Category Archives: Spicy Horse

One Year On…

My head spins to think about everything that’s happened in the last year. On this date 1 year ago I left Lamma Island, Hong Kong and moved to Shanghai. The intent was to help my buddy Xin start his outsourcing company Vykarian, and to launch a new game studio of my own called Spicy Horse.

Both goals have been achieved, and many more. Looking back, I’m impressed by how much has been accomplished in such little time. Spicy’s core development team is now at 26 people, being supported by 19 artists from Vykarian. The Grimm project has gone from fuzzy concept to solid reality at an amazing rate – thanks to a great team and good technology. And most importantly, the people involved in these ventures and projects are happy and full of excitement for the future. It is truly a good time to be in China.

For this next year it’s my hope that the studio will pick up another production. Ideally, we’ll continue using UE3. And this time around, I wouldn’t mind working on a larger-scale console project. Episodic production is challenging and uniquely satisfying, but playing titles like Bioshock gets me excited about the possibilities for a large-scale dark fairy tale action/adventure on 360. We have some concepts out there, and I’m hopeful… besides, it’s a beautiful morning in Shanghai…

Shanghai Morning, November 8th 2007

Yellow Mountain – Company Trip

Last weekend, as part of a Spicy Horse team building adventure, we took the company to China’s equivalent of the Grand Canyon – Yellow Mountain. Also known as Mt. Huangshan, Yellow Mountain refers to an area of scenic mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and gorges in Anhui province.

Our adventure began at the Spicy offices in Shanghai. We arranged to have a big bus take us two hours south to Hangzhou for dinner, then on to Anhui and the base of the Yellow Mountain region. About 25 people from Spicy and another 10 from Red Rocket (our buddy Jung’s game company) loaded onto the bus at 4 in the afternoon. Shanghai rush hour traffic, here we come!

IMG_1341.jpg Leaving Shanghai to Yellow Mountain

After a yummy dinner in Hangzhou we drove 4 hours to Yellow Mountain. It was midnight when we arrived, the village was dead quiet and seemed deserted. This would be the last time for the next two days things would feel quiet and empty.

As it turns out, large numbers of Chinese people really like to visit Yellow Mountain. Really large numbers. Upon arriving at the mountain we discovered that half of China had decided to take advantage of the nice weather and visit the mountain. Oops. Who knew mountains had waiting lines?

Continue waiting... Really more waiting?

We spent hours queuing up and down the beautiful terrain. Our fellow mountain tourists were in fine form: pushing, shoving, and generally misbehaving – all while precariously shambling along too-narrow paths over 1000ft cliff sides. Never underestimate Chinese ambition to get ahead at any cost – even when “ahead of what” isn’t at all clear. (Do you sense sarcasm? Visit the mountain, you’ll get where it’s coming from.)

Yellow Mountain Sunset Yellow Mountain Observatory

Mountain conquered, we retired to a tranquil bamboo forest lodge. Dinner on the mountain costs more, tastes worse, and takes longer to arrive – but after a long day of hiking and starving, everything seems heavenly. Much Chinese white liquor was consumed, many toasts were made – and as usual I felt like the luckiest man alive. Life in China and time spent building a team – ultimately, the closest many of us have to family here – is sometimes more rewarding than words can express.

Sentiment and sleep passed, the next morning arrives in true China fashion – workers clanging metal against stone. 6am. Apparently stone in China deserves loud punishment – for what exactly, unknown. Anyway, sleep is overrated.

Hong Cun Village Interior Return to Shanghai from Yellow Mountain

More bus. A visit to where the beautiful “bamboo forest flying” scenes were shot in “Crouch Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. Moments reflecting by crystal blue waters. Then more bus. We stopped in a village called Hong Cun for lunch. Stepping through homes built during the Qing dynasty – in 1646! – one is humbled by the history and longevity of Chinese culture. Where else do people make their lives in homes that are 360 years old?

Riding back into Shanghai I realized something funny… what I once considered an overly chaotic and irrationally hurried city – something too big and brash to get close to – now feels warm, familiar, and comforting. It’s always good to come back home.

