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Great question. If I only had one video I could play it would be this.

Oh crap sorry! Extra Credits! Along with Heathcliff, I dedicate this story to the following people, in no particular order:

Ada Lovelace

Kurt Vonnegut

Bill Gates

Steve Jobs

Grace Hopper

Ray Kurzweil

Gabe Newell

Barack Obama

Michelle Obama

The Fam

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Games: Knar - Gar The Groin Ripper

Third party developers are a lot like restaurants in that the mortality rate is high, and that the prospect of your business crapping out in the first few months is often a better hope than the long bleed it could become.

The cost of programmers, artists,testers,hardware, and the random ins and outs of running a business in a technology driven industry makes the non "in-house" development team an endangered species. And if EA's attempted hostile takeover of Take-two was any indication, the big sharks can smell any devs blood in the water from a mile away.

And here is where the big problems, the problems that lead to the shutting of doors, the firing of employees, and the general fuckery of the whole situation occurs. Imagine you are a Producer in a moderately respected third party and you gained notice from Company X for your creative use of the Jumanji engine in your latest title, "Shane and Grinch."

So Company(Publisher) X sits you down and tells you that the grappling hook mechanic and usage of massive gibbs would be perfect for their new Video game adaptation of the film "Knar-Gar, the Groin ripper." They want the title to be multi platform and want it to coincide with the movies release July after next. you explain to them that this is the first simultaneous multi release your company has ever done, and that your version of the engine was tweaked for a specific console.

But they shoot down this logic with reassurances that they have worked closely with third parties in the past that voiced the same problem, and the outcome was simply David Blane magic.But with doubt in your heart and dollar signs in your eyes you get on-board, and out pops the Contract. Its nothing serious, and only a little binding, they say, just a way to keep things honest, and to keep both sides informed and on the path to success.

And stuck somewhere in-between the part about security badges and the section detailing parking privileges, is a little thing called a Milestone clause. This little gem of a business practice makes it legally clear that if you do not hit a (usually publisher defined) set of goals by a certain date, then you and your people are not getting paid. No one gets paid. The Programmer doesn't get paid, the testers don't get paid, the producers don't get paid. The Mocap dudes, don't get paid. And that is not good.

Say it is November now. The Launch date is about about nine months out and everything is looking good. The emails from the Publisher are positive. You as a smaller third party cannot afford a marketing juggernaut, but thanks to the fat pockets of Company X you see early teasers for you game on the Internet, and in magazines. They love how it is coming along, they sent you dev kits, manpower for test, even the programmers learned to code for all platforms by going to Naughty Dog's website. Every thing is looking great for a July launch, and everyone is getting paid.

So December rolls along, and the problems with it. You get an e-mail from The publishing manager about how the Gibbs that they loved so much are not going to get any play now because "Large Rob Cycle," and "Emohunt" have trusted video game violence into the spotlight during an election year, gotta tone down the violence, bud. So you run down to tell the programmers that they are going to have to go back and clean up the code they already finished.But its too late, they now have their own problems. 

They tell you that the testers are sending them way too many bugs about the goddamn grappling hooks, and that trying to fix all of them would take them well into the next lifetime, and that it would be easier for everyone involved to just tone the mechanic down to isolated...quicktime events... No.

So you run back to the office to stab you balls with chopsticks when you glance at an open magazine page flapping in the wind.And there on the page is none other than an old screen cap of Knar-gar in all his glory, Ascending a mountain with grappling hook in one hand, and an enemies throbbing nutsac in another, looking as if he just took a big bite out of it like it was a Georgia peach. Fuck.

Next thing you know you are a talking head on TV, shilling the hell out of a project that you don't even recognize anymore, while every journalist on the planet wants to crawl deep into you ass about the "uber Violnce" your new title touted when they played it at the HAXORZ game show. They want to give you both barrels concerning the voice acting, collision, the hard to open shrink wrap, and ask if these issues will be addressed by launch. Fuck. 

So you go back to the office and call a meeting. You tell everyone in the room what is riding on the project, and that the expectations have reached a fevered pitch because it is running parallel to the film. They all got to get on the ball and fix this, no matter how long it takes. Not so fast.

You get a call from the publisher and they are mad, well not really mad, just disappointed. You missed four of six milestones and unfortunately they cannot pay you the full royalty for that particular six week cycle. They hope you get back on the ball, they wish you luck, and remind you to tone it down,bud.

Usually no money from the Publisher would not be so crippling, but you took on the extra manpower from them and now you have to pay them. Everyone on staff has been working Eighty to ninety hour weeks and have been waiting on the "Big Check." So to not have that money during crunch time will just about be the worst thing that could happen. But hey, payday is about a week and a half away, so there is time to figure something out, right?

No. Its June now, the title is not close to shippable, a couple of programmers have quit, and you are now two milestones in the hole. It is looking bad, it is looking really bad. A "false launch"(A title that doesn't ship on its specified date) looks inevitable, and you getting shitcanned is both assured and looked forward to by yourself.

