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Everything Old is New Again

June 27th, 2014

In February of 2012 I left Microsoft, a company I had worked for ever since I was 21. It wasn’t a bad break, it was a good break. I wanted to go off and experience all new adventures. And I have. In the past year alone I’ve worked for an *amazing* team of engineers and developers at the HBO Code Labs here in Seattle. I can’t say enough about what an incredible experience that was and what they are doing for the future of providing their customers with HBO’s top notch content.

But I am a gamer first and foremost. Have been since I was five. Will be when I shuffle off this mortal coil at the cyber enhanced ripe old age of 120. And in that moment at age 120 I will *still* remember exactly where I was when I first saw this.

I don’t know a console gamer who doesn’t remember that incredible introduction to the world of Gears of War. I was hooked. I was sold. That was a day one purchase for me.

Since then Gears of War is the only title I have played every release through in coop, with my friend Mark. We’ll put off playing the game until we can set aside a week to play it together. I’ve played multiplayer, and done the entire 50 waves of Horde mode for charity with my friend e.

So when the outstanding team at Black Tusk asked me to help them make the best Gears of War experience to date by representing the community and being their advocate, how could I say no?

As of today I am now the Director of Community Engagement for Black Tusk Studios. I’m not sure there is a word that properly expresses my excitement at the opportunity to represent this community. Gearstastic? Lambentocity? AWESOMES OF WAR? I have time to work on it.

I’ve been hiding, I confess. I’ve been shadowing the Gears forums and looking at people’s thoughts. I don’t just want us to make the best next generation Gears of War game ever, I want to make sure that everyone playing the game today feels just as good today and down the road in their investment into our amazing world as we do. There’s a Gears nation out there. I’m a part of it and it’s amazing.

So now it’s out. So hit me. You can email me directly at Stepto@microsoft.com or Stepto@stepto.com or my twitter at twitter.com/Stepto or the official Gears of war social media feeds at @GearsofWar and @BlackTuskStudio.

It’s not like we’re just starting out here, we’ve been passionate about the community from the get go. We’re expanding that commitment from the fine work Jack Felling and Allie Henze have been doing and going big.

I want to be flooded with your thoughts. I want to hear everything you like, dislike, want, don’t want and hope for in relation to this rich and amazing world. Spare no detail. All thoughts will be entertained. Depending on volume I cannot promise I can respond to everything, but I do promise this: I will forego sleep to try.

It’s a mad world. Let’s get busy and Jump in.

Stand By For Titanfall.

March 31st, 2014

This is the piece I performed over the weekend at Emerald City Comic Con. Enjoy!

 

 

 

The words were like a relentless hammer through the communal comm feed.

Prepare for Titanfall.

Standby for Titanfall.

Your titan is ready.

"Sweet honey bunches of oats," Bainer said. "That’s three at once!"

"It’s that asshole Spudman332 I bet. He sets the titans to autofollow then just rushes around killing sentries." This was from Old man Sinsky, a veteran of the video game asset manufacturing industry.

Stand by for Titanfall the voice intoned again.

“Mother fucking miniwheats! Do they even realize we’re building titans for both sides?" Bainer screamed, as he gesturing haphazardly with the arc welder.

"Watch it kid!" Old man Sinsky said, "I’ve been welded once before by accident and it makes getting lemon juice in your eye feel like an orgasm. Besides, this setup is nothing. Do you have any idea how many hats we had to make during an average night of Team Fortress? Or how many crates we had to put together by hand for Half Life 2? Seriously, This is nothing. Start bitching to me when you have to deconstruct an entire village for the winning player in an Age of Empires match. The words over built are not in those players vocabulary"

"I’m not here for ancient history chief. Yeah that’s right, I chiefed you,” Bainer said, ratcheting a Titan knee joint. "I’ve paid my dues. I was part of the halo warthog strike of ’05. Those things were near indestructible, it put entire construction teams out of business."

"Watch your arm joints" Sinsky barked. "if the weld doesn’t hold they break apart on impact from orbit."

"Yeah yeah, kiss my winking pink browniecake"

"Kids think you are so smart" Sinsky said under his breath.

Prepare for titanfall.

Prepare for Titanfall

Stand by for Titanfall.

"I’m not finished with the first one!" Bainer screamed at the ceiling. Sinsky chuckled and slapped a Titan on the ass on it’s way down. "Kid you’re going to give yourself a heart attack."

"Yeah well at least that’s covered under the health plan." Bainer replied.

"Enough banter, back to work" the boss barked from the catwalk overhead. Sparks rained down on the massive assembly line of the large mechanical battle kits known as Titans. All were awaiting delivery to various game matches and battles going on. It was the industrial manufacturing of fun.

Thurmon was the quiet one, silently making his Titans to spec and shipping them off. But he piped up all of the sudden, and Bainer and Sinsky stopped what they were doing in shock that he had even made a peep.

