We need to shift

October 7th, 2015 by harold

I don’t know, Barack. Invoking “sickness of the mind” sounds so terribly middle age-ish and ignorant. Plenty of not so bright people don’t go on killing rampage like that. They might throw hands at you while drunk, that’s it.

B, I think the problem is in the culture. The environment is making people sick. That’s the constant.

You don’t need gun laws because of those constant shootings and dead bodies, you need gun laws because it just makes sense to heavily regulate something that is designed to kill in a modern society. But that will not change the environment.

I can see the cocktail: heavy religion mixed with bullying culture, heavy binary world where you’re either good or bad, add some incomprehensible student debt and some of those kids reaching their 20s lose it. Boomers still don’t get the massive shift we have been going through and I’m not downplaying the effects on people starting their lives in this mess.

Gun laws won’t stop kids to feel desperate and angry, B. I think those shootings also make us numb because a lot of us know the huge task that is to redirect a culture that has always been very content with brutality and death.

I see them kids running in the Baldwin Hills with the US ARMY shirt, being yelled at, it breaks my heart. I see new Virtual Reality technology coming out soon and one of the big demo from last month involves holding guns and shooting at people. And of course culturally I’m supposed to WOOHOO this hard and ignore potential impact on people living in sick environments that is, tons of people.

There’s a lot of shifting to do.

On actors and game development

September 30th, 2015 by harold

Bad voice acting has been part of games for so long.

First off, we need to get rid of the Creative VS Technical debate. In gamedev both are equally important and usually dealt with by people who are both creative and technical. That’s the default state.

No, your motion capture performance ain’t shit until someone spends hours cleaning it up and integrating “your animation” in the game engine. Your voice acting performance ain’t shit until someone picks the best take, minimizes your mouth noise, makes it sound like you’re in space and integrates it in game.

Do not create classes. We’re all in this together. Flatten that stupid pyramid, please.

Second, union VS non-union and how game developers to this day don’t have any, like VFX houses. Two factors:

   – People are drowning in work and don’t bother dealing with this. We all work insanely hard –we all do but bear with me- at finding solutions to problems that didn’t exist before. People completely forget that: game development really is Research & Development. TV or movie technicians or actors, they swim in a pool of “been there done that”, we are not. Even when things look the same and that we think that we can use an old proven method to do something, it turns out that we still have to write some new code, maybe change an entire wall. It’s fucking nuts, I’m not exaggerating. VFX houses do the same, creating 3D that you have never seen before, dealing with mad constraints etc.

I stand by this distinction: we all work hard in the entertainment industry, but game development is the craziest. Look at cycles: 2, 4, 5+ years of development. Hollywood can churn out a massive Marvel movie employing 1,000 people every 1.5 years. So no time –and by that I mean brain time- for game developers to negotiate and meet with companies which will not help to establish unions, not their interests. Which brings us to the second factor:

   – Not enough older people. In TV and movie production in Hollywood where unions are very powerful you see people of all ages, early 20s to late 60s all the time. We all age and we need more security and less snacks, that’s how it is. But the game industry really enjoys people from 20 to 35. Especially before 30. Obviously young people will never care about unions. In TV you’d BETTER have your union card to get good work so when you start, you don’t see it as a thing that drags you down but as an opportunity to be treated fairly (yeah unions bring socialism all over the place, job stability, nice healthcare etc).

That is a weird thing: if game development is so much R&D, why would you not create a pool of veterans and use them to mitigate risks? Because they could unionized and sort of demand stuff? That might be one of the answer. Unions in Hollywood can shut down any production at the blink of an eye, I’m sure most big game companies are not looking forward to that.

But yeah as a veteran game audio designer who can barely use his skills outside game development, I feel so overwhelmed by the work (sound design, implementation, new tech showing up etc) that unions –despite looking good on paper- are so not in my head. To be fair in a game studio with a good reputation, salaries are usually good and relationships are flat enough that there’s no need for unions VS bosses.