New Office

Two weekends ago Spicy Horse Games picked up and moved to a new home. We had been sharing office space with game art outsourcing company Vykarian. But both companies have been growing too quickly, so we moved.

We got lucky and were told of a cool space which had been occupied by a film/tv production company. The work they put into remodeling, wiring, and decorating meant the new space was basically plug&play. We couldn’t be happier.

I’ve posted some images:

Team Spicy Horse Sep '07

Spicy Horse Screening Room

Click on the images to go to Flickr and see more.

Mainstream Download

AP News is featuring an article discussing the (re-)emergence of mainstream downloadable game content. Mention is made of GameTap and the Grimm project.

GRIMM FUTURE: If you want a really enormous library of classic games, however, you need to turn on your PC and head over to GameTap. The online service owned by Turner Broadcasting System has more than 850 titles, 30 of which are free to play even if you don’t pay the subscription fee.

However, GameTap’s biggest success over the past year has come from its commitment to episodic games — namely, the six-episode run of Telltale Games'”Sam & Max.” GameTap’s next episodic project is even more ambitious: “American McGee’s Grimm” is a 24-chapter game scheduled to launch in the first half of 2008. It’s an action-adventure game based on the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales, from Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin to Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood.

I find this whole “downloadable games is the wave of the future” topic slightly amusing given the fact that so much of the games industry was built on the success of digital distribution in its 1st era – 15 years ago.

During my time at id Software I witnessed firsthand the power of online distribution. At one point a guy from the University of Wisconsin contacted us to tell us exactly how our games were impacting the school. When a new id game demo was released this guy could see bandwidth usage go up dramatically. And he’d charted an opposite graph – student test scores, which dropped significantly in the weeks after a demo or game release.

Something I often wonder: Why did publishers move away from online distribution of all their PC products? Why the 10+ year hiatus, which for most publishers continues? Was it internet bandwidth vs. product size? Addiction to “box product”? Love of revenue generation (never mind profit)? Consolidation of market (the monopolistic sort)? Well, whatever the reasons – I for one am happy to see the trend reversing.

Poke, Poke, Prod

Welcome to Shanghai, now bend over.

Yesterday we went to the doctor. But it was more like an assembly line of poking and prodding. A model of Chinese scale and efficiency. The goal: To be certified as healthy, happy, and sane before acquiring our China live/work visas.

Assessment QueueMatt and Xin

At the beginning things were pretty standard for a visit to the doctor’s office. Only the mass of confused looking foreigners gave any indication to the differentness of the situation. We filled out the obligatory yes/no medical questionnaires. Do you suffer from any of the following:

*Colon Cancer
*Heart Disease
*Psychotic Episodes

Etc, etc. Pretty standard stuff, but it left me wondering. Who still gets “plague”? I thought that was done away with around the time of Monty Python’s “Holy Grail”. Leprosy? Wouldn’t that be kinda obvious? “Sir, you dropped your finger.” And psychotic episodes? Apparently this is something they have a problem with in Shanghai, even the “passenger agreement” in the taxi admonishes against catching a ride if you happen to be a “psycho”. Do crazy people get in the cab, read that, and then say, “Oops, sorry mate. Let me out at the next corner. I’m crazy.”

Happily none of us suffer from any of these things. (At least we won’t publicly admit to being psychos.)

With forms finished your number is called and it’s into the breach. Clothes are exchanged for robes. You find yourself feeling a lot like cattle. People shuffle confusedly from room to room, examination station to doctor’s desk. Stamp, stamp, stamp go the forms. Doctors prod you. Nurses jab you. Blood squirts, xrays blast, and stethoscopes listen. At one point we even had sonograms. I tried to ask, “Boy or girl?” but the joke was lost on my non-English speaking medical inquisitor.

Suddenly, you’re done. You expect some sort of handshake and, “You won’t die soon.” from the nearest doctor, but no. Results will be mailed. Have a nice day. Get out.

Shanghai Health Assessment Office

All in all a throughly dehumanizing experience. All in the name of progress. At least we now know we won’t be giving colon cancer to China.