Community Day Trip Report, Jan 25-27 - PICS!
Jan 29, 2007, 09:26 PM // 21:26
Doctor of Philosophy
Join Date: May 2005
Location: Pacific Northwest
Guild: Team Love [kiSu] www.teamlove.us
Community Day Trip Report, Jan 25-27 - PICS!
I just finished putting together this description of my trip. There will be more specific articles coming soon discussing other things that I saw and learned during the trip. The purpose of this report is just to give everyone an idea what the trip experience was like for me.
Exactly 2:00AM January 26, 2007
Its official - I am too excited to sleep. So instead I’ll just give up trying for a while and start working on my trip report instead.
Well first of all I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have been chosen to make this trip. Only because so many other great people at Guru are too busy was I chosen to come up and represent us. So before I say anything else I want to say thank you to Inde for letting me come, and thanks to all the past and present admins, mods, and users who make GWGuru the great fansite that it is. Without all of you and the hard work you have put in to help GWGuru achieve Elite Fansite status there would have been no invite from ANet in the first place! This is one of those once in a lifetime things for a gaming geek like me, and I didn’t do a damn thing to deserve it, except for being in the right place at the right time. Guess I’ll never win the lottery now as I don’t think I could ever be this lucky again!
For those of you keeping track at home, I intend to chronicle my visit in a couple different articles. The first one you are reading now. This one will be a basic trip report that describes my visit and interaction with folks at ANet. This probably won’t be of interest to a lot of folks, but I want to remember things myself so I might as well share. Besides those guys over at Team-iQ did it with their trips to Taipei and Leipzig, and I thought it was pretty good reading. In addition to this article I plan on doing one covering the Dev Roundtable (next up), one on the new Cantha event, one on the game development process in general, and perhaps a miscellaneous one coving bits and pieces of information that I picked up and don’t fit anywhere else.
Prior to the trip I collected hundreds of questions from people in a couple threads over the past couple weeks, and I did my best to break them down into categories and put some organization and prioritization to them. Then I tried to get a big picture view of what folks on both PvE and PvP sides of the house might be interested in and crafted a list of topics and questions that I thought captured the bigger picture. I sent some of the questions that I thought would require a little research on ahead to Gaile (since she asked for some topics in advance) and I did my best to get to the other questions as time permits tomorrow. We only had a couple of hours of question and answer time, and there were 6 fansites represented, so it was tough to cover much ground specific to my questions, though other fansites also had questions of interest to our members. Again I'll cover these in more detail and may even post the audio recording I made of the discussion. Okay back to the current article (or journal I guess).
Since according to Mapquest I live only 4 hours and 38 minutes from ANet HQ, I decided that it would make more sense for me to drive it instead of fly. The flight itself would be an hour or so, plus there is that 1 plus hour early you have to be to the airport, and then probably another hour through traffic to get from the airport to ANet. Factor in the uncertainty of the weather (sure enough it was foggy most of the way up) and air travel in general, and leaving when I wanted and coming home when I wanted seemed worth the extra hour or so of traveling by car. So I got approval from Gaile for renting a car.
I had wanted to get one of those new Ford Mustangs to check it out, but sure enough all they had was a Pontiac Grand Prix. The Grand Prix was a lot smaller than what I am used to and I kept bumping my head on the roof, but it turned out to be a fairly comfortable and uneventful ride. Even with short stop for lunch it took just around 4 and a half hours. I’ll admit though that I probably drove a bit faster than the Mapquest folks use as an estimate. The best part was that there was virtually no traffic until I was within 10 miles of ANet’s HQ. Which is a good thing since I really hate traffic.
So I got to the hotel around 2PM. It was easy to find since Gaile had sent a link to the hotel website and it had a picture and such. There was plenty of free parking too, which I really liked since I hate having to deal with parking attendants and hotel lots. Anyway the lobby of the hotel has this huge atrium that shimmers gold on the outside and lets in tons of natural light on the inside. That plus the glass elevators were really cool.
Picture of Hotel
Inside Hotel Lobby
It was really nice to check in and be told that the room was all taken care of. ANet went all out, which was especially cool since you know I probably would have paid for things myself to get a chance at this type of visit! Good thing this article won’t be going up until after I get back from my trip . . .
Anyway I got settled into my room and connected to the hotel wireless network to test it out. 36 – 48 Mbps and decent ping rates for GW. Looks like I’ll be able to GvG tonight after all! I sent an email to Gaile to let her know I made it. Sure enough around 3PM I get a phone call from Natasha, one of the other ANet folks. She has brought a gift for me and left it at the front desk! Well I race down there and just miss her by like 3 minutes. The gift was a black bag with my name on it, and inside was a collection of candies and snacks, along with a map of the area and a welcome letter from Gaile. It was nice to have some snacks instead of going to the overpriced vending machines! So I race up to my room and PM a friend and guildmate in GW (who happens to work at ANet now) what I just got and asked him if he could thank Natasha for me. Talk about timing, she was just pulling into ANet HQ! Later I she told me she was surprised how fast I got the thank you back to her!