And then it comes. Company X has taken notice of your repeated missed deadlines, they notice your company unable to attain the standard of quality that the Company X brand requires. But it is ok, They have an option. If you sell your company to them, then they will eat the cost of the false launch, eat the cost of the missed milestones, and put a pretty penny into the coffers of you and your shareholders. And all they ask is that you work exclusively for them, under relaxed conditions, retaining most of the autonomy that you previously had.With the small exception that most of the money will go to them obviously, and the benefit of stock perks will be theirs also, and they choose and redline all the games you make.Besides that though, good times.

So you and your Dev house go with the only option available, and you spend the rest of your careers pandering to whatever Company X asks of you, Never getting to create original or innovative games because the company bottom line demands at least one hit from every company every fiscal year.

This cycle of Milestone manipulation occurs constantly in the game industry, and almost always serves to benefit to Larger company. And while it is true that former third parties like Neversoft and Vicarious visions still operate much like they did independently while under a large publisher( in this case Activision), far too many companies fold nowadays due to the intense pressure for every title to be a triple A success. 

I prefer the Valve method of "it will be done when it is done." A situation like this serves to allow employees to produce great work in an relaxed environment. And while I understand that it would be financially irresponsible for all companies to do this, I would like to see publishers allow some of the more respected and proven companies to have more time in producing their titles and to not be held under the thumb of unfair Milestone achievement practices.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

People: The Search For Animal Carney

The Skateboarding Cambrian explosion of the mid nineties birthed a vast species of riders and styles. Before its arrival anyone wanting to take up the sport had to be lucky enough to be in the proximity of a skate shop with employee’s kind enough to let them play on the Vert or kicker ramp in the back, or patient enough to teach them tic tac’s in the parking lot out front.

But the revolution born of the search for animal chin had come into its own. Skateboarding had traveled all the way from Southern California's beaches to Northern California’s urban jungles, evolving to survive along the way.

Skateboarding magazines and videos documented the change, images containing lanky long haired dudes carving barefoot around abandoned pools or down sun drenched hills on flat fat boards with big wheels made way for images containing guys with dreads, crew cuts, and wild curls weaving around pedestrians to jump or slide or grind staircases and rail sets resembling an M. C. Escher print on tiny boards curved on both ends with skinny wheels.

As a Young Turk coming up in the bay area I was lured to the culture because it allowed me to retain any interest that I fancied at the moment while still being able to communicate with people that weren’t like me. I could show up to the EMB and play horse with a guy that’s really into black metal or head up the street to the Pier and learn crooks from a Columbian kid that didn’t speak English but spoke a common language. Skateboarding became my social network before the internet came into its own.

We would pop in VHS skate videos starring our extended family down the five to see what they were up to. And while the clothes and locations were different the old attitude remained.

Video parts for bay area skaters were quick cuts of riders stealing flip in flip out manny’s through busy intersections and bombing residential neighborhood hills filled with pedestrian and vehicle obstacles accompanied by jazzy hip hop tracks with rappers describing relaxation methods they predicted would last from then until infinity.

Whereas San Diego skaters recklessly pushed at near light speed against backdrops of empty schools and unpopulated vacation destinations juxtaposed by aggressive rock music that bolstered every trick landing with a cymbal crash or guitar riff. And for me no San Diego skater epitomized his particular genus more than Jason Carney.

I was introduced to Carney through a Maple skateboard company team video called Seven Steps to Heaven I had purchased because at the time I wanted to skate just like Marc Johnson.

I sped through the other rider’s parts impatiently working toward my idol until a young guy wearing a backwards cap, blue jeans, and a white t-shirt hunched over vomiting on the base of a staircase rail stole my attention. The next scene was him pushing mach ten across the roof of a garage then kick flipping a gap, landing cleanly on the second story porch of someone’s yellow adobe house. I put the remote down.

I thought I had seen his breed before, at first glance he resembled the guys I skated with from Bakersfield whose distinguishing characteristics where goatees, slicked back hair and lowered Chevy's with whitewall wheels. Their females had soda bottle bodies with big hair and tats with sparrows flying into their bellybutton or a slick devil winking on their arm. But this guy was different, he had the usual elements of the type, but along with looking like he didn’t give a fuck about getting hurt he skated like he didn’t give a fuck that there was anything in his way.

I watched the camera man struggle to match his speed while he casually ollied a waist high trash can holding a beer. The rest of his scenes were long takes where he would effortlessly pull off paint the landscape, taking the long route to an ultimate goal that you wouldn’t realize until he arrived and couldn't believe he survived afterwards.

I was jealous. My skateboarding world was a gold rush where only the newest and most technical stunts were held high. We worked within a small plot of land that only allowed two pushes and a short setup. It was rubber band style street performance art that required tightrope walker zen.

To me Carney was more surfer than skateboarder. He didn't do anything I hadn't seen before, but he made the ride from trick to trick a visual representation of what those bay area rappers were talking about. And it all felt pure and dangerous and innovative and I wanted to see more.

