Giro means 'ride', not 'tasty meat sandwich.'

I know you may not believe this, but this city has genuine, unadulterated beauty, and most of it comes from its people. For every Generic L.A. Beautiful Person (you know the type. They're the ones who buy their clothes, bodies, and personalities from the mall, and, make no mistake, Rodeo Drive is just another example of that all-American place o' commerce), there are dozens of regular people who are doing their best to be themselves and make their corner of the world a bit more beautiful. The thing is, see, that the regular people are doing it in a quiet way. You need to look a little deeper. You need to go out of your territory. You need to pay the two-drink minimum (though I'm working on a way to get around that part).

Last night, after sitting in an auditorium at the Director's Guild of America and falling apart at Martin Mull's "History of White People in America," I went on a madcap ride down Sunset, past the hookers and day laborers, down La Brea to the ripped up asphalt of Santa Monica Boulevard and into a joint. And there I heard some gorgeous voices. There were bits of show-biz pretention (I mean...I respect these people for getting up in front of a room of strangers and singing their hearts out, but please...leave the patented Cabaret Singer's Drop-Your-Chin-Into-Your-Chest-Before-Your-Cue bit, okay? Just sing), but there was a lot of soul, too, baby. There was a stand-up bass in the room; there had to be soul.

Wednesday, March 7, 2001
05:55 p.m.

So, today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I'm not a practicing Catholic any more (though I'll probably refer to myself as a Catholic for the rest of my life, but that's another story for another time), but I'm still down with Lent. I have decided to give up a vice for the next forty days as a sign of penance and reflection. Yes, dear friends and readers, I am going to give up smoking banana peels for Lent.

It's going to be tough, I'll tell ya. Peelheads like me have a tough time getting through the day without lighting up a bunch, but I am a new man this century. I will do without my daily Chiquita. I will go off the Dole. I will not be yellow about it.

I won't be giving up puns and General Silliness, though. Heavens, no.

Wednesday, February 28, 2001
10:17 a.m.

Recharged. Almost. Got no sleep last night. Body rebelling about returning to work. Not using complete sentences. Desperately need Socket 7 motherboard. Future of human race depends on it.

Monday, February 26, 2001
10:42 a.m.

Men, the secret to Valentine's Day is a simple one:

Get flowers at the Farmer's Market*.

All you need to do is run down to the local Farmer's Market first thing in the morning, get a bunch of flowers that are a) pretty and b) pleasantly fragrant (and don't worry about them being c) insanely overpriced 'cause it's February 14th. It's a Farmer's Market. Your flowers will be cheap, and you're helping the local economy), arrange 'em in a relatively presentable manner, and go to your love, blooms in hand. Much more personal than a florist, and you can then spend all that extra cash on dinner. Which you should also make yourself.

DIY,'s romantic as all get out.

And this is not to say that this is a way of being a Cheap Boyfriend by avoiding a professional florist. On the contrary, this is a shining example of How To Be A Romance Badass. You know why? 'Cause this way has soul, baby. You're going and finding flowers that your love will dig, and you're putting them together in an arrangement all your own, and you're bringing them to her on your own, and, above all, you're demonstrating your level of caring by showing some forethought in your actions. Go forth, my sons, be bold and daring. Romance would have us do no less. Woof.

*One bit of advice: find out what time the Market actually opens for business. Never assume that, because you're dealing with farmers, they're going to keep Farming Hours. I learned this after arriving at a freezing and barren 2nd Street at 6.30 this morning, only to find a man wearing nothing but jeans and sign that said the Market opened at 9. Doh!

Wednesday, February 14, 2001
11:34 a.m.

No shit?


There's just something about walking into the office and having someone say, "Dude, someone came in here with 6 dozen Krispy Kremes for you. Is it your birthday or something?"

The Babe From Michigan strikes again.

Friday, February 2, 2001
09:50 a.m.

Killer App

Books are great. Books are vacation time. Books are more whoop-ass than DVDs or video will be for a while: books are portable, require no boot-up or upgrade. All of that pedaling and going nowhere on the stationary bike zips by a lot faster with a book.

I've just finished Neal Stephenson's Zodiac, and I inhaled Snow Crash in about a week and a half. I've got Trager's copy of The Callahan Chronicles sitting nearby (swear to Bushmill's, John, I'm almost done).

