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I was looking for a video of Jamie Lidell's awesome performance at the Royal Festival Hall, and stumbled across Apollo Pony, a "filter videoblog of aggregated content now playing around the internet (i.e. stuff that we like)". In short, it is a page filled with cool videos, for a wide variety of definitions of cool.

Blade Runner on DVD at last

The Digital Bits has a report about the real director's cut of Blade Runner which is finally coming to DVD. And to the cinemas!

Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies evar. When I bought a DVD player in 1998 (for 850 Euros! and I considered myself not an early adopter), I had already heard rumors of a 'true' director's cut, so I never bought the existing edition of Blade Runner on DVD - in fact, I think I haven't watched it since then.

This coming September, there will be a new limited DVD release (HD-DVD & Blu-ray Disc are also planned) of the restored 1992 Director's Cut (you know... the one that isn't really a director's cut). This will be available for just four months. We believe this is basically the 2-disc release that Warner had originally planned to bow LAST year. Then next year, just in time for the film's 25th anniversary, Ridley Scott's ultimate Blade Runner: The Final Cut will hit theaters for a limited run. This will be a REAL director's cut, with restored scenes and more - all the stuff that Ridley's always wanted to do with the film but hasn't really been given the chance to do before. That will be followed later in the year by an Ultimate Blade Runner DVD release. You can expect a multi-disc box set (again, likely with a simultaneous HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc release) that will contain at least four different versions of the film... ALL in full anamorphic widescreen, we might add. You'll get the film's original U.S. theatrical cut, you'll get the expanded international theatrical cut, you'll get the 1992 Director's Cut and you'll get the new Final Cut as well. Now... we realize at this point, you may have questions. Keep in mind, there's a TON of additional material that's going to be included in this set that hasn't been announced and can't be talked about yet - all-new material that you've never seen before. The set is pretty early in the planning and production stage, so it's way too early to talk details, but trust us... some very cool stuff is in the works. These extras will likely be different from the September '06 release, so if you buy both you'll at least be getting your money's worth.

No strong link to interactive entertainment. Blade Runner has had a strong influence on video game aesthetics - too much so perhaps, although the industry is not as maniacally mono-cultural as it used to be. Cyberpunk - the 'classic' cyberpunk of Blade Runner and Neuromancer - is passé now. I have strong nostalgic feelings about it - dystopian cityscapes are somehow comforting compared to post-Singularity transhumanism, plus it reminds me of the eighties. It might be fun to do a cyberpunk game some time. I don't think it's been properly done yet.

Steve Jobs' commencement speech

Again, I'm clearing out my tabs. Steve Jobs' commencement speech. I don't know when he gave this or at which university.

Sometimes life's going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love, and that is as true for work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking, and don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it, and like any great relationship it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking. Don't settle.

It is probably hard to not link this to recent events in my life. But I've had this tab open for about 6 months, and I've had similar beliefs for a long time. The temptation to do something safer, or easier, or more lucrative than what I am trying to do comes around once in a while. But so far, I've been able to resist. Life would be too boring otherwise.

Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college, but it was very, very clear looking backwards 10 years later. Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something--your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever--because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well- worn path, and that will make all the difference.

Chulip for Playstation 2

I need to close some tabs: Firefox is becoming a drag on my computer.

1UP has a preview of a weird Japanese game called Chulip.

There are two types of people in Long Life Town, the folks above ground like yourself, and the inhabitants of the underground tunnel system. On the surface, they couldn't be any more different from one another, but if you peel back a few layers you'll quickly discover what they all have in common: their inability to love.

This is where you, the poor boy with an unhealthy obsession about a girl he's never met, come into play. In order to be accepted by the girl of his dreams, Bort has to mature to the point where he can truly express his feelings in a way befitting of a man. To do so, he'll have to discover what it is to love by socializing and eventually kissing the population both above and below ground.

What's not to like? Note that the innovation appears to lie almost entirely in the meaning or aesthetics (in MDA terms) and not in the mechanics. Which is good: known mechanics make for better accessibility, allowing the 'message' to be conveyed. The setting and style and theme are where the originality lies.

Rockstar Vienna closes its doors

This morning, as I came into work, I was greeted by security guards. It turned out Take-Two has closed their Rockstar Vienna office, effective immediately, "due to the challenging environment facing the video game business and our Company during this platform transition".

This is the first time in 15 years that I've been laid off, or have had the place where I work shut down. Before now, I have always seen the writing on the wall in time and have gotten out before anything drastic happened. So this is kind of a new experience for me.

This being Europe, I am not going to be living under a bridge tomorrow, but nevertheless this is a big upheaval. As far as I know, Rockstar Vienna was the biggest game development studio in Germany and Austria, with over a hundred employees.

Many of my coworkers - those with families and houses, those with roots in Vienna, those who invested many years of their lives in this company, those who moved here from abroad - are in difficult positions. There are few game development companies in Vienna. In the last year or so, several have let people go, merged or closed down. One hundred people will not easily find new jobs in the games business here.

For me, it comes as a relief. From January till October of 2004, I was the producer on a project here. In May 2005, I rejoined that project as a level designer. This was supposed to last a few months at most, but the project took longer and longer, and over time, I grew more and more unhappy. I cannot explain why in detail, as I cannot reveal the nature of the project (and I may never be able to), but my responsibility for the work I was doing was reduced bit by bit, until the work became utterly meaningless. Although I barely worked 8 hours a day, and usually less, this drained me both physically and emotionally. (And it also made me very crabby, which can not always have been easy for my poor coworkers.) I don't blame anyone in the studio for this, but I am glad it's over, even if nearly two years of effort was for nothing.

