July Update

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Earlier this month, Nana and Poppy finally came for a visit. Poppy had never visited since we moved back to Orlando and Nana was last here just a few weeks after we moved back. It was nice spending time with them and giving them a tour of Orlando. We decided to do what Nana likes best: shop. While we were at one of the outlet malls, we tried to see the final space shuttle lift off, but it was too cloudy to see it from Orlando.

Since Nana & Poppy were in town, this gave Jennifer and myself a chance to escape to one of the Disney resorts. We had a nice dinner at Portobello in Downtown Disney and then went back to the Bay Lake Towers, where we were staying. At the top of the tower, was a Disney Vacation Club exclusive bar called Top of the World where we were able to watch the fireworks from across the street at The Magic Kingdom. The show was amazing. They even had speakers for all the music that plays during the fireworks.

We enjoyed Nana and Poppy’s visit and hope they will come back soon.

The following Tuesday, July 12th, was the launch of NCAA Football. The studio was decorated with NCAA Football banners and they served the whole studio breakfast.

Finally, July 24th was my birthday and we had big plans. For my 30th birthday, we were still in Austin and celebrated at Dave & Buster’s. Well, they finally opened one in Orlando, after saying that this would be a great place for one after moving here. They just opened this past Monday and it appears they are still working out the kinks. While the food was good, it wasn’t all that hot when it came out. It was also pretty crowded. It’s good to see we can start this tradition back up after 9 years.

Our second stop on the birthday was Blizzard Beach. We decided since we were down south at Dave & Busters, we might as well use our passes to the water park and we spent the whole day there. There was a bit of a scare when Jennifer misplaced one of her bags in the ladies’ changing room, but it turned out okay when she visited the Lost & Found. Phone, driver’s license, and credit card were all still in there.

Our final stop, even though it was 9:00 p.m., was Mellow Mushroom for some pizza. Hands down the best pizza in Orlando and it didn’t disappoint. We were so tired from the whole day, everyone pretty much collapsed.

It was a great birthday and thanks to everyone who wished me a good day on Facebook.

Junior Counselor to the Rescue

I started out the week with a couple of days off. My plan for the end of the NCAA Football development cycle was to take three days off once EA Certification had passed us and to take a week off once Microsoft and Sony and passed us. Late last week the former happened and late this week the latter happened. So, I’m taking next week off. It’s much more restful when I know I don’t have to worry about the game. In fact, this is the first time in several weekends where I haven’t had to call someone on the team for one thing or another. It’s nice and peaceful with no e-mails going back and forth.

The week also started out with the demolition of our shower. It has been leaking for quite some time now and we finally settled on a contractor to come in and remove the tile, fix the problem, and put new tile in. It was a lot of work getting the tile and bringing it in, but David’s Tile did an excellent job. It looks great. Our only problem is that he removed the glass and now we are searching for someone to put it back. So, it’s “almost done”.

This week was also Vacation Bible School up at the Methodist church here in Oviedo. The girls attended and this was the first year that Abby wasn’t actually a participant, but a “Junior Counselor”. She watched over a group of kids while they did crafts and other various activities throughout the week. Abby got a complement from one of the mothers who watched how Abby handled one of the rowdy boys in her group. Both Abby and her parents were very proud. She’s growing up too quickly.

Mother’s Day Pool Volleyball

I would have loved to have slept later this morning, but the girls did a drive-by “we’re hungry” which woke me up. With the stress of shipping NCAA Football weighing heavy on my mind, I haven’t been sleeping well. I rolled out of bed and tried to wake up enough to make some waffles in our well-used waffle iron. When Jennifer woke up I almost relented going out to the Townhouse for breakfast, but figured it would be packed for Mother’s Day. Jennifer was greeted with a bunch of “Happy Mother’s Day” from the kids and we gathered in the living room to open presents. She received some earrings from James Avery from me and a special Filled-Pancake pan from the kids. The girls also piled on a ton of gifts they had made in school and girl scouts. It made me realize that I miss out on all this stuff because they are out of school once Father’s Day rolls around. Oh well.

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In the afternoon, we headed over to the Carbone’s for lunch and some swimming in their pool. Jennifer made an awesome spinach and cream cheese ball. We tried to make some toasted bread to go along with it, but while trying to hurry up and get out the door, they got burned to a crisp in the oven. We had to settle on swinging by Publix while driving over to the Carbone household.

There were plenty of appetizers that we filled up on while Tom smoked some chicken in his smoker and made some hamburgers on the grill. We stuffed ourselves and then filled the rest of the afternoon with pool volleyball, a tradition at the Carbones’. It was great to get out of the house and hangout with friends. By the end of the day, we were exhausted. Emily even more so as she fell asleep with a cheese stick wrapper in her mouth.