All of this reading, while making exercise and bano breaks that much more enjoyable, has also given me a much-needed kick in the pants. I promised the Babe From Michigan that I'd give her the world in a book, and I've barely gotten out the front door. More words are coming, love. I promise.

Wednesday, January 31, 2001
02:03 p.m.

The Best Place For Thinking

I used to think sitting on the john was the best place to do Heavy Thinking, but I've come to appreciate the calm serenity of the weight stack. I've realized that there is a mental component to it as well; you have to concentrate on form and rhythm so you don't tear your arms out.

But when you're done, and exhausted, Cool Ideas can pop into your skull. For instance:

Artificial cartilidge. Is anyone working on this? I keep hearing about joint replacement and arthroscopic surgery (pardon my possible misspelling), but wouldn't it be groovy if you could just go down to Dr. Nick's Gro-N-Graft, pop in your DNA code, have 'em fast-track some of your own cartilidge and inject it back into the afflicted areas? Better yet, modify the code just a *little* bit so your cartilidge is a bit tougher, a bit more resistant to wear and tear.

More thoughts on other projects also popped into my head. It was a nice change of pace from arguing with QA all day long.

Wednesday, January 24, 2001
10:37 a.m.

Gregory Corso is dead.

Kerouac always left me cold and depressed, Burroughs gave me headaches, and I never got why everyone thought the sun shone out of Neal Cassidy's ass. Corso, on the other hand...

I remember hearing a rebroadcast of an interview with Corso and Allen Ginsberg after the latter's death, and Corso...he was a cantankerous old fart. Grumpy and profane, Corso was the pessimistic antithesis to Ginsberg's serene Buddha. He wasn't ready to die, wasn't going to be peaceful about it. "'He died peacefully in his sleep,'" he'd heard on the radio. "Bullshit! That motherfucker must have...'Gah! What's happening?!'"

Hope you met it wide awake, Gregory.

Thursday, January 18, 2001
04:24 p.m.

You know your trip to Lithuania is going to be a doozy when the cheapest air fare you find is on Aeroflot.


Wednesday, January 17, 2001
10:41 a.m.

You know what I love about all the power hoohaw going on in my beloved state? It's the way SCE and PG&E are trying to pass on the buck to us, the consumer.

However, I ain't talking about a rebate. I mean the Truman Buck, as in "The Buck Stops Here." As in, "Here, California...we fucked up with nuclear power and greed and other stuff like that...but we've decided that you should pay for our fuck-ups so our shareholders are protected."

This is the stuff that makes me want to pull out of my investments (though, for the record, I don't invest in utilities 'cause I think they're mismanaged leviathans): yes, a company needs to answer to its shareholders, but it should have a bit more brains than the California utilities do. The answer, you dumb, lumbering dinosaurs, doesn't lie in a state utility board or bigger and bigger power plants. The answer lies in you idiots putting research dollars into decentralized, renewable power and then selling off the material. Jebus. If we're going to rig up California to solar power, someone has to manufacture, market, install, and maintain the cells, the wiring, the delivery, everything. You fools already have the support infrastructure in place. Start shifting your focus away from central power plants and into the grid.

Think about it: you start supplying and selling photovoltaic cells for power and solar panels for heat (water and air, that is) at a subsidized price. You rig up all houses, buildings and public spaces so they generate for themselves. You also laid down photovoltaics out in the desert and in the mountains and in all kinds of places. Now, on days when consumption is low and the sun is high, you have an entire state generating power for you. What your customers don't use you can sell on the open market. You'll pay off those crappy old power plants and recoup your losses from the subsidies in no time, and you will be soaking in cash forever. Or until the sun goes out. Whichever your shareholders want to think about.

Dammit...why aren't I put in charge of this stuff?

Tuesday, January 16, 2001
03:21 p.m.

Let freedom ring!

I don't care how hackneyed it may seem, I don't care how many times it's sampled, I don't care how often it gets spliced into inane montages on NBC or MTV: I will always love this speech, and I will make sure my children hear it every year until it becomes irrelevant because we've finally cultivated and nurtured a society that doesn't give a fig what you look like or what you believe in or who you have sex with.

I don't have to remind you that we're not there yet.

Monday, January 15, 2001
10:12 a.m.


