Thursday, October 29, 2009

The ArenaNet Wish

THURSDAY! What a day! It was the best day ever. It was absolutely perfect for Emily, and the folks at ArenaNet and Make-A-Wish made it a terrific day. Ok, I'll try to settle down and describe what happened.

The address the limo driver had was a strip mall next to a Quiznos, so we started a little worried. Renee, the Make-A-Wish coordinator, called ArenaNet to get the right address. Their public address is a mailbox in the strip mall, but they directed us to their real office. No signs outside or anything, since they cannot open their doors to the 3 million active players. We were greeted and conducted around the office. Our Non-Disclosure Agreement prevents us from telling details, but we can tell you that we found out how they design a game, and how the specialists all work together.

The tour was very detailed, and they completely opened up the office to us. She sat with artists, animators, programmers, designers, writers, QA team, etc., and they showed her what they do. Then we went to lunch with the section heads in the conference room (they have 200 people working there). She told them the story of how Guild Wars helped her deal with her miserable reality of heart failure and living in the hospital by being able to retreat to a fantasy world. They asked her questions about what she liked and didn't, and she was very frank, and they took her criticisms along with her praise. She had a series of questions for them, which they answered with candor, even when the answer was, "I have no idea why we did that."

After lunch, they let her play Guild Wars 2, with a bunch of people in the office. It was a blast to play with the developers; at one point she said, "I wish there were some sticks on this beach." One of the developers rewrote the game to put sticks there. There were lots of laughs, and the team really enjoyed watching her play and seeing what she focused on.

They pulled us aside and asked if she could stay a couple of extra hours. They convened a group of their eight senior designers and Emily, and they asked Emily to help them design an "Event" for the game. If you want to see it, buy Guild Wars 2 when it comes out, but I can tell you that Emily came up with an idea they really liked. It was fascinating to see her basic premise turn into a detailed scenario, complete with dialogue, scenery, and props. They really treated her as a design professional, and her humor and creativity made the day. It was a truly amazing session. Afterward they moved to a work station, where some of the characters were actually programmed.

The designers all exchanged e-mail addresses, and Kristen said she and her husband play Guild Wars 1 and they'd like to show her some tricks if she joins their group. She and one of the writers, laughed like old friends. Mike, the Founder and President, thanked her for coming, saying how she really brightened up their day. Them thanking us seemed silly, since they gave Emily the best day ever. Thank you ArenaNet! And Make-A-Wish!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Make-A-Wish Seattle

We got up at 3:30 AM this morning to await a big stretch limo that took us to Albany, where we were met by Linda of Make-A-Wish. She saw us off to Southwest Airlines, where we changed planes in Chicago and arrived in Seattle by 11 AM local. Renee, from Make-A-Wish here met us and started us on Emily's dream trip. The highlight will be Thursday, when we will spend the day with the game developers of Guild Wars, the game world that Emily lived in while she was sick last year and recovering this Spring. The rest of the trip will be doing fun tourist stuff.

We had a good lunch at the Baguette Box, walked to the waterfront, and went to the Aquarium. We really liked the harbor seals, fur seals, sea otters, and the highlight was the Giant Pacific Octopus. We got to handle sea urchins, anenomes, and starfish. Afterward Emily and Deb went to a fancy day spa for a manicure. More on this trip later.

Update: Wednesday. We had a big, touristy day. We had a bagel breakfast, then went to the Bodies Exhibit. We got quite an anatomy lesson, and we were relieved that Emily's old heart was not on display. Very interesting, but a little creepy.

From there we went to lunch at a Wrap place on the waterfront, and went on to Argosy Tours for a tour of the harbor. Great views of the skyline, the huge commercial port operation, and Mt. Ranier poked through the distant mist for a while. Digging down into our energy reserves, we went on to the "Underground Tour" of Seattle, where we explored the pipes, rat tracks, and abandoned basements of the old part of the City, which burned in the 1880's and was subsequently rebuilt higher, leaving all the old first floor buildings underground. We got a ribald history lesson, learning that the largest source of tax revenues was a tax on the "seamstresses," who worked nights in the clubs.

We conquered the bus system to get back to the Hyatt, and met our friend Rachel Xu for dinner at a fancy Asian fusion restaurant. A long and enjoyable day, but we are tired from all the walking. Tomorrow is the Big Day at Arena Net. The limo picks us up at 9:45.