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JohnWE's Tale of EA
And so my adventure began with a perfectly timed get-away! I exited my residence and boarded a bus, which arrived 20 seconds before the train at the Light Rail station I was taking, so no waiting there! The Light Rail took me directly to the Minneapolis/St. Paul International airport station at which I boarded an underground tram taking me to the main terminal. From there, it was an easy matter to check in and head through the security checkpoint to my plane, right?
No! I did manage to get my boarding pass fine, but then going through the checkpoint was another matter. I displayed my drivers license, but due to the fact that the expiration date on it is over 2 years past, I was branded with the security codes "Ex ID SSSS" and "R6" and I had to wait beside the line until a personal security guard was there to observe me removing all metal items from myself. They ran my bags through the X-Ray machine and called me a VIP. I was pat down to make sure I wasn't a terrorist in disguise, and they looked through my bags, confiscated my toothpaste, and even getting a dust sample of every pocket in my backpack. After they were sure that I wasn't a threat, I was on my way! I had allotted 1.5 hours to get through the airport, and I only had to wait 15 minutes once I was done with all of that! On the cool side, my boarding pass is marked with a "Security Cleared" official stamp.
I was set to arrive at 4:26, but of course nothing ever goes according to plan. As we were about to back away from our gate, a "minor technical difficulty" arose with the plane, and it actually turned out to be a minor technical difficulty, only delaying our departure by 15 minutes. In the air at 34,000 feet, we ran into a 120 mph headwind delaying us even further, so we arrived in Los Angeles, California a bit after 5:00. A $20 taxi ride later, I was at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Marina Del Rey.
Let me tell you, that hotel is the best I've ever been in. You know that when you arrive in a taxi and they open the car door for you, and then the hotel door with the utmost courtesy. Another way to measure it is they have no paper towels in their bathrooms;
|The view from our hotel room|
|The Marina from our room|
they are all cloth! After I reached my room on the 10th floor, I dropped my stuff down and met some already-arrived webmasters in the lobby. Hexetic from PlanetCNC, Renardin from C&C Reborn, Crimson from RenegadeForums, Jarret from PurePwnage and more!
We waited around until 7:00 pm, when the person we were supposed to meet was supposed to show up. Then we waited another half an hour and he arrived just when we expected him to! All 28 or so people piled into taxis and headed over to Baja Cantina, a nice Mexican restaurant. We enjoyed dinner there, and the few people sitting around me (Sledgehammer70 from BTT, Jarret and more) discussed reasons why squads are not a good idea in C&C. Some of the more prominent reasons were the reduction of damage along with reduction of health; the lack of micromanagement; the unbalance with other units (why not buy a tank instead of infantry?) and the extra graphical load they'll put on the computers. For dinner I had fajitas, which were so much better than any sort of mexican food around where I live.
|Waiting for dinner. Li, Banshee, Jason, JohnWE, Crimson, Renardin|
|Waiting for taxis to arrive. Front: don't know, Assassin, Cabal, Scott, a modtoaster guy, Ome_Vince, Crimson|
|Dinner at the Baja Cantina|
After dinner we taxied back to the hotel and I observed Tiberian Sun Rising in action, which was quite cool. Assassin from CnC-Source was there showing off his mod, along with Zee Hypnotist from CNCNZ watching. Look for more info on what we saw in the trailer and the interview soon to be coming. It was somewhat late after we finished talking, so I went straight to bed. I was sharing a room with Hexetic, two double beds and very nice accommodations. The shower head was about 5.5 feet from the tub floor, so it was not very easy to get my head clean, being about 1 foot higher than that.
Way too early in the morning (8:30) our contact arrived (8:38 a new time record for him!) and we headed off in taxis for Electronic Arts and our first day at the summit! The cafeteria had very good food; I had a breakfast burrito with eggs, bacon, potatoes, and cheese wrapped in a tortilla. The cooks were quite overwhelmed when 30 people all showed up to eat at once. After finishing eating, we got badges with our names on them and a shirt; GDI or Nod, depending on which we asked for. We headed into the other building at the EA complex, looking quite cool.
