Thoughts After Reading Blood,Sweat, And Pixels

If games are art if we truly believe that video games as a medium require the same type of creativity and originality that we would see during the Renaissance Era, then why do we try to run them like a traditional business? It was a question I continued to ask myself while reading Blood, Sweat, and Pixels.  The author, Jason Schreier, takes us behind the curtain of video game development and it’s not pretty.  In fact, nothing about making video games sounds fun, it honestly sounds more like a personal hell.  Each chapter introduces us to a new game with some of the same issues – scope creep, schedule delays and a lack of what seems like any type of proper management at all.   Crunching(think of it as extreme overtime) is the order of the day and when Jason pushed the developers to discuss these work conditions the response was ‘that’s just the way it is.’  

Misconceptions of The Game Industry

I used to think that a company that asked its employees to work 80+ hour weeks was just a shitty company.  They didn’t have the proper structure in place to actually create a video game with human work hours.  Instead, I’ve come to realize that no one knows how to make a video game without killing the project team.  There’s no amount of agile development, lean six management or whatever Harvard MBA theory that you can come up with to help a game studio create their game within reason.  Part of the issue is that it’s hard to know if your idea is any good until you create it.  You won’t know if your cover mechanic is trash until you actually play through it.  And when you do find something that’s fun there is usually a chance that you’re going to want to add on to that experience.  The development of the game begins to resemble an artist creating their next piece.  This is usually the point where developers find joy in their work when they create that mechanic or environment that takes our breath away.  The problem is the hell they endure to get to that moment.

It wasn’t unusual to read about the developers in the book suffering from depression, missing quality time with their families and even suffering from physical health issues.   The desire to create is often at odds with the business of video games.   If time is money, game developers are always broke.  From the minute they decide to create a game their time balance is usually in the red.  They must meet deadlines in order to get funding and pushing a game back, for whatever reason is usually frowned upon.  It’s like every publisher and investor wants the next Mario, but no one is willing to wait or pay for it. And with that time deficit, the developers seem to always be in a state of panic.  It’s like the meme with the dog drinking coffee in the burning building.  Everything is fine until it isn’t.   That time deficit, plus a game scope too ambitious for the deficit coupled with a lack of resources always means that something is going to have to give, and that’s the staff’s personal life.

Wrap Up

Each of the games discussed in Blood, Sweat, and Pixels ends with the game becoming a success on some level.  And usually, everyone is excited about the game that eventually left the studio.  But, I often wondered how long that type of workload is sustainable.  How many games can you crunch before you burn out?  How many games will the industry be able to continue pushing out at this rate before the entire workforce just throws their hands in the air and quits?  What Jason Scheirer was posing in his book was how long can the industry sustain its current operation before it folds?  And is there a better way?  With each way, I wondered the same question.  Sad thing is, I never really came up with an answer.

Destiny 2: The Price of Fame

The crossover.  It happens with all your favorite artists.  When they’re first starting out, their music seems pure.  It’s a mixture of raw talent and ambition and it’s what we come to know the artist for–But at some point, they reach a level of popularity and success and their music begins to change.  It feels more mainstream and the characteristics of the music you once knew are no longer there.  Sure, they still make music that you like, but it’s not like when they were first starting out; when they were hungry.  The transition from unknown to known is gradual, but it always ends up the same way.  The artist must now make music for the masses.  While they attempt to please their hardcore audience they must make concessions, lest they risk their shot in the limelight.  This is what happened with Destiny 2, and it’s the reason why I have to stop playing.

The Story of Mass Effect

When I think of Destiny 2 I’m often reminded of the Mass Effect trilogy.  When Bungie released Mass Effect it was a hardcore action RPG.  Successful attacks were based on skill and dice rolls, so you had to tactically think out ever encounter because you weren’t guaranteed every attack Shepard initiated would land.  Outside of the combat, the game was dialogue heavy, pushing you as a player to make hard decisions that would not only affect the outcome of the game but future releases as well.  As the game grew in popularity, Bioware began stripping the game of what I loved about it in order to please the masses.  The game became popular and thus it had to conform to those who were not hardcore RPG fans.  Future releases would see the dice rolls dropped favor of a more traditional cover-based shooter.  The exploration and dialogue of the first game were streamed to get players from A to B.  While the first Mass Effect resembled Star Wars: Knights of The Old Republic, Mass Effect played more like Gears of War.

