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Elan Lee's Alternate Reality

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Elan Lee's Alternate Reality

December 6, 2006 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

GS: From your end, how do orchestrate some of the more elaborate game elements, for example calling payphones across the world?

EL: It’s a pretty massive effort. In I Love Bees, when we called up several thousand payphones, initially the thought was, hey, you know what we could do is we’ll just find an internet resource for payphone numbers, thinking, this will be easy. We found that there are such databases, except the payphones, no one maintains them. Half of them are non-working numbers; the other half don’t accept in-coming calls. A lot of them are physically disabled or torn out of the wall. Then we realized what we’ll do it call up the phone companies and say, hey, give us a list of phone numbers for all your payphones... Yeah, phone companies don’t want to give that information. What we had to do in the end was hire teams to hand verify every single phone that we called around the world. It turned into this massively time consuming project, but we just couldn’t find another way to do it. I think, if we had known that going into the project, we would have said, payphones, no way, let’s use something else. Again, no one’s done stuff like this before, so we either have to make up the rules as we go along, or make enough mistakes that the right answer eventually becomes apparent.

GS: What about the crop circles you executed for Hex 168? How do you even begin to arrange for something like that?

EL: We have a very, very talented team. They call themselves producers, but they’re kind of like little miracle workers. I am in this lovely sort of ivory tower, where I say, "you know what would be cool, is crop circles," and then this amazing team of producers says, "yeah, we’ll figure that one out." I couldn’t tell you how they do it. I know they have connections, and they make a zillion phone calls, and they’re really good at searching the internet. Amazingly, they always find a way to make it happen.

"HEX creates a monkey mogul," A winning Hex 168 entry.

To be fair, sometimes I ask for things that are just too hard. Back in AI, the challenge was, hey, let’s build the game in such a way that your life just gets weird. The producers came back to me and said, what does that mean? I said, I want you to look at the web, and suddenly nothing quite makes sense anymore. And they said, well, we could do a little pop-up window. I said, what I want is, after you visit this website, your car only drives in reverse and none of your friends remember your name and suddenly your mom doesn’t speak English. And they kind of gave me this blank look and I said, yeah, I’ll settle for a pop-up window. So sometimes imagination gets the best of me.

GS: How did you end up in this position after working in game development for Microsoft?

EL: When I was at Microsoft, I was terribly miscast as a producer. I thought, hey, this is what I should be doing. Then I met Jordan Weisman, who was the creative director of the games group there. Jordan is my mentor. Jordan is the most creative, amazing person I’ve ever met. We sort of hit it off, and we had this discussion about the future of games one day. I remember we were sitting at this restaurant, eating sushi, and at that moment his phone rang. He looked at me and said, wouldn’t it be cool if that was a game calling me right now? And that’s kind of where it all started. When we started talking about that, Jordan realized, you suck at producing, and he moved me to the design role, and from there we met with Spielberg and created AI, and from there we created 42 Entertainment, and from there we started EDOC Laundry, the t-shirt company, and it’s just been this crazy snowball of events since then, finding this bizarre talent that I have that would be absolutely useless in any other field.

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