Developer Diary: Zoë Mode

Developer Diary: Zoë Mode

By Develop

March 4th 2009 at 10:52AM

Think that working in games is all about slaving away in a darkened room? Well, it is, but all that hard work can have its perks? Our recruitment special continues with a reflection on the benefits of all the hard work at the desk.

Andy Trowers, lead designer on Zoë Mode’s You’re in the Movies, wrote us a diary of his recent promotional trip to New York…

Microsoft arranges a launch event for You’re in the Movies and asks if we can send a crack squad of developers to provide technical support. They explain that they have hired out Virgin Megastore in Times Square and want to get people playing the game with a famous celebrity. The resulting films will then be shown on one of the big jumbotron screens outside in Times Square. It is a genius idea, and as it involves a free trip to New York City, we readily agree. Start spreading the news!

Monday, November 17th

We board our 767, excited about flying business class but disappointed that we don’t get to fly upstairs on a 747. The seats are pretty comfortable, but there’s not enough leg room for Nick, our technical guru. (The rumours that he was originally going to play Reed Richards in the latest installment of the Fantastic Four are unfounded, but apt.)

The flight is smooth and we while away the hours taking advantage of the free bar, and playing each other at the onboard quiz and poker games. The food is good, too – a cut above the mush that gets served at the back of the plane.

After about seven hours we arrive at JFK and breeze through the security at the other end. No one asks questions about the vast amount of wires and gadgets that hang out of our bags and we jump into a taxi.

We are staying at the W hotel in Times Square – very swanky, if a little on the pretentious side. We roll up to the front desk to check in. They check our reservations, tell us everything is in order, then ask for a credit card to cover the bill. Uh oh. None of us have enough of a limit on our cards to pay the rather large fee. It was supposed to be all paid for! I have a vision of sleeping on a bench in Central Park. Luckily, our friendly Microsoft PR guy turns up and settles the bill before we have to resort to such desperate measures.

We have a couple of drinks in the unbelievably expensive hotel bar and, after chatting with a crazy Irish lady who hates computer games and thinks Nick is a teenager, we retire to bed.

Tuesday, November 18th

After a light American breakfast (croissants with cheese and bacon, followed by pancakes and maple syrup, washed down with coffee and cream) we are ready to face the day. Our executive producer, Paul, is keen to take the morning to go sight-seeing. Our first meeting is not until the afternoon and we’ll have no time after that for anything but work.

First stop is Central Park. The views are fantastic and we get to see John Lennon’s memorial. It’s still a mecca for Beatles fans the world over and people are gathered around it lost in quiet contemplation and sorrow. On reflection, taking a photo of Paul grinning like a cheshire cat with both thumbs up is perhaps not entirely appropriate.

We walk down to the Empire State Building – the location of our afternoon meeting. We stop briefly on the way at famous toy store FAO Schwartz to play on the big piano. When we tell Nick to play on it because he looks the most like Tom Hanks, he shows his age by asking “What has this piano got to do with Tom Hanks?” Hmmm. Perhaps the Irish lady was right after all.

At the Empire State Building, we meet with our PR agency, Taylor, to work out our schedule over the next couple of days. They have managed to secure a few more opportunities for us on TV. We are to be shown on Fox News and potentially on Good Morning America. As these are both top-rated shows, we are very happy. It means a painfully early start for us the next day, but it will definitely be worth it.

After a lovely meal at a fantastic Italian restaurant and a couple of drinks at a ‘genuine’ Irish pub, we head back to the hotel for an early night. There’s much to do in the morning.

Wednesday, November 19th
We are up early to go to the Good Morning America studios. There’s just enough time to wolf down a triple choc caramel muffin before arriving for our meeting.
 
We walk through the studio in silence as the US equivalents of Fern Britton and Phillip Schofield entertain Il Divo on their couch. One of the producers of the show leads us into a room where we try to set up the game. A guy wheels in a TV. There’s no sound, but he’s not able to help us.

“You’ll need an audio guy. “ He says in a gruff voice. “Union rules.” We wait around for the audio guy to turn up with a speaker. Finally we get to demo You’re in the Movies to a group of production staff and they get really excited. “This is soooo funny.” They say. “We have to have this on our show!”

Great news! The production staff discuss the possibility of putting us on during the ‘watercooler segment’, whatever that is. Paul and I high-five each other in an over-exuberant fashion. We hot-foot it from the GMA studios to keep our appointment with Fox News, where we are going to test the setup for their show. We meet a lovely woman called Kelly who is one of the producers of the show, who is very excited because Jane Krakowski of Ally McBeal and 30 Rock fame is our celebrity spokesperson. I think she’s a big fan of both shows.