I tend to think that’s progress. I wish it was expanding and that game culture wasn’t so stubbornly aimed at the youngest, things would change in developers’ favor more probably.

No Ads

September 20th, 2015 by harold

So there’s this big mess about ads and iOS9 and how Apple is going to make money and screw so many people etc.

Web 1.0 was full of pop up ads, it was terrible. Web 2.0 was supposed to be the clean web for which we subscribe to (Flickr being the poster child). But Google happened and people wanted everything for free, and everything for free has a price: the web we have today, full of scripts, tracking, hidden ads etc.

It doesn’t matter so much to me. I have always found that most of the best content online is not from websites running ads and in need of revenue. It’s from people writing good stuff, for free. Because they are real.

It is a constant to me.

So many articles trying to make it like they are real, deep reflections on subjects but they just look like so scholar and empty in the end. It makes sense, those writers are getting paid. Headlines are all about money.

Full RSS subscription has been the absolute best to me. Pure content, nothing else. It’s probably the best thing that ever happened to the web.

Extreme OPML
Back in 2011 I made this and it’s still fucking relevant. 

People just gave up choice and privacy completely to brands like Google and Apple, and I’m not talking just about devices and services but also ads (basically Google distributes all the ads on the internet) and hosting (Apple’s 30% cut on anything, all the time, forever). That’s gallons of Kool-aid.

People don’t realize that for example they go to Gamasutra to read an article from Warren Spector on a page serving ads, when the article has been available on that dude’s blog through RSS without ads, a day or two prior.

For the big news, they are everywhere for free outside the web! Yes, paid by ads but their nature is different: ads in a magazine or on TV are not making my hands or TV choke, nor do they track me all around.

People are forgetting that we actually can have a fast, clean, relatively private internet. You just need to fight for it. Never stop to create either. Your think piece/rant might be far more influential than you think.

The last technology we need is super easy micropayment to bypass tech and news giants, then we’ll be good.

Competitive shooters and TV

September 18th, 2015 by harold

Blizzard’s Overwatch. Competitive shooter, fast paced action.

Bosskey’s Lawbreakers. Competitive shooter, fast paced action.

Epic’s Unreal Tournament. Competitive shooter, fast paced action.

They all are coming soon. After being all the rage around 2000, the arena shooter is back. But there’s a problem: people watch people play now, and it’s a big deal.

I watched Overwatch’s 16 “heroes” and you have to appreciate Blizzard’s surgery at work, how things are readable in a chaos of green, blue bullets, force shields, particles and so forth. It’s amazing how good they are at manipulating color palette.

It is also super fast. It’s pretty much unwatchable for 90% of people if not more. This is what Twitch most watched games are, most of the time:

Those games are slow. If not reaaaally slow. Titanfall is really good and doesn’t appear here. No Quake. No fast paced games. People compare Team Fortress 2 to Overwatch but TF2 is far slower.

Game design wise, what makes Counter Strike far better at being watched is the fact that you can be eliminated in one single bullet from any weapon. Therefore you can’t be running around and you can’t be sloppy in your retreats. You have to be always careful and that creates tons of mechanisms: always move with a teammate, be silent, secure a zone with a flash grenade before entering it,  think how you can surprise your opponent etc.

We watch this, we witness this incredible tension that doesn’t exist in arena shooters because everyone is running and blasting everywhere. It’s fun to play but there is virtually no strategy or tactics compared to CS. It’s too fast! Just kill everybody without getting killed. It’s like a football –soccer- game with only the penalty area and only one side.

The absolute beauty of Counter Strike is its high dynamic: you can rush and play like an arena shooter or you can meticulously form an attack/defense. Everything can work and everything can fail equally. The economy makes every mistake count –if you lose, you can’t buy good weapons-. Which means that watching a match means you never know who is going to win (when teams are about the same level, obviously). I can’t count how many times I watched a game and thought that it was over no way the other team comes back from that oh shit they are fuck that’s awesome they might win!!!!!

Sports fans know what I mean. That’s the core element in watching skill-based entertainment: DRAMA. Automatic, endless respawn kind of kills it, by design.