Quick Trip to Magic Kingdom

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I’ve continued to be busy at work as we near the end of our Finaling period on NCAA Football 12. The game is looking great and now we just have to stabilize the game and get it out of the door. Because I’m working so much, the weekend is the only time I have to do any of the normal stuff around the house. So, this weekend was my chance to “catch-up” doing yard work, washing my truck, getting a hair cut, etc.

While I was doing all of that, Jennifer took the girls to Disney World. Jennifer’s sister and her family are coming to visit us at the end of the month and since Disney is offering a deal on 4 days worth of tickets for Florida residents, Jennifer thought it would be cool to go ahead and buy the special 4 days tickets since they were almost the same price as just buying 2 days. The catch is that the tickets expire at the end of May. So, she decided to go ahead and use of the days on the tickets today. We didn’t realize how long it had been since Izzy had been to Magic Kingdom. She didn’t remember any of it. It was like a first visit to her. I got periodic updates through Facebook, but for the most part they had fun and were exhausted when they got home.

New Grass Across the Universe

The new lawn finally arrived! Last weekend we had a stalled out bobcat tractor in our front yard and I’m sure our neighbors were thrilled with that. The tractor just died while ripping out our old lawn. They fixed it on Monday and had the rest of the old grass ripped out. On Friday, the new stuff was laid down and then today we noticed the grass was looking dry. Turns out they only set our sprinklers to 16 minutes. I jacked it up to 45 minutes. I’m going to water the hell out of this lawn. There’s no way I spent this much money on grass to just let it dry and and die.

On Saturday was EA’s annual “company picnic”, which is basically tickets to our choice of Universal parks and lunch. We chose Islands of Adventure because we had yet to go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I’m not a big fan of the books or movies, but Jennifer and Abby like them. Jennifer has read the whole series and Abby just started the first book the other day. We entered the park and headed straight for Hogsmeade at the back of the park. We had some Butterbeer which tasted like cream soda with extra cream on the top.

We knew that we needed to get back to the Harry Potter Ride because the line would be crazy. We got there and the sign said a 75 minute wait and to top it off, Izzy was too short to ride it. Fortunately they offered what is called “ride swap”. We got in line (which took about 60 minutes) and when we got to the front, Jennifer and Emily rode while me and Abby waited with Izzy in a waiting room. When the ride was done, we switched with Jennifer and Emily. It is a very good ride. Like the Spiderman ride, it’s part screens which give you a sense of flying through the air and part fake dragons and spiders that drop down at you. Very well done.

For lunch EA had bought out Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville for a couple of hours. We had a few drink tickets for margaritas and Cheeseburgers in Paradise to eat. I was impressed that we reserved the whole place for lunch. It was roped off to the public and you had to show your tickets in order to get inside.

The kids were tireless. We walked all over that park riding stuff in Jurassic Park-land and getting soaked in Toonland on a Popeye ride. We kept threatening to leave, but the kids kept dragging us to different areas of the park. Finally at 7:00 p.m., we gave up and did a force march to the front of the park, Izzy crying the whole way. I guess 9 hours at Universal wasn’t enough for her. She promptly fell asleep when we got to the truck.

Madden Holiday Lunch

On Wednesday, nearly the entire 5th floor of Electronic-Arts Tiburon got a request for a “Mandatory Madden Team Meeting”. Working on a Central Team is tough. You never know if you are supposed to be invited to team meetings or not. So, I went by the new Executive Producer of Madden, Phil Frazier’s office to find out if his meeting was intended for Central Gameplay as well. He said that it was and that I needed to make sure that some of the guys on the team showed up. He said that the meeting was actually going to be a nice catered lunch with a silly awards show. He said that there was going to be a band there, but who the band was a surprise and that there was going to be no way I could guess who it was. He was right.

When I got back to my desk, I already had several e-mails asking if we were included. One person in particular wasn’t looking forward to sitting through a two-hour meeting and was asking if he could skip it. It just so happened he was going to be receiving one of the awards, so I insisted that he show up.

When we showed up on Friday, the line was long to get into the big conference room on the first floor. The room was packed. About one quarter of the room was sectioned off with black paper. Phil let us eat for a bit and then he gave an introduction for our entertainment for the afternoon. He started off by saying, “How many of you remember a pizza place called Showbiz Pizza?” He then introduced The Rock-afire Explosion, the animatronic band from the pizza place of all of our youth.

