Game Industry Quest, Part 20

So I think I’m technically three posts behind on my one-post-a-week New Year’s resolution.  D’OH!  To be fair, I’ve been dealing with a bit of writer’s block, not that I fancy myself a writer, nor a particularly good one, but I like to think that I write competently, and lately that particular competence has been low enough where I write something, then proceed to delete what I wrote, as I was failing in what I was trying to communicate, in my opinion at any rate.

The topic in question that I’ve been trying to write about concerns Kickstarter.  I’ve backed quite a number of Kickstarter projects this past year; concerning I’m only a part-time Assistant Producer in the game industry, the financial wisdom of such behavior is questionable, but c’est la vie.  That’s not what I wanted to say about the crowdfunding website.  I mentioned a long time ago that there was something about Kickstarter that made me uneasy, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I have found myself examining those fears in a recent Kickstarter involving sending a kid to a programming camp.  I’m going to refrain from saying more, as I’ve been unable to compose a blog representative of my actual thoughts and feelings.  Basically, I’ll save it for another time.

So I thought I’d basically give a shout out to a game that surprisingly caught my imagination.  During the Christmas holidays, I got a Playstation Vita (heavily discounted over Black Friday).  However, thought it’s a pretty cool device, with surprisingly better battery life than the Nintendo 3DS, it has seen sporadic use game-wise, including demos and what not. Excluding watching videos during my flights to and from GDC this year, a part of me wondered if the Vita would eventually suffer the fate of my PSP, which has more or less sat in a desk drawer unused and unloved for years on end.

However, since this past weekend I have played it everyday.

I downloaded a demo for the game Soul Sacrifice, and it has honestly captured my imagination.  Unexpected but true, from the presentation to the haunting music to the visuals to the gameplay, not only have I played the demo everyday since downloaded, I preordered the game at Amazon.  For my money, it is honestly that good.

Since the demo is out, I don’t really consider anything I say spoilery, though one could make a reasonable counterargument, so I’ll just say it: spoilers for the remainder of this paragraph.  You play a caged prisoner who finds a talking, magic book in said cell.  The book was written by a (presumably) long-dead sorcerer and you can live out said sorcerer’s memories.  Much of his/her memories involve monster-slaying and consistently presented with the dilemma of, after defeating a monster, saving or sacrifice that creatures soul.  Thus far, all monsters were at one time humans, birds, cats, rats, etc.  When defeated, if you save their soul, they return back to normal and your life force/defense increases.  If you sacrifice their soul, they die, and your magical power increases.  There was one forced choice (you had to sacrifice someone to proceed with the game), but for the most part, the choice is yours to make.  The gameplay is varied and fun, as you accumulate spells re-living the sorcerer’s memories, and you eventually start experimenting with and adapt your play style as the game progresses.  I must admit to really looking forward to the full release next Tuesday.

I’ll also throw in some sports and movie thoughts into this blog post, just because I can.  The third trailer of Man of Steel that came out last week honestly has me excited about the movie.  Being a lifelong comic book nerd, I’m really looking forward to what I hope will be a good-great Superman movie.  Unlike the last one (Superman Returns), which was merely…okay.  Not awful, but not particularly good. Also, I preordered the CD soundtrack for Man of Steel; I enjoyed it that much.

Switching to sports, specifically the NBA, it looks like my beloved Boston Celtics are on their way out the in the first round of the playoffs.  Already down 0-2 in their series against the New York Knicks, at this point I’m just hopeful that enough Celtic pride remains that we’ll win one game to prevent the always embarrassing sweep.  The loss of Rondo to injury midseason was bad enough, but in watching the two games, the offense has sputtered in the second half consistently, which leads me to believe that unless Jeff Green consciously decides to take over, there is no hope.  Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will end up being an all-time Celtic greats and Hall-of-Famers but Father Time is unstoppable, and they both look unreliable in generating consistent offence.  We might see one Paul Pierce offensive explosion one of these games, but while my heart roots for the Celtics, my mind says the Knicks will win this series.  I personally blame the Sports Guy Bill Simmons, whom I’m a fan of (check out Grantland for more), for talking up the Celtics before the season began.  I was skeptical of a number of things about the team, yet Simmons predicted 60 wins for this team, where I was thinking more around 45, 50 tops (they ended up winning 41).  He talked things up to a point, that I was totally on his bandwagon.  Then the season began, and things never really fully clicked the way they should.

C’est la vie.

