If you are a fan of the upcoming X-Box game, MASS EFFECT, by BioWare, then you undoubtedly know about their recent celebration in Edmonton, Canada, for the game’s release. I was lucky enough to have been invited to attend the festivities and all the fun leading up to it. There are simply no words to describe the excellent time I had up in Edmonton with BioWare. “Awesome” is the only word that even comes close!
I wanted others to get a glimpse of all the fun, too, which is why I’m writing this blog! A good time was had by all, and I have some pictures to prove it. I think I even have something with Stanley Woo drinking tea with a billy-goat. No, wait… I have to save that one for my expose in the Game Inquirer (“Inquiring Gamers want to know”). I’m afraid that goes for the picture of Chris Priestly and a monkey named Wanda as well. *Sigh* You’ll just have to make do with these interesting shots of our crew from the Mass Effect , BioWare and Pandemic communities having a radically great time with the BioWare staff!
WHO AM I?
I am a long-time fan of the BioWare game company. I have been on their forum for about the last five years, under the highly unoriginal handle of “Michael_Patty.” Perhaps you’ve seen a few of my silly posts. I have been a member of the Mass Effect forum pretty much since it was made public. I like to think that some of them were insightful, but more likely they were mostly drivel mixed with fan-boy enthusiasm. So much for my aspirations to be a world-renown writer. 😀 I am from Idaho. I have three lovely children and a beautiful wife.
DAY 1 (November 4th, 2007)
DEPARTURE (4:30 AM MST)
What is there to say? My road trip began from the modest little burg of Pocatello, Idaho (USA). Yes, you’ve probably never heard of the town. It’s in the middle of nowhere. In fact, I’m pretty sure that in the dictionary under “obscure” you’ll find Pocatello listed there. Possibly even the entire state of Idaho. If there is hip, cosmopolitan center of exitement in the universe, this is the furthest point away from it. You get the idea. And, yes, I did say “road trip.” Very astute of you to notice. Even though BioWare generously paid for my flight to Edmonton (and my hotel, food, etc… Thanks BioWare!), the nearest International airport is in Salt Lake City, Utah. For those that might not be familiar with the “geography of places you’ll probably never go to nor need to know about,” that’s actually SOUTH of Pocatello. So, yes, I drove south to go north. If birds navigated like that they’d have all frozen to death long ago.
The trip to Salt Lake City was pretty uneventful. A hairy looking hitchhiker was the most exitement we had along the journey. The scenery was exceedingly dull. Sagebrush, sage-brush, and more sagebrush. Oh, and look! More sagebrush… “Are we there yet?”
Well, enough about the trip. I drove. I flew. I got there, mostly in one piece (though if that airplane had been any smaller, or the guy next to me any bigger, I’d have been folded in half). Surprisingly, we were not abducted by aliens, kidnapped by wild-eyed terrorists nor forced to eat cheese. It was pretty uneventful, actually…
|Here’s me at Salt Lake City International Airport, all ready for my big adventure. My lovely and charming wife was behind the camera. She was very supportive about me taking this trip, and I wanted to just take a minute to say, “Thanks, Hon!” 🙂|
ARRIVAL (1:30 PM MST)
Ever been shopping with two of the staff from Bioware? No? Didn’t think so. Oddly enough, that’s exactly what DeadManSaloon and I got to do. The infamous Stanley Woo and the Evil Chris Priestly took us for an entertaining tour of the West Edmonton Mall. I even got some tips from Chris on picking up souvenirs for my wife. I must admit, that mall is AMAZING. It has a huge indoor pool, as well as an indoor “Disneyland-like” amusement park. Best of all, there was a triple loop roller coaster. I don’t know about YOUR hometown, but we don’t get things like that there where I come from… And here I left my camera in the hotel room. *Curses!*
DINNER (6:30 PM MST)
That evening BioWare treated us to some delicious fare at the hotel restaurant. All of the folks from the communities and gaming blogosphere (I’m going to call them collectively “the crew” from here on) got to know one-another.
