Ballin in Las Vegas 2013

We really started off 2013 with a mission at Umbra – we really came out flying working on Umbra 3.2 after the Christmas. So January  was full of work, especially for the engineers who crunched a bit on Umbra 3.2, but we all had a clear mission and target. It really felt we were working as a team even if I kept most of my work under wraps and vice versa really.

It did help that I knew I was gonna jet off to Las Vegas on 1st of February, so that was a good goal to aim for! Work hard all January, party for a week in February!

Check out this video explaining our tech at Umbra that I did with the talented Teemu Jäppinen. Check out his website here.


I flew out on Friday (on the same flight as Remedy’s most awesome CEO mr Myllyrinne), but since the outbound flight was delayed from Helsinki, I missed my connecting flight from New York to Chicago and from there to Las Vegas. When I got out of the plane in New York, they handed me an envelope containing a ticket for a JetBlue flight on Saturday morning directly to LV and a night including dinner and breakfast at the nearby Doubletree Hilton hotel. Ironically, the reason I had a bad (ie. short) connecting flight at JFK was because I had a three flight travel plan to Las Vegas so I could get more frequent flyer flights (flights count more than miles for us who fly economy) and fly cheaper. That plan backfired spectacularly so I ended up spending the night in New York and flying out at 10am on Saturday. I didnt really mind, I would have gotten to LV around 11pm on Friday anyway. Now I got see a new part of JFK which was the JetBlue terminal. It had free wifi, but other than that, it was the usual terminal, but I did grab me some Dunkin Donuts for the first time in years! Flying JetBlue meant I got no OneWorld frequent flier miles. Real first world problems, I know.

So once I landed in Las Vegas, it was time to head to the hotel (Hard Rock) and meet up with my friend Ossi (Ozzy in the US) who flew out for a few days as well. We ate at the Pink Taco at the hotel which is a Mexican joint that sounds appropriately dirty. We also have a Mexican joint below our office in Helsinki, so I eat a lot of erm, Mexican food. Good thing I like it. So after that I tried getting some sleep, but I cannot sleep during the day (even if it was night back in Helsinki) – I dont know how to nap, I really dont. So, we went to see the Cirque de Soleil show O, at the Bellaggio. It was cool, but not as awesome as Ka. So, I managed to stay awake, then we went to eat at the Yellowtail restaurant at Bellaggio, which is a Japanese restaurant. Doing that allows me to then freely eat good American food for the rest of the trip and not feel bad about burgers, pizza and lots and lots of dessert. All of which I ate on Sunday. Multiple times. Still, I really eat a lot less dessert than before. People do change to some extent, I can tell you that with expertise at my age. I like different clothes to when I was younger and a different crowd, but I still roll with an extra clip. That has not changed.

The thing about Las Vegas and going out in general is to plan ahead. Just randomly going to various bars and hotels is ok to non-ballin people, but going to the club and partying properly – plan ahead. That means buying tickets ahead so you avoid queues or get this American invention called bottle service. Which means booking a table at the club by paying a ridiculous amount for a bottle of booze, which rests on top of the afore-mentioned table. This is what you do unless you roll into the club with hot girls, but sadly I almost never do, so like the most of us good guys, I pay my way in. The way I look at it, for a few days at an expense, I live an alternative lifestyle and then go back to normalcy when I get home. It’s escapism and boosting one’s low self-esteem.

So after Yellowtail we went to the Tryst club at the Wynn. House is the music of choice in Las Vegas clubs and I like hip hop and IDM, so we lucked out that Jermaine Dupri was spinning at Tryst. He played the hits and it was all good, we had a great time in the club and only paid 25 dollars to get in. But we had tickets beforehand, so we got go past the queue and got in really fast. That was really awesome. We were there pretty early though, around 11pm.

On the following day it was Super Bowl Sunday or the Big Game as they know it in Las Vegas. I think due to NFL licensing etc, you cannot advertise that you got a “Super Bowl party”, you have to call it the “big game”. That’s America and Ronald Reagan giving all power to the allmighty dollar and advertisers. So, I had booked us a table at the Pub at Monte Carlo. Again, plan ahead and book. No queue. So we had an open bar and a great buffet from 12am onwards until the match ended. Thanks to the power failure, we definitely got our money’s worth! The buffet was really good, not just the usual crap burgers. There was hot dogs (three different sausages), great variety of pizza slices, excellent Cesar salad, nachos with tasty cheese and meat sauce, some pulled pork sandwhiches and other food. The dessert table was awesome, but I didnt eat so much dessert, I seemingly had some control left.

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So after the match, I dont remember where I went. Probably back to the hotel.

Monday morning was spent at the gym and then catching up on work, which means a lot of email. I had launched our new website on Friday morning just before I got on the plane, so there was kinks to iron out and a press release to put out. Please check out the website here and give credit to this lady who did the “remix” on our old design.

Monday evening I had reservations at my favourite steakhouse STK at the Cosmopolitan. We took a good walk outside in the sun before, visited the MGM (still being renovated) and the Mandalay Bay and The Hotel (which will become the Delano in 2014!) and then went to STK. The bottle of wine I had at STK made me far more drunk than I was on Super Bowl Sunday, I really dont know how that was possible. After STK, we went to the older part of Las Vegas and Fremont street, which has bars like Insert Coin and DJ Lethal’s Backstage Bar and Billiards. Two drinks cost 12 bucks here, which was less than a single drink on the fucking strip!

