West Coast Trip

1/5 (12:57 AM)

I just flew in from Denver for Christmas break. I watched Into the Spider-Verse 3 times. Once with my girlfriend, once alone, and once with my family. It felt right, and it felt necessary. It’s a spectacular film with intricately detailed animation. Each frame feels like a panel of a comic. It’s oddly satisfying, like butter on warm toast but for your eyes, and it never lets up. Every 30 seconds there’s a tiny mark in the background that adds the extra shine needed for it to feel like a comic book. It never ceased to surprise me in terms of swag. Spider-Verse was the perfect gateway drug back into Insomniac’s Marvel Spider-Man every night that I could. But more on that in my review, here

Besides that, after watching Girlfriend Reviews on YouTube, I was able to convince my girlfriend, Alison, to start a new save in Breath of the Wild. In her doing so, I was able to retrace my thought process with every new piece of the world she interacted with. The old man on the edge of the cliff was the perfect chaperone into the world. He engaged her curiosity and asked if she wanted to know more about the wilds. It was fascinating to replay the game with this new set of eyes. In just 20 minutes she went from, “Noooooooo, fighting those things is annoying,” referencing a Bokoblin camp, to, “Get back here, you!” when a Hopper was too quick for her reflexes.

 1/6 (11:21 PM)

My most successful Disneyland trip yet is all thanks to my willingness to tap back into my childhood memories and lack of a visit since then. Reentering the park for the first time made me giddy with excitement, and I immediately made a run to California Adventure. I never got to go as a kid, so seeing Pixar Pier for the first time felt natural. Why wouldn’t Disney give Pixar their much-deserved attention and love?

Because of the Disneyland app and my willingness to splurge on the $15 MaxPass, I only had to wait in a normal line twice (Indiana Jones and Haunted Mansion) and those were each only 30 minute wait times. For the other dozen or so rides, I was using and abusing my MaxPass privileges. It felt like the walks across the parks took linger than the wait times themselves. Whether the spectacular theming in the lines, or just the sheer lack of people behind the FastPass entrances are to blame, my time at Disneyland felt breezy and efficient.

Incredicoaster was a great, tight coaster with solid drops and turns that gave me enjoyable butterflies. It was my first and second-to-last attraction. At night, all of Disney Pier was lit up, so the Ferris wheel gave me heavy Santa Monica peer vibes (great for tourism). We then jumped to the Guardians of the Galaxy/Tower of Terror ride. This ride was special because I had never gone on the original Tower of Terror attraction before its reskin, so I had no idea what I was getting into. I expected one large drop like most tall tower rides at amusement parks, so when the doors would open to a screen of Chris Pratt doing his Star-Lord thing, or Baby Groot doing his Baby Groot thing, I kept assuming the ride was over. I screamed every time it dropped, and I was having an absolute blast:

Front row, white shirt. I promise I’m enjoying myself.

Front row, white shirt. I promise I’m enjoying myself.

Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear ended up letting me down after the excitement that Guardians of the Galaxy brought me. I was having trouble with accuracy in Buzz Lightyear’s shooting gallery, and Star Tours felt like the old Back to the Future ride at Universal Studios (it is now defunct) which, at the time, was at least decently engaging. I slightly blame it on Kashyyyk, because Coruscant easily outshined it.

Then, it was time to hit up the classics. My Disneyland memories mostly consists of Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, and Haunted Mansion, so riding all three of them in succession was a trip down memory lane. To my surprise, these attractions have aged pretty well. I’m very sad to see the three door selection in Indiana Jones go, but the rest of the ride was still entertaining. Seeing Haunted Mansion with a layer of The Nightmare Before Christmas was impressive and fit well, but it just made me miss the classic ride even more when the final part of the coaster just turned me into a gingerbread man instead of a ghostly figure.

It is very easy for me to admit the highlight of my Disneyland trip. Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire at The Void is one of the most jaw-dropping experiences I’ve ever had. Within seconds of transforming into Stormtroopers our group of 4 turned into a pack of screaming boys. We were all in formation when the Empire was onto our plan, and when one of us would get shot, we could hear the terror through the intercoms. It’s everything I’ve hoped for in VR, and I’m glad to see Disney and The Void push VR as a medium into new forms with their dedicated venues.