First up was a presentation from Mike Verdu, Amer Ajami, Jason Bender and Greg Black. That's all I can say about that for now!
|Watching a presentation|
-----------------------------Overview Presentation on C&C3 (on next page)---------------------------------
After that was done, we got to take a tour of the 4th floor of EA, see the walls of concept art they have, the alpha countdown timers (expired already) and some of the designers at work. There were also master unit/structure/graphics lists which I can't repeat here. The concept art they have was very impressive. I wish that we could have taken pictures of it. It is so cool to have seen the original art!
After the tour, we had lunch consisting of sub sandwiches. While we were discussing what we had seen, some of us took turns interviewing Mike Verdu and Jason Bender with any questions about the games. I won't be able to release the recording of their answers until the unmentionable date, and I can't tell you what I asked. But it is always nice to talk to the top people working on your favorite game series!
|Richard Taylor, FMV director|
At about 1:30, we got a presentation by Richard Taylor, the FMV director. Everything with him starts with a script. Then, he cast the movie with hot actors, and they shot onstage for 1 week. Since Josh Holloway is working on Lost, he couldn't come, so they shot 2 days with him in Hawaii. This sort of filming is harder for the actors because they have to recite their lines (sometimes a few minutes long) without any break. The camera style is more hand-held, so whereas in a film you would see a conversation cutting back and forth between the faces, in this, they are always talking to you. We got to see a special trailer which is going to be on the pre-order DVD, if you'd like to see it. The footage was shot at 1080i and is going to be in 720p for the game. To Richard Taylor, having a human talking to you is so much more effective than computer generated character. It is much easier to connect and convey emotions with a live actor, and it is going to be like that for many more years. Right now, C&C and Need for Speed are the only games doing FMVs, and that is a major reason they are set apart.
There is a third party company called Tigerhair (or Tiger Hare?) doing all of the Computer Generated videos. We were lucky enough to see a walkthrough of how they created the scenes, from concept art to the CG footage, to pasting it all together. When the Philadelphia is destroyed, you can see the people walking on board before the missile hits. Even though the CG scenes are only 80% done, they already look more spectacular than anything out there. And yes, there are cutscenes for the Alien side. Expect them to be heavily CG. And finally, Richard Taylor's opinion on Joe Kucan: "He's taken acting lessons! Not that he was bad before, but he has really improved!" Joe Kucan directed the FMVs for the previous C&C games, so Richard was wary of how he would like being directed. He was pleased of how eager Joe Kucan was to do the scenes, and there were no problems at all.
We were split into two groups, and were taken up separately to see some developers working on combining the video with the CG background. They had some very awesome tools, they could take a special image file cut out of the game, and then apply filters to it. It acted as a 3D image; as if it were ingame, they could move lights from the front of the shot to the back, and the shadows would change. They can apply fog and change the color of certain things to get the desired effect. Once they have the image looking how they want it to, they can take these settings and apply them to the game to bridge the gap from the CG to the game. Very impressive! A little trivia: the video (FMV) is such high quality, it is connected to the computers via fiberoptic drives on the first floor. The bit rate is 166MB/s; for comparison, the widescreen videos I'm in are 1.6 MB/s Of course, the size will be toned down, but they have plenty of quality to work with.
|Dragon with Nod sympathists|
|Dragon and me|
Next up, we had the highlight presentation of the day. Dragon (yes, that's his name), the guy from Renegade Effects which is a prop creation company came in his Nod Cleric uniform to tell us about making the props for C&C3! The detail they have put into the film is simply amazing. Yes, he kept on calling it a film, and finally just said that he calls it a film because the detail level that EA's put into it is on par with many of the movies he's worked for. And, he HAS worked on movies! He named movie after movie, and show after show that he's helped out with or created the props for. Star Trek, Star Wars, Xena, The Mask, The Last Samurai, Indiana Jones, Alien vs Predator, and many more. He brought props from some of his more sci-fi shows and movies, and from C&C3!