|Here we see Jay Watamaniuk (the bald fellow) and Stanley Woo (to the right of the bald fellow) demonstrate how their work at BioWare has made them so fast that the world blurs around them. Then again, it could just be that my camera is crap and can’t handle sudden motion. You just never know. Also pictured here are X-Box blogger “Knuckles Dawson” (the horribly blurred “thing” to the left) and Mikel Tidwell, founder of RPGamer.Com (the fellow on the right, shaking his head at BioWare’s antics).|
|Here’s a much better picture of Knuckles, Jay and Stanley. I made them turn off their super-speed for this shot.|
|And more of the crew. I’m not naming them this time. Mostly because I am horrible with names, and I can’t remember half of them. So sue me.|
|Lastly, the Evil Chris Priestly waits for the upcoming feast. Off-camera, the rest of us are just hoping he won’t cook us up and eat us. He is Evil, after all.|
READER NOTE: Higher resolution images of the pictures in this blog are available HERE.
DAY 2 (November 5th, 2007)
BREAKFAST @ BIOWARE (9:00 AM MST)
After a brisk walk from the hotel (it was below freezing, but as an Idahoan I’m pretty used to cold), we made it to where the BioWare offices occupy the second, third, fifth and part of the fourth floors of an eight-floor office tower.
First, we had to check in at the front desk (once we were past the rather secure looking glass doors).
|Pictured above is the BioWare reception desk, where the lovely Crystal Ens reigns supreme. All who enter must pass her steely gaze (actually she’s pretty nice. I just wanted to say “steely gaze” somewhere in this blog entry — Oh, and sorry Crystal, I lied. Evil Chris did do the devil horns behind you.). Note the 360 degree recessed gunport mounted on the ceiling. It may be cleverly disguised as a ceiling vent, but don’t be fooled. At the touch of a button, any would-be “Mass Effect Thief” or “Dragon Age Spy” becomes patte for the next staff luncheon.|
We were then taken to the “Neverwinter Nights Room,” a conference/media room where we got the chance to gobble a continental breakfast while interrogating Chris Priestly and Jay Watamaniuk. Mmmmm. MASS EFFECT and Black Cherry Yogurt…
|Here’s the crew settling down at the press tables amidst the mad flashing of cameras (on the left, fiddling with his camera, is my main-man, DeadManSaloon. Beside him is -Nightlight-). We were just total shutter bugs, taking pictures of everything that moved…|
|…and a few things that didn’t.|
Chris Priestly then took us through a short demo of the game, including some highlights of the character creation system. By overriding acclaim, we all chose to see a female Shepard. Which is noteable in that there wasn’t a female in the entire crew. Just goes to show that your average male gamer would much rather watch a woman in third person perspective than a man. Need I say more?
|Look Out! Chris Priestly has the controller! Take it away before be puts someone’s eye out!|
I’d like to say that we interrogated Chris and Jay for hours about MASS EFFECT and grilled them within an inch of their lives, but the truth is that we were mostly like deer caught in the headlights. When they asked for questions, there was often an impressive silence before anyone would actually pipe up with something. But eventually the questions started rolling. And just then, in walk none other than…
|…the Great Old Ones themselves, Dr. Greg Zeschuk (left) and Dr. Ray Muzyka.|
Whoa! What do you say to THESE icons? Not much, as it turns out. They asked if we had any questions, but we were mostly too busy pinching ourselves to check if we were dreaming. So we listened to them talk about the game a bit, and then off they went to do something more important than visiting with a room-full of fan-boys. 🙂
But we didn’t have long to kick ourselves for not engaging the two doctors with our witty repartee, because a few minutes later almost ALL of game leads for MASS EFFECT walked in the door and sat down at the front of the room. Woot!
