Yes Chef

February 20th, 2019 by harold

I picked up Marcus Samuelsson’s memoir on Friday. Finished it over the weekend. It’s good.

But also I share many things with Marcus, it’s uncanny. And I also have a distinct difference that is now sinking more and more in my soul:

I do not have siblings nor relatives, nor memories of them. I do not have pictures. And never did.

I’ve never had anyone blood-related to me and it looks like it’s going to be forever.

But back to Marcus, the 70s-born, European white family-raised, US-living black man that reminds me of me. He’s a star in New York and I’m grinding in LA. Still, I understand his every moves, the relentlessness that a transracial adoption I think enables: we grow up knowing damn well that we’ve got dealt a good hand. Time to not waste it. Shit is serious. It’s not about cockiness or arrogance. It’s about respect and fixing what doesn’t work. That’s the line we follow.

I see myself in him being serious about cooking while his friends were not at an early age. Paying attention to sound and deciphering how every one of them is created, has been a game of mine. When my friend told me “I’m going on vacation for the next three weeks” instead of producing music with me in early 2000s, I took that hard. The parallel between my domain and his is lovely because food and sound share vocabulary. Texture. Color. Flavor. Layers. Symphony. They share tedious preparation, obsessive dedication and limitless future. Samuel notes that he’s in the “memory business” which I love because sound and music are this too. I remember watching a Minecraft video of someone who had spent thousands of hours in the game and for whom the best memory of that game was the pretty piano playing hide and seek while he was building blocks. Memory business.

The biggest difference in careers, and this is where it super fucking hurts, is that the food business has been around for centuries and there’s an apprenticeship thing going on. There’s a system. I had none. Listen, I started making sound for games before game development schools and diplomas existed. So like Marcus, I focused like a demon and worked very hard to produce, learning a myriad of techniques. Instead of going slowly through the ladder of an international brotherhood like the culinary world is (or seemed through his book), I did not. There is no brotherhood in game development, just a gigantic web of pretty small tribes who don’t like each other much and don’t let outsiders like me in. You can’t see it unless you’re looking for work. I don’t talk too much about it in my memoir but I probably should give a few examples of searing pain when a job interview that goes more than well only leads to being ghosted. I have award-winning designers recommending me for positions and I don’t even get an email back.

It’s fucking me up and has been for years. Still at it. Determination is immense. I’ve left everything to do this.

When a 40-year-old business built from hippie/progressive white folks has less diversity than a centuries-old business built around regional taste and dare I say, patriarchy, you know there’s a problem. You know it means that my business is doing a very bad job at adding flavors. There’s no other way around it.

Marcus’ book highlights another thing: the exponential curve and the start of craziness. He was born at the start of the 70s, he got opportunities. I was born at the end of the 70s, opportunities from then and on are so much more fragile and rare. It’s one of the biggest constant in my life. A mere decade completely changed the job market. Thus people’s lives and expectations. Thus moods and feels.

Anyway. Great book. Inspiring. Tough for me, understanding that I won’t get the kind of closure Marcus experienced. Or will I?

A letter to James

February 10th, 2019 by harold

Hello Mr. Baldwin,

I just finished your book, The Fire Next Time. It’s also Black History Month. A wonderful adaptation of your book If Beal Street Could Talk is in theaters. Also, it’s 2019.

Nothing has changed, basically. The struggle continues. Only we have an ungodly amount of entertainment to go through while waiting for death. It used to be church, booze or needles on the stoop. That was your world. It is now “memes”, “likes” and a “feed” on the way to a mind-numbing job.

You asked the question: do I really want to be integrated into a burning house? Well, the burning house is now our whole planet, which is suffering from our stupid tenacity to stay ignorant and greedy. You know the deal. So integrated or not, the house, the property, our only property is in flames. It’s not a good look.

Love, as you mention it in the terms of tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth, is even less alive these days. We’re in the realms of ironoia, a term coined by Ian Bogost, which in essence is a failure to be earnest or true to oneself. You can understand that this is not helping with love. At all.

You would not believe the lengths to which people go to so that they can hide their hearts. It’s disheartening and a really tough problem to solve.

