Coming Back Is The Only Thing Better Than Leaving

March 11, 2005

So, this is where I am tonight. I’m currently perched in front of some spacious windows, in the diner at the American Terminal of SFO. If there is a better place to blog from, I’m not sure.

It has been a very, very long week and I’m looking forward to heading home. This is the first time I’ve spent any signifigant time by myself since the business trip I took for DSC in 2003. I’ve missed Katie very much, but for the most part I’ve been okay. Sort of. More on that in a second.

My trip out here was uncomfortable but quick, and I managed to get a decent night’s sleep on Tuesday. Wednesday, even now two days later, is a huge blur. From around 9am to around 10 or so that night I was on my feet dragging my bag with me from session to session, listening to the folks I’ve admired for (in some cases) years hold forth on topics I found endlessly fascinating. The Dickinson Challenge and the Microsoft Keynote kicked off a day that included a Raph Koster lecture and the mind numbing IGF/GDCA ceremony. I spent most of the last on the floor right next to a speaker, and I wobbled from the ceremony with a splitting headache. I managed to get it under control in a not-horrible amount of time, so that I could get a bunch of writing for Slashdot completed. I didn’t get to sleep until 2am.

Thankfully Thursday was slightly more subdued. I met up with Simon Carless, the best damn Brit this side of the pond, in the morning and worked out a plan to meet up for dinner. Then I was off, to take in the Nintendo Keynote, check out a lecture by Will Wright, and listen to the Puzzle Pirates put their thing down. They served rum. Best. Session. Ever.

After the PP session I hung out in front of the IGDA booth for a while and talked with some of the Terra Novans. Richard Bartle and Betsy Book were the two in particular that I had the chance to speak with, and they were both as charming and lovely as their electronic correspondence would indicate. Ms. Book didn’t even trounce me for my youthful dislike of “There”.

Simon met up with me at the Terra Nova gathering, and when most of them headed barward we headed out for some dinner. A 50sesque eatery played host to the consumption of some period food, and a conversation about the gaming industry, game journalists, game journalism, and the sex appeal of J. Allard. Okay, not the last one. After dinner Simon kindly invited me to the uber-exclusive invite-only “Level 99” party at a club called Fluid. We ditched our bags and then hit the club. The floor was lit from below and the room was noisy and crowded with music, smoke, and people. Simon was immediately jumped by some onlookers, and was pulled into a conversation. I wandered off to explore the place and happened across some of the Terra Novans again. We talked for about thirty minutes before my feet, the day, and the noise caught up with me and I had to excuse myself. I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to Simon, as he was in a crowd of people that appeared to be unclothing him. Sorry again for ditching so soon, Simon, but I did have a nice time when I was there.

Ditching early allowed me to get more sleep, anyway. And glad for the sleep I was, as the first session I attended this morning was “The Great Online Debate – Instanced vs. Persistant spaces”. A rare chance to see MMOG designers duke it out, even if it was mostly calm. Raph Koster and Jack Emmert in particular had a wonderful time sparring, and it was most interesting to watch. Post-debate I joined up with some of my fellow game journalists for a meeting hosted by the founder of the International Game Journalists Association (IGJA). An interesting conversation sallied forth, with contributions from writers scattered across the globe. [Just stopped to have a burger and fries at the diner here in the American terminal. Surprisingly good, actually.] Editors from CGM and EGM were both in attendence, and provided a welcome contrast to us hippie free-love online types. The rest of the day passed in a blur, my energy level shot and my attention wandering. Commentary on those panels (and some of the above) at a later date.

Overall impressions from the week leap out at me, just images and thoughts. I was wandering around downtown SF for most of this week and was therefore faced with more poverty during the last few days than I’ve been exposed to in probably more than a year. It was sobering to consider the lives of the people I passed in comparison to the lifestyle of many of the well off developers at the conference, or even my own (not terribly glitzy) life.

I also have to admit that I experienced a touch of the lonelyness during the week. It’s been quite a while since I was in a place without a support network, or even folks that I could blab with. I met several people during the course of the week, and put some names to faces, but since this was my first time and I was focusing on getting out here I did a bad job of thinking ahead to social stuff. Next year, assuming I go again, I’ll bother people in advance. heh.

Other bits:

  • Will Wright cracking up at the Dickinson session because of Chris Hocking’s “Poetry Slam” game concept.
  • The scientologists selling copies of dianetics on the streetcorner.
  • The president of Nintendo grinning like a little kid as he got schooled in Mario Kart DS.
  • The rude stares of the Moscone center security guards during the occasional moment when my badge was turned around.
  • Drunk old women, disabled in motorized wheelchairs, running one after another into a taxicab paused to turn a corner.
  • Raph Koster’s expression as we walked out of a “lecture” that was nothing more than poorly prepared screenshots on powerpoint slides.It’s been quite a week, and I’ve got a lot of junk I still need to process from the event. Not least of which, the mediocre reaction from the Slashdot Games audience. Was this worth it? It’s personally cost me quite a bit of money to come out here, money I’m not sure I’m going to get back at all. I guess I’ll see, post-mortem style.

    At the very least it’s been a blast getting to meet folks I’ve read, folks I’ve IM’d with, and folks who got me a job (“cough”Simon”cough”).

    Hopefully my plane won’t crash in the mountains and I’ll have more to share later.

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