Nothing says Full Evening like going to Father's Office, getting rowdy and Scottish, fending off Felicty's boyish ass, enticing women with tile grout, and staggering home to watch old tapes of Max Headroom. Woof.

Saturday, January 13, 2001
04:40 p.m.

There's just something nice about KCRW playing Strauss's Blue Danube as their first song of the year. Granted, we're not taking commuter shuttles to the moon yet, but we also don't have to deal with homicidal supercomputers (though I hear there's an open source project in Helsinki that's working on this one).

Here's hoping your New Year's was safe and free of drunken teenagers. God knows mine wasn't (free of drunken teenagers, that is. It was plenty safe, and it was cool to see Disneyland's midnight fireworks display from Burke and Trager's driveway. But, man, those drunken teenagers had to go).

Tuesday, January 2, 2001
09:07 a.m.

I blame the Canadians for this.

We're working for a Canadian publisher, and they're the ones who want the game done by January 15th. They're the ones who've caused me to give up weekends and put in long hours. Coming down here, infiltrating our comedy clubs and Hollywood, taking over game publishers and news organizations. People say Canada is a nation of nice people, but I know better.

Canadians. Feh.

Thursday, December 28, 2000
07:19 p.m.

An observation...

Leather coats are the Members Only jackets of the 20-and-above set.

Pass it on.

Wednesday, December 27, 2000
03:48 p.m.


I want to be even-handed and cool-headed about this, but not now. Not today. Today, I am pissed off.

I am pissed off that the Supreme Court acted like a bunch of dunderheads and chose to stop a recount that, according to some reports, was leaning more towards Bush than Gore.

I am pissed off that the Democrats couldn't field a better candidate. I am pissed off that Gore didn't campaign for the whole fucking party rather than himself.

I am pissed off at anyone who points fingers at Nader and says, "It's all your fault!" Dead horse.

And I am incredibly pissed off that I live in a country where people take morons like George W. Bush seriously. Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ, people: the man can't even speak clearly. Ronald Reagan was a moron, but at least he could give good line readings. We've now gotten amiability without the relative coherence.

Of course, we all know what's going to happen. Dubya's going to spend most of his days playing video golf in the Oval Office while Dick "Heart Attack Man" Cheney runs the show with the Cabinet. The EPA will be gutted, the oil industry will have a fucking field day, and we're all going to suffer for it.

I was trying to be optimistic about this last night, but not after reading through the Supreme Court's majority decision. You're right, Leo: abortion is going to become illegal again. Big business is going to stomp all over everyone, the arms race is going to start up again, the NMD is going to be built and deployed, and the Far Right is going to continue to crush all dissent and joy in this great nation of ours.

More bile later.

Wednesday, December 13, 2000
09:41 a.m.'re the greatest...

So, if I'd been smart, I'd have run this by the Babe From Michigan first. I'd have written this thing, called up The Man, and said, "Look...I know you may not have any positions open right now, but may I send you a writing sample? If you like it, great. If you don't, you and your staff will have something to laugh about."

I, of course, am impetuous and rush into things without thinking. I cold-called without any ammo. Of course I was shut down.

But, if I'd been prepared, I'd have sent 'em this.

Down in the Trenches

You want my job.

Oh, yes, I know you do. Every day, I get letters from you, all of them filled with praise and envy. You want the office with a view of the ocean, the plush toys, the Techno-Spawn action figures lovingly set up in dioramas on my monitor. You want the twin 26-inch monitors, the PS2 debug station, the free soda and pizza, the big screen tv in the conference room hooked up to a system that plays Japanese games that will never see American shores. You want the Cool Dividend, baby. You want to walk into a party filled with lawyers and accountants and L.A. Beautiful People and, when they ask you, "So...what do you do?" you want to look them in the eye, smile, and say, "I make video games." And you want to bask in their adulation, because you have the Coolest Job On The Planet.

You want my job. Well, I'm here to tell you, Sparky, that you can have it.

I am here to tell you all about working in the game industry, what it’s like down in my little foxhole in the trenches. Some of you are probably down here with me, wooed by people who said things like “creative freedom” and “flexibility” and “cool.” We were lured here because we loved games, and we thought making them would be just as fun as playing them. We gave up our time with our friends; we created enthusiasm for games we’d never buy, let alone play. We all kept this up because, in the end, we knew we would be cool. And now we’re all sitting down here, up to our armpits in pizza crusts and stale Mountain Dew. All we want is for the game to be done so we can all get a good night’s sleep.

