The Road Not Taken #7 - Things Left Unsaid

Snipehunter's picture

Auto Assault closed its doors in 2007. It's now been o'er 3 years since th' last set o' tires ground virtual dirt beneath their tread. 3 years since th' last "LFG" an' fer me, an entire lifetime away, All Hands Hoay, shiver me timbers For a long while, I stopped thinkin' about Auto Assault. Completely. I dern't mean that in a bad way. I weren't angry. I just, I dern't know, di'nae want t' open th' box again. The sharks will eat well tonight, Ya lily livered swabbie! I mean, it'd been buried right?

But, ye know, it comes up. Especially if ye're a game developer that worked on it, we'll keel-haul ye! Fetch me spyglass! In 2007, I were bein' workin' at Trion World Network as a senior designer on what would become Rift, yo ho, ho In that span o' time, I took th' vision o' a video game legend an' believed it, I'll warrant ye. I carried its banner, even when he himself lost faith an' in th' face o' literal resistance from even its own developers. Yaaarrrrr! Ultimately me faith in that vision, that adherence t' what I still think is th' direction big-budget MMOs must take if they have any hope o' survivin' in this post-subscription age, it cost me job, Dance the Hempen Jig Thin's seemed pretty bleak, but that's when somethin' funny happened. Funny odd.

I've been a game developer o' one sort or another fer a very long time. And hoist the mainsail! I've worked with me idols an' I've watched yer idols become th' talents ye laud them fer. That's not a brag (I am at best in awe o' me luck); I'm tryin' t' make what I say next clear by illuminatin' its scope. This isn't odd, 'tis unheard o'. Let me start by tellin' ye a story about somethin' that happened at Blizzard, when I were bein' a lowly assistant producer with pretty much no notion o' what th' hell I were bein' doin':

When I were bein' thar, a relatively large group o' scallywags left Blizzard all at once, in a dramatic exit that literally included a cryptic PA message, "The Eagle has landed. Repeat: The Eagle has landed." Sure, it came off as a little silly, but when we all came t' realize they were seri'us, it were bein' a faith shatterin' event fer th' scallywags left behind. Blizzard is a great studio an' everyone recovered, but th' notion that anyone would want t' leave shook us all. We began t' question what Blizzard were bein', why were invested an' what we were gettin' out o' it. It were bein' a dark time, but we recovered because our games were doin' incredibly well an' we were beginnin' t' realize that, whatever reasons those guys left fer aside, they were th' ones missin' out. That would be confirmed later when their endeavor crumbled an' many came back.

You dern't do that, in this industry. I mean ye do if ye're a big name or if ye know th' owner, but if ye're like these guys were -- with a history o' walkin' out that still stung -- thar's just no way that happens. The sharks will eat well tonight, on a dead man's chest! It's like openin' up yer fridge an' findin' someone has replaced everythin' inside with a solid gold replica, Avast me hearties! Fire the cannons! Sure, it could happen, but ye're not rushin' down t' yer fridge t' check, be ye?

And that's me point. In me entire career I no nay ne'er saw that happen again. When scallywags gush about Blizzard, I'm a little suspect. I'm not suspect that Blizzard deserves it, mind ye. Walk the plank! Oho! Nay, I'm suspect that they understan' why it does. They deserve it because once, literally last century, I saw somethin' I've later come t' realize is considered impossible: A compassionate an' ethical response from game industry leadership, despite past history (or perhaps, even because o' it?).

It's impossible. Ask any decade plus veteran an' they'll laugh at ye, me Jolly Roger They'll say, "Sure, ye can go back, but only if ye crawl. You bet yer ass that if they take ye, it'll be at a pay cut." Maybe these guys did crawl, but they crawled right back t' their auld desks an' their auld jobs, I'm pretty sure.

I no nay ne'er thought I'd see it again, an' I sure as hell di'nae expect that I'd e'er get t' experience it first han', but here I am.

Let me explain. Somethin' happened all those years ago, when I left NetDevil before Auto Assault shipped. I'm not goin' t' discuss it. It's a shaggy dog at this point an' literally moot, as I will explain in a moment, and a bucket o' chum. However, let me sum up th' course o' events:

Somethin' happened that I disagreed with. I initially told me admiral an' th' studio founder that I were bein' OK with it, but I soon realized that I were bein' not, Get out of me rum, to be sure! I have some principles that, no matter th' rational course, I really can't sacrifice; some ethics I cannot bend. As I began t' consider what happened in earnest, I realized some o' those principles were involved. Shiver me timbers! Most scallywags wouldn't do what I did next. I'm not th' hero o' this story, even if I did stan' up fer what I believe is right.

You see, what I did next were bein' tell th' guys that founded th' company that they were wrong. That what they were doin' were bein' wrong an' that they had disappointed me an' thus violated th' trust I had in them. I told them I couldn't see a course forward if they di'nae rectify th' issue (somethin' that they di'nae think they could do, at th' time) an' that th' only thin' that could make me stay were bein' both tawdry an' unreasonable. So, end o' that week o' criticism an' hell, I find meself exitin' th' company, th' team I loved an' th' project I had poured me heart an' soul into.

