Monday, January 11, 2010

Jason's Weekend with Ross and Sam or Where all the coffee is strong, all the waitresses are good looking, and all the game developers are above average.

Hey kids. I'm back on track after the whirlwind of the holidays, so I figured I'd celebrate by actually updating the 'blog. Shocking, I know. Anyway, let me tell you about my weekend, wherein I went to Minneapolis to hang out with the boys from Fantasy Flight Games.

As those of you who have been following along know, back in November I landed a freelance gig with Fantasy Flight Games writing for Rogue Trader, a game set in the grim future of Warhammer 40K. It was a great opportunity and great fun, and it eventually led to an interview for a full time position with the company. Unfortunately, the position required relocation to Minneapolis, which for personal and financial reasons is impossible for me. This was all right before Christmas, and as I was talking to one of my editors afterward, I mentioned that I'd still like to come out to HQ and meet them face to face. This was greeted all around as a great idea, and plans for a visit were immediately made.
Fast forward to last Friday, when I packed up the car and made the long hike to Minneapolis from the Motor City. Once in the Twin Cities, I met up with Ross Watson, Senior RPG Developer, and Sam Stewart, Associate RPG Developer. Now, I'd been working with these guys for a couple of months, Ross hired me as a freelancer and dealt me to Sam, who is the boss of Rogue Trader, so it wasn't a cold intro but I was still kind of nervous. I don't know what I was worried about, 'cause as soon as we got to dinner we fell into a comfortable camaraderie talking about games and the gaming industry in general. After dinner, Ross dropped me back at my hotel and came in for a minute with a package for me. Inside he gave me a stack of Dark Heresy books so I could bone up on the 40K setting. He also had copies of my Robotech books, as well as a copy of Fleets of the Three Galaxies for which I did an initial comprehensive edit, and asked me if I'd be kind enough to sign them. Signing books for people is still pretty surreal, and it's especially surreal when you're signing books for a guy who is a pretty major industry developer for a very famous IP. Once he left, and since I was completely knackered after driving thirteen hours through winter weather, I turned in early in anticipation of a long and fruitful Saturday.
I wasn't diasppointed. Ross and Sam picked me up bright and early Saturday morning and we started the day off right with a delicious breakfast at the hilariously small and painfully hip diner Al's Breakfast in Dinkytown. After a claustrophobic wait in line and a mess of corned beef hash that knocked me clean out, we slipped out and headed to the other side of town to get our geek on. Our first stop was the aptly named Source Comics and Games in Falcon Heights. The Source is a big, sprawling gamer store that offers not just games and comics and the assorted tchotchkes typically found in such places, like four-hundred dollar busts of Gundam and a life sized, light-up green lantern prop, but also a nice big open gaming area that was packed full on this bitterly cold Saturday. This place is a full-serve, big-time nerdery (Nerdery. NERD-ur-ee. -Noun. A home and sanctum for nerds, like a nunnery but with less nuns and more neckbeards, Mountain Dew and character sheets) and struck me as sort of the social hub of the various gamer cultures in the Twin Cities. It definitely lived up to the hype, and I really wish we had the same sort of thing here in Detroit.
The next stop on our tour of famous nerderies of Minneapolis was a little shop in a nice, off the path neighborhood called Tower Games. Tower Games is a cozy, intimate place that specializes in tabletop games like 40K and Warmachine. They also carry a respectable selection of board games like Settlers of Catan and, of course, Munchkin in all its dizzying multitudes, along with a small but robust selection of trad games like D&D, Pathfinder and, of course, Rogue Trader. At least half of the store's floorspace is given over to play tables, and there was plenty of activity between painting miniatures, burning heretics and demolishing warjacks. I think I preferred the friendlier atmosphere at Tower over the bustle of The Source, and I could see myself spending more time and money there if I was a Minnesotan.
After idling at Tower Games, we headed over to a coffee house and that's when the real business of the weekend started. As we sat there over our coffees and cocoas, Ross and Sam proceed to grill me about what I felt my strengths and weaknesses were, and what I thought I could contribute to Fantasy Flight's game lines. We talked shop and spitballed and brainstormed for what felt like hours. Actual collaboration with other writers and developers is kind of a novel concept for me, and it was absolutely fantastic. The three of us talked over one another, diagrammed ideas on the table with napkins and shredded bits of coffee cup collars, and generally had a grand time coming up with ideas for Rogue Trader. Eventually, Sam had to take off and Ross and I spent the rest of the day and evening talking games, Robotech, the industry and telling stories.
The next morning I packed up, checked out, and joined Ross and Sam for one more breakfast at a great place in Minneapolis called the Sunny Side Up Cafe. By 11:30 I was on the road back home with a head full of ideas and a belly full of coffee and eggs. The ride home was easier than the ride out, but every bit as long, and it allowed me to sort of unpack and process the events of the preceding 36 hours. I'd driven 12 hours one way to spend the weekend with two guys I'd known online for three months and hadn't personally met. Guys that I'd come to respect as professional and competent game designers, and who I wanted very much to do more work for. Their hospitality was fantastic, and I couldn't be more obliged that they sacrificed a precious weekend to spend with some dude from Detroit who likes spaceships. All in all, with the camaraderie, collaboration, and the very real prospect of future work with one of the industry's heavy hitters that came out of this whirlwind weekend, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Next time though, I'm totally flying.


Jason H. Richards said...

I started counting the number of awesome things you did that I am incapable of doing in Dallas, but I got too depressed. Sounds like an awesome time.

Citizen Lazlo said...

Sounds like an awesome experience, and frankly you deserve it brother.

just some guy said...

What? You drove through chicago and didn't even stop by for a beer???

Mikey97D said...

Ah, what I would've done to be afly on the wall. Sounds like you had a great trip!!!!

Anonymous said...

I was impressed with the concentrated Awesomeness of the Cities. I made many trips up there to visit friends (take the MCAT) and such when I lived in La Crosse.

Minneapolis/St. Paul is on the list of possible places for me to live in the future.