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Video game producers are known for their travel to visit the local, indigenous development community as well as their far-flung travel to trade shows. Eccentric world traveler and video game producer, Matt Powers, shares stories from some of his interesting, on-the-job travel. Mr. Powers shows that some business travel can definitely leave its mark on our memories.
Tastes like Chicken
While researching the Pacific Theatre for Medal of Honor, the research team and I visited Peleliu - an island in the island nation of Palau. We spent most of our days hiking through the jungles or climbing around caves. We were following the paths of the marines and finding relics of the Japanese occupation. On one hike we found a water cooled 50 caliber machine gun still sitting on the ridge line. It was normal to find bones, bullet cartridges, and sake bottles in the caves. There was a tank just off the beach, sunk in the ocean. Crashed planes were hidden away in the middle of the jungle.
It is amazing that an island that is only 5 square miles large was the spot of some of the fiercest fighting of the Pacific Theatre in World War II. The original plan was for U.S. forces to secure the island and its airfield in just 4 days. Two months later, US forces claimed the island after over 4,500 U.S. casualties and over 7,000 dead Japanese.
This particular afternoon we were walking down the beach and saw a group of local kids throwing rocks. We moved closer to investigate - it turned out they were using their slings to knock Fruit Bats out of the trees. These bats would eventually be eaten by their families. After talking to the kids and their parents, one of the moms volunteered to prepare us a fruit bat for dinner.
That evening, we had dinner with a number of the locals in their community center. First were seated; a big steaming bowl was brought out. In the bowl was the bat, caught earlier today, still entirely whole. The family had spent the day cleaning and boiling the bat to prepare this soup. The bat itself was the size of a small cat and just figuring out how to serve "bat soup" was tricky. But each of us took some soup, and cut off (or ripped in some instances) pieces of bat to eat. It was certainly one of the most unique meals I have ever eaten. Makes me think of what boiled shoe laces might taste like. Perhaps it is an acquired taste.
In addition to all the scheduling, task management, product review, and budgeting, another part of being a producer is travel - travel to conferences, events, and developers.
Developer visits are a big part of being a producer. As producer, meeting in-person with your developers is very important. You get the chance to see the people behind the emails and phone calls and get to know them better. And, the development team gets to see that the "producer" is a real person. I have visited developers in California, Virginia, Texas, Seattle, Minneapolis, Ontario, North Carolina, Boston, and more.
I was on a regular developer visit to Chantilly, Virginia. As usual, my mind was on the project and not much else. I figured this visit would be the same as other visits - but that was a bad assumption. And, I learned a lesson that one should always check current events before flying to a new location.
My first tip-off should have been that the flight was less crowded than usual. I'd traveled this route before, and I expected the usual full plane. But on this trip, I had a row to myself.
Upon arriving, I grabbed my rental and started the drive to the developer. Something was pulling at the edge of my mind; something was off. Then I realized that the streets, parking lots, quick stops, gas stations - everything - was practically empty.
I turned to the news on the radio and learned what I had gotten myself into. There was a murderer on the loose. Random people were being shot by sniper fire. The news labeled this as the Beltway Sniper Attacks - this was the Fall of 2002.
At that time, there were people being shot at random around the Virginia and DC metro areas. On the worst day, there were 5 people shot - one bullet each - each victim at a different location. The public was panicked; schools were closed; security around government buildings was heightened. If people had to be outdoors they did not stand still.
I remember driving to the developer offices and noticing very few, if any, people on the street. Seeing area parking lots almost empty was spooky. The few people I did see were literally running from their cars to the shops. People were afraid, afraid of the sniper.
That day at the developer we ordered lunch in. The food came quickly. The delivery person ran from his car to the office door with our order. We tipped well that day.
Besides developer visits, there are lots of other opportunities for travel as a producer. I have attended E3 every year it has existed. For almost all those years, E3 has been in Los Angeles. There were two years when E3 was in Atlanta. E3 was once part of CES and was located in some large tents outside the convention hall.
In addition to E3, I've been to Gamescom in Cologne, Germany. I've attended Ingromir in Moscow, Russia. I've made the trip to Destination PlayStation in Arizona. And, I've attended PAX Prime in Seattle and PAX East in Boston numerous times.