However, this wasn’t just some old recording, they had gone and recorded the award show so that the robots were giving away the awards. It was impressive that they spent so much time figuring out how to program the robots and set it up for the award show. It’s an event that I won’t soon forget. But, just in case, thanks to Ian Cummings for capturing video.

Madden Gras

Had a great time at our media launch for Madden NFL 11, on Monday August 9th. It took place in New Orleans on the eve of the release of the game. We had a special VIP area which several PS3 kiosks running Madden on them. While I was playing a game I was impromptu interviewed by a local television station. I talked about our major feature, GameFlow, and answered a few other questions like who the highest rated team was in Madden.

Down below in the street, GameSpot had tents set up where people could get their first hands on Madden NFL 11. There was also a stage with a band playing. People were playing games trying to win Madden Gras t-shirts.

In the afternoon, it was my turn to get interviewed by our live USTREAM coverage of the event. There is a video of the recording and my part starts at 02:35:00. I gave a “shout out” to the server team back in Orlando who was still hard at work trying to make sure our servers wouldn’t melt down on launch night. I talked about various features on our server driven features and that was it. It went pretty quick, but I had a fun time doing it. Would love to start doing more media events like this in the future.

After a late lunch, the floats arrived and we got on board the last one in line. The football player guests we had, Marcus Allen, Deuce McAllister, and Marshall Faulk, were in the lead float. We rode on the float for several blocks, down Bourbon street, ending up in Jackson Square, where another huge stage had been constructed. The floats were loaded with boxes full of t-shirts, beads, cups, and koozies. We threw them out to the crowd as we rode down the parade route. It was awesome. Phillip Holt, the General Manager for EA – Tiburon said it best, “Riding a float and throwing beads down Bourbon Street needs to make your bucket list.”

Thanks to Seth Christie for the first photo above of all of us on the float handing out beads.

Car Wrecks Are Universal

The week started off with a fender bender that Jennifer got into. Well, it was a fender bender for the other SUV. For ours, it was more of a smash the radiator and push in the hood. We contacted our insurance and the truck is being worked on. The wreck did around $5000 worth of damage and we should have it back in a few weeks. In the meantime, we are renting car.

On Saturday, EA paid for the whole company to go to Universal Studio. We could pick either park and then they were going to have a “picnic” lunch in the Universal CityWalk. We chose to go to the Islands of Adventure this time since we had never been there. Last time EA did this we chose the Universal Studios park because we thought the kids were too young for Islands. It turns out there was plenty of things for them to ride.

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We started off in the Dr. Seuss area of the park, which had a few very tame rides, which the girls liked. We then headed over and saw the area where the new Harry Potter section of the park will be opening up in a couple of months. We split up so that Jennifer and I could take turns riding the Dueling Dragons roller coaster. It’s a couple of coasters which are intertwined where your feet are dangling free. It was pretty intense, several corkscrew 720 spins and a couple of full 360 loops. Both Jennifer and I were dizzy when we got off and it took us like 15 – 30 minutes to recover, but it was still fun.

When we got over into the Jurassic Park area, we decided to take the whole family on the River Adventure ride. The first part was pretty tame, just floating around looking at giant animatronic dinosaurs. Once you go into a building and start climbing way up into the air, it gets more intense. The last part of the ride has a giant T-Rex and you are heading right for it and then you drop. Needless to say Emily and Izzy weren’t too thrilled. Perhaps we should have warned them, but then we wouldn’t have gotten such a good picture as we were falling.

Overall, it was a great day at the park and we are thankful to once again be working for a company who will occasionally spring for such things.

Nice Quiet Week

This week was pretty quiet as we stayed at home and did various chores around the house. Jennifer is finishing up the drapes for our room. We went out and got Izzy’s bike fixed. A cold snap finally hit Florida and I replaced the downstairs thermostat with a programmable one. This allows me to lower the temperature at night and have it automatically increase the temperature in the morning before we get up.

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One excursion we did was visit the Gaylord Palms’ ICE! Exhibit. The Gaylord Palms hotel had brought in ice sculptors to carve blocks of ice. The exhibition hall was set to nine degrees and they handed out parkas for everyone to wear. Jennifer had the forethought to buy the girls hats and mittens, so they were prepared. However, it didn’t take long before Izzy’s cute nose was turning red. Near the end of the exhibit was a giant ice slide, which the girls got to slide down.

So, overall a nice quiet week off. Next few weeks are busy: Emily’s birthday, the Texas Longhorns try to win the National Championship, the launch of Madden Ultimate Team, Jennifer’s parents are flying in, dinner at Medieval Times (for Emily’s birthday), and a camping trip down at Disney.