So we lose a fair amount of time, on everything. We dance for moons and nothing happens, really. We did get a black couple to rule the White House for eight years and you can accurately imagine how magnificent that was. But the fire is here now. It was there then too. We were just too busy smiling to acknowledge it.

Compounding effects led most people to do nothing between when you were writing and the world I’m living in. Black culture has exploded in popularity though, which is good? Consolation prize, I guess.

So, we continue. We stay focused. We work, relentlessly. We avoid, organically. We chill, seriously.

I am realizing how equally twisted our lives are: you moved to France, I moved to the US. You needed a break from racism, I needed space, which is kind of the same.

I write what I want to write, so you did. They say you wrote about bitter truths and I kind of do it as well, except that it doesn’t pay in my case.

You died of stomach cancer. I’m very active and in great shape but I feel like this world is burning my heart at great speed. Faster than it should, you know? The situation I am in is so intense I feel like apnea is occurring every five minutes.

Nonetheless I feel having a limitless amount of energy, hope and dedication to what I believe. Even though like 120% of black folks I am sick and tired, like we say these days: “but I’m here, bitch”

Godspeed James.

Your long distance nephew,

90s gamestalgia real quick

February 9th, 2019 by harold

First, [games should be] fun, with no excuses about how the game simulates the agony and dreariness of the real world (as though this was somehow good for you). Second, they [should] be challenging over a long period of time, preferably with a few ability “plateaus” that let me feel in control for a period of time, then blow me out of the water. Third, they [should] be attractive. I am a sucker for a nice illustration or a funky riff. Finally, I want my games to be conceptually interesting and thought-provoking, so one can discuss the game with an adult and not feel silly.

Star Controll II designer talking about how games should be via Filfre.net on Star Control II.

It’s really something I miss from the early 90s gamedev culture: do something dope, challenging but not brutal. Serious, but not that serious either. Teams were striving for balance to serve an unknown, yet big market.

These days we have optimized our production to cater to very specific demographics so much that, if you like one thing from a game, you have to eat so much of other things that you might not like. We specialized gameplay and wrapped it in some aesthetic and no other. Say I enjoy FPS. I have to deal with ultra-heavy military settings and themes because that’s what FPS players enjoy. But I don’t. I just enjoy the shooting/hide and seek mechanic.

I don’t miss the 90s ruthlessness of how game developers didn’t care so much about you having a great time. A bit too much of “I make the game I want to play” type of process.

But when said developers had an entirely new game, interesting gameplay, universe, story, characters and so forth, like Star Control II or Day of the Tentacle? Man, it was the best times ever. Like, life-altering.

LA-AD

February 5th, 2019 by harold

Anthony Davis at the Lakers? I don’t know.

First, I didn’t know that AD grew up looking up to LBJ. He’s such a different player and he looks 35 already. He’s only 25. So I get how playing with your idol must be very exciting.

The problem is that basketball is a team sport more than ever. Yes, we see James Harden or Giannis take over and secure wins for their teams but make no mistake: it’s all about depth and having a squad. Big 2 or Big 3 ain’t it anymore. The Clippers or Kings show that very well right now: no big name, no problem. AD who gave everything for 7 years at the Pelicans knows that very, very well too.

Every position needs to be staked with talent that can switch and do everything from defending a 7 footer to shooting 3s. If the Lakers give everything for ONE player, they’ll just end up with injured stars. Sure, stars sell jerseys and that’s the juicy business here: merchandising is the cash cow, right?

But if the team doesn’t perform well, there’s no game. If there’s no game, what’s the point of buying stuff?

Back to you, ESPN.

RIP RED

February 5th, 2019 by harold

My man Red passed away recently. I wrote about him last year, when he “retired”.

Things go too fast. He sold his business across the street. It’s a new gentrified shop now, as if the 25 years of him working that corner never existed.

He died six months after finally getting the bag. I still go through that street 4 times a day.

Down the boulevard another mom and pop shop, JnJ BBQ, is now gone.

NOLA Ninth homes

February 4th, 2019 by harold

The Lower Ninth Ward, a working-class, predominantly African-American neighborhood on the banks of the Mississippi River, was completely submerged by the hurricane. When actor Brad Pitt visited the area two years after the storm, he was alarmed by how little had been done to rebuild. Putting to use his considerable power and wealth, he pulled together 21 of the world’s most famous architects, as well as homeowners and community organizers in the Ward, and launched a project to build houses that were affordable, environmentally friendly, and aesthetically pleasing.

