And I Would Drive Five Thousand Miles
First, I really hope I'm not spilling the beans with anything I'm going to write in this article.
Second, I had a blast yesterday when I visited the SOE Studio's in San Diego for the filming of Command Center featuring Creative Director Matt Higby and Senior Art Director Tramell Isaac. I drove south on the I-5 from Los Angeles for what seemed forever. If you've never done the drive before, the only things of note that the highway has are the other vehicles on the freeway. It can be a grind. Fortunately for me, it wasn't too bad, and I arrived in San Diego roughly two hours after I left LA.
The only problem was I arrived an hour early, and since I was not sure what to do I direct messaged Tramell Isaac on Twitter about what to do next. He directed me to Building 1, where I was greeted by the security guard and what I think was a John Smedley sighting. I can't be sure, because I think my eyes were as big as saucers at that point. RadarX introduced himself, and we spoke briefly about my visit there. It's hard to believe that the Community Representative in charge of mucking through the sludge that can sometimes be the Planetside 2 official forums is so congenial and forthcoming. This, as well as a few other things during the trip, was a pleasant surprise.
Andre, of #FireAndre2013 fame (that one's for you, man), shook my hand at the entrance and told me to wait until Tramell walked over from his building to get ready to begin the filming of Command Center. Tramell arrived shortly after, shook my hand with a firm grip, and walked me towards the room where Command Center is filmed. It was lined with cables, lights, cameras and the camera crew. I didn't get all of the crew's names, but as much work as Higby and Tramell put into the filming, these dudes are in the background with the same humor and intelligence that defines Higby and Tramell.
Tramell and I sat down as we awaited Higby and spoke about the game, and he asked me what I did, how I got into the game, how long I've played, and with which outfit - Hostile Takeover!. This came as a pleasant suprise, because I honestly didn't know what to expect when I signed up for this trip on Twitter. I didn't know whether I was going to be sat in a corner to mutely watch the filming or have any kind of involvement. As it was, I was directed to sit on the couch next to where Higby and Tray sat where a glowing lamp was directed towards my face. I think it took about 30 seconds of me squinting around the room for the camera crew to change lights, and I knew then that I was going to share a little bit of camera time with the Devs. I instantly got nervous. As it turned out, there were some technical difficulties getting the stream started promptly, which was fine because Higby came in, full of energy and quick witty comments. Don't get me wrong; where Higby is energetic, Tray is smooth, and they complement each other better than they may think they do. They both displayed excellent comedic timing, which takes intelligence, and are great at public speaking in a way that I wish I was. That's life, though, and I don't mind it one bit.
Higby arrived in a hilarious 3D faux Chicken shirt asking about his Nanite Ned costume, which was an almost complete opposite of Tramell's dark shirt, backwards baseball cap, and thick sunglasses. You'd think someone threw lotto balls in a blender and these two came out. They were practically caricatures of themselves, and it was enjoyable to behold. The stream was delayed during this time so I took the opportunity to take a picture with Higby and Tramell:
These two men, along with the camera crew were as courteous and attentive as anyone could be and I felt at ease in the studio. I didn't feel like a gnat on the wall, but more like I was in the car along for the ride. At one point Tramell even suggested that a third chair be brought out for me, which was more than expected, but there simply wasn't room for a third person in the camera frame. That kind of generosity doesn't come easy to most people, especially a senior art director, but there it was.
During this time I was also briefly introduced to Taina Rodriguez, Senior Public Relations Manager at SOE, who generously offered a drink while we waited, but as it was I was given a bottle of water earlier by one of the camera crew.
The Show Must Go On
Andre re-entered the room, figured out the problem going on with Twitch, and in no time flat the show started. Higby and Tramell put on their show faces perfectly on cue, and started with an ease and humor which is difficult to emulate and which is certainly unexpected from two major corporate software developers. These guys could put on a show at any Laugh Factory, as far as I'm concerned, while still delivering informative discussions related to Planetside 2. They make the information much easier to digest than it may be otherwise, as well as provide some laughs along the way. You'd almost think the camera crew did what it does on purpose to drive Higby and Tramell onto some kind of cathartic humo,r because the timing on everything, while seeming off, is very, very good. Higby made a joke about the show being unprofessional, but there's a certain shine to how the process goes down that speaks volumes of the camera crew and Higby and Tramell's ability to adlib their way over 30 minutes of filming.
By making the Command Center informative and fun, and including the SOE dev's activity on Twitter and on forums spread throughout the internet, SOE has shown that they are willing to deal, hand-in-hand, with the fans and take feedback seriously when it comes their way. They have opted to show transparency where other companies would show walls. They're willing to put themselves out there where other companies, especially men in John Smedley's shoes, would have people doing their ground work for them. SOE has proven time and time again since before Planetside 2's release that they were willing to be active, respond, and show their full face to the public. It's a company policy I can only hope other game companies decide is also a good idea, because while our feedback as fans may not always be wise, it exists because of our passion for the games we play. A lot of the changes in Planetside 2 have come directly from feedback, showing once again that SOE is a company that listens.
After the filming ended (in which I was given screen time!), Higby kindly offered to show me a tour of the Dev building. As we walked across the parking lot Higby spoke about his desire to get his car painted in Nanite Systems style with a license, already ordered, that reads NANITES. This guy is something else. We also spoke of MLG and Planetside 2's potential future (well, to be honest, I did all the talking), but I was so excited with the entire day I hope I made some sense to these two men. We walked up the stairs to the main dev floor where almost the entire room was full of devs hard at work on Planetside 2. Once again, Higby and Tramell surprised me with the attentiveness they gave my words, and Higby even gave me some swag to take home! After the brief tour, Tramell walked me to my car and we spoke of various things before I decided it was time to go home and we once again shook hands.
All in all I had a great time, and I leave you with this: Size. Always. Matters. And sometimes fun does too!
Thank you for the opportunity, SOE, and a special thanks to Higby, Tramell, RadarX, Andre, and crew for the opportunity to see firsthand how Command Center is filmed and a special tour of the epicenter of everything Planetside 2 - the dev floor.