The strange world of creative business called games

June 28th, 2017 by harold

It’s frustrating. I read this article last week and had a small discussion about it on FB. Robert Yang has a interesting take on it too.

First off, if we are talking about sustaining making games as a business, don’t come in the conversation to say that you can always make games for free. That’s irrelevant. We all know that we can make things for free, thank you.

For people who want to work and make a living in this business, the answer is: be at the right time, the right place. Have money. Three things that you basically can’t choose (you can bend them a bit).

People like to point out that this is how it is and will get worse.

It doesn’t have to be like that. We have some leverage.

It didn’t used to be like that. Early 2000s we had plenty of studios doing OK around the world, tons that you might have never heard of. It doesn’t matter, they were sustaining themselves, making games. I want that back and not just because finding work is very challenging and that my game audio skills are not really transferable but because I see young developers to whom we say “learn everything on your own, work 3 part time jobs and of course you failed miserably we told you so lol”. I mean, what the hell is this? That’s not something I want. I started at a mid-sized studio where I learned a billion things, learned to love game development to death and it made me care about it. That was fantastic. It wasn’t luck, it was just work. I really wish we would stop making game development something special, it isn’t. it’s another creative business, that’s all. And that’s fine.

What’s special is how hard it is. As I was answering Robert on Twitter game development is too intense, demanding and costly –for most people- to be something you do for free or on the side. It’s easy to rehearse a few songs after your day job or clean up your movie script in the morning. It’s another thing to fucking build a game when your engine requires a 5.4 gig update and you need to talk to your sound designer on skype and there’s this big ass bug in one feature and your software license is about to expire… People compare the complexity of making a game to launching a rocket, it’s not a joke. Game development’s overhead –even if it got better- is really brutal.

GameRocketDev 
You might believe Elon more than me.

But also let’s be honest, we’re full of shit. We revere Nintendo games and their polish, do you believe Mario 64’s camera would have been that good if the team had been fighting over contracts to get paid in time to cover their rent? Everything we love from Japanese game development is the product of well established businesses running for decades but we’re fine with the ultra liberalism that is killing all of us in the West? Why are we OK with that, especially when it’s clearly unsustainable? I want us not to revere Japanese studios, I want us to copy their methods: bottom-up design, long lasting teams etc. Why are we so dismissive of rookies and veterans? Why don’t we have a healthy fleet of medium studios where we would make contract work for brands or other IPs, share more knowledge and ultimately make even better games? Very successful mobile and web game companies do that, why don’t we do it with other games? Why do we have to be kind of elite about difficulty in games? Why do we have to be so dismissive of accessibility? Why do we want to create completely different games when they’re so dangerous to make? Why do we aim at niches so much?

The point is not to dismiss what’s going on for some developers. The point is, we could have mitigated or avoided some situations. We can do better and we should.

True

June 25th, 2017 by harold

There are too many indie games that seem to cater for an older audience but demand the persistence of young gamers. -RPS comment

This nails a big issue I have with games today, indie or not. They’re either brutally hard or unfair or really trying to make you sweat, or they’re a walk in a park with not much challenge.

It’s a design decision. For some reasons, a lot of game developers find that making a game accessible and “at the right temperature” for people is a flaw or a weak stance. That explains why open world games are popular because people can do and play as they want from chilling on the digital beach to cranking up the challenges to the max.

Allow me to enjoy your mechanics without stressing me out y’all.

I miss the ol Email

June 24th, 2017 by harold

Email was so cool. We have the best email clients now but omg do we get spammed. And the spam is getting better while filters are getting worse, real emails stuck in the junk folder is expected now. And these days some spam looks ridiculously real, it’s easy to make a mistake in the morning and click a link from one of those.

Email was more central to communication, everything was happening there. Some notifications from time to time but mostly discussions. I loved that I had everything in one place. Short inquiries or long forms it didn’t matter but also we didn’t have access to it most of the day unless we were staying in front of a pretty big computer, which was a good way to curb addiction.

Damn.

Suburbs

June 23rd, 2017 by harold

Culver City
Main streets with businesses, side streets with homes. Copy/paste forever.

I just love the suburbs. I always did.

First I grew up in a small village. Which is great Quality of Life but you understand pretty quickly that it’s too small: you know everyone and everyone knows your every move. For decades to come. It’s kind of wrong at some point.

The city. I spent a lot of time in Paris, roaming sidewalks with my grandparents, skateboarding later. I’ve never loved it. I don’t think it’s neat to live in towers and move under the earth all day, all year long. We despise cockroaches but we live exactly like them and like to pretend that it’s the ultimate thing. Great (unaffordable or run-down) buildings, nice (always late and ultra-packed) trains and complete anonymity filled with neighbors going crazy in their small boxes.

