Day: September 28, 2009

To Stardock and Back

No shit, there I was.

(Forgive the expletive, but my friend Nathan Regener is of the opinion that all great stories start with “No shit, there I was” and I concur with him.)

Okay, both of my previous posts were made when I was exhausted for one reason or another, so I’m going to start over and tell the whole story.

No shit, there I was. Tuesday night before the flight, I go out and buy a rather nice netbook called a Gateway LT31 so that I can stay in touch with my family and show my interviewers at Stardock any of my previous projects that they might want to see. I spend practically the entire night scrubbing Vista off it and putting XP on, installing Visual C++ Express and Visual C# Express, syncing with my Subversion server and then making sure all my stuff compiles. Um…while Warcraft III and World of Warcraft install in the background. I also get my certification from Apple to install games I’ve compiled on actual devices so I do some updates on Inaria (it’s > < this close people, really) and install it on my iPod Touch. (Which is actually Ryan's but let's not get into that again.)

So I get very little sleep, but honestly, can you blame me? I finally fall asleep around 4 AM after everything is proven to work (except WoW which continues to download for another three or four hours; that game has just gotten out of hand).

I wake up at 7 AM and help my wife get the chilluns off to school. I then pack (which I should have done the night before, of course, but I was too busy fiddling with the computer). I bring with me some books to help me review, including Effective C++ and Game Coding Complete, Third Edition. I get to the airport around 10 AM for a flight that leaves at noon. I kiss my wife good-bye and enter security.

Now, I haven’t flown in ten years. You’ll notice that that’s before 9/11. I knew security was going to be tight, but I was surprised that I had to take my belt and shoes off. Once I escaped from security I went to my gate and, of course, had about an hour to wait. I thought I’d get online and send a message to Jamie telling her what was going on…when I realized that the airport did not have complimentary wi-fi. No, they had wi-fi service for four dollars an hour. Since I was going to be there less than an hour I figured it wasn’t worth it, and decided to call her.

That’s when I realized that I didn’t have the cellphone. I’m not in the habit of carrying it everywhere, so I’d left it at home. This is not merely inconvenient, it’s really going to bite me in the butt later on; you’ll see.

So the flight boarded. I was pretty worried. In the end, I’m not afraid of flying per se, I just hate takeoffs and landings. And…I was worried abut my anxiety level. But despite feeling afraid, nothing bad actually happened to me. Unfortunately I didn’t have anything to listen to (I hadn’t thrown any actual music on the iPod) so I basically just sucked it up the entire flight. I did get a little sleep, but mostly I was scared the whole time.

Which, frankly, was stupid because all in all, it was a great flight – smooth takeoff and landing, very little turbulence and we landed twenty minutes early because we had a good tail wind.

So I get off the plane into the largest airport I’ve ever seen. They’ve got people movers. They’ve got a tram. They’ve also got this long tunnel connecting one half of the airport to the other that has frosted glass on the walls that light up different colors in time with the muzak that is playing overhead. Seriously.

That was very cool and surprisingly calming.

But still, I’m in Detroit, Michigan. I do not know a soul. I have no phone. And while I’ve got an address for my hotel I’ve no idea how I’m going to get there. I don’t even know if it’s in Detroit or closer to Plymouth (the town where Stardock is).

So I ascend an escalator just outside the Tunnel of Sound and Light and as I get off it I look to my left. There I see – and I am not kidding – a stand for the Traveler’s Aid Society. And here I thought it wasn’t going to exist for another three thousand years.

Taking this as a sign, I approach them and take out the address for my hotel. And they kindly, kindly give me a map that has both Canton Township (where the hotel is) and Plymouth on it. And point me in the direction of the cab stands.

Now, the direction of the cab stands was also the direction to the shuttles that ferry people to the car rental places. Since I was going to be driving out of Detroit and back I figured I’d do better renting a car than taking a cab everywhere. So I take a shuttle to Budget car rentals. There I am informed that renting a car will be $126 and can I please see your credit card? I hand the nice lady my card; she runs it and frowns.

