Farewell Activision & LA, hello Ubisoft & SF

I’ve got a new gig! In early April, I will start at Ubisoft as Community Developer for Studio SF, the team behind Rocksmith & Rocksmith 2014.

This is awesome for several reasons. First of all, anybody who knows me knows I define myself with the words “guitars” and “gaming.” I think Rocksmith 2014 is brilliant, it’s a perfect personal fit, and I’m thrilled I get to work with the dev team. Since Los Angeles and I never got along, I can’t wait to get back to the Bay Area; I’ve missed my friends, real sourdough bread, and weather. My friends who work at Ubisoft speak highly of it, and I’m a sucker for a good pun in Latin.

I leave Activision very proud of what I was able to start with One of Swords and I’m extremely grateful for the unusual amount of trust Activision placed in me for the last four years. I’m thrilled that 1oS will continue, particularly [REDACTED DUE TO NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENT]. But if you’ll allow a quick look back, here’s two One of Swords features of which I am particularly proud:

Interview: Pitfall! creator David Crane
David Crane is a key reason I am a gamer today. The chance to talk to him on Pitfall!’s 30th anniversary was a personal thrill — he was one of my boyhood heroes.

The Secret Skylanders You’ve Never Seen
This look at handmade prototypes was one of the times I really felt like I got to share inside access. It’s a story that would not have happened through another outlet.

After 215 episodes, the One of Swords Podcast has come to an end, but Kat and I plan to launch a new podcast soon. Follow @DanAndKatTalk on Twitter and we’ll post details when we have something to share. UPDATE: We’re live.

That’s it. Thanks for all the support. I’m coming home.

The Universal Truth of Ellen Page

Twenty-five years ago it was “Be excellent to each other.” Forty-five years ago it was “All you need is love.” Guess it was time for another reminder. Tucked within Ellen Page’s speech was a universal truth:

“You’re here because you’ve adopted as a core motivation the simple fact that this world would be a whole lot better if we just made an effort to be less horrible to one another. If we took just five minutes to recognize each other’s beauty, instead of attacking each other for our differences. That’s not hard. It’s really an easier and better way to live. And ultimately, it saves lives.”

That transcends any discussion of who or how you love. And this is really the core of my entire life philosophy, which I always just summed up as “mutual respect” but I’ve since realized needs to be more active. It’s nice enough to be neutral, but when you can spread positivity, you have more of a chance of making a difference.

My trip to Norman’s Rare Guitars

I’ve wanted to go to Norman’s Rare Guitars for a long time — mostly because Nigel Tufnel wears their shirt in This Is Spinal Tap.

“We’ve got armadillos in our trousers.”

Norman’s is also where they got/rented/borrowed all the guitars for Nigel’s guitar room scenes — including the infamous Fender Bass VI that “can’t be played…never.” After talking about going there “someday” for a long time, Kat finally kidnapped me and took me there as a surprise. I didn’t expect to buy anything but the shirt, but in the words of Marty DiBergi, “I got more — a lot more.”  Continue reading

So You Want to Buy an Electric Guitar…

I’ve been approached by several friends this year who want to buy a guitar, and I know the arrival of Rocksmith 2014 and BandFuse has something to do with it. I am happy and proud to be The Guitar Whisperer for them, but I realized that my advice has slowly grown over a series of emails to the point where I felt it was worth posting publicly. My goal is to tell you what you need to know to make a buying decision that’s right for you without slipping into too much jargon or cork-sniffery. So with that in mind…  Continue reading

YouTube and the path of Zen Guitar, part 2

A few months ago I talked about Tina S., the YouTube guitarist who, while technically proficient, never smiled, never seemed to connect with the music she was playing, and how different that was from my own experience, particularly following the path of Zen Guitar.

Today a friend pointed me to 21-year-old Marta Altesa, a London bassist who has not only impeccable taste in gear but proves herself to be the emotional opposite of Tina S. Watch her body language as she crushes “Master Blaster”:

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The little smiles, the head nods, the way her whole body bounces to the beat– she’s no less technically proficient than Tina, but she feels everything. She starts out serious in her video of “Get on the Floor,” but can’t make it 15 seconds before breaking into a grin.

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Even on the hardest parts, she’s clearly concentrating, but she loves the challenge. It’s evident. And while “Forget Me Nots” has a bit more “guitar face” in it than her other videos, her lock on the groove and connection to the joy of playing music is not only real but undeniable:

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This is what is to play music. This is why any of us do it, why we work and learn and fail and try. It’s to have what Marta has in these videos.

It inspires me to see her so inspired.

The real problem with Monopoly is you

A rather elderly blog post focusing on one key Monopoly rule that people don’t follow went viral earlier this year, leading to headlines of “Monopoly: You’re Playing It Wrong.” The author’s follow-up to the viral outbreak is worth reading as well. I am a lifelong Monopoly fan and student, and now that I’ve had time to let this topic simmer a bit, I’m going to go further still: I’m going to point out all the other things you’re doing wrong when you play Monopoly.  Continue reading

Update on the 2013 PC

If you’re just tuning in: I built my last PC in 2008 and decided to buy one, for the first time since the late 90s. I went with iBuyPower for a few reasons: Price-shopping, they beat everybody else on the market (at least for what I wanted), and I’d spoken to two recent customers — one about three years ago, one just this past year — and both had positive things to say. I also heard “I have no reason to avoid them” from a few pros that I trust. One of those recent customers recommended I go pick it up in person, thereby saving shipping costs and potential damage, so that’s exactly what I did on Friday morning. They are about 45 minutes away from West LA, and I was in and out in 30 minutes. I then spent all night — literally, until about 4am — installing software while simultaneously rebuilding and reformatting my old PC to be Kat’s new gaming rig, so we could play games Saturday when she woke up. Since this happened right after E3, I’ve been exhausted all weekend.

So here it is:  Continue reading

YouTube and the path of Zen Guitar

I am a mediocre guitarist at best. My technique is downright terrible. The nicest complement I ever received was from a friend who was very technically skilled, who told me that when I played, he could tell just how much I loved it.

So it’s with some concern that I watch the Tina S. videos.  Tina is a teenaged guitarist making waves with her cover of Van Halen’s “Eruption” on YouTube this week. It’s quite impressive:  Continue reading

My new PC, circa 2013

Order placed! It’s my first new PC since 2008, and the first I haven’t built myself since the late 90s. I went with iBuyPower because people I trust had good experiences with them, I can pick up the build locally and not even risk damage during shipping, and because their prices were crazy low — on par or better than me doing it myself. And I won’t panic about bending CPU pins or frying chips with static electricity during install!

For the folks who like to get into details, my goals were silence, a fair amount of future-proofing, and good H264 encoding performance. I don’t overclock. So, after polling some pals and the advice of Tested.com columnist Nathan Edwards, here’s what I cooked up:  Continue reading