I'm not going to talk about Guild Wars 2.
Let me repeat that, because it's not a typo: I'm not going to talk about Guild Wars 2.
And now I'll admit it's a lie, but only partially. I wouldn't be able to completely avoid talking about GW2 if I tried; it's just too intrinsic to the day. The point that I'm trying to make is that, if you want to hear all about engineers and underwater combat and dungeons, this isn't the post you're looking for. There have been about several dozen blog posts by fellow GW2Fanday attendees and reviews by official press and even Anet's own blogpost about that stuff, done better and more comprehensively than I would be able to offer here. If all you want to know is info I got on the game, you can look at my post on the Community Portal talk and my other wiki contributions. When it comes right down to it, half the other GW2Fanday attendees are bloggers by nature and are blogging about the GW2 demo we all saw; it's unlikely I could offer any insight they haven't already covered.
What I want to talk about is the Fanday experience and ArenaNet. This is, not surprisingly, also covered by many of the aforementioned blog posts, but I don't care. Stephane first contacted the active admins of GWW and GW2W by e-mail around the end of May, saying that they were organizing an event at Anet HQ and wanted an admin of GWW or GW2W to attend, giving us until the last day of May to decide among ourselves, or he'd just pick someone from among interested parties. I'll note here that we were asked to keep it hush-hush, as Anet wanted it to be a surprise to the community, and that we didn't really know the scope of what Anet had planned (other than GW2 demo would almost certainly be involved, and that presumably it would be together with the Ambassador Contest winners' trip). They did eventually decide to take two (for which I am eternally grateful, as I'm pretty certain if it was just one, it would've been Poke), something I credit Aii for suggesting to Stephane, and when all the votes were cast, much to my delight, it was me and Poke. Martin took over from there, gathering details from the assorted attendees and letting us know arrangements and schedules and suchlike. Eventually we got the go-ahead from Martin to talk about things publicly (with a recommended hashtag for twittering) and we (just like you!) quickly found out just how big this thing was.
Let me say that I don't do Twitter. I have a Twitter, entirely because having either a Twitter or a Facebook (which I still don't have) was necessary for some contest or other like a year ago. I signed up, entered the contest, and promptly never used the account. But, y'know, what the heck, it seemed a useful enough way to keep up with what was going on with everyone else at Fanday, especially when I'd have only my cellphone on me, so I figured out what the heck my password was, changed it to a new one because it wasn't that good, and lo, tweeted my first tweet. http://twitter.com/#!/Tanetris if anyone really really wants to look through it that didn't see at the time. I don't really recommend following, because I'm not entirely sure I'll ever use it again, and no guarantee it'll be GW(2)-related if I do, but hey, do what you want.
Moving on. Getting there was actually my first time on an airplane, which was an experience, but none of you care about that. After getting slightly lost in Sea-Tac Airport because I had no earthly idea what Martin meant by "Conveyor Belt 1" but assumed it would make sense once I was there (Baggage Claim 1, as it turns out, which makes sense in hindsight), I found a large gathering of people including Martin and Regina standing out in their A.R.E.N.A. shirts, and Poke standing out with a readied camera. Also Stephane was there, but I didn't notice him until he snuck up behind me. I apparently looked like crap from my flight and running around the airport, as all three Anet folks and I believe 1 or 2 fellow attendees asked if I was okay. So thanks for snapping the pic right then and there, Poke. ;)
After a bit of waiting around for a van to shuttle us to the hotel and chatting amongst ourselves, the commando team split up: Martin and Regina were going in their own cars to meet us at the hotel, while Stephane stuck with us to play tour guide. Regina got to the hotel ahead of us, while Stephane got a call about midway there from Martin asking if he had any idea where Martin parked. It was a very humanizing moment: the Anet folks seemed to be as excitedly frazzled by all this as the rest of us. We all (attendees and Anet) were a bit fumbling, but ultimately there was no way to not have a good time when everyone there was so energized about the whole thing.
One of the two major points I really want to drive home here, because it was driven home for me, is that the people at Anet are people. So often we think of them in terms of what they do or what we credit/blame them for, as faceless suits who do these inexplicable things for good or evil at whim, or worse at the whim of the Almighty Dollar. Now I am not going to deny that companies want to turn a profit at some point (anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something you probably don't need), but damned if they aren't trying to do it by making a product people want to pay money for and charging what it's worth, and damned if there's a single person there who doesn't make it their personal goal to make GW/GW2 better. Regina isn't the CM who hasn't posted on her wiki talk page in ages, she's someone who's at home on and excels at social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, who uses her talents there while leaving wiki matters in the more-experienced-at-wiki'ing hands of Stephane. The Live Team aren't just a buncha guys sitting around a room somewhere plotting how to put off the next content update another month and how to make it too hard for you, or too easy for you, or not rewarding enough for you, or which skills to nerf/buff to screw with you as much as possible. They're a buncha guys who are testing the possibilities of what they can still do with GW1 on rather limited resources; who want to keep making things better, holding people's interest, drawing them back, or even attracting new people; who are at once humble in the face of everything GW has built up and its dedicated fanbase, and proud of what they're trying to build onto it; and who got dressed up for us (seriously the only ties we saw all day). Colin is not just a meme about swinging a sword.... But he really does smile that much. Including while running drinks for us. Think about that for just a moment: GW2's Lead Content Designer cheerfully running off to grab drinks for a bunch of fans, just so we would neither interrupt our playing to get our own drinks nor be distracted by thirst.