I should rename my blog C’est la vie…wonder if I can do that…

Game Producer Quest, Part 19

Ah, the perils of blogging; I sometimes wonder what it is that keeps some people coming back so eagerly, while with others it sometimes feels like a chore and one neglects doing so.  I suppose differences in personality are the core reasoning behind it all.  For me, I feel like having an online presence (even though it’s honestly miniscule) is important, but it’s not so important to me that I occasionally forget to do so.  This in turn, contributes to a phenomenon in my blogging habits; I tend to comment on older stories in the games industry.  Personally, I’m fine with this.  I’m no games journalist, so time is not of the essence.  It’s also interesting to sit on the sidelines and see how things will play out before passing judgment.  It also allows me to avoid jumping to conclusions prematurely.

So two stories I wanted to comment on; first, the sad closure of LucasArts.  It always saddens me to hear about studio closure, and I always feel sorry for those who have lost their jobs.  Considering that I myself am still looking for a full-time production job (currently have a part-time one) in the game industry, it makes me think that despite being a multi-billion dollar industry, there is a questionable amount of job security present.  This in turn makes me wonder how money is being spent; I would think a multi-billion dollar industry would be more stable but maybe I’m missing something that smarter people than I can see more clearly.  Regardless, while I am doubtful anyone from the publisher formerly known as LucasArts is reading this, if anyone happens to stumble (probably somewhat intoxicated) here, I wish you luck on finding a new job.

Another person I wish luck (admittedly with a degree of reluctance) on finding a new job is former Microsoft creative director Adam Orth, who for reasons unknown, took to twitter to preach about online always.  This had quite a couple of negative consequences.  Microsoft at this point has revealed nothing about their next-gen console currently codenamed Durango.  One of the rumors floating around is that it will require an internet connection to play games, which sounds incredibly consumer-unfriendly to me.  But I digress; Orth may have inadvertently confirmed this rumor to be true, which was not the smartest play he could have made on twitter.  The resulting backlash also resulted in negative publicity for Microsoft, primarily because he was amazingly untactful on twitter, basically telling everyone to ‘deal with it’ with regards to online only.  Furthermore, he ended up insulting entire communities by tweeting that he wouldn’t live in a place with poor internet availability, which basically means small town America.  In his own way, he ended up insulting not only consumers, but potentially consumers of Microsoft’s products.

This thread on Neogaf summarizes much of what happened, though one has to separate the wheat from the chaff (internet humor knows no bounds) to get an idea of what happened.  All one needs to do is look at the first post, as there is no need to read through it all.  As it stands, Orth no longer works for Microsoft, though it is unknown as to whether was forced to resign or was fired.  There are various aspects of this story that intrigue me.  First is the witch hunt aspect; that people are acting as bullies against Orth.  I personally disagree with this entirely, because no one forced him to tweet anything.  Bullies by and large bully others for no good reason; not for retaliation, vengeance, or justice.  Bullies bully you simply because you exist.  They don’t even have to have a reason to do so.  In this case however, Orth of his own volition decided to step on his virtual soapbox (like may are prone to do nowadays) on tweet his thoughts on the matter in a very untactful way.  There are consequences to actions; there should be consequences to actions in my opinion, and Orth’s actions were both misguided and not very internet savvy, in my opinion.  I often think about the need to be street smart when living in a highly populated city; being internet savvy is no different, and sometimes exercising restraint, patience, and humility by choosing not to tweet or post is the smart play to make.

I also don’t buy that he was just ‘sharing his opinion.’  There is such thing as social etiquette.  If an obese person was walking down the street, you don’t just point and comment on that person’s obesity.  You would be telling the truth in that regard, and just ‘sharing your opinion,’ but that alone does not make it the right thing to do.  Again, sometimes saying nothing at all is the best choice.

People have a right to be angry at Orth for his insensitive comments.  Having been raised in a small town in Connecticut, I can confirm that the internet is definitely not 100% stable.  It drops with some degree of frequency.  I would hate to play games and suddenly be no longer able to play because my console’s connection to Xbox Live was momentarily lost.  But I digress; by the end of the day, he spilled some milk, he should be made to clean up the mess he made.