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My buddy Brandon joined us here, we shot some pool, hung out and then went back to the strip. We ended up going to the Marquee club at the Cosmopolitan by getting insanely expensive bottle service and had to listen to rubbish house music. Still, this is the US – you pay, you get awesome service and feel like a VIP. So we had our own table in our own closed area with own security and hostess. All made us feel really welcome and it just gave a good vibe…but of course at a price. Still, jetlag caught up and I didnt stay too long. Long enough to be an idiot and losing money on the roulette table. Damn it!

Then work. On Tuesday evening the action really started as the DICE Summit kicked off. Not that networking and socializing with lots of friends and industry people in Las Vegas feels like work. DICE brings out everybody from key media to all the decision makers and studio folks from all over the industry. Where else can you hang out with Jason Rubin at the bar and then kick it with ex-Capcom king Seth Killian. I was really tired by this day so I went to bed early.

Wednesday was filled with presentations that kicked off with JJ Abrams and Gabe Newell, which was really great. A welcome change to the DICE format was that we went form 45 minute presentations to 20-35 minute presentations. It’s sad that our attention spans are so short these days (while writing this blog, I’m on Facebook, watching Liverpool-WBA, answering work email, browsing random websites->codetalk for pr0n really…you know the deal) that this is what you have to do – shorter presentations. Still, the quality was great, much improved over last year. I did a few interviews in there as well.

Wednesday ended with the opening party and I did get to go to EEDAR’s penthouse suite party at the hotel thanks to my friends hooking me up. The room had a jacuzzi facing the balcony and the strip and a fucking bowling alley. In the room. Met some people here and we ended up going to the Lavo club at the Palazzo with a few really cool game industry ladies. American women are easier to talk to than Finnish ones and they give compliments back at least. I’m  proud that I had stamina to go out and enjoy myself. I bumped into some Activision folks at the club and Rafael Colantonio from Arkane, so some business was done too. That’s what I’m at DICE for.

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Thursday was more great presentations, again from Newell from the start. Warren Spector had a really personal and emotional presentation or rather just …talking about how he felt about getting older and how the industry and games are changing. We get it, you want to make different kinds of games, like Epic Mickey instead of the games you made when you were 20 or 30. I really respect Spector for going for that. His studio, Junction Point, was shut down just a week before this, so his talk was even more impactful due to that. He spoke really well and from the heart, good stuff. Kiki Wolfkill and Frank O’Connor talked about setting up 343 and Halo 4. They talked okay, but somehow I didnt feel I got enough out of this…I wanted to know more, they just really didnt go into enough detail.

There is a lot of drama at studios and in work places in general. That’s what I’d love to hear more about, not relationship bullshit etc, but really, the challenges, the arguments etc that happen when you got hundreds of talented people making a game. Ironically, David Cage kept complaining in his presentation about how the industry and especially journalists need to grow up. I’m fucking tired of hearing this. He could then share more about his studio and the difficulties he’s faced and how he’s kept his studio going over the years with little money and he’s lost a lot of people, but he and PR dont want to talk about those things.

One thing some video game developers complain about is reviewers complaining about lacking technology in games and such things. This comes in the way of “understanding the art” of the game, the message, the things it’s trying to portray and the kind of feelings games try to evoke in gamers.

I get that and reviewing games is really a difficult task because you always balance on…what the game is trying to do, what the vision is and what the execution is….but, video games are an interactive medium. Things like frame rate have a significant impact on controls which in turn have a significant impact on gameplay. You know what? That matters. What also matters when you got an incredibly looking and sounding game like Max Payne 3. Then play some other 3rd person shooter where the graphics are average and the combat doesnt feel good…having a great story there is simply not enough. Often, this is a question of opinion and taste, absolutely, these are really tough calls. The difference between an 10 and 8 can sometimes be small. I gave Grand Theft Auto 4 a 10.  I chose to overlook the fact that missions were relatively linear and that there’s wasn’t as much freedom as before. Those features didnt matter to me, instead what mattered to me was that there were great characters, great story, a bold move in choosing an immigrant as the lead character and also, really amazing technology for a game made in three years on new hardware. Those were my reasons for giving it 10. I understand why some people would give the game an 8, completely. That’s why reviewing games is tough.

Back to the lecture at hand.

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The AIAS Awards were held on Thursday night at The Joint which was the place were Guns’n Roses played their residency a few months ago. The awards went well and the new host Chris Hardwick was pretty funny after a slow start. I did miss Jay Mohr though, but there’s only so many times he can do the same show. Journey was the big winner of the night alongside with The Walking Dead. I still have not really tried Journey, too artful it seems.

I was glad to see that for once, most people really wore suits and respected the evening’s event. It’s a gala, it’s a celebration of the very best in video games, so wearing proper attire is only right. I got to hang out a bit Robert Bowling again, which is always great. I also got to talking to my man Arne at Naughty Dog, I’m so glad I still have that connection there even after I didnt get to work there.

The after party was sponsored by Wargaming.net. They have basically sponsored all major industry event parties for the past 18 months from GDC 2012, to the last Austin GDC and GamesCom. It’s been epic, but this was chilled out. I spent a lot of time with my fellow Finns Housemarque and then I just went to bed. I had no energy left and that was sad. I felt really bad, but in the end, I’m a responsible person and the need for sleep and being ok the next day are more important. I find it hard to really let go.

Friday I managed to extend my check in to 12am. I did email, packed up, treated myself to the spa and a massage and just hung out at the spa reading a book that I bought. Stanley McChrystal’s My Share of the Task. An interesting read so far.

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