After a couple more hours of surfing and making sure my GW and Vent connections were all set, it was time to head down to the lobby and await the ride to the restaurant. I got down there at the appointed time and happen to see another person down there looking like she is awaiting a ride so I introduce myself. Sure enough it’s the representative from GW Vault, Ezari. We chit chat some for a couple of minutes and then Gaile comes in (I recognize her from the Leipzig pictures). She informs us that the rest of the fansite representatives were a little late arriving (they all flew together from London) and we were to go on ahead with Natasha in order to secure our reservation at Trader Vic’s. It seems that Trader Vic’s is a pretty busy spot this time of night, and if someone doesn’t go to hold the table for 11 then they might let it go.
So myself and Ezari head off with Natasha, who just arrived as well. Trader Vic’s is an interesting restaurant. It has this nautical/South Pacific Tiki type decor, with lots of wicker and ships and stuffed fish and such. And the three of us are sitting in the middle of this huge table, in the middle of a somewhat empty restaurant. Gaile calls to give us an update that there are on their way and we are to go ahead and order some appetizers if we want. Being from the Northwest I really like Dungeness Crabs so I order the Dungeness Wontons. Ezari doesn’t do fish, so she orders some cheese things. She and Natasha also order some funky drinks. Natasha’s comes with a small parrot on a stick, which is actually quite cool. Ezari gets some peach flavored thing. I wasn’t really into the funky drinks as much (plus I figured there might be considerable drinking going on and I did have some GvGing to do later), I decided just on a Coke. The appetizers arrive and work on them as we chit chat more.
Ezari from GW Vault
Finally the rest of the group arrives, straight from the airport. Apparently it took a while to clear customs. There are two reps from Germany (Amun Ra and Kronos), one from France (Decapjour), and two from Spain (Thyng and Haku). Andrew, another ANet community rep is there as well, and so is his girlfriend because apparently the folks from Spain are not really comfortable speaking English and she can translate Spanish. We get situated with the two Spaniards, Andrew and his girlfriend Elizabeth on one end of the big table, Natasha, Ezari, myself and Gaile in the middle section (with Gaile on my immediate left) and the two Germans and one French fellow on the other side.
Andrew and Elizabeth
Gaile, Billiard, Amun Ra
And all of the Europeans are dead tired after making the nine hour flight from London to Seattle, plus the time change. I do my best to assist the German guys sitting next to me with the menu. They seem to have a good notion as to what they might like. I order the King Salmon, because I can never get enough fresh Salmon back home. Gaile also ordered six appetizers for the table. Three sets of jumbo prawns, and three sets of these mini shish-kabobs that you finish cooking over a small flame one the table. I took a couple pictures of us cooking over these, but none really showed the flame too well so I decided not to include them. There were pretty cool though.
As we eat the appetizers we make more chit chat. It’s at this point we start taking about guilds and GvGing and I find out that Ezari used to be in one of the XoO guilds! She tells me here in-game names and I vaguely remember the application and some forum postings by her. She was in one of our HA divisions (all the guilds in our alliance are part of our overall guild so we call them divisions to help keep things straight). Talk about a small world! We all talk some about the ladder changes, HA, 15K armor and whatnot. It was nice to get some different perspectives on things. Right before the main dishes arrive they bring some chopsticks out for Amun Ra seated next to me. He has no idea how to use them so I ask him if he wants me to show him. He’s a fast learner and gets it right away! But he decided to go with the fork anyway. All of the dinners were carefully arranged on their plates so everyone started taking pictures of their food. People in the restaurant probably thought we were nuts!
We ate and chatted about stuff. I am pleasantly surprised that Gaile is familiar with my guild and we talk some about the GvG and HA changes. She’s surprised to learn that we have a heavy emphasis now on HA play with a couple divisions dedicated to it and frequently winning Halls, since we have been known as a GvG guild for so long. I start feeling bad for monopolizing so much air time and shift over to the German and French fellows on the other side to learn about what they do as well as some things about their fansites. During dinner conversation Gaile mentions a couple interesting tidbits:
1) The daily GvG tournaments that had been discussed starting the end of January and not going to be coming in the next week. In fact they may not be coming in the next month either. I asked her if it was due to the dev team being busy trying to get the skill balances done and she said no, it was something else and started to explain why but got sidetracked. I follow up on this during the Dev Roundtable later.
2) Gaile also mentioned the buffing to assassins over the past testing weekend and it sounded like they were going to be coming soon, which gave me hope that skill balances were on their way. This is something else I follow up on later as well.