|AK-47 Gattling Gun!!!!!!!!|
This deserves its own paragraph: AK-47 Gattling Gun. He brought a Nod unit's gun with him, and it Worked! It was crafted out of an airsoft gun, and a rotating barrel added to the front. If you put the pellets in it, it would work, so this was definitely the showpiece of the event. He also brought a GDI helmet, Kane's pistol (with a laser sight) and a GDI rifle. We got pictures with Dragon and his props too! We had to be dragged away from the fun that was to be had here for the next event.
|GDI Pulse Rifle|
The next even I can't tell you about, but if you knew what it was, you would see how awesome the props were!
-------------------------------Multiplayer Test 1 (on next page)---------------------------------
After we were done with that (far too soon for all of us) we had pizza for dinner, and then headed out in a charter bus to Laser Tag! We were split up into 3 teams and had the whole 2-story arena for ourselves! I was part of team 1, along with Crimson, Assassin, our contact, the MoH community manager, Jason from Strategy Informer, and a few more. We were team 1, or the Red Team. We made our assault in groups of 6, and the green team dominated the first 4 rounds, but then we pulled our heads together and pulled out a stunning upset in the last 3 rounds, outscoring the green team by 2 times in the 2nd to last, and then an unbelievable 31,000 points to 12,000 in the last round. The green team with Hexetic, Cabal, and others had done very well in the first 4 rounds, and it was only by that last round that we pulled ahead of them for the victory. Now, I said that there were 3 teams, so what about blue? Well, blue came consistently in last except for the last round in which it came in second. The winners of this competition got to pick out who they wanted to get an autographed picture from, so more on that later.
We got back to the hotel at close to midnight, so I took a shower and fell asleep. In laser tag, since I'm 6' 5", I have to crouch a lot because height is not an advantage in that game. So my thighs were quite sore after all that running around. In the morning at 8:15 + a few waiting for our contact minutes, we left for EA again. We had breakfast in the cafeteria yet again and then got started on some cool presentations.
----------------------RTS As A Sport-------------------------
|Waiting to play the game...|
-----------------------AI Playtest (on next page)-------------------------
And then, we had lunch! The same as the day before, but there was enough variety in the sandwiches that I didn't have the same thing twice.
--------------------XBox 360 C&C3 (on next page)---------------------
----------------------Alien Multiplery Test (on next page)---------------------
As we finished that, we got back into the theater for some presentations. But this time, the presentations were done by us fans! And we got to present to the developers themselves! Even Louis Castle, the co-founder of Westwood was there to watch! First up was Renardin from C&C Reborn, showing off his mod and some of the cool new features that were in it, but he unfortunately couldn't get the Shaders 2.0 demo in time for the event. Then came JohnWE, who showed his videos to everyone! It was quite a pleasure to show videos to people who understand every part of it. I had a compilation of clips from my first 2 videos, then a special video made for the Community Summit, then the entire C&C Little Known Facts video. They were split up by me talking and telling them about why we make videos about C&C. Next came Ome_Vince from Mod Toaster, and he explained how Mod Toaster was a good thing. If ModToaster can get some some bandwidth for themselves, then it will be the future of mod/map distribution. Then came Jarret from PurePwnage, and he told a bit about how his show started (Zero Hour) and it was rather funny. Lastly, Assassin displayed Tiberian Sun Rising and showed off gameplay from that Generals mod!
Overall, I can say that my presentation was the best I don't want be conceited or anything, but I think everyone enjoyed it very much. The developers were laughing so hard, they missed half the jokes in my videos!!
"I will never forget your presentation!" -- Cabal from CNC World
"You are the funniest man in the C&C community!" -- our contact
After the presentations had concluded, we ate dinner (pizza again) and got some party favors from EA. A signed picture of Joe Kucan (you should know -- Kane) and one of Michael Ironside who's playing Jack Granger. I got a few GDI and Nod plastic cups, and if this wasn't enough, everyone got a nVidia GeForce 7900 GTO!!! A $300 graphics card!!!
