Jed Merrill, Producer/Game Designer

Week 16 – EAE Day

Monday, April 25, 2016.

gallery-1Over the weekend, a friend introduces me to a high school student named Keri who is working on a documentary about the Statue of Responsibility, a national bookend to the Statue of Liberty, planned to be built near San Diego.  Her Uncle is the CEO of the company and plans to use her video to promote the project.

I tell her about a foundation that could send her to Vienna to meet with and film the widow of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, who first proposed the idea in Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”

I would love to see this happen, and looking at the concept art, I am struck by how similar their process is to ours as game developers.

I also spend some time studying the art and science of drone cinematography.  A friend offered to sell me his business, and I am considering making an offer, as long as the deal also helps me get my game studio off the ground.  I will have a professional pilot on staff so I don’t always have to be there, but I look forward to some adventures in drone filmmaking,

At 5:00, we have the public event for Get Seeded.  Thursday was the screening panel.  Groups that get to this point are funded almost 100% of the time, and we ranked first on Thursday.

Update soon!

Another great night for B.E.S.T.!  The Get Seeded audience picked us to receive funding for a character model, shaders, and assets to polish our scenario.  We also got some great feedback, and one person sent me a link to an article about a state having to pay $6 million in a settlement for an officer who wrongfully shot a civilian.  We’ve been quoting the cost to a state at $750,000 to $1.5 million per incident, regardless of fault.

We only had three minutes to present and three minutes to answer questions, which meant a lot of information had to be left out, but the audience feedback was pretty much unanimous that this is a cause and product worth funding.

Troy D’Ambrosio says he wants to mention our Imagine Cup win in the Lassonde Center newsletter, and I finally got to ask Taylor Bench how he talked Zions Bank into funding Get Seeded in the first place, now five years ago.  He is also sending us information on the TVC’s canvas program, which he suggests we not do through the university since we are all graduating on May 6th, but follow on our own.

They pass around an erasable large check for those who are funded to write our team names and the amount on for photo purposes.  I let the rest of the team and Cohort 5 know by email and Facebook, write follow up emails to Taylor and Troy, and call it a night!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016.

IMG_0254After a brief celebration of our win last night, Corrinne tells us KUER is trying to get in touch with us to do a radio interview!

imgresWe arrange to meet with Andrea at noon, and Ahmad, Nidal, and I tell her about recent events and the purpose of B.E.S.T. She says this will only be a two minute story, but she plans to pitch it to national radio as a potential spot in July, maybe just prior to the Imagine Cup Finals in Seattle!

Today is also the day our postmortems are due.

Tomorrow is EAE Day.

Thursday is our last day of class, and at 1:00 pm, B.E.S.T. will give our “Thesis Presentation” which is kind of like a thesis defense but less violent.  At 2:00, we will meet one on one with faculty about our individual contributions, which should be mostly a review of our postmortems.

If we pass, we can look forward to graduation on May 6th, after which I will continue to work on funding B.E.S.T. so we can keep the team together and add to it.

More on my thoughts about After EAE.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016.

Happy EAE Day 2016!  Meet the twelve games published by EAE students this year:


No cake this time, but lots of games.  We have two tables for B.E.S.T., and a projector shows our video.  I bring our Imagine Cup Finals trophy and giant check.

photo3We show off the project to a lot of people, the highlight (other than getting to meet Charlie’s girlfriend) being the District Attorney of Salt Lake City, who happens to be the uncle of our technical artist.  He was the first person in Utah to buy a VirTra unit, and has some great advice and praise for us.  He points out a lot of areas where we have an advantage over VirTra, and I think we will use him as a resource going forward.  He investigates a lot of Utah’s police involved shootings, including the James Barker incident that was a big inspiration for us.

I do not consider us to be in competition with VirTra or anyone else.  This is a problem that takes more than one set of eyes and solutions.  The DA does agree that VirTra is primarily focused on use of force, not de-escalation, and there is a real opportunity for us.  He ultimately has to take a call, but we look forward to more conversations.

One thing he really emphasizes is realism, something VirTra does well because they are video based, but video also has limits.

I have lunch with Ahmad at B&D Burgers, where we order gyros and a shake and talk business. I go over four components of what I see as my future, and he really wants me to start my game studio and run B.E.S.T. through it.  He is less positive about me buying a drone cinematography company, saying I can’t do everything, but I see synergies, and it may help me get the game studio started faster.  From the beginning, I have been interested in the intersection of movies and games.  B.E.S.T. may also benefit.

