Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Project Legacy, and Ascendance. Busy Busy.

Now that they’ve all been released, gone gold, or were teased, I can talk about what has kept me so busy for the last few months.

It was a triple-dose of Assassin’s Creed mania. First off, I encourage everybody using Facebook (if you read blogs, you probably Facebook too – don’t try to hide it) to run Project Legacy. It’s a FB game with new as well as familiar characters, fiendishly work-distracting gameplay, wicked artwork and a slick interface, but never enough carrots. This is a full game, not an ad. With weeks worth of content available now and a Rome back being added soon, there’s plenty to do.  If it sounds like I’m doing a marketing pitch on behalf of Ubi – I’m not. We’re not selling it. It’s free. I did the scriptwriting for the first couple of sets and a few odds and ends you’ll be seeing soon.

Next up. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. I don’t need to say much about this. The quality of the series has always been top notch and it’s only getting started. It’s going to be released very soon so the reviews should say everything that needs saying. I worked on a team with other talented writers, historians, and various brand/lore people to deliver a very dark and exciting story. It’s a game put together by a whole hell of a lot of skilled people and I can’t wait to play it myself. I’m not sure if you still have time, but it’s worth pre-ordering the collector’s edition for your choice of serial killer jack-in-the-boxes if you can.

Finally, you may have heard something about Assassin’s Creed: Ascendance. All I can tell you is that I can confirm that it exists and it contains Assassins, ascendance, rain, and buildings. Oh, and lightning. Flowing capes, too. Stay tuned. I think you may like it. I worked with several creative guys to come up with the concept for this one and then wrote the script.

UPDATE: More has been revealed! Watch the full trailer for the motion comic here.

So there you have it. I’ve been stuck in Renaissance Italy for a while now, which has been a ton of fun. It’s rare that a project is so educational and though I can tell you a lot about Pandora, spouting random facts from Ezio’s world often impresses people while speaking in Na’vi causes them to take a step backwards.

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Bruticus, I Choose You!

They say a man is only allowed one Photoshop lens flare in his life. I have decided to dedicate mine to the best $100 man-toy I have ever purchased. I’m never going to hear the end of it from my wife, but that’s OK – Bruticus and I can sleep on the couch.

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Dora The Explorer Meets The Norse God Of Mischief

Ah yes. Nothing feels more manly than skipping down the street, your belly fat unleashed as your shirt flaps upon a playful wind. Looking back over a shoulder with an ear-to-ear smile as your daughter’s pink Dora kite finally cooperates and ascends skyward. Almost! Almost! Then — crash! We almost got it that time! We’ve figured this thing out! We can do it! Nothing to it! NO! LOKI! NO!

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Game Job: Party or Penitentiary?

This is a question I get a lot. People tend to have two views of the gaming industry … either it’s a bunch of nerds chained to their desks and whipped by management as they slog through an endless crunch-time, or a bunch of geeks partying hard.

I won’t lie. It’s the latter!  A good portion of us are people who never grew up once we were hooked on a steady Nintendo/Sega diet. We love our 80s cartoons, our macho action movies, and our grunge music. We’re making games that (usually) we would play. How could anyone expect us to be mature? I think the best way to give a good description of our madcap world is by listing several things I have witnessed over the years.

