Minnesota in San Diego: Indie Videogame Journalism at High Moon Studios

It’s the early 1960s of videogame journalism. It’s the party of a lifetime and I have just stepped out back and dipped my toe into the pool. Well, it may have been called a pool eons ago when the Rubik’s cube was in shorter supply than the Wii is today and everyone was talking about movin’ to a little place called Funkytown; back when most people really didn’t give a shit about the industry, not to mention its future. Now it’s the goddamn bee’s knees and everyone from musical acts who are curiously not dead from massive hairspray/latex exposure and critically acclaimed film directors see it as an additional and, especially in the case of the former and their medium’s thumb-up-the-ass self-victimized confusion, substitutional revenue stream. The pool now resembles a dynamic incongruous mass made even more crowded by the love children inhabiting the kiddie side who somehow use their doe eyes to convince the drug-addled (I use the term in fondest regards) adults they can swim with the big boys. Nevermind they are still having difficulty understanding the basic nuances of the doggy paddle. To reiterate and expand, my big hairy toe has entered the kiddie pool and it feels kinda funny.

On May 29, along with over a dozen other journalists representing a gaggle of what one might call "indie" sites, I visited High Moon Studios, located at Carlsbad, California on the outskirts of San Diego, to check out their newest game Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Conspiracy. Before this, I had, admittedly, never attended such an all-inclusive meet the developers, let alone one so far away from my native Minnesota and tales of Lake Wobegon.


Welcome to Terror at 60,000 ft. with Kyle Stallock as the John Lithgow character and Sam Houser playing the demon on the wing.

Reeling from a night "exploring" the Gas Lamp district, I stumbled out of my room with my objective being the inevitable lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel to somehow find these people whom I had never met. While navigating the hallways, and not very politely eyeing the backside of a leggy blonde, it took me around three and a half seconds to discover the apparent meeting place designated by my cohorts. Are my powers of deduction that sound? Not really. Let’s just say "stereotypes exist for a reason" and leave it at that. After the early morning pissing contest that is the meet and greet with the other journalists, a custom I reluctantly minimally took part of yet joyously observed, it was off to the studio.

High Moon offices

"Nice place…lots of…space."

Before this visit, my only familiarity with first-hand observations of the development and publishing process/houses had been limited to being employed by a creative bloodsucker for over half a year best described as the Solomon Grundy to Jonathan Blow’s Superman. In comparison, this place is a f*cking paradise. Giant artwork and game memorabilia from the prematurely released but fairly well received Darkwatch litter the walls and desks of the employees and, as I was told by President Peter Della Penna, there was once a giant ceiling-high Darkwatch castle on display; a possible relic from E3’s days of extravagance and excess. While walking and talking with Peter, obviously teeming with "years of work coming to fruition" excitement, I told him of the scarring from the cave-dwelling life I had experienced. With a confident and relaxed smile he replied with "having a great place to work is conducive to putting out a great product." Michael Scott wishes he was this cool.

6 year olds dream

Any toy gun-loving kid would be in heaven…or a mocap team.

Lunch arrived with a swift kick to the stomach. Still drunk off the surreal nature of it all, I had become oblivious to my insatiable curiosity devouring what food and excess drinks I managed to secure the night before. While wrestling immediate hunger’s desire to turn the ribs into finger food, we all got a welcomed chance to engage in some casual conversations with our hosts; unsurprisingly, most were just diving into epic backcatalogs of AAA titles; the most common being Mass Effect. At one point, I related the music industry to the gaming industry during which a compadre was quick to note a common misconception of the state of the music industry. "It’s not making any money." Au contraire my misinformed friend. The record industry is in the shitter. Paging Dr. Legere. Unfortunately, non-gaming discussions were frightfully uncommon.

Post-lunch was hands-on time with the final version of the game. Each of us were assigned to sit in front of 37-42" tvs with headphones attached and play the game at our own pace. As the hours wore on, most of my fellow visitors turned into ugly accolade-seeking monsters infatuated with progression. One fellow even defied our hosts wishes and played it on easy. When confronted for this aberration he denied any knowledge of their previous wishes.

More of Human Head

Nice whiteboard baby…

Hours later, and after the interviews had been conducted, the journalists began meeting outside. It was getting late, the sun was starting to set and I was ready for dinner and drinks at a local joint. Hoping to finally engage in casual non-industry related chat I began to make small-talk. Denied. Frustrated, I became curious as to why they write about videogames. The most common answer was terrifying…free games.

Social incapability was on the menu tonight at The Guild Restaurant & Lounge. Never have I seen so many look so insecure while staring at a bar. It’s almost as if the bottles of exotic wines and beer were taunting the journalists, asking them "who the f*ck are you?" Breaking free of the intoxicating and mesmerizing scene in front of me, I grabbed a Chimay and began a long night of drinking and eating with the staff of High Moon Studios. They may not be able to hold their liquor as well as a Minnesota native, but they’re pretty f*cking cool.


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Author: Kyle Stallock View all posts by

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