"Do you think they know?" Thurmon said quietly. "Do you think they realize how silly this all is?"

Sinsky scowled "Get back to work." But Bainer asked "What? what are you talking about?"

"It’s a battlefield where none of them can truly win. Each victory is just a fleeting moment before everything is reset and the battle starts over. Titans rain down, get destroyed. Flags are captured or enemy teams are eliminated. There’s a pause to take note of your miniscule accomplishment then everything starts back from zero."

Thurmon slapped a weld on his Titan and punched the button to send it down.

Stand by for Titanfall.

"Shut up Thurmon" Sinsky said again as he started on a new chassis. "Who cares what they know or don’t know?"

"They fight these battles for false pretenses under stress from their own lives that they cannot cope with so they engage on a battlefield that has no purpose or goal. Not really. They control this point, jump up walls or spin around using thumbsticks when most of them can’t walk a mile in less than 30 minutes. They fire guns and pilot mechs or control buildings or vehicles without any real world skill or acumen."

"Thurman I swear to all that is deep fried I am going to punch your neck right in the balls if you don’t shut up." Sinsky said.

Prepare for Titanfall

Standby for Titanfall.

"Bainer you said it yourself, we’re making Titans for both sides. Do they even have a clue?" Thurmon looked at his welder as if it held the answer to all of his questions.

Bainer at this point had stopped building Titans entirely. He was experiencing, as the poets say, an epiphany.

Thurmon sent another Titan down. The boss noticed Bainer standing there. "Bainer you miserable bag of rectal sweat, get moving!"

Bainer stood still, lost in the focus of rethinking his life’s work. You know, like you do.

Sinsky nudged him. "Get moving kid or we’re all screwed."

Bainer looked up at the boss on the catwalk. "But…what is it all for?"

The boss carefully took a baseball out of his pocket and with an expert throw beaned Thurmon on the crown of his head. He looked back at Bainer.

"Listen closely kid. Other people make the guns, we just make the bullets. Other people make the drugs, we just make the needles. Other people distill the liquor, we just put it in the bottles. You made the mario mushrooms, pacman dots, tiberium crystals, wood stone or gold, Today you make Titans. now get back to work.”

Bainer stared at the conduit where his unfinished Titan chassis stood, ready to be built and deployed. He looked up defiantly at the boss and said softly "No. Not today."

He stepped into the conduit himself.

Prepare for Titanfall.

***

Thurmon looked over the edge, his head still smarting from the boss’s discipline. Sinsky joined him, there was a break in the action.

"You think Spudman332 knew what he was getting when he called for that Titan and Bainer shot down from orbit instead?" Thurmon asked.

"No," Sinsky said, "but judging by how many quad rockets blew Bainer into smithereens one second after he appeared I would say they both experienced an equal measure of surprise."

Thurmon sighed. “I suppose I should take some of the blame."

Sinsky laughed, "You could. But we have work to do."

"Still, I always feel bad when they fall for it so easily."

"Blame the boss" Sinsky said. "We have work to do."

The lights ran up again as the counter went down. Gamers set down their beer or ran back from the bathroom. Headsets were put back on as as their screens lit up, and the sparks began to fly as a new round started and the Titans were built.

Stand By for Titanfall.

Every three or four years or so stuff just tends to pile up around me. In the coding world, bits of stuff that glom onto a project over time is called cruft. So I had a lot of techno cruft laying around the house. Old hard drives, laptops, a bunch of software and console games, a couple of iMacs that served us well for a long time. So I began to systematically assess the current “state of the state” as it were and do something about it. I began trading stuff in and selling stuff on eBay.

Trading stuff in tends to be more immediately lucrative, as most places will offer you “more” for in store credit. Sure you could sell the items potentially for cash in the same or higher amount, but the convenience of the in store credit can be super useful if it is for things you want that they sell at a good price. You can also, I should mention, donate stuff, as I did with one or two laptops that run Windows 7 just fine but weren’t really worth selling.

As such my old but faithful iMac got turned into, with some trading, a brand new 27 inch model along with an external 512gb SSD and 16gb of high speed RAM. I was able to score a Titanfall edition Xbox One essentially for free. Rochelle went from an old 24 inch 2008 iMac to an Alienware laptop hooked to a 27 inch monitor. Meanwhile my desk and the associated areas are becoming cleaner.

I’m even upgrading my Internet line. Isomedia, the ISP I have done business with for 11 years, simply cannot offer my house any better connection than 7mb down/768k up. That’s been ok for 11 years but in todays world of streaming netflix while downloading the latest Xbox One game that ain’t gonna cut it. So I bit the bullet and for a cheaper price per month I’m having a 110mb down/10 mb up connection installed today. Yay for progress.