I've attend the Game Developers Conference. In the early years, GDC was in San Jose. Most of the time it has been in San Francisco. But, I can't forget the year GDC was in Long Beach and I was kicked off the Queen Mary for trying to climb the smoke stack.
I've been to Comic-Con in San Diego, New York, and Chicago. And, I've attended Wondercon in San Francisco.
I've attended press events all over the United States and flew to London to meet the press more than once. Once I traveled to Germany for a press event and only stayed one night before flying back. I went to Rome to meet the press. The press events and the opportunities to talk to the fans are probably some of my favorite trips.
Fans - the New Energy Drink
Another Senior Producer and myself were scheduled to attend a press and community event in Cologne, Germany. Both our games were going to be released that fall, and we were going to give the German press and our fans a early look at our games.
We flew into London and were waiting for our next flight. Unfortunately, there was a bad weather system over Germany and our flight was delayed. Originally, we had plenty of time to get to our hotel in Cologne before heading to the event. And, I was looking forward to that time. With the long flight and the time change, I had not slept and needed a nap.
Our flight continued to be delayed. We started to think we wouldn't make it to Germany in time for the event. Then, a man came into the lounge where we were waiting and announced our names. We were asked to follow him. We went through some hallways and doors which eventually lead to the outside. There, we got into a waiting limo and drove away from Heathrow to a smaller airport nearby. We drove up to a plane already running and ready to go. We were ushered to the plane, told to buckle up, and we took off.
We landed in Cologne and another car was waiting on the runway. We got in the car and off we went; no customs, no passports, nothing. We went straight to the event. I was exhausted. I didn't know how I could possibly make it through the night - all I wanted was some sleep. The event was packed with press and fans of the game. I got up on stage, showed the game, and talked it up. I was running on empty. Then, I was asked to do some interviews and sign some autographs. I was tired, but I said I would be fine signing a couple autographs. I spent the next 2-1/2 hours signing autographs for the fans. It was great - and - I no longer felt tired.
Video Games are Culture
For the launch of one of my games, I was asked to attend a press event in Rome, Italy. Honestly, this was not a terribly difficult decision. My game was finished; and while we had a patch and a DLC in production, this was a trip to Rome! I told PR that I would make the sacrifice, fly to Rome, talk to the press about my game, and maybe stay a couple extra days to work off the jet lag.
The press event was held at VIGAMUS, a video game museum in Rome, Italy. VIGAMUS is the first Italian museum dedicated to interactive games. I was looking forward to seeing the museum and meeting the people who ran it. Anytime there is a group of people who have taken the time to show the history, technology, and culture of the business I have dedicated my life to, I'm interested in meeting them.
The press event itself went very well. Personally, I enjoy meeting and talking to the press. And, the Italian press was great. I spent a lot of time in the museum and with its curators setting up for the press event and looking at the presentations. The museum offered exhibits of current and old games and allowed visitors to play games and learn about the history of video games.
The Colosseum, St. Peter's, Trevi Fountain, the Vatican, the Pantheon - all wonderful sights and great places to visit if you are in Rome. And, I would also add VIGAMUS to that list - another great attraction in Rome.
For more details on VIGAMUS see: http://www.vigamus.com/en/#
As a producer you may also be called upon to assist your sales team. This is something I highly recommend for producers. If you aren't asked, volunteer. Helping the sales team demonstrate and explain the features of your game to the buyers is great experience and can only help with sell-in. I have been to Minneapolis, Minnesota, many times to meet with Best Buy and Target. In Grapevine, Texas, I attended meetings at GameStop headquarters. Then, there were trips to Bentonville, Arkansas, where Walmart is headquartered.
Not as often, but periodically, the producer will need to take a research trip. This would be travel in order to become more familiar with the subject material of the game.
Learning the Details
While working on the video game Thor I flew to the Marvel offices in Manhattan Beach, California. I was invited to read the script of the upcoming Thor movie. While our game had a different story, we wanted to see the script to understand how the movie was going to handle the language - how did Thor speak? It was important we understood the movie approach to Thor so we could be sure our game matched the movie in regards to style and technology.
Any movie studio would be fun to visit, but Marvel was especially cool. I have been a fan of Marvel comics for years - I knew the characters, I loved the Marvel world. After getting through security, I went past the sound studios. In those big buildings, Iron Man was being filmed and Thor was soon to be filmed.
