And that's it

June 7th, 2009

Late Sunday night:

Half an hour ago, I logged into my computer at work to finish a scheduling doc. Checking email, I saw a pay statement notification.

Which seemed odd, since I didn't think it was close to a pay day...

So, unless the company is just paying out my PTO time as some sort of complex accounting procedure, I've apparently been laid off. PTO plus 48 hours: Last week, and tomorrow.

There was talk of severance, but I didn't see any of that in the paycheck. Maybe I'll get a separate paycheck for that. Or maybe I won't even get that much.

At the moment, I can't really type much more without cursing incoherently, and then smashing my fists into the keyboard. Which would be a shame, because I really like this keyboard.

Further adventures in waiting

June 4th, 2009

Still no definitive news. On Monday, I accepted that my producer has pretty much officially stopped caring, and that I had better get off my ass and try to save my job (as well as the job of the junior writer). Either he knows that he's going to be laid off, or he doesn't care one way or another. Which means that I've had to do all of that producer (manager) stuff.

I cleared this plan with the lead producer (his response was "Do what you need to do", i.e., "Do whatever you can to make sure you guys still have jobs"), and spent the day writing proposals and drafting a doc reorganization plan. Then another day of talking to people upstairs, asking what they would like to see documented. Fortunately, the answer is "a lot." The game's lead producer sat down with me and went over a very detailed list of doc requirements which is a hugely positive sign. (If he had said, "Oh, you? Well...why don't you spellcheck this Word doc?", then I would've started packing up my desk.)

On the other hand...he has a long, detailed list of requirements. So today I dragged the other writer into a conference room and spent an hour trying to figure out what we might be able to accomplish, what we could do now, to prove that we're useful, and how we'd start doing this. At some point, we'll probably be able to spend a day hashing out larger-scale doc plans.

This is a weakness of mine: I often don't spend enough time planning. I'm usually focused on getting something, written and out the door, so I find it difficult to justify "planning" as a good use large chunks of my time. Even if I'm just justifying that to myself. (Actually, especially if I'm justifying it to myself.)

Typically, I charge ahead, sketching out a rough plan and then making up the rest as I go along. But this style, which not entirely sensible, has been shaped by experience: I've written a lot of doc plans, and they're almost always seen as something to check off a list: Gather requirements, write doc plans, get to work. If I don't have a manager who cares about a doc plan, or other writers who depend on what I'm writing or need guidance (which has been the case for a bit over half my career), then I just skip the middle step and start writing.

Which is all a long way of saying: I'm writing a lot of planning docs this week. It's not exactly forging into new territory, but it's not my usual neighborhood.

At this point, though, I'm starting to become a bit concerned that by trying to gather enough tasks to justify our continued employment, we've piled too much onto our plate. If everything we've proposed is accepted, then we're going to be insanely busy for the next few months. Then we might be able to transition to a more relaxing "ludicrously busy."

On the other hand, if we pull this off: a) We'll be employed; b) I'm damn well going to fight for a game credit that's more impressive than "Engine Support."

Well, it's been a month...

May 29th, 2009

And I still have a job. But it's still uncertain whether that will be the case in the near future. The latest rumor is that we'll know by the end of next week. Or the beginning of the week after that.

So for the past month, the other writer and I have been spending most of our time on maintenance tasks for the online docs. Of which, fortunately, there were many. We're starting to run out of the smaller tasks, though, and we're left with the big stuff, like real, actual usability testing (instead of merely asking users what they want, and trying to figure out how they work; users are notorious liars, after all). Then, based on that, some large-scale doc reorganization. But that's not the sort of thing you embark on if you might be laid off in a week.

Or, hell, maybe it is, because it doesn't really matter either way. Since the dev team is busy trying to figure out their new roles, they aren't cranking out new features for us to document. Which means that spending time on planning now is useful (if we keep our jobs), or just as pointless as anything else we might do (if we don't).

Mistaken identity

May 28th, 2009

Whenever I hear or read about Frank Welker (voice of about 634,000 cartoon characters), I always picture Frank Gorshin.

I assume this is for the same reason that Homer Simpson did something similar:

Homer: Who are you?
Ghost of César Chávez: I am the spirit of César Chávez.
Homer: Then why do you look like César Romero?
Ghost of César Chávez: Because you don't know what César Chávez looks like.

More comments about a movie. But it's a different movie!

May 28th, 2009

In what must be a record for me, I saw three movies in a single week. In the theater, even! (That last bit is what disqualifies the all-night Star Wars showing I went to back in college; it was in a lecture hall, so not really a theater, so it doesn't count.)

So I started with Terminator Salvation, which I have to admit looked good, and had lots and lots of explosions, but with boring characters who danced on their strings, and recycled dialog.

Second was the Night at the Museum sequel...look, I have kids. They like the first one. Hell, I like the first one. This one, however, stunk. It stunk on ice. I would've much preferred a 2-hour Discovery channel program about the Smithsonian. Everything about it was lazy, with the possible exception of Amy Adams, who at least seemed to be trying to put some effort into her performance. Which, admittedly, was a pretty questionable interpretation of Amelia Earhart, but it was still better than any of the other actors managed.

Hell, I wasn't even going to talk about that movie.

So, on to Star Trek. Despite the fact that everyone else seems to like the new Star Trek movie, I somehow managed to like it, too. It is, to be honest, a big, loud, explosion-y SciFi action film, and doesn't really aspire to too much more than that. However, the characters likeable, and aren't a bunch of idiots. I'm not overjoyed about yet another use of time travel in Trek, but at least it wasn't used at the very end to reset everything that happened. Which, given what happened, was fairly shocking.

One quibble is that the characters suffer from being too RPG-like (or RPG characters suffer from being too Star Trek-like, maybe): Everyone is very good at some thing(s), and they don't overlap. The only character I didn't care for much was Chekov. He was just trying too hard, was just too much of a young, overeager know-it-all. Too much like Wesley Crusher, in other words.

And while it was certainly a bit too convenient how everyone was met and introduced into their proper roles, it's not like I wasn't expecting it, and waiting for that to happen. I mean, if you have Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov,'s not insane to think that Scotty will be showing up in the near future. (Although, now that I think about it, Scotty abandoned his post, leaving an outpost completely abandoned. I wonder if he'll be charged with going AWOL?)

The bad guy was a pretty standard mustache-twirler, though. And I don't know what Romulans mine, but it must be pretty damned valuable and difficult to get to if they needed to build huge, Cthulhoid dreadnoughts and load them with an array of superweapons that could destroy a task force of Federation ships in seconds. Sure, it was 100 years ahead of the Fed ships, but do you really need homing MIRV torpedoes to dig out chunks of metal from asteroids? Maybe the Romulan version of "mining" involves destroying enemy fleets and scooping up the scrap.

Kirk was a bit underdeveloped. Or maybe underacted. Or maybe, as I'm starting to think, he's just supposed to be that way, to make it easier for fanboys to project themselves onto that character. But that's probably overthinking it. One thing is obvious, though: Growing up in Iowa grants you about five levels of Toughness. The guy spent most of the movie getting beaten up, and somehow managed to tough it out and command the Enterprise.

But why the hell would you build a starship, on the ground, in Iowa? And does the starship construction facility have anything to do with the giant canyon, in Iowa? I'm going to assume that it does. Someone dropped a warp nacelle, it switched on, and WHOOM! New and interesting topography. Just right for some young punk to drive a car into. For no reason that I could understand, to be honest. Really, now that I think about it, how the hell does that lead up to him being a good starship captain?

Despite all the carping, though, I do like the film. But I also like Stargate, so take that into account.