Shutdown Sequence Initiated

As of today, I am no longer the Assistant Line Developer for the BattleTech game line. Furthermore, I am no longer pursuing or working on any contracts for the game, or the company that licenses it.

There’s a lot of reasons why, but though I have every right to air them out here, I will not. Dirty laundry should stay in the laundry room, not paraded about in public. I’ve hinted at things here and there, in vague phrasing and comments. That’s more the explosion of frustration than any malicious intent, so take it all with a grain of salt.

I’ve been attached to this game since its early days of production. In 1997, I was introduced to the playtesting side through a local group in Pittsburgh; that was some pretty heady stuff, back in the day. That morphed into working as a playtester for WizKids’ MechWarrior version, and then I was invited to pitch and write for Dawn of the Jihad back in 2001.

Writing for any game line that I enjoyed – and I had quite a few on that list – was a dream come true for me. It was the spark that jolted me out of a drudging career in retail, though I knew I’d never really be able to make a sustainable living at it. Still, it fueled my inspiration and excitement, with every book that printed with my handiwork within.

In 2008, I was asked to step into the Assistant Line Developer role, supporting my long-time gaming friend Herb. Together, we headed a team that fashioned a fantastic storyline for the line, connecting two eras separated by different companies, and pulled them together. Some may disagree – this is the Internet Age after all – but I still think that our Jihad work, and the subsequent material afterwards, was the best storytelling the line has ever had.

I was exposed in full to the game industry through my ALD position, which helped me forge connections and research needed to write my first nonfiction book, Games’ Most Wanted.

My continued work with BattleTech also opened up a wider realization within me, that I loved to write. I plunged headlong into a communications career, adding to my previous years of experience in marketing and media concepts. Now I get to do what I love, which is write, and I actually have a sustainable career doing just that. And more, besides.

Mini and photo by DAK
When my friend Herb was removed from his position as LD, there was a lot of uncertainty floating around. As the line and its direction evolved, it became apparent that my experience and talent wasn’t the right fit any more. I hung on for as long as I could, mainly because I felt that I still had stories to tell in this rich and venerable universe. But that desire has dripped away, siphoned into other projects, ideas, and experiences.

I finally realized a few days ago that I just don’t have it in me to tell those stories anymore. So how is that fair to the readership, the fanbase, the players who thrive on such things? Uninspired writing is dead writing, as I see it. I don’t like writing lifeless words.

So I finally made that painful decision and cut the cord.

BattleTech is still important to me, for what it has done to my life, my experiences, my creativity. But it doesn’t need me anymore, and I can walk on my own now without it. I have new projects, new universes, new ideas to explore – and I hope to share them all with you in the coming years.

If you’re a fan of BattleTech, I say ‘thank you’ for your steadfast devotion and love of the game – even if you don’t like some or all of what I’ve put out. You’re the reason it’s still around, in its varied forms. Enjoy it. Universes like this are hard to come by.

And for my friends, colleagues, and those whose paths I’ve crossed, I say ‘thank you’ as well. You’ve given me a lot to experience and enjoy, and hopefully I will get to work with you on other exciting ventures. Don’t be a stranger.

And to everyone: watch the spines for my name. You’ll see it out there, someday soon.


One Year Later – Destiny

My Exo Warlock; it’s been my only character up until about a month ago when I started a Hunter to take advantage of the coming “Level skip” bonus for new PCs.

One year ago today, I stopped by GameStop on my way home from work and picked up my special edition of Destiny. While I fiddled with my Ghost replica (I’ve since named him ‘Sixtus’ because…it’s a cool name?), the game began to install on my Xbox360. Ninety minutes later, my journey as a Guardian began.

Actually, that journey started back in 2013, when I first heard of the game. I put down a preorder soon after reading about it, anticipating its release. There were so many aspects to the game that appealed to me: immersive environment, social gaming, storyline play, weekly and daily tasks… It was a lot of things I loved about my particularities in gaming, and I knew my friends and I – if I could convince them – would enjoy it immensely. See, these days I spend only a few hours online to game, so I prefer to make it a social event. Gone are the days where I’ll hole up for hours on end to smash through a single-player game; with only a few exceptions, my gaming time is skewed towards playing with friends.

Destiny was delayed for another year, though I was able to jump into the Beta back in August 2014. I didn’t mind that Playstation owners got extra time and goodies. I was still enamored with it, and could not wait to dive in.