Now, you see, I don’t have a real credit card. I have a couple of check cards tied to two different bank accounts. Both of them had enough money to cover the rental, but because they weren’t “real” credit cards they couldn’t be used to rent a car. So…no car. I’d been dragging my bags around for an hour now, and I knew Jamie had to be getting nervous because I hadn’t contacted her yet. So I ask the girl at the counter to call me a cab.

I cabbed to the hotel, which was pretty easy to find. As I entered the hotel parking lot I noticed the nearby White Castle restaurant, which also bode well. I paid the cab driver, went inside and said, “My name is Anthony Salter. I have a reservation.”

I’ve always wanted to say that.

Checking in to the hotel was painless and they had free wi-fi. They’ve also got these things called “phones” in each room, so I call Jamie. I tell her everything that has happened so far, and of course, now I’m about to drop dead from exhaustion. But I’m also starving, so once I get done talking to Jamie I walk out to the White Castle and get four of them, which I then bring back to the hotel room and eat with relish. Uh…not really with relish, just with great enjoyment. A White Castle already has pickles on it, it doesn’t need relish.

ANYway, as soon as my stomach is full I cannot keep my eyes open any longer. I plug in my laptop so it can charge and I hit the hay. This was at about 6 PM local time (Michigan is in Eastern Time, an hour ahead us here in Texas). I set the alarm to go off at 9 PM.

Which it does. I start boning up for the interview. I skim through what I think the most relevant parts of Game Coding Complete 3 will be (tools, matrix math and debugging, mostly). I do this for about two and a half hours and go back to bed around 11:30 PM. Interview is at 1 PM the following day.

I wake up at 3:30 AM. I toss and turn for a half-hour before I realize I’m not going to get back to sleep. So I get up and do some more preparation for the interview. I answer some C++ trivia questions online. I read through parts of Effective C++ again and also skim some of my questionnaires that I still had from previous interviews. I shave. I realize that I left my nose hair trimmer at home so I spend a painful half-hour doing some hand plucking. I upload some music to the iPod, thinking it’ll help on the trip home.

Around 6 AM I start feeling sleepy again. I set the alarm clock for 9 AM and get back in the bed.

I wake up at 11:30. The alarm clock had been set to radio and the static that was issuing forth wasn’t enough to wake me up. My interview is in an hour and a half and I am in my underwear.

Now I’m panicking, not only because of my interview but because check-out time at the hotel is noon. I shower really fast. I throw on my nicer clothes and lace up my stormtrooper boots. I throw all the detritus that I’d spread around the room back into my clothing duffel and my backpack, hoping I don’t forget anything. I call the front desk and ask them to call me a cab. I race downstairs and check out just before noon. My cab arrives. I go out and throw the bags into the back of the cab. The cab driver says, “Where are you heading?”

It is then that I realize that I cannot remember Stardock’s exact address. All I remember is that it’s in Plymouth. But I know exactly how to find out; it’s all on Stardock’s web page. I pull out the iPod, run back into the hotel, and try to look it up.

Except that suddenly the hotel’s wi-fi has stopped working. It keeps connecting and disconnecting, never actually bringing up the page. The cab driver honks, so I jump in and say that I want to go to Stardock Corporation. The dispatcher can’t find a listing for it. Finally I say, “Let’s just head to Plymouth and we’ll figure it out from there”. I’m hoping that we’ll drive by an unsecured site long enough for me to bring up the page, but that never happens. Finally we get to Plymouth and I jump out and enter a small coffee shop. It doesn’t have wi-fi, but it does have a phone book.

Which doesn’t have a listing for Stardock.

At this point it’s a few minutes to one. One of the things that I think defines me is that I am never, ever late to an appointment. Ever. And here I am, about to be late to one of the most important ones of my life!

So I ask the nice girl behind the counter (notice how nice everybody has been so far? It’s almost like Texas) if she’s got a computer I can use for a minute. She can’t let me, but I write “Stardock Corporation” on a piece of paper, she goes back to the back and her Google-fu is obviously mighty because she comes right back with the address and phone number. I am so grateful I nearly cry.