I’m not for it.

The suburbs. A mix of neighborhoods and industries on a horizontal plane. That’s the favorite part of my childhood and of my life today: biking around, discovering a part of the city that is half taken over by Nature, half an ancient factory. Skating a brand new plaza. Driving a few miles to go to a friend’s backyard and BBQ all evening. Easy parking. Walking and saying hi. Being in the open, no wind tunnel created by high verticals. The suburbs doesn’t care about what it is. It just is. It mutates and yet stays the same. it’s the trifecta of shelter, work and nature. It’s simple, real and human.

In a world where telecommuting, driverless cars and communities are becoming so prominent, suburbs will expand. I mean they should.

I feel determined too

June 20th, 2017 by harold

Reinventing a major publisher’s keystone release [Sonic The Hedgehog] for a pair of secondary platforms represented a tall order for a 22-year-old game composer who had never made a video game before, but Koshiro says he felt determined to rise to the task.

Polygon article about one of my hero.

Sánchez had also not worked on a film before, nevertheless, after receiving the script, he composed "rhythmic themes" for each of the characters.

On the great soundtrack of Birdman.

Games, movies, music. Unlike those examples above we like to keep things safe and ultra predictable these days.

Creative risks are also rewards. Creative risks bring the high-profile and/or timelessness they’re “dangerous” but they allow, enable the “legendary” part. Looking at how much reputation is important these days, I think it’s worth it.

Hot takes finals

June 14th, 2017 by harold

That game 4 was pure bullshit. Someone got paid. The Warriors lost by a combined 5 points without the fouls in the first quarter and of course, Cleveland wouldn’t have shot that well with Golden State right behind on an elimination game. Suspicious af.

KD is pretty good at basketball. At the same time he was the only one big name on the floor that didn’t have a ring and it showed. Mofo didn’t stop and was ultra efficient. Jesus.

LeBron… I told my friend that to win he needs to have some midrange jumpers in his arsenal. Why? Because they consume 1/3 of what a drive to the basket costs. He never does it because he sucks at it so he drives and is gassed in the second half. He’s either going to the basket, passing at the last second or shooting 3s. We all know. Might be a coincidence but: MJ, Kobe, Hakeem, Duncan, Dirk, Kawhi. Kevin Durant. They all have/had a “goes in 100% of the time” midrange shot to counter a tough team. LeBron thinks he can just leave that shit to someone else but that’s not enough, if you’re the star player you need options and the ability to bring chaos. A good midrange J is annoying as hell for any defense. How the fuck do you guard someone who can shoot/pass at anytime, from anywhere? The Cavs were too obvious against GS’s defense and we all know that they got very lucky last year. We also all knew that their defense was tuuurrible. They didn’t disappoint.

The Warriors are not invincible though, the Spurs showed it for half a game (they also beat them 2-1 during the regular season). Intense defense and smart, tall players give them all the trouble they don’t want. The Pelicans new duo –AD/DMC- aka the Twin Towers might be the answer. Tall players that can do everything at a more than decent rate are the future of the NBA.

The Cleveland Specialists lost to the Golden State Generalists. Good Game, Peace.

Live commenting the Andromeda

June 10th, 2017 by harold

Mass Effect Andromeda behind the scenes.

From conversations with nearly a dozen people who worked on Mass Effect: Andromeda, all of whom spoke under condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk about the game,

It will never be not weird to have NDAs that long. The game has been out for months, it’s a $100B industry. We should be able to talk and have conversations without all that hiding going on. It’s unhealthy, we can’t learn and do better this way.

Mass Effect: Andromeda was in development for five years, but by most accounts, BioWare built the bulk of the game in less than 18 months.

Five years. Half a decade. Probably 3 years of trying things out and 2 years of absurd pressure. Classic, quite standard but definitely not good.

Rather than develop a Mass Effect 4 at the studio’s main headquarters in Edmonton, which had made the first three games, BioWare decided to put its Montreal studio in charge.

Game companies have massive tax cuts in Montreal. Games cost a lot. It makes sense to send an expensive franchise to be made where it costs less. Cutting off the main team though, is… Very risky.

“No Man’s Sky with BioWare graphics and story, that sounds amazing.”

I mean. Any seasoned designer or programmer would tell you that it is ultra risky to do something like that because tons of technical reasons. It blows my mind that they would try something that cocky on a huge franchise. Cockiness should be in the polish, not the scope. Try new things out on short projects, not pillars.