3) We also talked some about the relatively recent increase in Dev postings on fansites. This apparently has been an intentional effort in order to help answer questions and clarify things a bit more. Gaile mentioned how she and Alex and others read lots of fansites every single day to see keep in touch with what people are thinking and saying.
After we finish dinner a couple of the guys look like they are about to topple over from exhaustion. Some coffee and deserts are brought out, along with some fortune cookies. We all share what they say, except for Gaile. For some reason she gets stiffed and there is no fortune in her cookie! Mine says I have a pleasant surpise waiting for me - wonder what that is going to be!
Group at Trader Vic's
Group Outside Trader Vic's
We all head back to the hotel where the European guys still have to get checked in. I chat some with guildies and do a couple GvG’s before trying to head off to bed. Well now it’s 3AM and you can probably guess what I did between 2AM and now . . .
The rest of the story . . .
Okay its 8PM on Sunday the 28th and I have recovered enough to finish the trip report.
After finally crashing Friday morning at 4AM you would think that I would try to sleep in as long as possible. Well unfortunately it was not the case. I woke up at 8AM and started getting excited about the ANet tour. I got dressed and checked to see how things were going back on GWGuru and back in XoO. Nothing exciting happening so I went in game and chatted with some folks in XoO until it was time to go down and catch the ride over to ANet at 10AM.
When I got down to the lobby a couple of the guys were there already and we chatted some. Apparently I was not the only one who didn’t sleep much, a couple of the others woke up really early due to the time change. Anyway we all split up into different cars and drove the mile or so to the ANet facility.
ANet’s HQ is very unassuming. It’s at the very back of an office park, taking up most of a two story building. There is a long ramp going up to the front door, and there isn’t a sign anywhere to suggest it was their HQ. When we get there we follow a girl walking a large black dog. She goes right in the building with the dog and sure enough is one of the ANet employees. Inside we go through a door that requires a security pass to get in and find ourselves in a large room with several empty desks in the middle and offices and conference rooms ringing the edges of the large room. Gaile says that these desks are temporary workstations for international employees who often come to work on short term projects for ANet. Sure enough we see a couple of these guys working here later.
Our tour starts in a conference room where she gives us the lowdown on the place. Some areas we cannot take pictures and she’ll let us know where. She asks that if there is something questionable (either on a wall or on people’s screens) we should ask before taking a picture. We get started and come across a couple interesting things in the hall.
Spooky Was Here
Probably for most folks a whiteboard that says “Spooky was here” would not mean much, but it does to me. Spooky was one of the guys that helped start GWGuru in the first place and I knew he went to work for ANet. So just for kicks I decided to take a picture.
This was also sitting in the hall and I joked that it was a stand alone arcade version of GW – and no one refuted it! Anyway later I found out it was one of those games that can play lots of different arcade games and someone was just working on it and had not finished yet.
Everywhere we went there were drawings and pictures on the walls. Most of it was stuff that we had seen before or miscellaneous movie posts and such that people used as inspiration. In fact it was really rare to see any walls thay were plain and not covered with art.
In one room they had one wall just completely covered with different GW characters in all the different GW armors. I thought it was really cool so I took some pictures of it.
As we were going over towards Izzy’s office we came across a black and white picture that everyone had to take a picture of. I hope this is not too fuzzy to see. Izzy later said their were Leipzig and he was explaining something to someone when they took that picture.
Inside this area was Izzy’s desk, among a bunch of others. What I found really interesting is that while most people had 2 monitors on their desk, Izzy had 3 plus a laptop. Apparently he almost always has Observer Mode up to keep track of what is going on. Izzy later came in and started chatting with folks and getting to work. On this tour of the studio we really didn't stay anywhere long enough to talk much with folks, but later when they did the design demos we were able to spend more time talking to people. So it was kind of weird as Gaile introduced us to each new group of people and they all said hi and treated us well. All together there seemed to be easily over a hundred folks working while we toured.
Izzy's Work Area
In most of the work spaces people had all kinds of things on their desks or plastered to the walls for use as reference, inspiration, or whatever. It was like a huge pop culture collection in some places, with lots of movie figures, posters and such. On one set of shelves they had a bunch of old DnD manuals.
Inspiration from all over
Gaile showed us her office area. She had a huge collection of frogs that apparently were given by fans. She also had GW memorabilia from all over the world. And on a separate shelf she had some gifts from fans, including the plaque sent by the fansites.
Although ANet had a collection of awards and framed reviews and such in another area, this plaque was next to Gaile’s desk. She said it really meant a lot to her, so she kept it close by. Eventually they wanted to build a display case of sorts for everything, but it was still in the works.
In one of the last spaces we went to there was a neat collection on a table so I thought I would take a picture of it.