  • While it’s normal now to get back massages at work, there was one year where we were invaded by Hula dancers doing hula grinds. There’s nothing quite like watching a bunch of code-nerds try to figure out what to do when a half-naked gyrating woman is intruding on their workspace.
  • Beer is a currency. It’s either used as a reward for a job well done (although for a job really well done, you may get the bubbly) or it’s used as a preemptive apology. When the associate producer rolls out the beer, you usually know that the deadline is coming up sooner than originally announced or the feature you adored has just been cut. The clinking of beer bottles often serves as a tornado siren.
  • You will see guns in the workplace. While it’s normal to have them around during weapons study, there are some hardcore gun dudes who cannot stop showing them off. They come to work with a small arsenal and love to carry them around on straps. They carry them into meetings. I’ve seen a guy eating his lunch with his gun on the table next to him.
  • One year they served raw horse meat at a Christmas party.
  • I once saw a company executive stand up on the table of an extremely fancy restaurant, under the gaze of many shocked waiters, and demand french fries for his people.
  • We had a guy we dubbed the “Phantom Pooper” who left a steaming pile of protest right in the middle of the floor during a time of big layoffs. Nobody caught him. Why do I assume it was a guy? Why did some people assume it was me? I would have left it on a manager’s desk. The floor sends an ambiguous message.
  • I once saw a programmer shave off all of his body hair (err, I should clarify that I didn’t see the process, just the results), including his eyebrows, as some sort of strange tribute to Pink Floyd.
  • I’ve seen dudes threaten to punch each other in meetings.
  • I’ve seen dudes break down crying in meetings.
  • I’ve been in meetings to plan other meetings which made us want to break out in punching and crying.
  • People sleep at their desks. Years ago, I even saw people sleep under their desks.
  • Most teams have some sort of punishment for “breaking the build.” Some examples – a very sparkly ceramic pair of princess dolphins passed around to the daily buildbreaker, a change bucket that appears to be similar to a swear bucket (where does the total go?), and a totem pole of shaaaaame.
  • On a similar note, way back before people were using any kind of computerized checkout system, I saw programmers using stuffed animals on top of their monitors to indicate they had files checked out.
  • One guy wears some sort of samurai pants to work every so often. It looks like a dress at first, but when you realize that he must be the master of a forbidden order, it’s totally badass.
  • Expensive, life-sized versions of any company mascot is free game for hats, women’s clothing, stickers, and, unfortunately, sometimes amputations.
  • Speaking of women’s clothing – it’s shocking how many video game industry people dress up as women for Halloween. Even more shocking because most people in our industry refuse to shave.
  • We get all kinds of swag. Shaun White gave us uber sunglasses. Axe gave us a giant box of anti-stink spray. I’ve received candy, games, magazines, comic books, cook books, puzzles, shot glasses, action figures, and of course, beer.
  • People do play games at work. All the time. If you ever want a lunchtime lan party of any new game, it’s easy to find one.
  • Walking through a video game office at lunchtime is like walking through a TV store. You’ll see a wide variety of programming – mostly youtube, anime, and television series, but occassionally you’ll catch a graphic horror movie or yes, even porn. Seriously. Ok, just that one time. Dude was watching it and even trying to get other people to “come see.” Nobody wants to watch porn with you, guy.
  • Probably the best indication of atmosphere – we’ve got pretty much every kind of person imaginable under one roof. A guy in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre t-shirt could be working next to a woman in a hijab. Talk to the guy sharing a workstation with you and it’s likely he’ll be Korean, Australian, Russian — you name it. We have hockey athletes, hobby film makers, goth girls, tabletop army goons, straight, bisexual, gay, omni, poly, carnivores and herbivores, cat people, dog people, cannibals, pyromaniacs, dictators, tater tots, any combination of the above, and much much more.
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Timeslaughter Meets Youtube

It was only a matter of time before the delicious terribleness of Timeslaughter wormed its way onto Youtube. I can’t apologize enough for this atrocity, nor can I stop loving the shit out of it. It’s perhaps the best worst game ever made. I adore the roast we’re getting, too. “Looks like it was drawn in MS Paint.” Yeah, pretty close. Deluxe Paint, actually. “Looks like it was made by 13 year olds.” Not far from the truth! Realizing that your baby is ugly could be a big hit to your ego, but I take pleasure in the fact that it is exceptionally ugly. The stuff of shareware legends. Gum that you can’t peel off the bottom of your shoe. A brown stain on the bottom of a toilet that just won’t scrub out. You be the judge:

What can I say? I blame Troma and Capcom.

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Sarah Meets A Chaos Marauder

Sarah caught me sneaking in some Warhammer Online tonight while she was supposed to be busy coloring the “Mr. Frog-a-frog” I drew for her. She was so curious, she climbed up onto my lap and started barking orders.