Frostbite is capable of rendering gorgeous graphics and visual effects, but when BioWare first started using it, in 2011, it had never been used to make role-playing games.

No problem! Risk on top of risk on top of more risk for a beloved franchise. All good! This is going to work!

I just don’t understand how Electronic Arts, a 35 year old game company that produced hundreds of games still makes pretty much all the bad decisions possible on one of their biggest franchise. Wouldn’t you polish the previous games main features, perfect them? Create a spin-off, less costly, with procedural exploration? Have a RPG engine or layer developed and perfected for years for RPGs to come? Five years, hundreds of people working hard and the result is memes and an IP put on halt. Pretty sad and probably avoidable.

Dave pls

June 6th, 2017 by harold

“Get a blog. If your ideas have any value put them on the open web. Facebook is trying to kill it. Trust me you will hate yourself if they succeed. Same with Google.“

Dave,

It’s 2017. For years you played dumb with Facebook and Google, acting like they would not just try to kill everything that is on their path to lucrative margins. They’re companies, of course they’d suffocate RSS and the open web! You are a developer, you lived the 90s with MS, you are one of the very first blogger and you couldn’t see that coming? I don’t believe that.

I want the same as you: people independently owning their own spaces online, sharing their thoughts. And for that we can’t be whiny for a decade, we need to bring up actual solutions. Allow me to be blunt: no one cares, not even a second about technical detail. It’s a classic issue: developer gets so worked up with his/her own software, she/he forgets what the goal of those pieces of code are. We need a blogging solution, a full package now. For everyone, not the three friends who like to set up software on a server.

People type, record stuff on their phones or laptops and want to put it online and get it done quickly. That’s the Facebook lesson. No user should care about the backend, that’s the hosting companies and nerds problem. No user should care about syntax to format text, bring familiar GUI, allow people to flow.

Users need to be able to:

– buy/lease online space.

– produce and share anything they want, from paragraphs to live streaming.

– be able to archive and move to another online space with their stuff whenever they want.

All that in a few clicks. There are no other way. The other way is called “stay behind a private walled garden” because people are intellectually lazy and also, it just works. *opportunity shows up*

We need those tools now and yesterday: 10 year old kids today only know walled gardens and don’t understand the importance of the open web. Let’s go devs!

Technology nitro-boost

June 6th, 2017 by harold

Yo,

Earliest estimation for computers to beat humans at Go was 2027. It was done by 2015. Two years later, not only computers can beat the best Go players in the world but it’s done with ten times less power. Last month the games were close but ultimately the machine won and probably would forever. AlphaGo is retiring.

It’s very difficult to grasp what Google learned here but it’s probably prodigious. Damn.

Other news, they just announced 5nm process ready for chips, which is a staggering achievement. That’s 3 times smaller than the current 14nm top of the line, still pretty rare. We cram 5 billion transistors in current chips, we will be able to go for 30B in a few years. That’s a lot of computing power guys, I try to imagine it. I can’t. I think it will be enough for machines to take over everything. Of course, there’s more innovation –that we don’t know yet- to come. I mean.

Your kids will not have any jobs. You should probably not have kids and if you do, don’t be surprised if they basically become Wall-E’s humans. They won’t leave their VR headsets and will cry when not getting an achievement for putting their socks on.

Brace yourself, it’s coming.

It don’t matter if you have no defense

June 4th, 2017 by harold

People always are realizing after game 1 of the NBA finals that basketball is a team sport.

The finals are always about defense.

That’s something Cleveland is not so great at. Yeah yeah last year bla bla but it was the exception, not the norm. The odds are not in this happening again.

After those playoffs and the circlejerk around LeBron I was curious and watched some of those old 90s WCF/ECF. Boy. Those playoffs have everything: 3-5pt  game until the last second, fans loosing their entire shit when a player hits ONE three, bricks thrown at, hands in the face everywhere… Look at the ‘93 ECSF Knicks VS Bulls in 6 games. Games were exciting and it really feels like the Bulls –who seem so invincible in our memory- were not doing so well. they had to fight damn hard to get to the finals. I remember reading magazines thinking “that big New York dude, Ewing, he might win it all this year” except it never happened. Because it’s a team sport and one dude or two isn’t enough.

People forget that aspect. MJ was showing up on both ends of the floor then Pippen would too then Grant would too and so forth.

This is what is happening right now with the Warriors. It’s not about individual stats and one guy doing everything, it’s about the actual teamwork and communication and all about adapting to the opponent. And they’re damn good at this. Spurs in 6 tho I don’t care.