Ten years later, only 109 of the 150 have been completed, and of those 109, many appear to be falling apart.

It is now quite a disaster. People are suing. Some thoughts:

– On the neighborhood not wanting to change

There’s nothing wrong with that. There can’t be many stores and services? Have the minimum like everywhere else on earth then. Have a small shop that doesn’t make mad profit but serves a community with basics. Have bigger shops come in the neighborhood with trucks, once a week. There are many solutions to having single family homes serviced. You don’t need skyscrapers and a massive Walmart or Ralphs to accommodate people’s needs.

– On designs

And it quickly became clear to residents that a few of the all-star designs — sent from architects as far away as Ghana, Chile and Japan — weren’t going to work in Louisiana. The roofs on more than a dozen houses were flat — a red flag for locals.

smh. How on earth is that possible to fuck it up like that? Flat roofs in Louisiana is not a brilliant idea but even if you go for this, just tilt the damn roof by 5° and water will evacuate… It’s not rocket science.

– On costs

There are ways to build sustainable houses for quite cheap. The fact that they had inexperienced –and underpaid, probably- staffers working for the organization to help people go through one of the worst disaster ever in the USA, is maddening. You needed the best of the best here, no exception. The organization should have paid upfront to get a solid team so that they don’t have to rebuild and maintain houses for the next 20 years would have been smart. But no. Cut corners, get wrecked.

They also used OSB SIP for walls, a terrible choice because OSB rots easily. You wanted to experiment? Use hemp insulation and a bit more wood because hemp can’t be used for load-bearing. But it doesn’t rot and is natural.

That’s where having star architects was supposed to change the deal: they put some money in to make sure good material is used, for instance. Those residents are paying a mortgage on a new house that shouldn’t be decaying that badly within a decade.

What a shame. Imagine losing everything because the government failed you with levees that don’t work. Then you have a Hollywood star coming in with big bucks, building a green house that you pay for and it’s rotting right away. How can you trust anyone, anything after that?

On Netflix for games

January 31st, 2019 by harold

Apparently the concept is heating up. But I don’t think people realize how expensive being the Netflix of something is.

Netflix is $8.4B in the red. That’s right now, at the height of their near-monopoly, at the highest point of their brand. Minus 8 billion dollars. Netflix only distributes videos and they spent 12 billion dollars in 2018 to buy or create content. That’s absurd and insane. It’s like me right now buying a 2-story house in Brentwood with money I don’t have and everyone would be like “duuuuuude fuck yeahh!!!!!!” and I would buy 3 others with my friends’ money while feeling super confident. That’s craziness.

Can y’all slow down the madness? Seriously.

A Netflix for games would also probably need way more bandwidth. Especially with big games. Final Fantasy 15 in 4K is 85 motherfucking gigs. 85 GB. They say watching Netflix consumes about 1GB/hour. For just one big game, say 40 GB, you would be able to watch 40 hours of Netflix. GTA5 is 75 GB. The numbers are talking and screaming in your face “LOL”. Also, anyone outside big cities would never be able to play recent games due to not-perfect connections? It’s already bad, that would make the situation far worse.

And if you think that you’ll be able to have people spend additional money while they already pay for the “all you can eat” model, think again. Netflix grew because it’s cheap. And if you think that people will pay a monthly fee to play 2D games that they can play in a bazillion ways already, think again.

It’s not even that it’s going to be though, It’s that it’s unsustainable as fuck. I don’t understand the appeal, the “challenge” to push for even more convenience. There are people with their lives at stake behind all that. And if game developers’ only chance to reach an audience is through three or two streaming services, it’s going to be the end for 90% of us.

I sure don’t want that at all.

Reflecting on Peak Prosperity

January 28th, 2019 by harold

First, you need the crash course (4 hours).

Christopher Martenson started this over ten years ago now. It’s still totally relevant.

The whole world is finite and you guys are fucking it up is happening with batteries and cobalt. It’s sad and disgusting how everyone involved in this business is acting as if yes, like oil, there was no shortage at all, if ever. That our techno-economy is not wildly depending on an earthbound rock.