Obviously, I could not have talked about this on this blog, not even if I had left, which I had been seriously considering. So this explains my reduced posting frequency on this blog over the last few months. I guess by now I can say that if I am not posting, I am probably not happy. It is hard to be enthusiastic about your medium and your profession when your work is deeply unsatisfying, and it is hard to talk about what could be done in games if you feel absolutely powerless to implement any idea you have.

About a month ago, Dan Cook of Lost Garden wrote an excellent post on the joys of leaving the games industry. And for the first time in fifteen years I seriously considered it. Not all of the reasons Dan lists applied to my situation. Rockstar Vienna was better run than most game development studios. The first factor that really resonated with me was:

A general lack of exciting projects: The chance of working on a truly meaningful game project that changes the world is slim. I’m an oddball in that I enjoy making games with interesting new game mechanics. Churning out sequels with mildly upgraded graphics does not seem like a worthwhile way to spend my life. This isn’t insurmountable, but it does reduce the number of viable opportunities.

This may seem strange. Rockstar Games! They have the hottest brands in the industry. That was exciting for a while. But I wanted to do things that push the medium, and that was just not happening for me. Ironically so, since Sam Houser really wants to push the medium too, and I respect him for it. Somewhere in between, something got lost.

The second factor was:

Making the world a better place: The applications I build now help people in a very concrete way. I like that warm fuzzy feeling. I was talking to a fellow lapsed game developer who now works in 3d imaging in the medical field. He told me “The work I do now saves people’s lives. You can’t beat that.” There is a moral core that is missing from the game development community that exists in other industries, even in other entertainment sectors. In movies, you can still make documentaries that right past wrongs. In books, you can seek to help and enlighten. In games? I wonder.

This is hopefully a bit more understandable. The Hot Coffee brouhaha, ridiculous as it was in many respects, did nothing to increase the popularity of Rockstar Games both inside and outside of the industry. Whichever way you look at it, game development has become a bit harder for everyone because of that incident.

About a year ago, I was sitting in a taxi with three other people, on our way back from a wedding party. One of them worked for the UN agency that runs the worldwide monitoring network that can detect whether someone is doing underground nuclear tests. One of them was a domestic violence counselor. One of them was a teacher in one of the toughest high schools in New York. And one of them was making violent video games. That was me.

Last Friday, I was at the FMX in Stuttgart. I had the good fortune of sitting next to Dr. Paul Ekman at dinner. I like to think I can make a decent contribution to most discussions, but in this case I was happy to sit there and listen to him talk about psychology and ethics and his conversations with the Dalai Lama. The dinner was sponsored by Nvidia, and at some point their worldwide marketing manager for film came over to say hi. She introduced herself to Dr. Ekman, who asked her who she was. Upon being told, he asked: 'And what does your company do?". This made me laugh. Not at Dr. Ekman, nor at the lady from Nvidia, who took it gracefully. It was a funny reminder that there is more than our tiny little industry.

Will I leave the industry? I don't know. So far, having my place of work shut down has given me energy. It's time to roll up my sleeves and start looking for something new.

If you know someone who could use someone like me, do let me know. I will work almost anywhere, but I can be a bit picky about projects and companies. And if you know someone who is looking for good people in Germany or Austria, let me know too. I know several who are looking for a job.

Update: My blog is read by more people than I suspected :). After writing this, I went to an outside beer garden here in Vienna to have a drink or two with my former coworkers. It turned out people had browsed to my site on their cell phones and had read this entry out loud to the others. I guess my need to blab about stuff as soon as possible was wider known than I thought.

It's also been linked to on Gamasutra and Wikipedia (and no, I didn't put that in myself).

I've also gotten several head-hunting emails.

(If you're reading this and you used to work at Rockstar Vienna: there's a bulletin board for former employees. Contact me if you want to know the URL.)

Update 2: Criminy, this is on Gamespot now too. And for once most of my incoming links are not Google searches on 'WoW nude patch'. Rockstar Games so does not like not having control over outgoing information. Under different circumstances, I'd worry about losing my job.

(To the guy who said the closure was no great loss cause we never made games for Nintendo platforms: I actually thought that was funny.)

Here is some commentary from Leander Schock, another former coworker and a great guy.

Still no official press release (as of 1 AM).

Update 3: I'm moving some info from the comments here, so they don't get lost and because it's hard to see who wrote what (which no-one ever pointed out to me before, grmbl).

A couple of notes: Austrian labor law basically doesn't allow one to put people on the streets right away. We're getting paid for a while yet. From what I've seen and heard, the two founders of the studio are bending over backwards to make this process more humane than is absolutely required. We did receive information on possible jobs in other T2 studios, on recruiters, etc. It's not the most lavish process, but it's something.

I think the way the layoff was handled makes sense, within the context of a typical public company. You want to make the transition quick - it'll be a shock anyway, so why not make it as short as possible? Imagine if you'd known about it for weeks but couldn't have told anyone... terrible. You want to make sure people don't do anything stupid and you want to protect your assets, hence the security guards. It's assuming the worst of people, but at least you're safe.

On a higher level, you want to make sure the company is run efficiently, and you want to be seen running the company efficiently by shareholders. Capitalism at work - T2 opening a studio in Shanghai fits nicely somehow.

Naturally, down in the trenches it feels different, and it would've been nice to work for a company that handles this differently. But very few do.

The only criticism I can make is that this is a very drastic solution - if there was a problem, couldn't this have been foreseen earlier, and dealt with differently?

The closure has been officially confirmed now by Take 2. And that's all true from where I'm sitting.

Thanks for all the kind messages. I never imagined this blog post would hit pretty much every major gaming news site, as well as several Austrian mainstream news sites.