We ended our trip with Toy Story Mania. It was a great end to my ETC-driven Disneyland trip because of Jesse Schell’s involvement in the attraction. Hearing him discuss some of his design challenges in class, then being able to enjoy the attraction as a Game Designer was intriguing. The game itself is satisfying throughout, and the lines theming made me feel like a kid opening a new toy on Christmas.

Overall, this was my most enjoyable Disneyland trip yet. Between the almost perfect weather (it sometimes got a little too chilly) and the sheer volume of attraction I got to experience, I can’t help but be excited for the rest of the West Coast Trip, and get to the important stuff: site visits.

1/9 (12:53 AM)

From Walt Disney Imagineering to Scopely, I’ve had the privilege of visiting a wide variety of design studios these past two days, and it’s not over yet.

WDI knew exactly who we were, what we were doing there, and the best way for us to be able to communicate with those in our fields of interest. It was the only location that every class member visited, because Imagineering has such a wide variety of roles. It was interesting to hear about the Game Design Internship they opened up from an ETC alum herself, because she was worried for her future. Disney didn’t have a proper “Game Designer” role for her, so she was unsure of her plans after it. Definitely something to keep thinking about.

The Activision Motion Capture studio was definitely a fan-boy geek-out moment for me. The tour felt geared more towards potential technical artists or riggers, but I still enjoyed the hell out of seeing a large mo-cap studio like that in person.

While at Ready at Dawn, I felt connected to the employees. The studio felt authentic and down-to-earth. It was great to hear the authenticity and passion in their voices when they talked about their work. Now when is Daxter 2 coming?

Scopely considered themselves as much a tech start-up as a game studio, so the tour seemingly showed off more about the space itself than the employees. It reminded me of the ETC in some ways, and I enjoyed it.

Tonight, we had an alumni dinner that opened my eyes to how real our connections were. The ETC has alumni across the board in all types of industry roles, and it was great to see them interact and joke with each other.

And now, in giddy preparation for the Naughty Dog tour, I’m rewatching Grounded: Making The Last of Us. Tomorrow morning, I’ll listen to Cory Barlog’s GameOverGreggy show guest appearance in giddy preparation for Santa Monica Studio. Not even two years ago, I never thought I’d be able to tour either of these studios, and now thanks to the ETC I get to visit BOTH IN ONE DAY.

1/9 (9:46 PM)

Naughty Dog was dark and chilly, but I could feel the warmth through the people there that enjoyed their work. Kareem is definitely someone to keep in touch with, and his advice to be willing and ready to talk face-to-face with someone seemed crucial to his success at the studio.

Neil was calm and collected as I expected, and he’s definitely someone I aspire to learn from. He stated that soft skills and people skills would be important at the studio, especially since the flat structure encouraged communication at the studio.

It was great visiting Santa Monica Studio immediately after Naughty Dog, because I definitely felt different “vibes” (for lack of a better word) from both. Santa Monica still had a fair number of employees on break, so that probably influenced that feeling. It felt a little more rigid and separated. When we went to the balcony overlooking about half the studio, I felt disconnected from the people below me. Naughty Dog, on the other hand, was one giant circle where one could easily cut through to talk to someone on the other side. Either way, both studios were incredibly eye-opening, and visiting both in one day was a dream I never thought I’d be able to experience until now.

1/10 (5:09 PM)

Today I experienced an incredible sense of purpose and passion from Tangible Play (the folks behind the groundbreaking educational games known as Osmo). I very quickly realized how much I would love a place like Osmo relatively soon. I asked a panel of ETC alumni if they would ever consider increasing their targeted demographic from kinds to teens, and the response gave me a sense of “maybe… if the right idea came along”. This got me very excited to stay in touch with the alumni at Osmo.

EA was interesting until I realized that they didn't want to show us any offices. The gyms, cafés, awards, and statues are interesting, though.