But it is. And immediately, manufacturers are sweating because they can’t grow anymore. They can’t sell more phones and tablets. Make sense of that: the market is saturated and a key ingredient in batteries is running out. Manufacturers are all insanely rich, beyond their dreams, but it’s not enough. What the fuck y’all want? It makes no sense.

I just want to remind everyone that our current battery technology is 40 years old and that we only incrementally, very painfully made it better in the past decades. We put our very best brains on the problem, tried a million ways to use something else than cobalt and… We haven’t found shit. We’re dependent, there’s no way around it.

Meanwhile I’ve been here in LA for 10 years and every time I look at the daily weather, some record was set within that decade, extremely often. I basically lived the hottest, coldest and wettest days in southern California while being new here. That’s crazy.

Butterflies, of course. They disappeared a while ago in summer in France and here man, I can see the dramatic decrease each year. Super old trees –which lived longer than civilizations- dying suddenly are a powerful sign that we fucked up.

We live in this world of infinite entertainment, infinite lies and vapid ass shit. People argue far too much for things that don’t matter like “is Superman stronger than Aquaman”. We spend most of our times with feel-good solutions while refusing to scale down our aggressive behavior towards earth a bit.

So, I feel good spending time thinking about building an independent, zero-maintenance needed, green house. I hope to have the time to make it happen before the world economy collapses.

Hopefully we soon find a way to store electricity for at least a few months without significant loss. That wouldn’t solve everything, especially our crazy world economy. But that would tremendously help and empower us to be gentle with earth while living nicely and boringly.

We can do this.

Free gym

January 28th, 2019 by harold

True story, couple years ago.

*Phone rings*

me: allo?

dude: hi, harold? how are you today?

me: fine, how about yourself?

dude: good, thank you. listen, don’t you want a gold’s gym membership?

me: nah I’m good thank you, I’m in great shape man *grabs pasta*

dude: oh really? how do you do that? what’s your strategy chief?

me: well I move my body a lot and don’t eat too much

dude: …right. good for you if it does the job!

me: It does work pretty well and it’s free *puts lid on pot*

dude: nice

me: I’m sorry I gotta go now have a good one

dude: take care, bye

*clicks*

This whole union thing

January 25th, 2019 by harold

The question isn’t if people are for it or not. The question is: how can we build a strong union in the world of game development? And the answer is, mostly, we can’t.

Here’s what unions do: they bargain. In order to bargain effectively, you need leverage. What does it mean within the game industry? It means that unionized developers can go like “we know exactly how long and how much it costs to make a game, and we know that 99% of the time; here’s what we demand”.

The problem with game development is that 99% of the time, we don’t fucking know that. At all. Ever. It doesn’t matter if the team has 300 years’ worth of experience, shipping games left and right. We never know. I don’t know, even 19 years in. 40-year-old veterans don’t either. Making games is that complicated.

That’s why the VFX industry is in the same boat: finishing the next Marvel’s special effects will take the time it will take (aka crunch/burnout). And this is also why online writers could unionize easily: they know EXACTLY how long it takes to write 5,000 words. Now you can negotiate. Same with TV and movies. We know EXACTLY, production-wise how long it takes to shoot a scene, multiple scenes, if it needs additional writing etc. Every single thing in TV and movie production has a price attached to it. In gamedev? At best a pretty wide range. We never. Fucking. Know.

Outside of my domain, audio, we mostly have ZERO standard processes. Every game is slightly –and by that I mean different enough- weirder than the other and considering a shit-ton of variables (type of game, team experience, country where it’s made, when it’s made, the tools and what not), we don’t have solid leverage to bargain. I thought our production processes would standardize and help sustaining our lives in the past fifteen years. It just never happened. Constant tech upgrade prevented us from solidifying production.

So for one game union to work would require that union to be solely part of one studio and that would mean that this is a weak union. Which means it probably won’t exist nor should it. If it’s only one union for say, software engineers but not audio designers, it won’t last either. We’re all game developers, the union needs to cover us all.

Having unions isn’t a good or bad thing. It’s necessary when it’s necessary. But can it be done? Looking at the way our industry has been working for the past 40 years, I’d say no. Decent, full-time jobs should make up for the lack of unions, though. Because the industry –especially GaaS- needs those.