the secret life of a strategy guide writer / 04

Last time: I remarked on the giddy anticipation in a strategy guide author’s tummy, which later becomes an ulcer once the true enormity of the task at hand is realized. This time, I give a glimpse to what life is like on the road, visiting a world-famous developer or two.

Part 4: Home and Away

Writing a guide and playing an early version of a game to completion takes place in one of two zones; the first is the author’s home, where they’re crouched over a glowing television, typing furiously, and clad in only the finest K-Mart pajama pants. Some of the time though, a company wants you to visit them, and the project goes on the road. The author needs to be careful to ensure it doesn’t go off the rails.

When you’re traveling to a place by car, it’s simply a matter of packing up your laptop, hard drives, blood-pressure medicine, and high-definition screen capture unit. Oh, and another monitor. And keyboard. And clothing. If you’re flying to a developer in the middle of the Canadian tundra, or down in the sunshine and smog of L.A., everything’s crammed into suitcases, and you hope the airport’s X-ray machine doesn’t wipe your hard-drives (which it did during one particular fraught stay at Sega).

Once you stagger into your developer’s lair, you prepare to squish two weeks’ worth of work into one; your time at the company is incredibly valuable, and you need to be playing the game, speaking with the Testers, chatting to the Designers, and not waiting in the foyer for two hours for a guy to show up who’s actually on vacation. Then the room isn’t ready for you or the marketing department has double-booked it. There’s an out-of-date build. There’s no television for the game console you’re working with. You know, those sort of teensy issues to resolve. I once asked a gaming company rep if I could borrow a Memory Card to save a game I was about to play. The response was “what’s a Memory Card?”

But once you sit down and play, there’s nothing like having access to a team of dedicated professionals who can answer your gaming questions, and actually want to help you create a better guide. The distractions of home –- “what’s Gordon Ramsey up to now?” “Has my season pass of Ghost Hunters recorded?” “where are my pants?” — are gone, replaced by a creeping sense of fear that the game footage you’re taking will never end.

But it does, and next time, I’ll let you know how some of the world’s largest development studios stack up against each other. Who’s got the best foosball table? Who’s got a Starbucks inside their own office? And who’s living a gray existence in cubicle horror?

Just finished: Continuing a pillage across a continent-sized landscape, searching behind every rock, and rummaging through hundreds of corpses for that extra-special item.

Currently: Still writing cunning tactics about surviving multiple quests in a game I can’t mention.

About to: Start work on the Critical Path throughout this massive, sprawling, and massively entertaining game.


3 Responses to “the secret life of a strategy guide writer / 04”

  1. 1 Antonio Silva
    July 5, 2008 at 8:01 am

    Hey Friend!

    Great Posts “The secret life of a strategy guide writer”.

    Man!, like many people, I have your Prima guide, “special edition” of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and I have to congratulates you, is really great. As a “real player”, I know the hard is the job of finding every secret in a game. More than me, you have to explain it to the world that in easy words…

    Really, great Job!

    Antonio Silva.

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