Second thing that makes CS so good for TV purposes: you don’t have to know classes, there are no classes. Overwatch’s 16 different characters with each different abilities is a lot to remember (and I can’t even imagine the work to balance them out). It’s overkill for anyone not heavily involved in the scene. I don’t want to understand all that. Baseball has classes and like four countries in the world like that sport.

I showed a friend a CS game the other day, it was his first time and in 5 minutes he was into it. Very easy to understand and visualize yet, it’s already borderline pace wise when things get hot.

Arena shooters were the shit and disappear for a reason. Counter Strike is continuously in the top 5 sellers on Steam. They sold over a million copies in August, when the major competition took place in Cologne. 1.2 million people watched the finals (and probably another million watched them later) that’s the score of a modest, successful show on TV. No other FPS comes close to those numbers. It took Counter Strike fifteen years and billions of hours played to be that balanced.

If I was a big company trying to get into esports with a shooter, I would copy the fuck out of CS. Just change the anti-middle East theme and you good for years if not decades.

Everybody be quiet about Quiet

September 11th, 2015 by harold

You know, I never watched FemFreq’s videos because I agree pretty much with everything Anita has been arguing about computer games and culture. No need to reinforce my beliefs.

I watched the last one though:

I knew about this 80s/90s sexism. I played those games. I thought at that time –being between 10 to 20- that it was kind of amusing and lame at the same time. Whatevs, we’ll grow up. I didn’t realize how far we had gone rolling the same stupid ass sexist shit all the way up to 2015.

Damn Capcom and your Resident Evil DLC, damn Kojima and MGS IV. And MGS V (thanks RPS for doing the work).

Quiet’s depiction doesn’t intrude on what I love about the game, and I’m accustomed to accepting and acknowledging a certain level of unnecessary bullshit or tone deaf unpleasantness in the pop culture I enjoy.

Fair enough. I think it’s sad that it’s the only thing in that game that is unacceptable and that could have been changed easily, with just some common sense. But they keep it. It’s deliberate and it’s stupid.

Two decades of graphic arms race, we’re still drawing boobs and shoving them in our faces. Half the population doesn’t care. Imagine dicks in your game, every year more bouncy, for that long. You’d be tired too.

The argument that it’s all just fun and silliness is the oldest trick in the book. To me the issue is not the male gaze so much –I’m a dude and I like boobs- it’s more the childish, boy side of it that annoys the fuck out of me. I am passed that, even when I am entertaining myself I want something that talks to my 36 year old me, the average age of someone playing games in 2015.

Common appliance

September 10th, 2015 by harold

The cardinal rule of technology is simple: It must never, ever, under any circumstances, be boring. The engine that motivates consumers to spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on a device that’s not essential to furthering our lives is all down to the excitement it gives us.

HA HA HA. I think you are mistaken about technology and innovation. They are supposed to become boring, that’s when you know that most people have access to it and are benefiting from it. That’s when progress actually happens.

What is going on is that computers are hitting the sweet spot of “common appliance”. Everyone has one in his house, nobody is excited by them and yet they are crucial to our lives today, like this dude:

People were excited to see fridges back between the 1920s and 1950s. After that nobody cared and they are still around more than ever! That’s a good thing when disruptive technology becomes something basic, expected.

We’re entering this space and specs hoes, Brand Fanatics are sad. Computers are sliding through the “good enough, we’re around just chill” phase. We all upgraded some electronic devices in the past few years to see that it didn’t change anything really. A tad faster. A bit clearer. Who gives a shit about fridge specs these days? No one. It is good to reach maturity.

The next big thing would be devices that are more convenient –I still can’t believe that we don’t have washable laptop keyboards the filthiest surface on earth-, that don’t need updates every week, that are not locked down to any silo and are energy efficient and cool (heat created is used in some way, tired of having my hands hot).

Appliances, son.

Book deal

September 6th, 2015 by harold

Forget about the stupidly misleading title this is an article I feel.