Entering the offices, I was immediately taken by the Marvel paraphernalia. Statues of their characters, posters, and other paraphernalia were everywhere. These people were more than fans - this is where the movies were made! After signing in at the desk, I was lead into a side office. Cell phones and other electronic equipment were not allowed. Forms were signed, and then the script was brought in.
After the script read, they gave me a tour of the sound stages that still had some sets from the Iron Man film. I must admit - standing in Tony Starks' lab was really cool.
The Thor script was a very good read and made me even more excited about the movie. And of course, I learned a lot, which is what these trips are all about.
Video Game Diplomat
One of the privileges of working with the Medal of Honor Society was the ability for me to travel to Iwo Jima. After World War II, the U.S. military occupied Iwo Jima until 1968 when it was returned to Japan. In 1985, the 40th anniversary of the day that U.S. forces began the assault on the island, the United States and Japan gathered veterans from the Iwo Jima battle for the Reunion of Honor. After that, the first Japan-U.S. combination memorial service of the 50th anniversary was held in March, 1995. The 55th anniversary was held in 2000, followed by a 60th reunion in March, 2005. I was fortunate to be able to attend one of these memorial services. Other than these memorial services, the United States is not allowed on Iwo Jima.
If you are not familiar with the battle for Iwo Jima, I recommend reading about it. According to the US Navy, "The 36-day (Iwo Jima) assault resulted in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 dead." It was some of the fiercest fighting of the War.
While I was on the island, I walked across the black sands where our troops landed. I went atop Mount Suribachi to see where the flag was raised. Reportedly, that photograph is the most recognized photograph of all time. I also went to the bunker where the Japanese General, Tadamichi Kuribayashi, controlled the fighting. The Japanese had many caves and bunkers throughout the Pacific Islands. In order to get into the bunker one had to practically crawl through a small opening and navigate underground tunnels - it was dark, hot, and dirty.
After I had explored the cave, I was waiting outside for our military escort (I could not travel the island without military escort). A contingent from the Japanese group on the island came up. Diplomats and decorated military gathered about. I could tell some were wary to enter the small cave-like hole. One of the Japanese gentleman in a suit seemed especially interested. I offered him my flashlight which he eagerly took and went into the cave. After he came out, he returned my light, thanked me (in Japanese), and moved on with his group. One of the U.S. Lieutenants came up to me and said:
"Do you know who that was?" He asked.
"I have no idea; he just looked like he could use a flashlight." I replied.
"That was the grandson of General Kuribayashi, he may be the highest ranking Japanese diplomat on the island" said the Lieutenant.
On this island, years ago, tens of thousands of people died - both American and Japanese. On that day, representatives from both of those once warring countries were together to pay their respects to the fallen. And that day a video game producer lent a flashlight to the grandson of the Japanese General that fought those battles. Pretty darn cool.
I enjoy traveling which is fortunate since I have done a lot in my job. Some producers travel more than others, but I would anticipate any producer will have some travel in his/her career. And, when you travel, often there are stories to tell and events you get caught up in.
I was flying into Washington Dulles airport from Los Angeles every month to visit a developer. This particular trip I planned to fly in on Sunday, meet all day Monday, and return to California Tuesday morning. The Friday before my trip, I decided I should probably stay an extra day to get more work done; so I changed my departure to Wednesday. There were daily American Airlines flight from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles; same flight every day, the flight I always took, American Flight 11.
That Tuesday morning I woke up as usual. Checking my phone, I had an unusually large number of missed calls and messages. Most of the messages were friends asking if I was okay, checking in. Which was odd; everyone knew where I was. One particular message I remember was from the girl I was dating at the time - she was especially concerned and worried. I thought that was odd. I did this trip often; and though I may not have told her I changed my return flight, I would still be back soon. I ignored the calls and messages. Then I turned on the TV - that Tuesday morning was Tuesday, September 11th, 2001.
Turns out the flight I was originally scheduled to be on, the flight I had just changed on the Friday before, did not make it to California. The flight that I was originally scheduled to return on flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. I was lucky. I was lucky to make it home that week. Unfortunately, many people did not make it home. And we will always remember.
Do you have any interesting business travel stories? Or do you have any questions for the author? Write a comment, would love to hear your stories, thoughts, and/or questions.
About the Author
Matt Powers has been making video games for over 20 years. And Matt is happy to have all those years and hopefully more. Matt looks forward to many more years of travel to come.