I should explain my character. He’s pale, “Norse,” has a hefty set of mutton chops that would put both Wolverine and Glenn Danzig to shame, and, oh yeah, his arm has been transformed by the Chaos god of change, Tzeentch, into various mutations of blades, crushing devices, and animal claws. He fastens his chest strap right into his skin. He rides a rotten warhorse with no fur and a few too many eyes. I told her he was the prince. She bought it.

She cheered as I turned his arm into “dolphin hand” (a giant blade with razor sharp teeth in it), “puppy” (Some sort of demonic armadillo hand with giant claws), and “lobster,” which is… well, a lobster claw. I fired tentacles out of my back in the most Lovecraftian way possible. She cheered at my “octopus arms” and made me repeat them over and over. Finally, I took my Marauder out onto the field, my target — high elves.

One of them attacks, it’s a male high elf in a dress. I beat him down. Sarah asks me why I’m fighting with the princess. I tell her I have to squash “her” because she’s bad. She tells me that the princess is dead and that I need to find another one to squash. So I do… many of them, in fact. They’re good for my experience bar and even if I weren’t a Chaos Marauder, I’d still be trying to squash high elves. Finally, I slaughter a large group of them with my wrecking-ball arm and tell her I’m finished.

“They were bad,” she says. “But beautiful.” (She actually pronounces it “pew-tiful”)

I agreed. Both valid reasons for a good squashing.

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80′s Cartoon Douchebags

You probably expected cartoon villains like Skeletor, Cobra Commander, or Megatron… no. I loved cartoon villains. They were part of the magic recipe of a good Saturday morning cartoon, but another piece of the recipe was wrong, slice-of-bologna-in-a-peanut-butter-sandwich wrong. For nearly every badass, musclebound 80′s hero, there was a whimpering, bumbling little douchebag there to remind you that the marketers had no respect for you.

Let’s begin with the Thundercats. Before furries came along and made it awkward to be a fan, these guys were the epitome of awesome. A bunch of muscled cat people with ninja skills battled an ancient space mummy. They drove around in an armored cat-tank. Lion-o, the chief Thundercat, had a sword that grew. Wait, we may be back in uncomfortable furry territory again. Anyway, the badassery of the cats combined with a Saturday injection of sugary breakfast cereals was almost too much, I mean – just watch:

Could it get any better? I mean this is the best thing I’ve eve–SNAAAAAAAAARF. What? No?! They wouldn’t do th–SNAAAAAAAARF.

Save us He-Man! You’re twice the man of any other man! Right? By thrusting your sword, you transform from a well-dressed gay man into a Master of the Universe:

Wait. Orko? Who is this Orko? Surely He-Man would never team up with something annoying…

Well, shit. At least the girl version of He-Man was manly. She-Woman. Err, She-Ra. Her villains were even tougher than He-Man’s. Hordak was Skeletor’s BOSS at one point. There was even a giant leechman toy that stuck to glass. How could any 80s boy pass that up? Listen to her theme song, I swear they’re singing “She-Man, She-Man!” at one point.

Girly, but still manly. Uh oh…

Ok, well, no big surprise here. Let’s turn to the greatest sidekick of all 80s cartoons as an example. Thirty-Thirty. His boss was Bravestarr, an intergalactic sherriff who could use the powers of wild animals to protect New Texas. Thirty-Thirty was his robotic horse that could change into a robotic horse-man. Not a horseman, literally a horse-man. His accent was wickedly southern. This was a sidekick done right. A sidekick that outshines his boss. Watch him use his laser shotgun to protect a family of pacifist Jewish space goats from Russian cat-samurais:

Finally. They understood. This is exactly what we wanted. Hold on… did Deputy Fuzz just call him “Doody Doody?” No! Blasphemy:

Surely somebody broke the mold? Anybody?

M.A.S.K.? You guys drove around in motorcycles that could turn into helicopters and jets that could turn into… uh, helicopters:

Silverhawks? A galatic cowboy/rockstar with a guitar weapon and a winged football player battle space demons? Surely they can’t get it wrong?

Ghostbusters! You guys didn’t have a sidekick in the movie. Hah! There’s no way…

You ruined Slimer?! How do you ruin Slimer? Ugh. Transformers! You’re giant laser-wielding robots that transform into powerful muscle cars, dinosaurs, and even guns. The 80′s cartoon standard!