I have a chance to play a few other team’s games.  I see Danielle Powers again, who demos Dive: Starpath, a personal favorite.  I also really love Maui, just published on Steam this week! My Experimental Games class also showcases several games, a highlight of which is Omey’s Atrophy.  Below, Omey shows off a poster signed by everyone in the class.  Meanwhile, Charlie introduces his girlfriend Jenny to B.E.S.T.

 photo5 photo 

Thursday, April 28, 2016.

Thesis Defense.

It all comes down to this…

Eric, Ahmad, Nidal, Charlie, Shahbaz, and I show up at various times this morning after finishing our PowerPoint slides.

I stitch together our Imagine Cup presentation (made in a mix of Keynote and PowerPoint), Eric’s Thesis Defense template (made in Google Documents), my personal contribution slides, and a FRAPS video (made by Shahbaz and uploaded to YouTube), into a Frankenstein presentation meant to last two hours.

Just before 1:00, our scheduled start time, Corrinne dropped by to say faculty lunch is running late, and they will be an extra half hour. We appreciate the extra time, and get set up in room 3105 of the Merrill Engineering Building.

Around 1:30, the faculty starts to trickle in. At 1:37, I ask if we should start right at 1:30. Bob says to wait until everyone is present. We stand at the front of the room, like teachers, and they sit in chairs, like students. Bob is first, then Mark, Brian, Roger, and Ryan. Jose is teaching a class at this hour, so he can’t make it, but is there in spirit.

I get us started, introducing every member of the team, even though the faculty knows who we are and what we do pretty well by now. I then have Eric give the first two minutes of our Imagine Cup speech, a little more relaxed than we were in San Francisco, and I give the next eight.

We then go into individual contribution descriptions. Nidal starts us off, then Charlie, then Ahmad, then Shahbaz, then Eric, then me. I have seven slides, breaking down my experience as follows:

Projects I – Highlights
Projects II – Highlights
Projects III – Leadership Opportunities
Projects III – Research
Projects III – Press
Projects III – Imagine Cup
Projects III – Get Seeded

I also lead off my time with a very short summary of my first three semesters, prior to Projects I. The first was like Christmas, the second involuntary Politics and Warfare and iteration after iteration, the third Elective Heaven. Then Projects I, II, and III with more electives, competitions, and awards.

I think the Research slide is most interesting to the faculty. For a research university, research has not been a big emphasis at EAE, but my slide is brimming with it. I talk about play testing not just games but ideas. I share half a dozen books and audiobooks that I think would serve future Producers well, including Chris Lipp’s The Startup Pitch, The Storyteller’s Secret, and How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck. Brian writes them down, reversing the roles I typically enjoy in a class.

IMG_0295The faculty then asks us questions for about 30 minutes, after which they excuse us to the hall, talk for two minutes, and invite us in one by one.

Charlie goes first. He has a date with Jenny. Then Ahmad, then Nidal, then Eric, then Shahbaz, and finally me. Each of us comes out with a yellow rope draped around our neck and an EAE U shield pinned to our chest.

In five minutes each, we go from Junior Colleagues to Colleagues.

Shahbaz and Nidal wait in the hall for me to finish, and we take a picture together, then head back to the EAE North lab, possibly for the last time as students.

I pick up the last of my things, say “I’ll see you at graduation” to Nidal, Shahbaz, and a few other engineers still at their computers, make plans to attend Tech Crunch Alley in September with Shahbaz, and walk out the door.

IMG_0322I never asked to be a Ute, and I am walking out the door a chieftain.

Our story is not over. Our adventures are only just beginning, but in three years, I have gone from an amateur game designer and producer to a professional, and in at least a few ways a leader.

As a kid, paper prototyping games in elementary school, I was nicknamed the Games Master. Today, I am a Master of Games.

B.E.S.T. is also changing. It is no longer a student thesis project, but a commercial company in its infancy. We look forward to helping it fulfill its promise, as it moves beyond the walls of a University into meaningful development and then rural and city streets, half peacemaker Gandhi, half vigilante Batman.

And EAE? The students and faculty and program have also changed. Like diamonds, we’ve rubbed against each other for three years, and it will be interesting to see whether more of me remains between these walls or more of EAE follows me out the door.

As Brian said last week after our Get Seeded win, “You guys are going to leave a legacy and an example for future cohorts to follow!”