About a month ago I set out on a cross-country backpacking tour of North America in the hopes of completing a lifelong goal; to visit all the game development studios I could and learn a little more about the people who made my favorite games. Armed with little more than a sack full of clothes, my laptop, and the gracious support of my friends and family I left my home in Toronto, Canada to find out just what the world had in store for me, and it did not disappoint.
The first leg of the trek was a blitz to Los Angeles, an over 3,000 mile journey that I needed to span as fast as possible in order to make it to the annual spectacle of E3 on time. Of course when traveling primarily by Greyhound, one is rarely afforded the luxury of accurate schedules, and what would have been a timely arrival was soon stretched into a four-day ride through hell with some of the most interesting folks I’ve had the opportunity to meet.
Bus breakdowns, rioting passengers, and clueless drivers all did their part to slow my progression, but nothing halted me more than the man who decided it was a good idea to defile the bathroom on the vehicle. This resulted in a near full-day stop in a small town in northern Texas while our driver sped off in the poop-mobile with all our bags in tow. These are the things you learn to expect on the road though, anything can and will happen.
I reached E3 a few days later than projected, finally reunited with my bags after a clever Solid Snake-like rescue mission in New Mexico, and put the troubles behind me in the cacophony of bright lights, free drinks, and video games that made the convention. The reprieve was brief though, as the day after the show ended would find me fleeing the cops with a pair of gay homeless dudes, struggling to find a place to sleep, and eventually being rescued by a pair of awesome urbanites who decided it would be a good idea to let a vagrant into their home.
The next week was spent touring some of California’s most excellent development teams, including the folks working on God of War: Ascension and The Unfinished Swan at Sony Santa Monica, the ban masters behind Call of Duty: Black Ops II at Treyarch, the more-than-meets the eye team building Transformers:Fall of Cybertron at High Moon Studios, and Jenova Chen, the master of indie art himself. There was even an awkward bathroom encounter with Bobby Kotick as I invaded Activision’s HQ.
It wasn’t until I hit Tucson, Arizona and had an interesting lunch with Vince Desi – the man behind the infamous Postal series – that the absolute insanity of the road would start to take hold of my trip again. Having spent the afternoon drinking with a newfound friend, we found ourselves amidst a bar fight, rescuing some poor sap from getting curb stomped; a kindness that earned me a few punches to the face and a night sleeping outside after missing my bus.
Despite hopes for things calming down in Austin, where I’d visit the masters of meat at Twisted Pixel, Devolver Digital’s cool-as-ice vice president, and the folks at LightBox Interactive as they tried to revive Starhawk in its post-mortem, I found myself in the most precarious of situations. It’s never a good idea to hitch hike if you don’t have to, but it’s a far worse idea to get into a car with a hooker and a gun toting lunatic. The night earned me a .45 waved in my face, but I suppose all turned out well enough; I am still alive after all.
I guess that’s the best way to summarize my current state on this trip; still alive. There’s a lot more ground for me to cover, and a lot more studios to see. This trek has taken me to highs and lows I’d never expected to see, but I’m wiser to the game now and have learned that sometimes, the unexpected is what you need if you want to know what it’s like to truly live.
You can follow Justin’s journey in greater detail at www.gamerunplugged.com, or on Facebook or Twitter. He’ll be touring the continent for the next few months and bringing many more stories from the trek.