Destiny Before The Mainstream…

The original Destiny was like the original Mass Effect.  It was the first release and catered more to the hardcore gamer.  Through various tweaks to the loot and upgrade system, Destiny became a game of chasing the best loot.  You played the same missions and player-versus-player(PvP) matches in a quest for what was known as Tier 12 loot; weapons and armor that maximized damage output, ability regeneration and damage resistance.  The game wasn’t easy either.  Endgame content like raids, Iron Banner, and Trials of Osiris required the best loot and skill to complete.  The only way to get that loot was to play the game.  Each time you earned a weapon or armor piece from the end game content you felt proud.  You would show off these items in the social spaces and other game modes.  The game wasn’t perfect, but the community that was built around it loved it.  The game, while popular, didn’t become what we know overnight.  It was through steady DLC releases that the game began to make that transition from a game with a hardcore community keeping it going to a ‘game for everyone.’

Destiny Today…

When Destiny 2 released this September the writing was on the wall.  Bungie sacrificed what made the original Destiny such a hit with fans to a game that pleased everyone.  It wanted to appease to those who left the first game.  And in doing so it started to alienate those who made the game what it was.  Like Mass Effect with the combat system, Bungie changed the loot system so that everyone felt like they were winners.  Everyone could get something special and in doing so nothing is special.  The end game events stopped having meaning and even player vs player stopped being as fun as it once was.  The raid, which was once the hardest event in the game felt easy.   When I finished the raid I didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment instead, I felt like I checked off a box.  It was a hollow reminder of what once was.  But this was done in favor of the masses.  Making the raid easier means more people can complete it.

Wrap Up

Last night I tweeted that I was done with Destiny 2.  As much as I liked the game initially, the transition from hardcore shooter to ‘everyone’s game’ left me out.  I haven’t run strikes in weeks, hell I hardly ran them, to begin with.  I’ve run the raid once and collected so many legendary and exotic armor pieces but none of that seems to matter. Nothing seems special in Destiny 2 because making something special would mean making things difficult and for where the company wants to go that isn’t what it’s trying to do. Even the changes in PvP make the game feel less about skill and more about having one of four weapons that dominate the game.  It doesn’t make sense to have an abundance of legendary weapons when only four matter.  

In the end, I’m not really mad at Bungie.  It’s business, and in order for them to make money, they have to crossover.  The elements of the game that made them, have been replaced with things that they hope will make everyone love it.   Like my favorite artists who make that move, I’ll still check in from time to time. Maybe ask a friend how things are, but it’s time for me to move on because it’s no longer the game I once knew.  But that happens, sometimes you just grow apart.

 

Stop Supporting The Bullshit

It seems like every week something is happening in the gaming industry and usually, it’s rarely positive. And the word this time is how EA implemented and then removed a loot box system that works against the interest of players. But this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen microtransactions, and it certainly isn’t going to be the last. And while the industry begins to cool on the EA loot box fiasco I think back to Colin Moriarty’s challenge. Stop supporting bullshit.

Speaking With Your Wallet

Back when Colin was on Kinda Funny, he often challenged gamers to stop supporting the bullshit. The premise that we as gamers only fuel the things we hate by continuing to buy games from companies, like EA, who try to get over on us with shady microtransactions and season passes with DLC that isn’t worth the price. It’s a statement that when heard is usually challenged. “I’m just one person, what is me not buying the game going to do?” But it’s not just about the bottom line; it’s about principle. Continue reading “Stop Supporting The Bullshit”

And Then There Was One…

I’ve always been a multi-console owner. Even back during the Genesis and SNES days, I was one of those blessed souls who were able to have the best of both worlds. But as I look at the Black Friday sale for PSN I have to wonder if owning both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 even makes sense anymore.

There was a time when you needed multiple consoles because certain games were console exclusives, but as I look at the list of games, I want to play there’s nothing that warrants both consoles. If I thought about it, I really could just sell the Xbox One and just ride into the sunset with my PS4 and Nintendo Switch and probably wouldn’t miss a beat. The games that I planned on purchasing for the Xbox One were so that I could have something to play on them.  The same could be said for the PlayStation 4 when I’m gaming primarly on the Xbox One.

This year I’ve streamlined the amount of technology in the house. I only want to have the basics – the things I absolutely “need.“ The consoles are the only things that have dodged the purge. But, it’s getting to the point that has two systems is becoming an annoyance. Instead of them being two platform with unique experiences, they’ve become two black boxes that play the same damn games. I could sell the Xbox and purchase an Apple TV for streaming purposes and leave the PS4 connected to the monitor I have on my desk. Or I could see the PS4 and Xbox One and get a One X and call it a day. Of course, I could always keep both. With Black Friday sales days away I need to think of something quickly because this would be the best time to become one console house.