Again, my story is more complex than that. I have never felt not-black even with zero black people in my life growing up. One of my earliest memory is my foster family smiling and yelling that those people on TV? They are my people.

It was a bunch of black dudes rotating on their backs, on the floor. Probably NYC around 1983-84. And it was immediately cool and felt right even though from that time to the first black friend I would have, over a decade would pass.

To me it was just like “OK, I see my face in the mirror I’m black, black culture is mine. Now, I’m living with white people. Let’s study this shit”. Which I did. In some ways it was super liberating to go anywhere my mind wanted to go. No boxes.

Of course I was the token black friend too, but I wasn’t actively searching for that. With black people it could go from weird disconnection like Danielle is writing about or it would just feel right.

So pretty fast I thought that black identity was an easy thing: are you black? Yes so you have that identity. The end. What you do with your life ain’t nobody’s business. If only it was that simple, though it is. Anyway.

Society later in life wants you to fit a damn box. Or that at least at some point, you fitted a box. I never fitted one, probably never will. I have read so often about the Nerd VS Jock thing but I was both, launching DOOM.EXE AND working on my fade away jump shots after school. It never occurred to me that you kind of had to choose one activity. I mean no, I kind of saw that but it just didn’t seem smart. I wanted it all. Carpe Diem, YOLO all that shit.

The thing is, social relationships happen in a much more efficient way when you are sharing completely an experience. I see it with work all the time, the core element in game development is to have been the nerd at school, shy and getting abused. I wasn’t the bullied nerd and I wasn’t the jock bullying either. I was shy but I could make the entire classroom laugh too. I was enjoying everything I could, avoiding negative bullshit.

And now I’m a unicorn trying to be low key, getting people like “the fuck is this guy about is he real?”. Of course I am.

Maybe I should write a book. The older I get the more I see how unique my point of view is. Like, damn unique.

Lack of diversity in game industry exhibit A

September 4th, 2015 by harold

I had totally missed that story this week. For those who didn’t hear about it, there’s a game on Steam called Playing History 2 – Slave Trade in which there’s a mini game of Tetris where you have to put as many slaves as you can inside the boat. Slave Tetris. The game is 2 years old but a recent video put it on the Internet front page.

Obviously, it escalated quickly.

Serious Games Interactive is a Danish studio and it’s not difficult to understand that they probably don’t have access to a lot of black people in their lives because about the mini game any sane, not self-hating black person would have been like:

The main issue here is a lack of diversity in the game development world. Gamasutra is quick to be verbose about ludo-narrative dissonance but I’m going to go ahead and say that it’s not the fucking point, the point is that the very white game industry lacks subtlety about non-white stuff. Simple.

I wouldn’t try to make a serious game about Poland or Ukraine without having at least half the team connected to those countries and that history (which is complex and insane and painful).

You can make games about everything, no doubt. However you can’t use a mechanic like that on a subject that is far from you –I suppose you are a Danish game designer up there in Europe- that is just too easy and displays a lack of empathy. SGI has apologized and removed the Tetris bit.

Guys, that’s the thing: you tackle sensitive subjects that you’re not involved in, for which you are pretty much total strangers. That’s the problem. Using Tetris in a game about slavery when the country with the biggest black diaspora born from slavery and what followed, is still talking about reparations. Over a thousand black people have been killed by police or others as of September 2015 in the US. We witnessed a dude kill people in church being escorted to get a burger. Hundreds of African refugees trying to reach Europe, dying.

Think a little bit. Think about black people’s mindset and feelings when they see that Tetris game. That’s not censorship, that’s just being smart and human. You wouldn’t have a rape simulator using a Track and Field mechanic in a serious game about sexual harassment and present it to rape survivors. You don’t need that gameplay to pass the message across. We can make games about everything, it doesn’t mean we have to.

