Early morning, a weekday, May 2010. I’m stalking the elevators at Future Publishing’s offices in San Francisco.
A series of sometimes scruffy, usually bespectacled journo types spill out of the elevator doors. Two things greet them; there’s me, looking excitable in a t-shirt for my then-employer, Gazillion Entertainment. Then there are my new friends - Spider-Man, Wolverine, Storm and Captain America.
Along with our PR folk, I’m here to introduce Super Hero Squad Online, Gazillion’s first game. We brought our friends from Marvel to help break through the cynical outer shells of the average game journo and to hopefully get some good photo ops.
It works. Inevitably after the initial eyebrows-to-ceiling moment, almost everyone wants a picture. Yours truly included.
In a brief lull in the journo parade, I ask our photographer for a snap. Marvel’s finest are enthusiastic, as they are with every single person who sees them that day. “Stand right here between us,” Captain America tells me. I can’t refuse an order from Cap, so take up my position.
I’m strangely nervous. Truth is, I kind of hate being in photos. I feel stiff, unnatural. Standing next to four superheroes in full costume doesn’t help. “I guess should pose like a super hero,” I say, laughing to myself.
“That’s right!” Spider-Man says. “But which hero are you going to pose as?”
My hands spring out instantly, middle fingers pressed to my palms, just like I’ve seen Peter Parker do on the printed page a million times.
“GREAT choice!” Spidey yells, adopting the same pose. The camera focuses, and suddenly I’m not only smiling, I’m grinning - beaming from ear to ear, my inner ten-year-old grabbing hold of me. Grinning like a man who’s been asked to pose for a photo by Spider-Man.
Yeah, I know what really happened that day. I know that the guy standing next to me in the Spider-Man suit was just a very friendly and remarkably spry actor. For a split second though, it felt real - or maybe just wonderful.
Either way, it gave me the biggest smile I’d felt in years. It was a fantastic day, as I got to see the effect that these costumes, these characters had on every single person we met. No one asked them who they were. No one asked them what they were doing – fighting crime, obviously! We didn’t need to say anything. They all knew.
For that entire day I felt like I was part of something bigger than any of us – a shared myth, a shared universe we’d all imagined together from countless comics, TV shows, cartoons, games and movies. That feeling was why I signed on to work on games based on Marvel characters.
It’s also why, in part, I’ve signed on to do it all again.
I’m back at Gazillion Entertainment, back working on Marvel games again, and I’m really happy about it. Just like when that photo was taken, I’m also strangely nervous about it - but I think if Spider-Man were by my side, he’d probably tell me “GREAT choice!” once more. But then, he’s biased.
Some of you may be wondering why I made this move, although if you read the above and you’re any kind of fanboy, I hope you get it. I did have other choices and could have gone elsewhere, but there are no guaranteed choices in this industry. The future of gaming isn’t certain and a ‘job for life’ doesn’t exist. All you can do is follow your passion and your heart and hope it leads somewhere great. That’s what I’ve done for my entire career, and I’m not going to stop now.
Ultimately working in the games industry is a rollercoaster ride, where you hope that the highs are better than the lows. I’ve hit those highs plenty of times. Now I’m back climbing the lift hill, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
With my metaphor quotient for the day exhausted, let’s talk about what I’m working on. One launched game, one upcoming.
The already-launched game is Super Hero Squad Online, and it’s doing pretty well, thanks. If you have kids or feel you’re young at heart yourself, why not give it a go? It’s free, runs in your browser via Unity, and is a lot of fun – try the card game!
If you see yourself as more of a ‘core gamer’, then you’ll probably be interested in our next project, which is Marvel Heroes. It’s a Diablo-style action MMOG that’s being overseen by the co-creator of Diablo, David Brevik, and lets you play as a Marvel character – from the big guns like Iron Man, Spider-Man and Wolverine, to lesser known heroes. In case you didn’t know, Marvel Heroes will also be free to play - no box to buy and no subscription required. That doesn’t mean we’re compromising on quality, however. There’s a great team working on it and, in my opinion, it’s shaping up really well.
If you want to hear me talk a lot more about this, then you can tune in to Episode 84 of the TORWars.com podcast, where Jeff and Brian grill me about the game, my move and more. Give it a listen.
Last but not least, I want to sincerely thank everyone across the Internet who asked me what I was up to next, thanked me for my work, or just said ‘hi’. I guess I did rely on the comfort of strangers for a while there, and your words meant more than you realize.
Enough rambling; I’ve got plenty of work to do. I hope you join me on my next adventure in gaming, as I think we’ll have some fun. As always you’ll find me on Twitter, but also on Google+, this Tumblr and answering questions on Formspring.
Speaking of questions, I have one more announcement. Lots of people have asked me for advice on getting into the games industry, so I am writing a book about just that.
More, as always, soon.