I hop back in the cab to discover that the cab’s dispatcher has also looked the company up on the internet and discovered the same address. So now all we have to do is follow the GPS.


When we got to where the GPS told us to turn, it was closed off with a chain. There was a McDonald’s right next door, so I knew we had to be close (Brad used to talk all the time about eating at a nearby McDonald’s on the Poweruser Podcast). I suggested that we turn into the road next to the McDonald’s. The cab driver says, “Nah, nothing back there but McDonald’s parking.” So we find another way into the complex with the chained-off entrance and drive around the big building there. The cabbie stops someone coming out and asks him if he’s ever heard of Stardock. Nope. Then he asks him what the address on the building is. It’s 14990 and we’re looking for 15090.

So I ask the cabbie, “Please can you turn into that road next to McDonald’s? It’s got to be there!” The cabbie grumbles, “All right, but I don’t think…”

Please observe the following map image.

View Larger Map

Notice that while it denotes the address, it does not give you any information about how to get there from the street. So let’s switch to satellite view!

View Larger Map

The building just east of Beck Road with the green roof is the McDonald’s. Notice how the road next to it keeps going past it, dips down a hill and ends up at a mysterious building!

And thus, I arrived at Stardock Corporation, about twenty-five minutes late. I gave the cab driver a huge tip, picked up my bags and walked inside, certain that I was doomed from the start.

A nice HR lady instantly finds me and gives me a place to put my bags. I apologize profusely about my tardiness; she brushes it off and tells me that she was late to her own interview for the same reason. She then sat me down in a conference room, brought me a glass of water and summoned my interrogators – uh, I mean, interviewers. Once again I was talking to Scott Tykoski, Cari Begle and Jesse Brindle.

And thus began one of the best interviews I’ve ever had. There was nothing difficult or confrontational about it. They asked me again about what games I liked to play. They asked me very, very little about my previous work history, preferring to focus on the games I’d done for myself on the side. I told them about how Inaria had started as a forty-hour challenge and then been ported to the iPhone. I passed around the iPod and they all took a look at it and seemed impressed. Scott asked me if I’d done any other challenges, so I told him about the One Page Game I wrote.

To my utter, utter surprise, at no point was I required to answer C++ trivia questions or write code on a whiteboard.

Indeed, after a very pleasant conversation with the three of them, Scott and Jesse got back to work and Cari took me to see Brad. Again, I had an incredibly pleasant conversation with him – not about my previous work, but about what games I’d played and enjoyed and why.

Then Brad asked if I wanted the tour. Did I.

Brad showed me around the very nice office space at Stardock. He told me that the building had been built for lawyers and doctors but they had trouble renting (possibly due to the fact that it’s so darn hard to find) and so Stardock has been slowly buying the whole place up. The building is gorgeous and is surrounded by not one but two ponds. (Ponds! Standing pools of water that don’t instantly dry up! What a concept!)

He took me around to meet all the developers, artists, and support and marketing teams. I saw the Whiteboard Wall and even got a brief look at Elemental. He even took me out to see the bees, which was awesome. Then we headed back to his office.

It turns out that Stardock shares something in common with Valve, Bungie and Irrational Games – they don’t have dedicated designers. Everyone contributes to the design. This is why they needed someone competent at programming, but also very familiar with game history and design.

Which is why he then offered me the job. In fact, I found out from Cari later that they’d pretty much decided I was the right guy after the phone interview and just flew me up to make sure I was who I’d presented myself as on the phone!

And while it may take a while for us to get up there (we’ve some things we need to take care of here) we’re definitely going. I’m going to work for Stardock on Elemental and have a White Christmas this year.

Eating White Castles.

Name That Game 65!

What? Could it be? A new Name That Game!? Yes!

This one shouldn’t be hard at all. This game was all the rage back when I was at Origin. It started off as a free game and…kind of died when it became a pay game, probably because it was darn fun, but didn’t have enough depth to justify X dollars a month.

Name and developer, please! If you win, I promise that next time I’ve got you in my sights, I won’t shoot you down no matter how much juicy cargo you’re carrying.