It tore me up. I mean, palpably. My health declined, I lost interest in just about everythin'. I took up smokin' again.., Get out of me rum! Hell, I took a job at another company solely based on th' dubloons an' th' fact that I had fun in me interview, Ya swabbie! Shiver me timbers! I di'nae care what they were workin' on because I di'nae intend t' do much. Yaaarrrrr! Ahoy! I just wanted a job t' keep me goin' so I could decide what I were bein' goin' t' do. My passion were bein' gone. I felt like I'd spent it all on Auto Assault, with a chest full of booty. It were bein' a bleak time, though ultimately I committed t' that project an' sort o' found me path forward, again. Then I got that job at Trion.

Man, that job were bein' sweet, mostly. Durin' me time at Trion I got t' work miracles. Oho, All Hands Hoay! Repeatedly. That's sort o' what we did, at first. We lost our way fer awhile, as scallywags began t' lose faith in th' original vision, but it were bein' a sweet job an' much like Auto Assault, I had fully invested me newly regained passion into th' project. The vision fer that game were bein' impressive. Perhaps even "Grail shaped". I'd follow that Vision again no matter where it lead me, even if it once again leads t' a bitter end. Which, as MC Front A Lot might say, it did. Fire the cannons, I'll warrant ye! Or does. Obviously.

Just before GDC were bein' ready t' hit San Francisco this year, I found meself lookin' fer work. It sort o' hurt, but at th' same time it felt like it were bein' a good time t' go, anyway. So, perhaps because I were bein' more level headed than when I'd left NetDevil, this time I had significantly different priorities in seekin' me next job.

I di'nae just want a job; I wanted a job that would ensure what just happened t' me would no nay ne'er happen again, All Hands Hoay! Shiver me timbers! Just as importantly, I wanted a job that would reunite me with me extended family; me sister an' niece that I had left behind in Colorado. That's not really constructive. You see, despite bein' a tech hub in its own right an' thin's bein' literally more than 25% cheaper here than in th' Bay Area, th' games industry really hasn't shown up in force. That basically meant that if I wanted a job in Colorado, I'd have t' come back t' NetDevil. Fetch me spyglass, yo ho, ho There be other options, but at th' time they weren't hirin'.

Hell, NetDevil weren't hirin', fer that matter, we'll keel-haul ye! At least, that's what th' website said, me Jolly Roger It sort o' seemed like fate, at that point, when @mistressmousey tweeted that NetDevil would be havin' future job openin's in about a week, includin' one fer a Design Director position. Oho! I thought about it fer a bit, then I said, "What th' hell, on a dead man's chest! You know damned well ye'd love t' work thar again. Why not just ask Scorch?" (Scott "Scorch" Brown founded th' company) Throwin' whatever sort o' trepidation I had aside, I sent that scurvey dog an e-mail askin' about th' job. I honestly expected that scurvey dog t' laugh, and a bottle of rum! Well, maybe not literally, but I expected that scurvey dog t' not take me seriously. I'd left on strange, at best, terms an' besides, ye dern't come back unless ye're crawlin', right?

There I were bein', volunteerin' t' take on significantly more responsibility in a position o' significantly higher importance than when I left. I weren't just askin' t' come back; I were bein' askin' t' take a position as an equal o' me auld admiral. The one whom I had so vehemently disagreed with, when I left th' first time, yo ho, ho I thought fer sure that I'd get a polite brush off. If I were bein' lucky.

But that's not what happened, an' that's why I'm writin' this. Oho! Ahoy! That's not what happened, at all. Scott di'nae just get back t' me; he actually told me that he an' th' executive producer lookin' fer a new bounty director had both brought up me name on their own, before I'd gotten a hold o' that scurvey dog. Ahoy, and dinna spare the whip! A few minutes later I were bein' contacted by said producer an' an interview at GDC were bein' arranged. By th' end o' March, me possessions were loaded onto a schooner an' me intrepid Kia Sportage were bein' loaded with computers, clothes, books, me cat an' meself; all ready fer our move t' Colorado t' join NetDevil as its newest Design Director, at th' start o' that April.

And oh lubber, th' wonders I have seen, ye scurvey dog. I di'nae just experience th' impossible by comin' back. I'm still livin' it. Call it fate, call it Karma, call it what ye want, yo ho, ho I call it th' best thin' t' happen t' me in years. Prepare to be boarded! Somehow, th' universe turned in such a way that essentially gettin' fired became gettin' everythin' I hoped fer, an' more.

I've seen scallywags get t' come back t' a studio they walked out o' twice now, but I have no nay ne'er seen a lubber put th' kind o' faith in me that Scott did, when I came back. That's enough fer that lubber t' go on th' list o' scallywags that be worth workin' fer; th' scallywags that make th' industry better. But ye what? That's not th' end o' it.