You have no idea what it’s like here, do you? I blame Ion Storm for the way people see game companies. Before, it was usually a converted warehouse in a light industrial park. If your company was doing okay, you might have an office in an actual office building. But the idea was that your workspace was something cheap and modest, not only to save on costs but to project the nature of our business: we make games. We make toys. We are doing this because it’s fun to put these things together and make them work, and we’d be doing it regardless. I think of EA in its early days, cranking out games like “M.U.L.E.” and “Seven Cities Of Gold.” Enough to make a decent living, and far away from the obese waste of Atari and Mattel and their impotent console empires. It was the American Dream: to get paid for doing what you love and not having to answer to anyone.

And then Doom and Quake exploded like Pompeii, and the toothpaste was out of the tube. Now everyone wants to get into the act. Games make lots of money and they cost less than movies! It’s time to grow up and move out of the garage! Into giant office spaces! Penthouses! Campuses! We’re not geeks; we’re rock stars, baby, with our own hockey teams and custom-built Hummers. We make the New York Times. We make publishers line up for blocks to give us money. And we have an army of kids and frustrated geeks who want to work on something Cool who would give their eye teeth to do design and code menu screens.

We all give into the Dream, only to find, like those poor doughboys who went off to fight the Hun, that it’s all as substantial as smoke. The Cool Projects are few and far between, and we’re all thrown down in the trenches, to drown in 70-hour weeks while we churn out the latest iteration of a baseball game that no one needs to buy ‘cause it’s the same as the previous 5 versions. This is the ugly truth of working in the game industry: lots of people want to be here, so you should be thankful you’ve got the job and willing to do whatever it takes to get it done. Forget sleep, forget health, forget your family and friends and relationships. You’re doing this because you love it, right? So get back to work.

It’s not fun for me anymore, and I don’t think it’s been fun for a lot of people for a while. Artists, programmers, and testers flock to gossip web sites to slag their employers on message boards. Usenet groups fester with hate and bile, and even print magazines begin to crow with glee when big name projects go down in flames (think about it: did you see anyone hope that Daikatana would do well after the first year and a half slipped by? I didn’t either).

Griping about work, of course, has gone on since Thag the Cro-Magnon punched a clock in the Mastodon Mine Company. Workers hate management, and management thinks that the workers are a bunch of lazy ingrates. We should be thankful to have our jobs, because there are so many people clamoring to get in. Everyone wants to be cool.

The problem isn’t just that Cool doesn’t pay off. We already know the personal toll is extraordinary; neglected refrigerators and stacked dishes are the least of it. Marriages are strained; health is ignored. The game industry can chew people up and spit them out without thinking, all in the name of Cool.

The problem is that the games are starting to suffer. In the mad drive to take over the eyeballs of the world, publishers and developers are rushing product out to market that is broken, buggy, and, worst of all, simply not fun. If you’re working on, say, a baseball game that’s going to use all of the stadiums, uniforms, and stats of Major League Baseball that’s going to have great gameplay, great graphics, great sounds, and great stat-checking, there is no way you’re going to be able to put it out the door in 8 months, even if you throw a battalion of artists and coders at it. The downfall of companies like Netscape, who was famous for ordering death march after death march to meet deadlines, has shown what we gamemakers have known all along: excellence takes real time, and it flouts measurements like the mythical man month.

Remember: human beings create games, and we have proven to be a stubborn, grouchy species that doesn’t like to be pushed along, especially when it comes to immeasurable things like art. Games, whether you like it or not, are a form of art; they reflect the ideals of their creators, and they also reflect the work that went into them. I’d rather sit in a Craftsman chair that was handmade with human comfort in mind than a semi-disposable IKEA bench. I’d rather play a game made with care and detail like Soul Calibur than a rush job like Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Arena. I want my games to be fun to play and fun to make. I want to love my job again, but I’m afraid it’s almost too late for that. The writing’s on the wall, the pizza crusts are getting deeper, and another 70-hour week looms ahead. Viva games.

Monday, December 11, 2000
04:09 p.m.

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