Man, even Bumblebee, who should have been the douchebag sidekick but was actually pretty badass, was disgusted by that kid. That wasn’t a smile, it’s just that he can’t properly show disgust with his metal face.

G.I.Joe. I can’t remember a single annoying sidekick in that one…

Alright, so that’s not the exact script from the cartoon… but the public service announcements at the ends turned all of the Joes into annoying sidekicks. So close, Joes.

Inhumanoids! How could I forget you? You were the best cartoon of the 80s and probably the most distubring. The toys included a giant rotting skeleton who could trap people in his ribcage to decompose them. We have a winner!

What do you think? Did your favorite cartoons also suffer from sidekick douchebaggery? Can you name any that broke the mold? Were you even alive during the 80′s?

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Since You Asked For It – Tentacle Porn!

I am shocked every single day when I look through my blog statistic and find that the top search remains “Tentacle Porn.” How do I beat the legion of tentacle fetishists that flock to my site? I don’t. I give them what they want. Enjoy.

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The Myriad Ways Garbage Pail Kids Changed My Life

I suppose I could do a post about the life-molding power of the 80s in general, but nothing had a bigger impact in my tender years quite like Topps’ Garbage Pail Kids. If you were a child of that special decade, no doubt you either loved or hated these things. They were the Pokémon of our generation, only instead of electric mice and talking cats, they focused more on farts and boogers and vomit. Hurray! They began as a parody of Cabbage Patch Kids, an even bigger 80s craze, but subjected the ridiculously cute dolls to torture, politics, and even S&M bondage. They sold these images as collectible sticker cards packed in with a stale stick of sugared pink gum that turned to powder upon dental contact no matter how “fresh” it was. I won’t spend any more time describing them, but focus instead on how they developed several of my early observations about life.

Lesson One: Rich People Suck. I had a pretty solid collection of these things back in fifth grade. Move over Oscar, I was the king of the garbage pails, my royal army consisting of nearly complete sets of the second and third editions and even a couple of the already rare and elusive first edition. Then I met another kid at school, one with parents much wealthier than mine, and we agreed to meet “out back behind the school.” I expected to humble this poor kid, show him that I was a bigger fan of boogers and farts and piss, that his meager collection wa–holy shit, you have DOUBLES of the first edition? I offered ridiculous trades… dozens of cards for one of his. No deal. He was there for one reason – to dethrone the king. With my empire fallen, I searched for a new weapon, even thought I’d found it later in Giant-Sized Garbage Pail Kids, but no, those were not even “collectible” in his eyes. I was forced to accept my lower social status way too early in life.

Lesson Two: Garbage Pail Kids Are Not Worth Jumping Off a Bridge. I don’t think mom and dad even know this story, because even back then, I realized I was a dumbass and lied about it. My brother realized my hopeless addiction for the GPKs and, being a dumbass like me, dared me to jump off a bridge and he’d give me a pack. Did I bite? Hell yes. Okay, before you judge me too harshly, it was a small bridge. A pedestrian bridge in the middle of a park, but big enough to pop open a knee. And that’s exactly what happened. I leapt off, landed hard, but mostly on my feet, got up, and prepared to demand my prize. But I was bleeding. A lot. I looked down and saw my entire kneecap laid open, a big chunk of it missing. I looked around for the chunk. Nothing. I looked for a piece of glass or rock I must have hit. Nothing. Apparently, jumping off of a bridge can create so much force that the knee just pops open. Fortunately, my joints/bones took no damage, but I did have three layers of stitches because that mother was deep. Did I get my cards? No, I don’t think I ever did.

But, being a horror kid, I did get the best gross-out trick possible. Girls were my primary target, and man did they find the jagged wound disgusting. I popped it open three times, each one in front of shrieking girls. The first came playing four-square. I returned the ball, but also sprayed the girl’s pavement red. The second came playing volleyball. I didn’t return the ball, but I seem to remember returning to the doctor for more stitches. The girl playing next to me–terrified. The final one was the best. Elementary school Olympics. Sack-hop race. A pair of kids assigned to each other. Each has one leg in the sack. I’ll let your imagination finish the story. Yes. Anyway, I have a really shiny scar covering a big stretch of my knee where no hair will grow, and the chunk still seems to be missing when I bend it just right. A constant reminder of the cost of addiction. Also — no girlfriends in elementary school… but worth it.