Point being there’s certainly been times in my life when I’ve consumpted conspicuously. So it feels good to take a lot of stuff laying about, trade it in or donate it, and get one or two new things without having to spend some money. Maybe you have something laying about you can do the same with. I can only say trust me, it’s worth the time.

The View From the Ambulance

February 24th, 2014

I’m guest posting on Wil Wheaton’s blog, so cross posting this here as well.

 

Try to imagine this conversation:

Brain: Man. I am getting kinda worried about the fact I’ve had this incredible cold and have not slept but 10 hours over the past 5 days.

Heart: Roger that Brain, engaging the engine at 110%

Brain: No wait I…

Chest: Heart? This is the Chest we’re gonna need to tigthen up a bit here to handle the new load.

Brain: No guys that’s going to make it worse because…

Heart: Make it worse? Roger that! Upping to 120%

Chest: Chest copies! cranking up pressure.

Lungs: Engaging gasping.

Brain: no guys this is going to make this bad because he’s going to think he’s having a heart attack–

Skin: Hey guys, we have the go ahead to go flush and get all clammy just FYI that’s what we’re seeing across the board here.

Lungs: Uh Heart, we’re pushing up respiration to 130% to help move this racing oxygen around. This triggers shortness of breath mode just FYI.

Heart: Brain we can’t keep this pace up how long were you needing this?

Brain: I never asked for–

Eyes: Guy’s I’m seeing some crazy stuff on Webmd regarding heart attacks and I know we have a family history so…

Brain: All right I’m getting angry here, let’s calm down immediately and–

Heart: Angry? Got it, crank it up another 30%.

Chest: Roger that cranking up the tightness.

And this is how I ended up calling 911 with racing heart, intermittent chest pressure, rapid breathing, anxiety etc. All of which had lasted off and on for a couple of hours.

My father’s side has had heart issues, most of my paternal grandfather’s siblings as well as himself died from heart related issues. So when, late Friday night, I began to feel what I thought were ever increasing and clear symptoms of a mild heart attack, I called 911. 911 sent a dispatch team out to the house while I laid down and Rochelle penned up the dogs and got me ready to travel if needs be. My anxiety level began to skyrocket when I realized I had just called an ambulance, sirens and lights blazing, into my “so quiet you can hear someone drop a coke can in another house” neighborhood at 4am on a Saturday morning.

Brain: Jeez I hope they don’t use the siren…

Heart: Aye sir cranking up to—

Brain: SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUTUP

They arrived (sans siren) and hooked me up to all manner of bitchin’ equipment to scan my heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and a field EKG. while they shouted scary numbers to each other (“210 over 120″ “96!” “6.0221413e+23″) I got to become increasing agitated while I answered a ton of questions about where did it start, how did I feel etc. All while wearing enough leads and wires that I felt like one of the trees in Avatar.

After a scary few minutes the tech calmed me down. Started asking the “have you been getting sleep? Under stress lately etc.” They reassured me I was in no immediate danger looking over all my vitals and my EKG’s were normal. My heart rate was through the roof so they wanted to go to the ER.

The view through an ambulance was surreal and I guess an experience I have the good fortune to scratch off my bucket list without kicking the bucket. The techs told me all about the various gadgetry and we all geeked out over my iPad mini retina which they allowed me bring. In the interests of their privacy I didn’t want to tweet photos from there since it would be hard in the cramped quarters to remove any distinguishing characteristics but they did a great job in calming me down.

Once at the ER, a crack team of people informed me they would not need to crack open my chest. They ran a blood panel, took X-rays, and ran several EKG’s. About the only disappointment was the X-ray, where the technician put a lead cloth down to “shield my privates from being irradiated” and I complained it was OK, I wanted Hulk privates.

Everything came up Milhouse. I was given an IV of Lorazopram and that niftily settled my brain down. They explained my blood panel was fine, my heart was ok, the EKG’s were fine and that I did not, in fact have a heart attack. Instead I had a very sustained panic attack brought on by a variety of factors, not the least of which was an extreme case of sleep deprivation.

Now, I told you all that to tell you this.

My family on my father’s side as I mentioned has a huge history of sudden heart related death experience, an experience you only get to have once. I quibbled for a few minutes over bothering to call 911 until I remembered that. On the heels of Wil’s post about getting healthy, I wanted to throw out that assuming the presence of insurance (or even not), DO NOT SCREW AROUND with symptoms like the ones I had. It’s always better to know it’s not a heart event than it is to drop dead being so very thankful you didn’t wake your neighbors with the ambulance siren.

On the morrow.

January 29th, 2014

My ride share had to cancel this morning, her son is ill. So I tried to catch the valley shuttle bright and early to get me out to work at HBO in time for our morning Stand Up meeting. I love the work being done there and wish I could talk about it but I cant. Suffice to say they are an amazing team of people doing amazing work on amazing things that are amazing and I’m just really proud to be a part of it.

