As I said, I've been away. On a press trip to see Electronic Art's 2004-2005 line-up, involving a treck along the West coast of the North American Colonies.
Now, Press Trips have somehow picked themselves up a bad reputation, often being nothing more than glorified junkets to try and bend the wills of humble, gleefully corrupt journalists. And they have a point. In the past, there's been some ludicrously decadent press events. In terms of sheer opulance and/or insanity, you'd be looking at that Playstation boom era for the genuine monstrosities, such as the famed Tomb Raider event in Egypt which featured all manner of adventures in Cairo and on the Nile. All before my time. Nowadays, most press trips are humble affairs, in cheap hotels for a minimum of days and a maximum of running around and covering the story. Horrors like being forced to sit in a coach to drive to Germany to walk around a swimming pool are all too present. And we're all big boys. If people sincerely think anyone with a brain is going to be influenced by a flight to another city, they're very much wrong. After a while, Press trips are often just a thing to be avoided rather than celebrated.
Weekends and seeing friends is nice. Jetlag and German Journalists aren't.
But still, they maintain a bad reputation.
Press trips like the one I've just got back from are why they do.
It was considerably more fun than a fair chunk of my "real" holidays. And while, yes, I did some work - hammered out four pages when I was out there with a lot more to do when I'm back, and spent a couple of days doing Dev stuff, interviewing people, watching games and the usual selection of things that pass for work in my neck of the woods - the majority of the time was gloriously lazy. Left to my own devices, I probably would wander the streets of Vancouver and San Francisco, looking for trouble. So I did.
If you're interested, the justification (Well - one of them. Relationship building be the main other I've heard cited) for taking journalists out for much longer than is required is that it costs hugely more to book a return flight inside a week than one which crosses a weekend. So in other words, it's actually cheaper to pay for the extra days in a hotel and associated expenses rather than the swifty return. Though when you ate in the number of high class restraunts we did, that particular logic begins to look a little threadbare.
(Best of the week, and probably the best of my entire life, would have to be West in Vancouver. Simply exquisite, in every single area, from service to food to ambience. If you're ever in the area, with money burning a hole in your pocket, do pop in. Runner up would be the French Vietnamese place in San Fran where we did battle with sinister Lobster. Worst of the week, despite the food being brilliant, was the French place in San Fran where the waiter-cum-Van-Damme-impersonator did everything short of pulling down his trousers and throwing handfuls of ejaculate in our faces to show his disapproval of our very existence.)
Can't talk about the games themselves, alas, as am under an NDA for a couple of weeks. However, in the interest of full disclosure, here's some assorted memories of the trip.
1) First day in SF we hired a bus which drove us to Yosemite park, which was spectacular, as demonstrated in Fig 1. Our coach driver was one Rodrigo, an exuberant Donny-Osmond-gone-to-Mexico gentleman who acted as our first Sherpa to the culture of this fair city. He introduced us to...
Fig1. Nature's majesty. Also, a waterfall.
2) The Shocker: Er... Vaginal, clit and anal, like a sexual trident. And no more information will be given than that - except a raised eyebrow - so don't ask. And then he took us to...
3) A Gay Karyoke bar whose name I forget. Filled with eight-or-so games journalists, half-a-dozen ageing moustachioed homosexual gentlemen and songs of great cheesiness. And booze. Oh yes, booze. This lead to increasingly ambitious song selections. Take me, for example. First choice: Psycho Killer Talking heads. Nerdy-pop classic, all twitchiness and false-voices. Except - y'know - I forgot the torch singer croon at the end of the chorus and the fact the entire third verse is in FRENCH (On the mike: "Run-run-run-run-aways... [Screen fills with french] Oh shit."). Still - not too complicated. Second choice: Fight For Your Right To Party, Beastie Boys. Not hard, but requires a certain shouty vigour which only a drunk man can possess. Third choice: Total Eclipse Of The Heart, Bonnie Tyler. Batshit mad diva hollering. Fourth Choice: When I thought that things couldn't get any more downhill, Gerant NGC and my good self add a splash of homoeroticism to the mix with a duet of "I need a Hero" by the same Miss Tyler. Everyone was similarly ludicrous, though C&VG Online (One of the very few genuine news-hungry journalists in the games industry) Johnny Minkley clearly cheated by being able to sing really fucking well. And Kingsley Official Nintendo has a Stars-in-his-eyes future with his shockingly accurate Bowie impression.
4) Oh yeah - that Booze. Drunkest I've been in two years. Genuinely seeing double when I was going to bed. Got all nostalgic for those falling-over years of 1999-2001. You would too.
5) Blowing a couple of hundred dollars in Amoeba Records, some comic place and an Anarchist bookshops in the Haight in SF. I excused myself because the exchange rate is so ludicrous at the moment I was effectively saving money. Only wimped out on finally getting the Palomar hardback because I didn't think I could physically carry it alongside my stack of second-hand CDs.
6) Getting suited up to hang out with the cool kids. Namely Laurenn "XXXLiveNudeGirls" McCubbin and Tristan "How Loathsome" Crane, who proceeded to be ridiculous friendly and took me to a solo gig of the Spoon lead singer, Britt Daniel, before driving around town being loud and telling me stories about places. Both have good stories. Both tell them well. If you're not reading their stuff - well - catch up, stupids. Test will be given later.
7) The actual meetings where journalists fell upon defenceless EA Producers to try and make them admit stuff they shouldn't. With considerable success.
8) Vancouver girls. Rarely have I seen a town conspire to torture men as what will henceforth be referred to as Hot Fuck Canada City. Everywhere! Toned limbs and wanton lips and... oh, Christ. Here I go again. Cheerfully reduced the group to inarticulate staring parodies of men, much to the amusement/despair of PR Jodie Van Hibb who had to get used to talking to journalists who started to fade out half-way through a sentence or spend the entire conversation staring over her shoulder in vague arse-height directions. As I idly put it, "If it's legal for them to look that good, it's legal for me to fall to my knees and masturbate before them". In the final bar of the trip, I had to get some small evidence. The waitresses were all too happy to comply. All this and narcissism too.
Fig 2. Some Girls, Yesterday.
9) Cycling around Stanley Park. Physical exercise and PR trips don't famously go together but the pure joy of forming a lo-fi Rebel Without A Cause gang and zooming around an astounding park with perfect scenery on a balmy day is pretty much as good as life gets. Worthy of a couple of other points to deal with a couple of moments...
Except the final hill to the peak on the far side of Stanley Park (See Fig 3).
Fig 3. Steeper than it looks. Honest.
9a) A Racoon in the excellently named Beaver Lake. Trades Description people won't be pleased.
Fig 4. Cute. Also, rabid.
9b) On the final leg out of the park we're driving in tight formation. We zoom past an example of the species Homo HotVancouverGirlus talking on a mobile phone. She yelps at the person she's speaking to. The vangard of the group is later informed that she then squealed "OHMYGOD! Four HOTTIES on bikes have just zoomed past". Hot. Narcisstic. Utterly deluded. I salute the xx-chromosome-bearers of this fine Canadian city.
10) Man, I can't end a list without getting to a round number. Er... watching the Third Man on the flight on the way home? Actually, getting back to discover that Chrissy has been thrown out of America due to Visa confusion. That'll do.
Quick plug for Arthur Goodman's 24 Hour comic, which I like a lot. Strong storytelling with a human heart and a splash of melancholy.