Mass Effect 2: Diary of New Guy, p2

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Part 2 of 2, by Jay Watamaniuk

“Shake them like Christmas elves until the missing string references fall out”.

And thus, my final day of my first week began. Every morning we have a quick stand up meeting for the design folks working on Mass Effect 2. We assemble in a big meeting room and go around summarizing, in about three words, what we are working on for the day so the Lead Designer gets an overview of what is going on with the team in detail. Once we have gone around the room, he gives some announcements to the entire team or deals with critical issues. When he is done, we scamper back to our offices and begin tapping on our keyboards.

I have spent my first week chiefly doing four things:

1. Trying to get a handle on all the new software on my computer that involved filing bugs, document security and game engine-related things used by developers. This also included the game itself which is more interesting by far then the the other stuff

2. Giving feedback on my first playthrough of Mass Effect 2. Things like loading screen hints, journal entries and general gameplay. This feedback is valuable because it is impossible to reproduce initial impressions from people that been working on the game for years

3. Wrangling something called ‘string reference numbers’ which didn’t involve colored yarn but are codes that are associated with every piece of text in the game. There are many, they hide and come from nearly all disciplines working on the game

4. Working on the wording of the achievement list

Working on a project right at the very end has its advantages for the new guy. I’m not really expected to know much about what is going on and everyone else has been doing this for years and can answer just about every question with absolute certainly. This disadvantage of coming in at the very end is people spend a lot of time running screaming down the hallway only pausing long enough to be set on fire. This leaves little time for showing the new guy the ropes.

I’ve been here a week and it’s overwhelmingly been about the mechanics of getting writing into the game more than the writing itself. I have a clearer understanding that there is a huge technical side of being a writer at a video game company; certainly far more then one would expect. I see no writers with giant quill pens, and sheets of parchment, breathing through a perfumed handkerchief, reclining on overstuffed chairs, while servants bring peeled grapes, and shade them with palm fronds. I’m O.K. with that because that image is pretty creepy in any case.

I hope the technical stuff can be learned so well it effectively disappears from view. I know I have a lot of learn about writing itself from the veterans here and would rather have anything obscuring my view of that goal removed while I still have the luxury of being an amateur. I suspect it will be a few months of a steep learning curve on technical stuff followed by a few rather nerve-wracking months of…y’know…writing.

I will be sure to record my thoughts along the way if you’re interested in reading how it all turns out. But if you’ll excuse me, I have to see a guy about some delinquent elves.