To date, I’ve spent just over 175 hours playing Destiny. It’s not a lot of time when compared to the 300-600 hours my friends have poured into it. Or the 1,500+ hours the hardcore players have done. But in my statistical world, it’s been 80% of my Xbox playtime (3-4 hours a week), and that says a lot.

I’ve been able to play all aspects of the game – I’ve done the story missions, the strikes, Crucible, Prison of Elders, and been fortunate to plow through the normal versions of the Raids. Despite my attempts at scheduling, a good chunk of my playtime – probably around 30% – has been relegated to grinding along in solo mode. Hey, it’s hard to get fireteams of 3 (never mind raid teams of 6) together; often, there’s 4-5 of us online, so it’s a Russian roulette of ‘who gets left behind tonight?’

The new solar system map, courtesy of the 2.0 update to Destiny.

The new solar system map, courtesy of the 2.0 update to Destiny.

Nonetheless, I’ve stuck with it. Each DLC expansion has added new things. Bungie, the developer, has also been very receptive (mostly) to feedback, and has done a multitude of changes on the fly. Any given week, there’s hew and cry about weapons being nerfed, or mission difficulties tweaked, or loot caves recoded. The most interesting was the seeming development of an equipment class war, where hardcore players were refusing to add people to their raid parties because they didn’t have one particular weapon (the Gjallerhorn rocket launcher). A weapon that, as with all of Destiny‘s exotics, are randomly dropped. Furthermore, some players went out of their way to ‘bully’ others who didn’t ‘earn’ particular weapons – as if you can earn something that’s randomly dropped.

Through it all, I’ve watched the community from the fringes of a few Facebook groups, the game’s forums, and some comment threads on gaming sites like Kotaku. It’s an interesting dynamic to watch, a community build itself up from the ground level, with all of its stratification, entitlement, paucity, vitrol, kindness, and other social tailings.

About two months ago, I was ready to pack it in. Destiny hadn’t truly fed the itch as I thought it would. I’d slowly fallen behind my friends in building up my character and his equipment; often, when I did join for strikes, I was typically in the back of the pack, barely comprehending what was going on and utterly ignorant of the ‘new’ tactics necessary for each map or mission. I was okay with that, for a while, because my usual goal is to play for fun, not competition or completion. But that constant feel of being the lowest man on the totem pole does wear on one for a while. Constantly being behind the curve – simply because I didn’t have the time to dedicate to gameplay – is a hard place to be for a seeming permanence. I found myself wandering back into GTA V Online, where it’s about mayhem and screwball fun, and not even remotely about equipment, rankings, or completion.

Oryx is coming.

Oryx is coming.

The news and teases of the Taken King release, which comes out next Tuesday, has somewhat changed that. Bungie has taken tremendous risk by altering its game across a wide field of changes; these are good risks. They are ‘fixing’ what many have seen as flaws in its initial design. Having done game design in tabletop and RPGs myself, I can sympathize with the guys and gals who have poured years into Destiny‘s development. It’s hard to start out in one direction and have to shift based on the fact that the community just doesn’t flow in the way you think. Ultimately, though, I believe the changes its making to Destiny through TTK’s release are a great thing, and the risk is nominal. People who abandoned it much earlier than I will be piling back in to play. As someone joked on a FB group recently, “I’m back to play Destiny, now that the year-long Beta is done.”

Bungie dropped in a massive patch the other day to prepare the base game for the release of TTK, and the results are intensely good. From the change in the intro screen’s music, to the new NolanBot’s dialogue (bye-bye, Dinklebot, we loved you…maybe), to the addition of Quests, I’m impressed. Gone is the light, hopeful strains of the start screen’s music interlude; the TTK’s score hits you full force with a tone of encroaching danger. On the first visit to the Tower, it felt like the environment was more…gritty? I don’t remember the flags snapping in harsh wind, nor the cloudier skies over the distant Guardian. The new PA dialogue, the intermittent comments from AI passersby, it all has that anticipatory feel to it. I’m not sure if it’s because of the ominous turn the story will take with Oryx’s arrival, or the personal anticipation of a better game, but all in all, Destiny has recaptured my attention.

Let’s hope it holds up. A slew of new games are about to hit in the fourth quarter this year – I personally am excited for Battlefront and Halo 5. With limited time to play, it’s going to be a lot harder to sort out what game to slot in with my friends. If Destiny can keep moving upwards, I may well find myself more of a Guardian than a Spartan or Imperial.

Only time, and the Taken King, will tell. Until then, time to grab the Light and take down the latest threat to our solar system.

See you on the Dreadnaught!