Thursday, September 20, 2012

Notes from Europe

I suppose I need to write about one adventure before beginning the next.

So, Europe.

Doing stand-up in Stockholm
To promote the release of Guild Wars 2, I and Lead Character Artist Aaron Coberly were dispatched to Europe for a whirlwind promotional tour - four cities over the course of five days. The bulk of our tasks involved talking to the media about the game - ensconced in a venue with an introductory video, machines set up to one side to play the game, and Aaron and I available for interviews. It was very much a business trip, where we saw a lot more of airplanes, hotels, and restaurants than of the cities themselves. But here are some notes from the trip.

Overall, if I have to compare US security with that of Europe, I found the US model of huge queues with bellowing agents to be inferior to the polite but continual approach encountered in Europe (it only felt like I was being asked for my passport every five feet. In reality it was more like fifteen).

And this is sacriledge in Seattle, I know, but the Airbus interiors are superior to those of the Boeings. Even among the same airline, the difference between the two is noticeable in the amount of legroom the fully kitted-out Airbus provided. Sorry guys.

Surf Munich!
Anyway, Munich was the first stop, and I actually got in a day early, the better to accommodate the time shift (which did not work that well - I must be getting old). Munich itself was gripped in a heat wave, with a temperature of around 37 (98 for us Ammurikans). I had a chance to walk around, and I was impressed with the community's bike culture (everyone was pedaling) and surfing. Yeah, surfing. The English Garden, which is a huge park rivaling NYC's Central, has a powerful stream flowing through it. And where this stream issues from beneath a bridge, there are a set of hydraulics (standing waves), which wet-suited young Germans surf on. It is much more like watching a bucking bronco than a beach.

Also got a chance to get to the Neue Pinokothek, an art museum on covering 19th and early 20th Century art. Excellent Van Goughs, a version of Von Stuck's Sin that is also hanging at the Frye, and a lot of Greek-related art - did not know that for a time the son of the King of Bavaria was the King of Greece.

We stayed at a place called the Cocoon, which was a tidy traveler's hotel that felt like staying in an IKEA flat pack (and me without my Allen wrench). It was full of transformer parts (the bathroom door slid across the sink complex to be the shower door, the heavy curtains were also the closet doors, the shower overlooked the bedroom itself through a clear wall). An amusing place.

The venue for the Munich presentations itself was a bar/cafe/restaurant nearby, its windows open in an attempt to get some circulation in the oppressive heat. We did have some heat-related crashes, but Aaron and I had it easy in that the presentations themselves were in German and we were on hand for interviews and answering questions from the press.

Immediately after the presentations, we headed for Hamburg. Here's one of those traveler weirdnesses - In America, we boarded by row number or zone, and everyone milled around in an unruly mob until their number was called. In Germany they said "Everyone get on the plane" and, much to my surprise, everyone got on the plane. Amazing!

The last time we were in Hamburg (for another press tour), we went to this wonderful restaurant at a hotel called The East, which had fantastic sushi (Yes, sushi. Deal with it). It turns out we pulled up in front of the East as our hotel. Comparing to the spartan/smart/compact nature of the Coccoon, the East was a James Bond lair of huge beds, massive windows, and sinks made of false rock. The presentation was within the hotel itself (In a meeting room called The East Kitchen with a full kitchen), and they catered the operation with ... the sushi I spoke of. It was great, I ended up consuming a lot of wiesbier in the bar, and had probably my best steak in several trips to Europe, in a restaurant overlooking the one of the bays.

Two nights in Hamburg, then a quick bounce over to London. An afternoon off on arrival, which was nice. Got to the Tate Britain, which I had not been to before (partially closed, alas), and ended up drinking in a pub that Aaron had always passed when he lived here, but never stopped in. Much alcohol, you may notice, was consumed over the course of the trip. Aaron also insisted that we get some hummus at a local grocery - Waitrose which was fantastic (picture the two of us, leaning on a fence across from Hyde park, with crackers and hummus).

Not shown: Edna and Patsy
That evening, we were taken out to the Golden Oven, an Indian place in Soho. I am normally not of fan of Indian food, having suffered too many bad Indian buffets, but this was the platonic ideal of Indian food, of which all others were merely shadows. The hotel was just north of Hyde Park and we were packed into a tiny room that made the Cocoon seem like the East, but it was for a single night and by that time we were getting used to crashing completely.

The venue for presentations in London was different again - a penthouse flat that had been rented for the day from the owner overlooking Soho, done entirely in white - white walls, white floors, white furnishings (our white t-shirts actually provided camo in the building). A large buddha head dominated one glass wall, and the Guild Wars 2 art replaced the normal art, and fit well against it. It was strangely like working in an episode of AbFab.

There was a party there that evening, but we did not get a chance to partake - we were en route to Stockholm. We arrived after midnight (as was becoming a habit), and I remarked that Stockholm must be a very pretty city in the daylight. The hotel was "Western" style, which means that the ground floor was the 1st floor and they were putting a celebrity chef restaurant for Marcus Sammuelson. Aaron and I had it easy, by the way, because we did not need to do set-up, so we could at least sleep in.
Other than that, the interview went well.

I had the chance to do an interview on P3, which was the Swedish equivalent of the BBC. After getting lost in the vastness of that building, we found our way to the interview, which was marvelous. The hosts were knowledgeable and warm and made me feel very comfortable. Back to the hotel for more presentations and interviews, and then, to wrap up the trip, a presentation and a Q&A at Webhallen, a game store. We had maybe 400 people total, and it was a lot of fun.

And at last a late celebration dinner, in the restaurant district across the river. The front desk said it is a ten minute walk, and I pointed out that the front desk consisted of very athletic young people whose idea of a fun was to ski and shoot rifles at the same time, and could wrestle bears if they needed to. So half an hour later, my compatriots dragged this overweight, sleepy American to a delightful place, where he feasted on reindeer steak (and of course, had more beer). 

Then of course, up at Oh-God-Early and back to the airport to get home, our mission complete. As we were en route to the airport, back in Seattle, they threw the switch and Guild Wars 2 went live. As I write this, we  have just crested 2 million registrations, a number that leaves us blinking in the blinding glare of sudden importance. It all feels very strange, that after all the worldbuilding and after all the interviews, after talking on the phone and hosting people at the office and flying to foreign countries, that the game is now no longer just ours, just the mad project we have hidden behind the curtain. That now belongs to the greater world. It feels good, but also a little weird.

So naturally, I've left town again. This time, Ashland. More about that later.