I'd offer something about Izzy not just being the guy who nerfed your favorite skill and commits crimes against the English language every time he types something, but to be quite honest, I was too busy peeking at monitors over people's shoulders to really absorb what he was talking about. Sorry Izzy, nothing personal I swear! I'm sure you're a real person too. Peeking at monitors and just getting to see whatever they happened to be working on at the time was probably my favorite part of the tour. Or possibly tied for first. I'll get to the second/other-first later.
Jumping back a bit since I've gotten incredibly ahead of myself, Anet put us up at the Hotel Sierra, which is literally right across the street from Anet HQ and was a really nice hotel. Apparently we were all supposed to get ridiculous suites like Poke's, but something about guests unexpectedly extending stays, so some people wound up with the suites, others wound up with regular rooms and complimentary vouchers for a drink and an appetizer at the hotel bar. Even the regular rooms were quite nice though, spacious, comfortable, clean, free wi-fi. Free breakfast included, which was a pretty serious spread and delicious. Okay, I know, I know, you wanna hear about Anet, not about tourism. I'm just saying the place they put us up was nice.
That evening, Regina loaded us into a van which dropped us on a sidewalk somewhere, where after some confused milling, we eventually spotted Martin about half a block down the way. We went in one bar/restaurant, but after some more confused milling (both by us and by the staff there), it turns out our reservation was at the -other- bar/restaurant like 2 doors down. Whoops. I believe this is about when I tweeted "Like a well-oiled machine" (or possibly a bit afterward when there was confusion over picking up the last few arrivals at the airport?), but I'd like to emphasize that it was said entirely in good humor and all goes back to the humanizing point that I mentioned above. Martin off-handedly mentioned the possibility of springing for a Hummer limo if they ever do something similar again in the future. I have my suitcase at the ready at any time guys. Any time.
I spent most of dinner with the German part of the table, smiling and nodding a lot since I don't speak a word of German, and had a good conversation with Mark Katzbach (that's the guy in the A.R.E.N.A. commando shirt with a moustache that no one recognizes) talking about life and customs in the Eastern US compared to the Western US, and his adjustment to Seattle, stories of days gone by, that sort of thing. Nothing hugely relevant, but again, humanizing. Apparently he's the community team's special operative on some supersecret project he can't talk about, so I assume he kills people. Or not. Who knows.
2 hours of sleep, because I am a champ at sleeping, and the aforementioned badass breakfast later, and we were off to Anet HQ. I'm sure all of you have read about the basics: We signed publicity release forms, we watched a cinematic with music from the PLAY thing (totally asidely, someone needs to tell the AV guys there about MPC HC, way better than VLC), and Mike O'Brien took us on a tour of the departments from there, then GW2 demo, food, swag, sound booth (oh God the screaming was fun), GW1, free play, more food, and then clinging to the demo for as long as humanly possible. Possibly in something close to that order, maybe. I'm not going to take that point by point, because I'm sure you've heard about all the interesting points already. Instead I want to harp on the other major point I wanted to drive home.
We hear a lot about the art of Guild Wars, and about the painterly aesthetic (if there exists a drinking game for GW2 interviews/news/etc, surely the word "painterly" warrants a drink. And if you're playing that drinking game right now: painterly, painterly, painterly, painterly, painterly, painterly, painterly. Painterly.), but it's hard to really understand how much of a driving force art is behind everything until you see how they treat their art. One of my fellow attendees stole this line already (but it's a good post so you should read it), but I say it here because I thought of it first (or at least independently) and because it's really the only way to convey the feeling: the common areas and the hallways have a feeling of an art gallery. I'm sure you've all seen the photos of huge canvas prints, but I want to emphasize that these were everywhere, each spaced apart from the others to stand on its own, each even lit with its own personal ceiling light.
This is aside from the smaller (but no less gorgeous) prints scattered here and there over the smaller spaces where larger pieces wouldn't fit, or the doodles on markerboards, or the tremendous piles of extra 8.5x11 prints that apparently used to cover the walls of their old office (floor to ceiling, I must imagine) that they generously gave us our picks of, and completely aside from seeing the actual art department. It's almost a reverence for the art, and has been said before, everything else follows from there. And frankly, as gorgeous as that art is, I call that a win.
At dinnertime, the 'guided' portion of the day ended (really, it ended after we all stomped through Cleansing Shenzun Tunnels, but after that pretty much everyone did another WoC quest and then switched back to GW2, and then Martin "encouraged" us to go eat before we forgot), so I can actually talk about my experience without worrying about so much overlap with everyone else's. Gratuitous linebreak here so I can fit in a picture of (most of) the Live Team.