Logging onto the skateboard social network required travel to any park, ledge, rail or stair set skateboarders congregated. You would go there to get your classifieds from a guy that learned the shop out east was accepting sponsor me videos for an amateur roster and your reviews from a dude that thought Chico was overrated because he barely had switch. I rolled up to a low bank about a year after watching Seven Steps to Heaven and asked around about Carney as he hadn’t appeared in any magazines or video’s I had seen since.

The story was different for every person asked. One guy said, “Yeah Carney was brutal, I heard he got into a fight in Mexico and is doing life in a Tijuana Jail.” Another guy told me he got kicked off of Maple because he was always wasted and wouldn’t go out to film. One guy believed he had fallen into the skinhead scene and disappeared. I asked a buddy of mine in town from San Diego one day, he said, “Carney, Yeah he’s doing alright, I saw him over at Carlsbad High a couple months ago.”

I never got a definitive answer to what happened. Things being what they were at the time if you weren’t constantly producing new video you were quickly overtaken by young guns willing to jump off anything for a roster spot. A few years later Maple skateboards faded from the scene and so did I.

I ended up moving to San Diego, and here I live an old mans life in a young mans body. I have bum knees and bad balance due to an extra thirty pounds that crept up on me while I sat in a chair at my office job. When I do get out I have to drive to spots instead of skate. I blame the driving on the fact that I have to get to work later but it’s really because I would sweat to death if I tried.

Every once in a while when I pass the Sports Center double set or hold the rail while I walk up an office complex staircase downtown in my mind I see the image of a distant relative that claimed that piece of architecture by being first to do something with it that no one had ever thought to do before.

A while ago I walked into a newspaper office to pitch stories to the arts and culture editor because San Diego is expensive and you need a lot of hustles to pay rent. She liked my ideas well enough but suggested a story to me about a skateboarding event in need of a Journo.

I told her I didn’t have many ins to the community down here and the ones I knew were about as active as me. She told me to take a shot anyway and gave me the name of an event called “Rumble in Ramona.”

I wrinkled my face, looked upwards, and said, “Yeah… sounds... familiar…” I had never heard of it. The only words I had ever heard spoken about Ramona made it sound like a sequel to deliverance. I am sad for bylines so I took the gig, but not without doing some internet research if only to learn how I would die.

Through this person less social network I learned that for the last three years the Rumble in Ramona has been the main rally point for skateboarders of the thrasher tribe. I found a video of events past and in them I saw a bunch of middle aged guys in pads standing on a Vert ramp shooting the shit and laughing.

The ramp looked to be erected in somebody’s backyard, and in the pipe a guy that looked like an older version of Christian Hasoi was casually pulling off lean back crooks while a guy on the ledge that looked just like Lance Mountain banged his board on the pipe in celebration. To the right was the roof of a house that had people sitting on it drinking Jack Daniels and cheering on the skaters.

To the left of the ramp and behind the crowd a Punk Band thundered in tune to a hurricane mosh pit made up of old bald guys in lock shoulder and long haired dudes pogo-ing in the old style. Even bigger guys stood hands folded on the periphery and would only move when someone fell. They would push through the crowd, pick them up, brush them off, and send them on their way.

Next to the Stage people milled about the crabgrass examining tricked out American muscle while girls with the look those guys in Bakersfield fell for posed on the car hoods in sexy poses.

I went a little deeper into the event to find who runs it and all signs pointed to this place in Ramona called Slappy’s Skateboard Garage. I searched business sites to contact the owner hoping for an interview, and way down in the column covering ownership titles sat a familiar name. Jason Carney.

His name linked to a video walkthrough of the shop. A young guy covered in tattoos wearing a v-neck and trucker hat introduced himself as an employee and motioned toward the shop as he began walking in. It was shaped like an ordinary house.

The camera followed the employee inside, there was a glass truck display where the kitchen would have been, and the walls were covered with pro rider decks and posters that read “Creature,” and, “Independent.” In what would have been a bedroom a little girl in a chargers jersey played drums in time to a punk band.

But no Carney, I clicked around looking for the picture of a ghost with no luck until I happened on a car enthusiast website and there he was, standing in the front yard of his shop holding a dollar bill up to the camera next to his friend and business partner Jake Doomey. The caption under the picture read, “Doomey and Carney make their first buck. Good luck guys.”

I was pretty excited about heading over to the Rumble in Ramona this year because not only was I going to meet one hero it looked as if I was going to meet the pantheon. But on the Curb Crushers blog under the top post dated Sunday, August 7, 2011 sat seven simple words that managed to send me all the way back to square one, do not pass go, do not collect a byline.

It turned out the author of that very succinct obituary was none other than Lance Dawes, arguably the greatest skateboarding photographer ever to walk this earth. So not only can the guy tell you everything you need to know about skateboarding in one photo. He can tell you everything you need to know about best laid plans in seven words. The words: "Sorry everyone, The Rumble is canceled, sucks."

Eh, such is life, besides, I'm walking away from the table up a buck. I finally got the answer I have been searching fifteen years for. Carney, yeah he is doing alright.

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