But their offices are in downtown Seattle, roughly 27 miles as the crow flies from my house. By bus on the best of days that’s an hour and twenty minute commute.

This wasn’t the best of days, weather wise. I let Aspen out for his morning routine and did sign language to him in praise while I gave him his anti-seizure meds. It was cloudy out and raining that classic late-January Seattle rain. Misty and a bit clingy more than pure drops out of the sky. It smelled wonderful outside, and Aspen looked like he was covered in dew from it during his morning constitutional.

I love living in the country. I’ve been here ten years now. If you get the chance, try to spend some time living somewhat remotely. I’m not saying it’s better than living in the city, I’m saying a radically different experience sometimes cleanses the mind.

I tended to my own morning routine and donned my “rain shoes”. Yes in Seattle you usually have to have a pair of shoes dedicated to the purpose of walking in the rain. The shuttle pickup stop is roughly three quarters of a mile down the ridge from my house and my canvas Vans weren’t going to cut it. I have a wonderful new greatcoat I bought for the Child’s Play dinner this year that I trot out for the cold and rainy days. I shrugged my way into it, put on my hat, tucked my ipad into the inside pocket, and began my walk. I paused for a moment at the door and listened. I’m not sure why I did it, but there’s something about the sound of rain lightly hitting the trees and the house in the morning that never, ever gets old. Even a misty rain can be loud in just the right moment.

I walked. All around me commuters passed me by and I was wondering what they were thinking of me. Was it “Oh that poor guy trudging in the rain somewhere” or was it “oh man. I wish I could just walk around in the morning instead of driving to work”?

aaaaannnnnnd I missed the shuttle. I wasn’t walking slowly, there was a slight pause in my walk as a family of deer foraged up the hill halfway the journey by one of the housing subdivisions. I thought about taking a picture, but deer in Duvall are fairly common and I was in a really good mood and although I’m not “that guy” lecturing people about enjoying a moment as opposed to stopping to phone-cam it, I enjoyed the moment instead of phone-camming it. I was probably 30 seconds from the bus stop, and a good 7 minutes ahead of the shuttle’s pickup time, when the shuttle blew right past me.

I went with my first instinct, “Oh no that’s the only shuttle for the morning bus runs!” and realized the best I could hope for to reach work would be late morning. I raised my hand and took a few urgent sprint strides before realizing there was no way this was going to work. I stopped, the rain still making that soft patter in the mist, and continued on to the stop just in case that was perhaps a duplicate shuttle or one running really late.

Suffice to say, that was my ride. I stood at the stop until ten past the pickup time and resigned myself to doing some work from home until I could catch the next run of buses an hour or two hence.

The sky had brightened considerably and the actual droplets of rain had increased. My coat and hat made me feel like Tom Reagan in Miller’s Crossing. I imagined a world where I returned home, put a record on my new turntable I just bought, poured a whisky, and sat like a person in a simpler time until things coalesced back to where the things I had no control over aligned again to get me where I needed to be. I was somewhat amused by this line of thinking when I saw the deer again.

They had moved down the hill and were standing square in the center of the road. The curve at the top of the ridge where I live offers a long line of sight to anyone coming down the road, but to anyone going up it’s a blind turn. And the speed limit, while 35, is routinely broken. My appreciation for them standing stock still in the road, a doe and two very young offspring, was countered almost immediately by considering the likelihood of someone hitting them. Sure enough I turned and around the bend were two cars. I raised my hands up in a waving motion, then my hands pushing down in the road construction crew “slow down” motion. They slowed and I pointed to around the curve. They crawled around the bend and saw the deer.

The deer were nonplussed.

This represented a problem. They were in the road. Two cars, albeit with blinkers on, were on a blind uphill curve. I tried everything I could think of: my phone’s ringtone, shouting, etc. I was even considering quickly downloading a bobcat or cougar roar on my phone when the entire family of deer, with a measure of somewhat aloof disdain, snorted and moved off the road into the brush. The cars passed. I stood for a moment. The entire situation had lasted maybe 60 or 90 seconds.

Living in the country.

I made it back home, hung up my coat and hat. I sent a mail letting work know I’d be delayed and my work item updates. I took a look at the phonograph I just bought (it’s this one by the way) still in its wrapping and debated opening it.

On the morrow, I decided. I’m still waiting for some tiny bookshelf speakers en route to accompany it.

The rain still made noise around the house. Aspen, Eowyn, Adia, and Rochelle were asleep upstairs. A new puppy, Basil Hayden, is asleep up in Canada. We see him soon.

I sit at my desk now, finishing a wiki for work, getting ready to catch the next run downtown. Might have dinner with some friends tonight. Finishing up a long overdue project in the late evening.

And I might see those deer again in the morning.


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