Here we come to the promised other-favorite part of the day. A large number of Anet employees were gathered for dinner, and this is when I met Gaile Gray. Now Tanetris, I hear you ask, you've already met Mike O'Brien, Jeff Grubb, Colin Johanson, John Stumme, and so on and so forth (and aren't shy about the namedropping!). What's the big deal about meeting Gaile? Well, instead of talking to your monitor, you should just read the next few sentences. Let me preface by saying that, while I've been on Gaile's talk page any number of times, both in an official adminly capacity to (try to) keep order there, and as just myself adding to this discussion or that, I honestly was not aware that she knew me from Adam ("Who's Adam?" you ask? It's an expression. Look it up). Anyway. When I introduced myself as Tanetris from the wiki (yes, that is how I introduced myself. Enough with the interrupting questions already), Gaile's eyes lit up with recognition and started telling me how nice it was that I could come and how big a help I was for her on the wiki. I was pretty blown away. I think there was an awkward moment of silence where I just had no idea how to respond to that level of enthusiasm (and let me tell you, if you ever get the impression Gaile wears her heart on her sleeve (that's another expression), it's pretty easy to tell within 5 seconds of seeing her in person that she absolutely does).
To interject briefly, a few local longstanding friends of Anet, specifically Rainith and Purple_Llama, were invited to just the dinnerparty portion of the evening, which was a nice surprise since Rainith is an awesome guy from the wiki and Purple_Llama is an awesome girl from IRC (who gave me an adorable little handmade charr plushie), so it was cool meeting them. I interject this here because Rainith came and joined me and Poke while we were eating and... I think while Gaile was making rounds meeting other people, or possibly after Gaile came back over. Either way. Regardless, Gaile and Rainith and I chatted awhile about all sorts of topics, about the wiki of course, about account security (if someone asks for your password, don't give it to them guys!), about people's provably-false sob stories about their accounts, about collector's edition sparkles, about festival hats and Day of the Tengu, about rangers and pets in GW2... Plenty of other topics. Mike O'Brien came over awhile to join the conversation too, and at this point the general noise of the room made it hard to hear more than pretty much every third word, but with a number of "Uh, could you repeat that?"s along the way, we had some more good conversation until eventually I could bear the itch of getting back on the GW2 demo and more info for the wiki no longer.
The rest of the night was pretty much spent playing GW2, listening to the group on the other side of the table try to figure out how the heck to get through the explorable mode of Ascalon Catacombs (they eventually succeeded), a bit more chatting with Gaile, and a brief wander around that included peeking in on some people playing Rock Band down in the games room. I was asidely impressed with their selection of board games (Settlers of Catan, woo~). Then a bit more GW2 before finally, like all good things, the night had to come to an end, and we all headed back to the hotel. Regina drove me and... Ravious? I think it was Ravious... to the airport the next morning, and we had a pleasant (if rather sedate from all-around exhaustion) chat along the way, about Regina and the community team and Seattle and so forth. Then it was a flight home, time to put stuff on the wiki, and to incredibly procrastinate writing this post you're (almost) finished reading.
I'd like to say some thank yous here, obviously to ArenaNet for having this whole Fanday in the first place, and for including the wikis in it. Thank you to my fellow admins for picking me and Poke to represent the wikis, with special thanks to Aii for suggesting two people. Thank you to Stephane, Martin, and Regina, individually and as a team, for all your hard work arranging everything and chauffeuring us around and playing tour guide when necessary and literally every large and tiny thing you guys did to see to it we had a great time. Thank you to Mike O'Brien for running the tour through the Anet offices. Thank you to Izzy and Daniel Dociu and several-other-people-who-I-don't-recall-by-name-right-now for the rundown on your respective departments, and thank you to every individual in each of those departments for letting us mill about your space and peek over your shoulders and see how you all do the great things you do. Thank you to the sound booth guys for letting us scream our heads off and putting it in the game. Thank you to John Stumme and the rest of the GW1 Live Team for your talk, for letting us try out Winds of Change, and for dressing up for us. Thank you, again to Stephane, Martin, Regina, and Mike O'Brien, as well as Mark, Colin, Jeff Grubb, Gaile, and a dozen other people whose names I never caught or I've forgotten, for just sitting down and chatting one-on-one or in small groups. Thank you most especially to Gaile for really making me feel like the work I and everyone else does on the wiki is genuinely appreciated. Thank you to each of my fellow attendees with whom I could share my excitement and who have written so much already that I only have to write one ridiculously long post about Fanday rather than two ridiculously long posts. ;) Thank you, finally, to the communities of both GWW and GW2W, without whom I'm not sure I'd still be so heavily involved in Guild Wars for 6 years now, without whom I wouldn't be as involved as I am in the long lead-up to Guild Wars 2, and without whom I most certainly would never have had this great opportunity in the first place.
And as a thank you to those who took the time to read this whole thing, let me offer the definitive word on when Guild Wars 2 will be released. This is straight from Regina's mouth along the drive to the airport, and she's confirmed that it's absolutely, without-a-doubt true. Guild Wars 2 will be released when it's ready.