Aug 1, 2013

There and Back Again - a fan's journey to Carbine Studios (Part 1)

The day began with big plans. As I prepared for this amazing opportunity, I began to pack any essentials that I thought I might need. Soon my trunk looked like something out of Dexter: grey tape, wood, caution tape, bits of plastic and construction cones. Make no mistake: I was going to build my Warplot right in Carbine's parking lot. However, as I looked at their location on my map, I realized my brilliant idea might not go so well. It screamed 'technical business park' which would likely be shared with other companies. This meant that there would likely be third-party security that may not understand nor appreciate the humor in my parking lot "death-fortress". Although, I'm sure Arawulf would have loved to post my arrest photo and the team at Late Night Dominion would loved a few vines of me being taken down for vandalism by rent-a-cops, I decided not to go through with the Warplot idea.

My concern wasn't alleviated as I drove, however, once I discovered that authorities occasionally stop the I5 freeway to perform border checks. With what could be mistaken as a partial serial killer's kit in my trunk, I wondered if perhaps Late Night Dominion may get those arrest Vines after all. All I was missing were some bloody tennis shoes from a bad CSI episode. Thankfully, they did not randomly select me. So as I continued my journey, it occurred to me that I might want to think up some questions to ask the team once I finally arrived at Carbine.

As I neared the entrance, I tried to match cars in the parking lot to personalities we all have experienced in videos, Vines, interviews and Tweets. I looked for a mid-80's muscle car for Frost, something sporty and convertible for Troy and something sensible from Jon - but found no hybrid 4-doors in the lot anywhere. I wonder would Scooter would drive? How about Pappy or Jen? Food for thought, I suppose. I actually know what Bull drives but did not see it. In reality, all of this pondering was just me stalling. I was like a kid getting to go back stage at a magic show. What if I learn too much? I was about to find out.

There was no obvious branding outside (that I noticed, anyway) but as I entered the lobby doors I could see Carbine off to one side. I wondered if the low key signage was used as a kind of nerdoflauge as the number of techies in that part of town must be numerous and they don't want dozens of them rolling up to the front door begging for beta keys and swag.

I rang the buzzer and was motioned in by a polite young man. In the waiting area, I noticed 4 pieces of artwork near where I was sitting. I snapped a pic of the classic chiseled chinned Granok (shown below). The others were concept drawings of the other races but had a different flair than I had seen. I was not yet under the NDA, but it seemed wrong to shoot them. I hope after launch maybe we will see the 'drawing board' of races that did not make the cut.

This is one of the masterpieces that welcome visitors to Carbine Studios
Now, I work for a good sized company with lots of IT needs, so some of the surroundings felt familiar. In one corner I could see empty computer hardware boxes and with the amount of people moving around the area I could see, I would guess they were from new gear. New gear hopefully meant Wildstar was staffing up, and that (to me) seemed a good thing. I had snooped as much as I could from my chair as Troy "Aether" Hewitt rounded the corner. He gave me a big smile and a good handshake. I think it must be a 'racial' trait of community managers to have the skills to inspire a genuine smile when meeting unknown community people, like myself. David (Scooter) and Loic (Atreid) also share this trait.

At this point, I'll skip the NSA level paperwork portion of the journey. It's funnier to imagine than have me describing it for you. On to my questions ... sort of.

On the ride up I had decided on a few soft questions. I love working with Arawulf here at WildStarFans and you never know what the crew at Late Night Dominion might ask me, so I did not want to miss an opportunity to get a good news story. Yet, while I may have been slightly tempted to try act like a 'professional' reporter, I chose, rather, to be a bit selfish and take the grand tour - just as a WildStar fan.

I started things off by awarding Troy version 1.0 of the home-made Rowsdower plushies series on behalf of both WildStarFans and Late Night Dominion as a 'Thank You' for his continued support of the noble beast.

Troy holding version 1.0 of the home-made Rowsdower plushie series.
Since I had Troy to myself, I decided to ask him how the community team uses Facebook and Twitter. I think Carbine has worked social media very well so far. In fact, I use Twitter and Facebook for my WildStar news gathering and dev cyber-stalking tools. A large subset of the company communicates in free form on their own Twitter accounts with fans, and the fans love it. But @Team_Wildstar and the Facebook page does not leave a footprint of which particular community team member posts what so I asked him who works them. Troy stated it was a joint effort. Everyone on the community team helps. Which makes sense as the volume must be mind boggling.

I also asked Troy about how Wildstar Wednesday is put together. Being there on Tuesday, they shared with me what WildStar Wednesday was going to be about for that week. I enjoyed observing the process the team goes through to come up with WildStar Wednesday material. It's a team effort.

At this time David (Scooter) showed up with a genuine smile and handshake (again, a 'racial trait' of community WildStar community managers) and we were off on our tour. I had originally planned to take photos like a paparazzi chasing Lindsey Lohan, but as I ran across the first stop on the tour, I quickly changed my mind. As Troy introduced me as a fan from Twitter and a fan site, the developer lit up and started showing me cool stuff. I decided that it was best if I didn't try to act like a press person and allowed myself to enjoy the conversation as a fan.

The first person I talked to was working on some Eldan ruins. She showed me how she could adjust terrain, color, blend it into existing landscapes. It was like she had a 'god stick' in her hand. The next person showed me a waterfall location. The scene he was working on was already beautiful, but he assured me it would look better once some of the splash effects were done. I couldn't share with you what were on their monitors, but while we were there I did capture a nice pic of Troy and Scooter's head (and an actual scooter).

At this point, Troy needed to attend some meetings, so Scooter took over the tour. As we moved to the next area, he stopped to show me a wall of drawings. It was a fan-art area. There was a smile on his face as he talked about all the fan art they receive. I thought of it as Carbine's equivalent of a 'fridge door' where the staffers put up fan's artwork to admire. David pointed out a few specific pieces and said he was very happy to see the Chua art starting to roll in. I declined to take a photo of this since I felt it was art by fans made for Carbine's encouragement and enjoyment. Of course any of those artists can toss us some links here and we'd be happy to share them.

We then toured a few of the working groups. I saw artists working in Photoshop on some end game armor for <redacted> and another group working on mounts. I was so impressed that I would have given anyone in those rooms full creative license to my left bicep as my tattoo artist (and I don't even have any tattoos!)

Before I share my next question, it would be helpful to explain that I had actually had past interactions with Scooter. I was a columnist for the SWTOR fansite "Ask a Jedi" (offered to me due to a hangover by site owner, Lethality) In working on access and info, David was the SWTOR community rep we interacted with. So, during my visit, I asked Scooter, "What is the biggest difference between your efforts in community management for Wildstar versus SWTOR". Without hesitation, as if my rental car was bugged and he was prepped, he said, "It's the lore, the original IP". He explained that having it all managed in house enabled for much easier fan interaction and quicker responses to the community about numerous game aspects.

In route to the next set of groups, we stopped by to see WildStar composer, Jeff Kurtenacker. At first, he seemed to be busy and I was about to whisper to David that we could try back later. But as we came to the door, Jeff looked up with a huge smile. As Scooter introduced me to Jeff, it dawned on me that I would face the wrath of my friend Chelle if I didn't get a picture of him. Jeff insisted that I join him in the pic. Now, I am not an in front of camera kinda guy, but Jeff's charm won me over and I obliged (as you can see below).

Me and official WildStar composer, Jeff Kurtenacker and his epic Ghostbusters shirt
Continue to Part 2