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Tycho / on Fri, Oct 7 2011 at 12:00 am

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Demographic Mismatch, Part One

Here’s the strip:  I mean, here.  <- It's there.

Meet James Silva.  Creator of Dishwasher Samurai, its sequel, “I Made a Game with Zombies in It!,” and the upcoming Charlie Murder, he is a man who keeps it perpetually real.  I heard a story about him at PAX, and it ended up being a true story.  I asked him to write it up for the site, and he did: in two parts.  Here is the first.

Three o’clock on the Saturday of PAX Prime 2011 seemed like the perfect time to pop the question. However, that day at 2:55 PM, with an extremely conspicuous crowd milling about awkwardly in front of our booth, abject terror set in. 

“Come on, man, you can do this,” said Mike Wilford, putting a hand on my shoulder. Evidently, I was shaking. Are ring boxes supposed to fit in jeans? I tried to be cool.

“Okay,” I think I said. In reality, it probably came out like, “Um.” I walked over to Michelle. She was beautiful. She’s always beautiful. I tried to say, “Hi,” but it definitely came out as, “Hu-HAAAA!” Would she come over and let me show her something? I asked, in this special new form of English that I’d just invented. I led her to a demo station where we were showing off Charlie Murder. The conspicuous crowd turned, watched, and pulled out their cell phones in unison.

Want to hear how it started? If you don’t, you can always skip to the end. I think it’s a cool story. And it’s all about games.

I grew up in upstate New York. Making videogames for a living had been my dream since Mega Man 2. I started out making totally unfair text adventures to torture my sister with, but stuck to the big game dev dream for the next decade plus. I eventually got to totally dork out with XNA, which let me make console games, finally pacifying the unsatisfied 10-year-old inside.

Still, as college graduation loomed, it became more and more clear that the indie game developer thing wasn’t going to work out, and I was going to have to go for the fallback. Application development isn’t that bad, right? After those first six stages of grief, I accepted my cubicle destiny. Two months later, all of my childhood dreams came true.

Around the same time I submitted to the cube farm, I had also submitted The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai to the 2007 Dream.Build.Play competition, an XNA game development contest put on by Microsoft to look for potential XBLA candidates. The Dishwasher took home an XBLA contract, I got to quit my day job, and with a bit of rent/ramen money from my parents, I got to make a game! The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai launched on April 1st, 2009, and an absolutely stupid number of people loved the crap out of it.

During that time, Michelle was a game tester at VMC in Redmond, WA—you know, nutrient-enriched sludge and all that. You remember the achievement in Portal for entering only orange portals? Michelle was the one that had to make sure that achievable awarded correctly. She’ll tell you about it.

Michelle also had to test The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai. That was the first time I interacted with her. She’d find bugs and file them in a database under the name VMC-MichelleJ. The reports would read like, “TCR Violation 570381: Destructive Actions: User save data corrupted when device is submerged in medium-to-large body of water.” I realize now that these must certainly have all been cleverly coded love letters, but I’m still working on convincing her of this.

My first PAX was Prime 2009. I absolutely butchered a panel—my first, in fact—called “What is Indie Game Development?” Consequently, no one that day learned what indie game development was. An incredibly shy, pretty girl approached me afterwards. “Hi. So, um…I worked on your game,” she said. She wanted one of the T-shirts I was giving out, but was extremely nervous because she did not yet realize that I’m actually a huge dork with low self-esteem. But we met and it was IRL! I apologized for sexistly assuming VMC-MichelleJ was a French dude, and we exchanged Gamertags.

We stayed in touch over the next year and, after a super random encounter at E3, I sort of basically totally completely fell head over heels in love with her. Thankfully, she admitted that she’d grown a bit fond of me as well. We embarked on a Skype relationship across three time zones, and when PAX Prime came around the next year, Michelle was my girlfriend.

By this point, Michelle was working at ArenaNet as a QA lead. Michelle is an amazing artist, but she had been doing her time in limbo QA and needed to fly. I wanted her to quit her job, move to New York, and make games with me. It was a huge step, but it was exactly what both of us wanted. So, after about four months of Skype chats, at least ten thousand texts, and too few cross-country visits that always culminated in tearful goodbyes—really just on my part though; I’m a crier—Michelle moved in with me, two cats, and an absolute nerd haven in the basement.

I was crazy about her from the start. I bought the ring about two months in. Every time I flew out to Seattle, I had to bring two things for safekeeping: my laptop, which had the source for The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile (still about 9 months from release), and that ring. By the time I finally proposed last weekend, the ring box was basically destroyed from all that travel. I lucked out when an amazing friend came through with a replacement box at the eleventh hour.

Michelle and I knew we wanted to get married, and I had already asked her dad a few months after she’d moved in. We were at a point where, every time I brought it up, she’d say, “Well, you have to ask me first.” I had some pretty grandiose ideas for how I’d pop the question. But nothing I could think of was epic enough. No walk in the park, hike, romantic dinner, ring tied to a balloon that flies off because she got excited, jumbotron at a local sports team game—noooo, none of that would do. Of course, it had to be a game. I had sappy ideas. I had ideas that were way too ambitious, especially considering my limited schedule. But when? And how?

Michelle and I met at PAX. Our second date was at PAX. I’ve exhibited our games at four PAXes now, and she’s been with me for three. We have a zillion friends in Seattle, and a zillion more from the games industry who come out for PAX. I was scrambling to set up a polished, playable demo of our next XBLA game, Charlie Murder. So, I made a sudden decision: Michelle and I could play a little Charlie Murder stage where a crowd of characters we’ve made, as well as our cats, look on as the in-game me drops to one knee and proposes to the in-game Michelle, and we’d do it at our PAX booth in front of as many people as possible.


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