first year of high school. Next summer we’ll assess where we are at and look at a full relocation. Not seeing my family regularly is a downside for sure, but I’m willing to do it if it means relieving the financial pressure on us.

So what does this mean for Green Ronin? Not a whole lot. I will continue to run the company on nights and weekends, which is the way it was for three years when I was at FLS. I will continue working on Dragon Age, though that’s likely going to be the only design work I’m going to take on in the near future. Thankfully, we have Jeff Tidball onboard as Dragon Age developer and he’ll be pushing the line forward. Set 2 is almost done, so this is actually fairly good timing for me.

The next few weeks are going to be crazy leading up to an initial move mid-October. I’m heading up to Edmonton next week to meet with BioWare, returning in time for the Green Ronin summit and 10 year anniversary party. Then I’m going to Chicago for a week for Riot Fest, a five day punk rock festival that I’m so looking forward to. I’ll finally get my chance to see Articles of Faith, one of my all time favorite bands, as well as groups like Negative Approach, The Effigies, and Naked Raygun. I’m staying with Ken Hite (thanks, Ken!), which means there will also be war gaming and good eating. I hadn’t planned it this way, but the Chicago trip is going to be a last hurrah before the biggest change in my life since I moved to Seattle all those years ago. I plan to have a hell of a time.

Originally published on LiveJournal on September 23, 2010. 

Prague, You Will Be Mine!

In 1990 I spent a couple of months of the summer traveling Europe with my girlfriend Stacey and our friend Kathy. We started in Scotland, moved down to England, and then over to the Continent, where it was youth hostels and Eurail all over. We visited many countries and had a great time. One place we didn’t get to, however, was Prague. It was on my list for sure, but when we got the Eurail passes in NYC, we were told they were no good in Czechoslovakia. Since our budget was already quite tight ($20 a day for hostel, food, and fun), we decided to save the expense of an extra train ticket and skip Prague.

Towards the end of the trip, we were in Munich and went to visit Dachau. Perhaps the most bizarre incident of the whole trip occurred when I ran into my friend Cecil (Castellucci, author of the awesome The Plain Janes graphic novels; you should buy her new book Rose Sees Red next month) in the middle of Dachau. The Nazi death camp. We had met at NYU but she had left (for Montreal IIRC) the year before and I hadn’t seen her since. To run into each other there of all places was pretty weird. She and her friend had just come from Prague and they said they had gone there on Eurail passes. So we had been lied to in NYC and now it was too late to work Prague into our schedule. Lame.

In 1994 I was back in Europe for another two month trip, this time as a roadie for a French punk band called Scraps. That’s a long story for another day, but the pertinent bit is that we were scheduled to do a gig in Prague. I had been robbed in 1990 and here at last was a chance to make good. After various misadventures in France, Basque country, Spain, and Italy, we moved into Germany to do the biggest shows of the tour, many of them with a shitty straight edge band from California.

We were driving down the autobahn one day when I smelled something funny. Well, funnier than a van with 8-10 punks in it at any rate. Suddenly the driver swerved to the side of the road and yelled that we should all bail out. The reason was obvious when I jumped out: the engine was on fire! I and several others moved to the back of the van and started tossing out our bags and the equipment. Meanwhile, others tried to get the fire out. The bass player succeeded when he dumped soy milk on the blaze. The good news was that the van had not blown up or burned out. The bad news was that we were stranded in an East German town know for its Nazi skinheads. Awesome.

We got the van to a shop and they said it was going to take several days to fix. In the meantime, we had to rent a couple of cars and continue on to Berlin, where we had our next gig. We were supposed to go to Prague after that but guess what? The cars we rented could not be taken across the border. Apparently too many people were renting cars, driving to Eastern Europe to sell them, and then reporting them stolen. Once again I was denied a chance to see Prague. To make matters worse, when we next played with the band from Callie they said the Prague show was great and they had had an awesome time there.

I thought of all this tonight because I was watching the Prague episode of No Reservations. Seeing Bourdain gallivanting around the city and eating an endless array of pork and sausage made me think about how I still hadn’t gotten there in all these years. The game business has taken me back to Germany and England, and even to Finland, but not to goddamn Prague. Someday I will cross that city off my list.

Originally published on LiveJournal on July 6, 2010.