|The MASS EFFECT leads take questions from the community crew (pardon the crappy quality of this shot. My camera was just not doing so well).|
|Preston Watamaniuk, Drew Karpyshyn and Casey Hudson.|
|And another of senior MASS EFFECT lead Casey Hudson.|
|Close-up of Drew Karpyshyn, lead writer for MASS EFFECT.|
|Close-up of Kim Hansen, Tech QA lead for MASS EFFECT.|
|Close-up of Derek Watts, art lead for MASS EFFECT (you have to be a TRUE artist to wear a shirt like that).|
After the question and answer period, we broke up for lunch at a restaurant on the bottom floor. Then it was off to a large and specially outfitted room, where BioWare had set up game stations for each of us, complete with wide-screen plasma TVs!
|Above is a photo of the outstanding set-up BioWare prepared for their community visitors (the image is super-grainy because I had to majorly tune-up the lighting so you could see the layout). The stations were laid out in a double-sided “L” pattern, and you can’t see half of them in this pic..|
|Here’s a close-up of my station. MINE, all MINE. My Precious…|
We were told to sit down and start playing. Woot!! Never have instructions from on high sounded SO sweet!
We played for hours! Many of the crew got pretty far in that time. Myself, I didn’t get very far past the prologue because I kept re-starting to try different variations (and, I admit, I had to restart once because I got nuked. Damn those husks!). Just as well, since I didn’t want to ruin my OWN playthough when I have the Limited Edition in my greedy little hands.
|Watch the fat man play! Here’s me raptly caught up in the raw intensity of the game (nah, it was staged. But there were definately moments where I was indeed engrossed beyond all human measure). If I had to sum up the experience in one word, a word that says everything sweet about this game, that word would be “Immersion.” This game had me completely immersed in the MASS EFFECT universe from the get go..|
I’d finally decided, “to heck with it, I’ll just see how far I can get,” when they pull me off the game station to take me and others from our group on a tour of the BioWare facilities. DOH! Such a dilemma. BioWare tour, or play MASS EFFECT. ARG! Fortunately, Chris and Jay took the decision out of my hands and dragged me, kicking and screaming, on the tour.
On the tour, we got to see some glimpses into the amazing lives of game developers, with Chris as our tour guide.
|Here’s the BioWare brag wall. And boy do they have a LOT to brag about..|
|Some concept artwork along the walls from various games. Nothing sweeter than concept art!|
Also along the walls were a huge number of early cover versions for the game. Here are a few of them:
Much of the staff for MASS EFFECT has already moved on to other games by the time of our tour, though we did see the QA team working on something that looked suspiciously MASS EFFECT related.
|We were told that this was the organizational calendar for MASS EFFECT team, where notes were put on tasks that needed to be completed by such-and-such date. It hangs poignantly empty now that the game has gone gold…|
Chris then took us through the BioWare break room. You have never seen such a break room! Every indulgence not found in the red-light district was there for the BioWare employees to enjoy during their down time. There were classic arcade games, a pool table, fooseball (how DO you spell that?), and more.
|I tell you, this place was INCREDIBLE!.|
|And there was a pin-up wall for MORE concept art. Woot!|
Then it was off to the Dragon Age floor, where mysterious and unnamable things are done in the name of gaming. Dark secrets I dare not share here (particularly in light of the NDA I signed). However, I did learn that [REDACTED] is developing a new [REDACTED] involving Stanley Woo’s [REDACTED], and possibly an entire host of [REDACTED] and [REDACTED], along with a large hairy [REDACTED] and an extremely bad case of [REDACTED].
Here’s a photo I snuck out using my hidden skull-cap cam…
|Sadly, Evil Chris blocked my shot with his meaty hand while Stanley disabled me and took my skull-cap cam with a brilliant Tai-Qwan-Do move. I still have bruises.|
Stanley then pretended to actually work for a while as our group passed safely out of the Dragon Age area, but I am certain I heard him break out the tea as we were leaving.
