Dan Sochan is one of the most genuinely nice people I’ve met in the industry. His constantly positive personality is a refreshing change of pace from the sometimes cynical outlooks of developers who’ve been around the business for a while. It was a sorry sight then to see him limping around the Vancouver office of United Front Games as he gave me a tour of the studio celebrating the successful release of Sleeping Dogs.
Like a lot of producers who spend too much time at work, Dan likes to use what little downtime he has to experience new things and challenge himself with activities that have nothing to do with video games. Being a wannabe skateboarder in his younger days, Sochan spent a recent weekend trying to best a personal friend’s challenge; drop into a custom-built half-pipe and make it to the other side without bailing.
Clad in enough protective gear to defend a pro football player, Dan attacked “The Gentleman’s Halfpipe” with tenacity, dropping in and wiping out over and over again. Dan’s not a skateboarder, but that didn’t stop him from trying. Despite all his tenacity, Sochan eventually hurt his ankle and suffered for his efforts, but when I asked him about it, he said it was totally worth it. In the wake of his failure, he managed to earned himself a record for most drop-in attempts (See video). He may have had no idea what he was doing, but he made something of the experience anyway.
That’s the kind of guy Dan is anyway. Despite not coming from a programming/game design background, he found himself in the industry during the early days when things were played more fast and loose. A contact of his pulled him into the business with a nominal position, which he managed to leverage into some serious experience before becoming a producer at United Front Games.
It’s always interested me to find out how people get into the industry and what they wind up doing once they get there. For the past few years, Sochan has acted as the face of the company – our first meeting was during a press event at a go-kart track for Mod Nation Racers - and it’s evolved into a love of video game marketing, which is an unusual passion for someone who’s been able to work at the level he has. While I may not completely understand his affinity for promotion and sales, it’s his excitement that I can respect; in the post-release days of Sleeping Dogs when I visited he was in good spirits with the rest of the studio and ready to celebrate.
Actually, the studio’s pretty much always ready to celebrate. Friday’s are particularly festive in the studio with a majority of staff congregating in the lower floor of the office for libations as they cheers occasions, milestones, or just each other’s company. I arrived on a particularly special day, a mix of their monthly birthday celebration and their bourbon & whisky connoisseur club. Pretty much the whole studio was milling about, toasting the release of their game and just being generally happy. It’s hard not to enjoy an environment like that.
It’s nice to see a studio take the time to recognize their accomplishments, especially when they’ve had such tremendous success without going through all the usual trials most new studios have to. United Front Games managed to sink a pile of AAA projects with big publishers and platforms without needing to work tedious contracts beforehand, something Dan attributes to the excellent connections their senior staff had developed before starting the studio. Working with Sony, Activision, Square Enix, or any other major publisher is not something that’s usually possible for a start-up.
Sochan and his team are folks that understand how to celebrate success, but know not to take anything for granted. The shakedown in the wake of True Crime’s transition into Sleeping Dogs has left them all very aware just how turbulent the games industry can be. It’s easy to see in Sochan’s attitude that – though they had strong faith in what they’d made and knew things would probably turn out alright in some way – there were a few days that were a little shakier.
Maybe that’s a good thing though, the need to balance self-promotion with self-doubt is a necessity to creating great things. United Front Games is a studio that recognizes that they’ve got what it takes to get it done and because of that won’t give up on an idea even if it’s perilous, much like Dan wouldn’t give up on that half-pipe.
Kid wakes up, floor’s hard but the streets would have been harder. Getting by on the kindness of strangers ain’t a habit you want to develop, but sometimes it’s all you can do. He takes a groggy step into the mess hall and sees people getting ready for the day. Even meager breakfasts fill bellies.
The Kid hits the sidewalk and the cool sea air hits him. Sun won’t let him freeze though, it knows he’s got a mission. Today The Kid meets The Maker and there’s a whole lotta ground between ‘em. Step by step, block by block, he makes his way past the lost and forgotten to The Maker’s workshop. If there’s a lesson in this place, Kid’s gonna find it.
Maker’s a bit nervous at first, stumbling over his words but wears a welcoming smile all the while. He’s got a secret for sure, curtains pulled over his scribblings on the wall. Kid ain’t interested in secrets though, he’s got plenty of his own. There’s a bowl of noodles between them, warms their souls and the conversation. Doesn’t take long before The Maker’s opening up. Nothing breeds trust like a nice, warm meal.
The Maker was a lot like The Kid once, young and idealistic. It was The Company that stomped it out of him. He had some good times for sure, but a horse can only ride so far without getting a carrot before it just gives up. Luckily The Maker had friends, talented friends that saw a way to do what they loved without The Company.
Problem was that The Company had all the tools, even the best can’t build something from nothing. Didn’t stop The Maker from trying though. He toiled in that workshop for years, at times it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen. Spirit’s a funny thing, dreamin’ big can be all you need when it’s all you’ve got.
That dream turned into something magical. The Maker and his friends set an idea out in the world, and the world loved them for it. A lot of folks looked to The Maker for answers after that, everyone wants the secret to success from someone who’s hit the gold. Thing is, The Maker ain’t even sure if he’s able to do it again.
Kid’s got faith though, he wouldn’t be there unless he did. He can taste honesty in The Maker’s efforts, and it’s a sweet flavor that stays on the tongue. Taste like that don’t just go away, it lingers in the back of your mouth long after the last bite. All The Maker’s got to do is remember the recipe.
The Maker’s got his tools now and The Company’s heel’s stepped off his dreams. It’s still a delicate walk, but now he’s got the means to get back on the path if he falls off once. Even if he takes the wrong road he’s got the time to correct himself ’cause he knows how to do it with nothin’ at all.
Walkin’ away from the workshop, Kid’s got a new outlook on tenacity. It ain’t about stickin’ to it when things get tough, it’s about being willing to dive in when you’re certain things will. The Maker’s got that dogged attitude in spades and he’ll always be able to follow his bliss with it. Kid likes that, he likes it a lot.
Dear Tourists of San Francisco,
I see you in the diners and the streets, clutching bags of American-made goodies and pouring over pamphlets for ferry rides and novelty expeditions. I watch you walk in and out of trendy seafood restaurants and buying tickets to shows in the evenings. I hear you complain about the homeless and the garbage, feel you look down on the city you’ve traveled so far to see.
That’s not the city you’re experiencing, it’s the basic offerings travel brings all those who venture outside their neighborhood. New things and new tastes, these are guaranteed when you step outside your door, but that’s only the surface of what visiting a new place has to offer.
No amount of money will give you the same sense of adventure you can experience just stopping and taking it all in. There is no tour guide that can express the wonderful insanity of the nude men pacing about Castro between hills the shape of boners under a sheet. The dress you bought for the club you’re visiting tonight won’t leave the same memory as getting lost in a downtown crack alley and finding a dive bar full of rowdy locals watching a 49ers game.
You can’t buy the experience of travel, you have to just let it happpen. Stop working hours you don’t want for money to do things that won’t bring you closer to a place you want to know. Quit wasting the time you have earned here in beautiful controlled environments. You can find what you want in the city without a cent exchanged.
I guess this isn’t even just a letter to you lovely but misguided idealists. This message is to everyone sitting around waiting for that indescribably liberating feeling that getting away offers. Stop relying on money to bring it to you. It will get you close, but it won’t get you all the way. The only way to feel free is to deny the need for anything but yourself and the moment. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, so stop making money the deciding factor on whether or not you reach what you’re looking for.
A surely deranged anarchist,