We waited for quite a while for taxis to take us back to our hotel, and some of the people had to leave then. Then the interesting stuff began. Hexetic who was my roommate had to leave early, so he checked out of the hotel. Apparently the room was only reserved for Sunday and Monday nights, and my flight left 6:28 Wednesday. As I go to my room to put my cool stuff in it, I unlock the door to find the beds made, the room cleaned and my suitcases and backpack all gone! I'm a bit concerned at this point, as I had checked with our contact twice about staying in the room Tuesday night, and he said it was taken care of. I went back down to the desk, and without too much hassle, I got my room back. They had my luggage, and so I went back up to my room dropped my stuff off. I got back downstairs just as the taxi door for the cab a few of the people were heading out in was closing, so I just barely made it in time.
Ome_Vince, Assassin, Jarret, Kyle, Trojan from CNCReplays, Jim Vessela and another developer from EA and I all hung out together till around 11:15. It is amazingly fun to talk to people who know as much about a very specific subject as you do. I've never been around people whom I can talk in depth about C&C to for hours on end. And we of course had discussions about the mod/site/forum we help out with and got to poke fun at some of our more "interesting" users.
The next morning, we had to check out at 12:00, so then a bunch of us whose flights left later waited around in the lobby talking even more about C&C. It was quite amazing; there was a circle of about 8 people, and I was the only one from the USA. There were people from Canada, Germany, England, Australia, China, Belgium and more places, and we all knew about C&C. About 1:40, 5 of us (me, Assassin, Cabal, Phoib, Renardin) took a taxi to the airport and got there 3 hours before their international flights. So, since we were so early, it just figured that we would get through security with no delay, and that we did. Phoib, Renardin and I were at the same terminal, which was good. There is no way to get between terminals besides 2 security checkpoints. I got a chance to talk with them more closely, and Phoib was very kind and gave me some Dutch Christmas Cookies he had brought. And for those of you who are wondering, C&C Reborn is nearing completion. Just some map work to do and it'll be released!
They had to wait 2.5 hours till their plane, and I had to wait another hour and a half after that for my plane. Luckily, I had 2 finals the next day, so I had plenty to do. Boarding the plane, I had a window seat again, and it was an Airbus 320 again. Only 50/135 people were on board so I had the whole row to myself. That was nice, because I was dead tired. While I didn't mind getting to LA delayed because I didn't have anything to do for a few hours, I would have preferred an undelayed trip home.
There was supposedly a bunch of turbulence over the Rocky mountains, so we took a more southerly route, which delayed us 30 minutes. Of course, we encountered a bumpy ride anyway, so the pilot decided to change altitudes to avoid it. We were supposed to cruise at 37,000 feet, but we were lower than that, and even got down to 19,000 feet. When we climbed back up to our altitude, we got ice on our wings, slowing us down even more. So, we arrived at MSP International at 12:35 am. I had to wait until 1:07 for the Light Rail to pick me up, then I got off at the station I was to transfer to bus. The schedule there quite clearly let me know that I wasn't going to get a bus unless I waited till 4:30 am. So, I had no choice but to walk a few miles back to my apartment at 2:00 am. My trip was very safe! Next time I wish it could be a little faster too.
And thus concludes the censored version of the C&C3 Community Summit. At a future date, you'll get all the info you need about C&C3, and trust me when I tell you this: We EA invaders know more about C&C3 than any magazine that'll be coming out in the next few months.
The thing that struck me the most from this awesome 3 days was this. EA invited us down here, paid for our plane fare, hotel, all food, travel, and even gave out some cool gear as well, and at the end, what do they do? They thank us! We should be the ones thanking them for this opportunity, but they were so glad to get our feedback, it just amazed me.
Thanks to Hexetic for the cool pictures.
[Community Summit Part 1 | Community Summit Part 2 | GDI Info | Nod Info | Alien Info | Extra Info]