After waiting some time for our equipment to be brought from the front desk to the studio  – apparently moving it ourselves would have broken more union rules – we start to set up the game. Just before we can test the setup though, we get a phone call from the PR agency. The timings for GMA and Fox News clash, so unfortunately we are going to have to postpone the Fox news slot. We slink out of the studio with a distinctly apologetic air.

We grab a light American dinner (jumbo rack of ribs, chicken, burgers and fries from the Hard Rock Cafe) then decide to call it a night. It’s been a long day and we have an even longer one lined up for tomorrow.
 
Thursday, November 20th
My alarm goes off at four in the morning and I stumble out of bed to prepare for Good Morning America. The only thing that perks me up is the thought that Paul and Nick have been up since one o’clock. They are at the Virgin Megastore helping to set up and test the area that we will be demoing the game in.

I meet up with our PR representative, ready to head to GMA Studios. “There’s been a change of plan” says Sarah. “GMA have delayed by a week as one of their other segments is overrunning. We are back on with Fox News.”

Previous experience has taught me that PR events are notoriously ‘fluid’ so I take this in my stride. We head to the studio where Jane Krakowski awaits, and attempt to get the game set up.

It’s not that easy. In the organised chaos that is live TV, everything becomes difficult. You have to talk in whispers while they are live on air, so communication is unbelievably tricky. More importantly, no-one seems to be in charge. Production staff oversee the scheduling and content, stage hands move stuff, camera guys set the camera angles and lighting guys do the lighting. None of them takes responsibility for any of the others, and they are all incredibly busy.

30 Rock’s Jane Krakowski arrives at the studio and, in a break in the news, the female anchor walks over to her and gets very excited. They are both wearing heavy TV makeup, so much air-kissing and air-hugging ensues. I walk over to introduce myself.

“Oh my,” says the news anchor. “I love your accent. You would make a perfect presenter...  on the radio!” I try my best to take the positives from this statement.

Jane seems very down to earth though, and is interviewed while she plays the game enthusiastically. Despite the fact that the lighting guy changes the previously  agreed lighting, and the camera guy also decides on last minute alterations, the slot goes really well. Jane is a perfect spokesperson for the game, and the Fox TV folk are really happy.

The Main Event
I arrive at the Virgin Megastore to find everything set-up. We have taken over a large portion of the store with banners and signs everywhere. Our Burt Reynolds advert is showing on the big screens all over the shop, and we have two stations with couches, lights, and the game ready to play.

Nick and Paul are also ready to go. Nick will be manning the control room, whilst I will be demoing the game. Paul will be shuttling hard-drives between us, so that the movies can appear on the jumbotron outside.

The floodgates open and we have a steady stream of punters signing up to play. It’s incredibly rewarding to see people hamming it up and enjoying the game.
 
As the day progresses, a lucky few get to play with Jane Krakowski. We are surrounded by a frenzied mob of TV cameras and photographers at this point. It feels a bit like feeding time at the zoo, with photographers pushing and shoving each other out of the way to get the best shot. Jane continues to smile for the cameras and act it up for the game. I try not to punch a photographer in the face, as he sticks his elbow in my ear.

People are really loving the game. We have a guy come back to play, bringing his girlfriend with him. He saw himself on the big screen outside and came back for more. All sorts of people are playing, from youngsters to adults. Somewhat randomly, TV presenter Ellie Harrison from BBC1’s Wild about your Garden show turns up at the event, and we get her to play the game too.

Finally the day starts to wind down. We have a last round of photographs with the talent then it’s time to pack up.  Everyone is pretty exhausted, but as it’s our last night in New York, we make plans for the evening. Our PR guys have booked us a table at a posh seafood restaurant, so we head down there for a few drinks, eat our food, then drink some more.

We get invited out to a club called the 3 of Cups. We decide that, as we are in New York we should celebrate with Statue of Liberty sambuccas. The Americans look at us like we are crazy.

Friday, November 21st
Broken. We are all broken. We meet in the foyer to check out. Big movements make me feel ill. Small movements make me feel ill. No movement at all makes me feel ill. I think I’m going to be ill.

Our flight’s not until 11pm, so we have a lacklustre day of shopping and sightseeing ahead of us. Paul stumbles through a SWAT team, totally oblivious to the M16 carbines that surround him. We are all so dazed and confused, we almost get run over.

Before long, its time to bid New York farewell. We ride to JFK airport and board our plane, back to Blighty. It’s been such a hectic week, I manage to fall asleep on a plane for the first time ever. I wake to see Paul staring at me with bloodshot eyes.

“You bastard,” he says. “You slept through some of the worst turbulence ever! Every time I saw that you were asleep I wanted to punch you in the face.”

Ha ha ha.

www.zoemode.com