I think the all going towards a closed society made of plenty of communities who can barely bear each other, is a problem we are already in. We might find that it’s a nice short term solution but it’s not helping us. It doesn’t develop empathy, it does create entitlement. Like Danish developers who sincerely think that they can make a game about black slavery, make a not so good game about it, and not have to be that accountable for it because people who take issue with it are too sensitive and/or eager to jump on the bandwagon.

TL;DR: we really, really, really need more diversity in game development.

lol ashley

September 4th, 2015 by harold

From my friend’s newsletter:

Follow up: The vast majority of the women in the Ashley Madison Database never used the site, and were most likely fake accounts. So it’s possible people are killing themselves because they were sexting with a bot.

And by people we’re talking about dudes. Unfaithful, weak, stupid dudes.

The biggest take to me is that it proves my point that women don’t search for dicks like all those borderline fake ass stories about male escorts are trying to make it look like. Women are cool. They masturbate if they want to come. Dudes can’t just do that they have to stick it somewhere, that’s our dumb culture. Most dudes still have the belief that fucking is some kind of territorial business whereas women just help themselves to sleep, they don’t need to colonize dicks (which doesn’t mean they don’t like the D you idiot).

Thank you Ashley for giving us data points on this.

Only in Japan, Keita and Katamari

August 20th, 2015 by harold

Reading about how this game came out to being made makes me realize how much the Japanese game industry was gliding and surfing at  high speeds in the last years of the 90s.

But despite taking an induction course in development and being deployed on a few prototyping projects as an artist, he struggled to summon an interest in flagship Namco franchises such as Tekken, Ace Combat and Ridge Racer. He found those games formulaic and uninspired, and floundered for two years before realizing that what was missing from Namco’s lineup was a flowerpot goat.

You get hired to create assets for successful franchises and you say fuck that for two years, I want to make my own game?

I mean, who has that kind of power because in studios I’ve been in you would have been hired for three-six months and bye Keita the Weirdo.

The Japanese creative freedom inside mega corporations (At that time in 99, Namco was HUGE) is to this day still unbelievable.

Keita pitched the game to his bosses and they were like “alright, here’s $800,000.” I mean we live in a world where developers are literally begging for budgets. Imagine being unhappy in a big structure and they allow you to be creative director of your own game:

Also, it never happens. On the soundtrack:

At the time, Shibuya-kei – a genre of pastiche-pop born in Tokyo that was typified by artists such as Cornelius and Pizzicato Five – was just about passing, but it left in its wake a post-ironic fusion of leftfield electronica, bossa nova and jazz that meshed perfectly with Katamari Damacy’s anything-goes humour. Unusually for a game, most of the music had vocal melodies.

“I thought it would be fun to sing along while playing the game, which is why we decided to use vocal music,” Takahashi says. “But we didn’t have much money, so we looked for artists who weren’t on a major label, more like B-grade musicians, to make the music.”

B-grade musicians!!?? Who shops for not the best ever?? As a composer I have seen so often studios aiming to get the best musicians they can for their soundtrack, not realizing that good music can be made by millions of people. No, really.

There’s this elitism going on in game culture, it comes probably from the needed coding excellence and game inherent competition aspect but still, when we produce we are like other productions we have to make it work and go for the “good enough” that actually might be much better than what you thought.

Especially with music and audio, the biggest bang for the buck in game development. One last quote:

As he speaks, he denounces the industry, both the majors and the burgeoning indie scene that is so reminiscent of the PS2’s golden era of weird Japanese games, while developments that you might expect him to embrace, such as Nintendo’s GamePad and Kinect, do not interest him at all. “Gaming hasn’t been around very long, so devices like that are unnecessary,” he says. “They’re nothing but a diversion, created for business reasons.

The problem to me is that it’s adding complexity more than anything else. It’s this fallacy that is all over the tech world: more tech will solve our tech problems! No. People are working super hard to get VR controllers right but as Jesse Schell wrote, people like VR experience with mouse –it sounds bad right?- because they know how to manipulate a mouse by now. It’s hard-coded in their brains. Gamepads with 16 buttons are not. Moving in front of a camera is not and new input schemes are being made.

I’ll talk about input in games in another post.