Lesson Three: Lame Adults Sue Cool Adults. So the makers of the Cabbage Patch Kids came forward and sued the makers of Garbage Pail Kids (or threatened them, anyway). What did that mean to me at the time? I had no idea, just that my incredibly cool series of cards now looked different. Worse. Still gross, still with the same sense of humor, but worse. It boggled my mind that somebody could actually want to change them. How did these hurt Cabbage Patch Kids? If anything, they made them more totally awesome, right? Later, becoming a horror fan in a time where censorship was about to run rampant, the trauma dealt to the GPKs seemed minor in comparison to the castration of some of my favorite movies.

Lesson Four: Garbage Pail Kids Are There For You. Just when it sounds like GPKs were a negative factor in my life, they come through and possibly keep me out of a wheelchair. I had/have back problems. Nothing too major now, but back in those days, I was growing too fast for my skeleton and it was causing my spine to bend. Hard. My parents sensed something worse than simple “bad posture” was at work and started to take me to the chiropractor. I did not want to go. Everybody in there seemed to be old and crippled. The magazines were all about womens’ makeup or hunting deer. They put me on giant torture devices that rolled giant wheels into your spine, electrified muscles, and even topped it off with a personal neck-cracking session from the good doctor himself. Before anyone realized how bad things were getting, my parents asked me if I’d keep going, but didn’t demand it. Why did I go? Because the gas station next to the chiro had GPKs. Yup. My reward for an hour of torture.

Well, in the long run, my spine went bad. Real bad. The same chiropractor put me into a harness which I would describe now as something a shoulder-holster a cop would wear but really felt more like a cupless bra at the time. That helped, but not enough. The important thing was that the doctor caught it in time. Eventually he realized that though he’d kept it under control, he couldn’t help me anymore. He sent me to a spinal surgeon, some angry fat man who didn’t speak English well and liked to parade me in my underwear in front of his (sometimes very attractive) medical students. Should I mention that was an age when hormones could cause … unexpected reactions in the body? Yeah.

The new Doc put me in a giant plastic body brace. Think of a goalie’s mask, but covering your entire torso. I tried to wear it to school, to keep it hidden under baggy shirts, but it was pretty obvious. Sometimes I had fun stabbing myself through the air-holes and leaving the pencil hanging out. Got some good gross out reactions there, too.

The Doc recommended some hideous surgery where my spine would be welded to keep it from buckling and he warned me how close I was to seriously crippling my ability to even walk in the future. He always pointed out what a good thing it was that we caught it when we did. Of course I give credit to my parents, who actually let me make the choice not to have the surgery, and I’m lucky they did, but secretly, I know that when I needed motivation the most, the GPKs had my back.

I should point out that I’m fine now. Back aches once in a while. Bad posture, sure. But otherwise, crisis averted. If my blog is still around when I’m in my 50s, I’m may have changed my mind.

I had a point to make somewhere… oh yeah, so it’s easy to look at these disgusting little cards and wonder why anyone would remember them, let alone remember them fondly. For me, though, I can’t imagine that time of my life without them.

Did you collect them too? Hopefully you weren’t a dumbass like I was and you didn’t sell them all when you moved on to comic books.

Oh, one last thing. As much as I love you, GPKs. Damn you for this abomination:

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Art Dump IV: Disciples II – Rise of the Elves

I was never officially an artist at Strategy First (wasn’t good enough, for one thing) but I was lead designer for this expansion pack back in 2003. When it looked like our deadlines were creeping up, I did help out by drawing some of the unit portraits. If you’ve played Disciples, you know the in-game units are tiny, so I received a very zoomed in blob of a unit shape and had to work with it. I still really like some of these, others, not so much.

Keep in mind that all of the artists listed in the link above may have had some input into these, whether the isometric model, concept art, or even the funky frame around the portrait (the tree one was obviously my style though).

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