At that point, we headed back for a final half hour of playing the game (hey, I was taking advantage of every minute!). At 4:00 we finally put up the game (Jay’s pry-bar left more bruises). We checked out from the BioWare offices and headed back to the hotel to get ready for a fine dining experience, followed by the exclusive BioWare Mass Effect Party. YES!
DINNER @ MOOSE FACTORY (6:00 PM MST)
All of us gathered at the hotel lobby for our ride. Our ride turned out to be a tricked out bus/limo, so we rode to the “Moose Factory” in style.
|Here, the crew blows off a little steam during our ride in the Pimp Bus.|
|The back seats were snagged by myself and Chris Paladino, X-Box Live Online Community Manager. The best seats on the ride, if you ask me..|
|The crew and BioWare staff at the Moose Factory restaurant. It was indeed a fine eating establishment, and not a place for the manufacture of large wildlife.|
The steak I ordered was DELICIOUS! I just wish there had been more of it. Dinner was over all too soon, and we suddenly found ourselves in a rush to make the party.
BIOWARE PARTY @ TELUS WORLD OF SCIENCE (7:00 PM MST)
Oh, yeah! The fun begins. After a long day of gaming and touring BioWare, it’s Miller time…
This was one HOT party. The Telus World of Science is a huge science museum, and there were events on multiple floors, and free drinks at the bar. What more could you ask for? Why, some face time with the famous doctors of BioWare, of course!
|Here, myself and some of the crew got to spend some more time with BioWare founders Ray and Greg. DeadManSaloon and Nightlight are obscuring Greg a bit. You can still make out his head. I’ll take whatever I can get when it comes to THESE two guys!|
|Edmonton’s Finest guard the MASS EFFECT game from villainous cretins, hell bent on taking it. I asked him if he was willing to lay down his life for this great game, to which he seemed less than enthusiastic. But, hey! At least BioWare takes their security very seriously!|
|bigThinker (Ryan Timoney) from Pandemic seemed for a while to be bound and determined to beat the game that very night. He finally got nuked and let someone else take the controls. Not sure how it went down, since I left before I accidentally learned too much about the game as a spectator.<>What was truly cool about these two gamer stations they set-up at the party was that whatever happened in the game was put on these absolutely HUGE screens for everyone at the party to see. The screens must have been something on the order of 25 feet across! I took some pics, but they did NOT turn out. More’s the pity.|
|Here are four out of the 120 BioWare employees that worked on the MASS EFFECT game. The one on the right looks a bit too much like the Devil, which would explain why BioWare has such a Midas touch when it comes to successful and cool games. They were very eager to hear my opinion of the game. I’m not sure if my repeatedly saying “AWESOME” was precisely what they wanted to hear. What can I say? Ask a fanboy a question about the game he loves…|
|Ah, yes… The infamous poker game. See the lovely lady to Knuckle Dawson’s right? She was the life of that poker game. Let us just say that she’d had a teensy bit too much to drink, and the “F word” was bandied about quite a bit. Knuckles Dawson is sitting to her right getting very friendly and offering her poker advice. He was on her good list (mostly). To Knuckles’ left is Alastor, who eventually won the entire poker game. He was, sadly, on her “enemy” list, and got the “F” word the most (along with a few poorly aimed slaps). Myself, I got mixed treatment. A kiss on the hand at one point, and threats to “slit my throat” the next.It was all fun and games until she passed out and fell on her head within 5 feet of that stalwart police officer in the earlier pic. The paramedics put her in a taxi and sent her home. Probably for the best. If you can’t handle your booze, don’t drink. Just ask Stanley!|
Eventually the party wound down. Sadly, it was time to go home. My adventure was over (well, the good part, anyway. I did manage to leave my wallet in the taxi the next day, but that’s another and far less entertaining adventure…).
It was a blast. I’ll miss those BioWare guys. I hope I’ll have a chance someday to see them again.
Thanks for the good times!
READER NOTE: Higher resolution images of the pictures in this blog are available HERE.