After an hour or so we headed over to the conference room for a roundtable with the devs. James and Eric where there as lead developers, Izzy and Colin were there as special event and balance reps I guess, and Gaile and Andrew were there as community reps. Jeff was there as well as a designer I suppose. It was really nice to put more faces to the names I had seen on various forums. A couple of us recorded the 1.5 hour meeting and I plan on writing a separate article about that, along with posting the file if I can compress it down from its current 173MB state.
Gaile, Eric and Jeff
Colin, Izzy, and James
After the dev roundtable we headed over to P.F. Chang’s for lunch. We all sat at a long table, and there were probably a dozen or so ANet devs and other staff there with us. I had brought along my original GW CDs and got everyone to sign them as we were waiting to be seated. Call me a fanboi if you want, but I didn’t want to pass up the chance to get so many developer’s signatures down on something I could display on my shelf when I got home. Anyway we all ordered a dish and then shared some with the folks around us (for those who don’t know P.F. Chang’s is a pretty nice Chinese restaurant and you get way too much food to just eat it all yourself). I made sure to sit next to Izzy and we chatted some about the game, GvGing, training new people, skill balances, our kids, whatever. I really enjoyed meeting him and will try to get him to guest some with our folks since he’s on when we usually GvG. When we were done with lunch and outside I said something about cartwheels and sure enough Izzy did one! Too bad no one had a camera ready!
Lunch at PF Changs
After lunch we went back to the studio and they showed us some demos on how they create the various environments, monsters, player characters, and even dances. After that they gave us a preview of the new challenge mission that was going to be run during the Canthan New Year event. Since I plan on writing a separate article on each of these I won’t go into much detail now.
When we finished with the preview they ushered us back into the conference room and had a surprise for us. On a shelf the whole time had been a bunch of those oversized game boxes like you see in the store. Gaile told us each to go get one and look inside.
Each had a couple t-shirts, a hat, a set of skill pins, a folder, and a handful of demo disks. After I got home I took a picture of it all so you could see it more clearly.
After the preview we headed back to the hotel to drop off our stuff and then all got into a van going the Gameworks in Seattle.
For those of you who don’t know what Gameworks is (I didn’t before this trip), it’s a huge arcade that has tons and tons of games, both old and new, along with a restaurant and a bunch of simulator type rides. They play lots of music throughout, and have a bar upstairs. So it’s a lot like an arcade for adults, and sure enough at 10PM anyone under 18 has to leave.
ANet reserved the entire restaurant area for us and their employees. Gaile handed out tickets for alcoholic drinks to everyone, along with a game card that allowed unlimited game play for 2 hours. On top of that, they had a buffet of all kinds of food in the restaurant along with tons of stuff to drink. You could go game and come back and snack and drink whenever you wanted. I was thinking that this was the kind of party we should be throwing where I work!
Anyway I sat and chatted with some folks, and sure enough guess who I find – Spooky! I never met or talked to the guy before, but someone introduced us. I figured I better get a picture of him for the folks back in GWGuru.
Anyway I wandered around and played various old and new games until the tendons in my hands and my wrists started to hurt from all the button mashing! Morello kicked my butt in Tekken, and that was even with a busted button on his side of the machine! I noticed the Spanish guys were playing a lot of tennis, and the other guys were doing a lot of driving games.
I even came across Izzy playing a rafting simulator.
After a couple of hours we loaded everyone back in the van and went back to the hotel. I GvG’d for a couple hours and chatted with guildmates for a bit before crashing really late again.
The next morning I went down to the lobby and had coffee with a guildmate of mine who now works for ANet as a writer. It was really cool to see him again (I had come up in August right after he first got hired), and he brought his wife along too so it was nice to meet her as well.
Sean and I
Eventually all the other fansite representatives came down as they were headed to Seattle to sightsee some. Gaile finally came to pick them up and we all said our goodbyes. The time really flew and I had a really good time. But I was also glad to get going home.
After my friend Sean and his wife left I packed up my stuff and checked out. Getting home took an hour or so longer due to heavier traffic, but it was pretty uneventful. The drive down gave me a chance to listen to the recording I had made of the Developer Roundtable, which was a good way to refresh some of my memories of the trip.
Anyway that’s a summary of my trip to ANet for the Community Day. I know there were probably a lot of things that wont’ interest folks in this, but I wanted to do my best to paint the picture of what it was like. I’ll work on the other articles as quickly as I can, but it will take a while to get them written and out the door. The first one I plan on doing is the Developer Roundtable and I’ll try to get that one done by next weekend.
In closing I just want to say thanks to Gaile and the rest of the folks at ANet for being such great hosts and treating us really special while we were there visiting. It was once in a lifetime opportunity and I will always cherish the memories of the trip.
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