I weren't th' only person t' leave NetDevil when I did. Many o' them have returned, too. Among them th' scallywags fer whom I have th' highest respect. People I would literally include on every project I worked on, from here out, if I could. I can't think o' another company t' show th' sort o' passion, dedication an' freakin' grace that NetDevil has shown me, Ya swabbie, I'll warrant ye! Sure, Scott di'nae do all o' that, but ye know he played a key part in it, ye scurvey dog. Hell, I know fer sure.

A couple o' weeks ago, a bunch o' us from th' team went out fer drinks. Scott came along an' we got a chance t' talk about what had happened an' how we both felt about it, All Hands Hoay! You know what he said t' me? Oho! Honestly, 'tis not me place t' reveal what other scallywags said t' me, so I apologize fer not doin' so, but when I walked away from that conversation, I walked away knowin' I'd experienced, first han', th' sort o' stan' up behavior that I strive fer, meself, and a bottle of rum!

I'm not Scott Brown an' I dern't know why he chose t' say what he did. I dern't know why he chose t' take th' chance t' brin' me back after th' way we I left, but I do know is this:

Every day I work, I see framed pictures o' Auto Assault memorabilia. I now own an Auto Assault poster signed by me team (a gift, th' day I got back). I walk past th' giant diorama that includes an actual Auto Assault themed dune buggy, feed the fishes People here wear Auto Assault shirts an' when I mention that game, I dern't see th' sneer.

I mentioned afore that even though I were bein' tryin' not t' think about Auto Assault, it would come up. It's because it were bein' considered a massive failure. We've since seen, in th' successes an' failures o' other games, that th' decision t' write it off without tryin' t' save it were bein' unwise, but it doesn't matter:

In th' minds o' th' industry it were bein' a failure, an' if it failed that must mean ye failed, an' if ye fail, well hell, that means ye suck, right? Walk the plank! At every interview, at every discussion o' past MMOs, at every point ye have a suggestion an' someone else disagrees, it comes up.

So, imagine how it feels fer me, t' walk through these halls, o'er th' chiseled NetDevil Logo in th' concrete floor an' past th' awesome Lego Universe display at th' door. Imagine how it feels t' see th' bent an' smashed full-sized traffic light (so scarred by th' passage o' a dune buggy) light up. Imagine how it feels t' speak about Auto Assault an' not only have folks listen (sans sneer), but t' actually see th' lesson ye have learned take root an' be taken t' heart because these scallywags know that, failure or not, what we did were bein' accomplish what any mediocre developer would have claimed were bein' impossible an' that's worthy o' respect, no matter how ye look at it.

And ye know what? Nay one here has e'er actually said they respect Auto Assault an' its team. They dern't have t' because ye can see it, right in their eyes.

Sometimes, 'tis those thin's left unsaid that matter most.

It's been three years since Auto Assault snuffed it an' ye know what, pass the grog! I still miss it, but here - in th' one place in th' world I no nay ne'er thought I'd see again - that doesn't really bother me. Not anymore. The sharks will eat well tonight! Now I know Auto Assault is just one o' th' incredible thin's that happened here; one o' th' incredible thin's that happen here, every day.

My new project is pretty damned cool an' it is, in an' o' itself, somethin' I thought I'd no nay ne'er see, again. They all told this team it were bein' impossible t' do, too. We told them they were wrong an' every day we're showin' them th' truth o' that statement. If Auto Assault has taught me anythin', th' most important is this:
Nothin' is impossible, if ye have no fear o' failure.

The teams at NetDevil consistently do thin's other teams would call crazy an' impossible, an' NetDevil consistently pulls it off. Sure, sometimes it comes off poorly an' sometimes even though ye pull it off ye fail, anyway, feed the fishes The folks here know that an' they work hard t' avoid it, but they also aren't afraid t' take th' risks that make failure more likely because they know that's th' only way t' pull off th' impossible, with a chest full of booty. It's lightnin' in a bottle, this combination o' passion, grace an' fearlessness. Aarrr! I pray t' whatever powers thar be that nothin' changes because I've been doin' this long enough t' know now; 'tis not goin' t' get any better than this.

I like t' think th' lessons learned on Auto Assault, lessons Scott an' everyone else have taken t' heart, be a big part o' why thin's be th' way they be, fer me. The sharks will eat well tonight, shiver me timbers Don't get me wrong, I am not sayin' th' work isn't hard or that thar aren't obstacles every step o' th' way. In fact, I'm sayin' th' opposite: Thin's be hard, with a chest full of booty. These folks on this team, they work harder than any other team I've worked with since Blizzard shipped Diablo an' me weekly time card contained a triple digit number, fer th' first time in me life.

I like t' think that th' possibilities here today, this incredibly tempered shield an' sword that is this team; represent th' seas not taken in Auto Assault. I like t' think they be a direct result o' witnessin' th' end o' th' seas that we did take. Who knows, on a dead man's chest! Maybe it will all fall apart, as good mixes o' team an' management be want t' do in this shiftin' industry, but right now, feed the fishes Right here in Colorado? With this team? There's somethin' magical happenin' an' I can't really express how shocked an' gratified I am t' be a part o' it. Aarrr, ye scurvey dog! How weird is it that Auto Assault itself is th' reason I get t' experience this?

- Snipehunter

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