With that said, did he deserve to lose his job?  Was that too harsh for his comments, however insensitive they were?  Perhaps, though it’s hard to say.  If I were the owner of a company that was going to release product X to the world, and employee Y made comments on social media that not only generated negative publicity for my company, but cost potential sales of product X, I would have a hard time thinking of why employee Y should continue working at my company.  It is also troubling in that employee Y is at least at a mid-level position in the company (Creative Director sounds mid-to-high level to me).  In the end, Orth made some poor decisions that may have cost him his job and damaged his career in the process.  I can only hope that he learned from the mistakes he made, as opposed to playing the victim here (remember, his actions should have consequences), and if he owns up to, admits his mistakes, and aspires to be better than what he previously was, he deserves kudos, in which case I sincerely wish him luck in his job hunt.

GDC Quest 2013 Quest: A Post-Show Recap

So last week was the 2013 Game Developer’s Conference all the time, except when I was hanging out with family, eating delicious food I normally don’t have access too, and simply being surrounded by good company (the family, not the conference attendee’s, though the latter was perfectly fine as well).  The point being, I was far too swamped to blog about anything.  Move onto this week, where I definitely had time, and I find myself recovering from illness. Yes, I return to Connecticut from San Francisco, and I immediately get sick.  It’s basically taken me all week to recover; I’m still not at 100%, but at this point I’ll take whatever I can get.  I don’t get sick often, so when I do, it’s frustrates me to no end.  Case in point, Sunday night I couldn’t comprehend why I was so cold and why turning up the temperature was not helping in that endeavor.  I honestly though the temperature controls were busted, and actually kept moving around the house to find a warm place to try and sleep.  It didn’t help that the vomiting was keeping me awake and miserable.  It didn’t dawn on me until the following morning that I had a fever, which is why I felt so cold. Why?  Because it’s been such a long time since I’ve had a fever that I forgot what one felt like.

Anyways, I thought I’d recap my experience with GDC this year, speak briefly about the things I attended, etc.

Sunday, March 24, 2013: Flew into San Francisco.  The flight was mostly uneventful, with a layover in Chicago.  My ears were popping like crazy once I arrived in San Francisco; interestingly enough, chewing gum did not alleviate the pain, but blowing my nose did.  Bizarre.  Also, one could register early at the conference today if he/she wanted to, but instead, family picked me up and we ended up eating ramen.  No, not the 50 cent supermarket packages, but ramen made at a Japanese restaurant.  Delicious, delicious ramen.

Monday, March 25, 2013 and Tuesday, March 26, 2013: The conference officially begins.  After figuring out how Caltrain works (considering how directionally challenged I am, this was surprisingly easier than I expected), I registered and went to the all-day Game Design Workshop which was held from 10-6 (with a lunch break) Monday and Tuesday.  The first two days of the conference are dedicated to all-day sessions, though there are also shorter sessions to choose from.  Still, I like the all-day sessions not only for the education, but they’re honestly a great place to meet people and network.  I can’t speak of all the all-day workshops offered, but the one’s I attended last year and this year had quite a bit of group activities, which means instant interaction i.e. networking and meeting new people.  Though speaking of networking, it almost feels like a game where we’re all trying to compete to see who can collect the most business cards…to put in a shoebox somewhere and label ‘GDC 2013’.  Then you try and break your record the following year.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 through Friday, March 29, 2013: In an earlier blog post, I mentioned that I had school work during last year’s conference, which split my attention.  Conversely, I thought that this year’s conference would be more fun, as I could sit back and enjoy what GDC had to offer.  As it turns, that isn’t quite accurate.  I was speaking with a former classmate about this, and it dawned on me as we talked; if one has a full-time job, then one can sit back and enjoy the conference.  But when one has either no job or a part-time job (which is where I am) and is seeking full-time employment, the stress and emotion drainage begins Wednesday when the career pavilion opens and continues on until the conference ends.  Sadly, I can say that while I’m sure there were a couple of lucky people that left GDC with a full-time job, I was not one of those people.  C’est la vie, I suppose, and saddening as well.

Anyways, when I wasn’t at the career pavilion, I was attending the various talks that GDC has to offer.  Here are a few that I enjoyed immensely:

The 3 Most Important Ingredients to Making Great Games: Motivation, Motivation, Motivation, and Motivation!: This was in essence a roundtable discussion with some of the most experienced producers in the industry, including in no particular order: Ben Cousins (Scattered Entertainment), Rod Fergusson (Irrational Games), Laura Fryer (Epic Games Seattle), Dave Ranyard (Sony Computer Entertainment), Siobhan Reddy (Media Molecule), Greg Rice (Double Fine Productions), Dominic Robilliard (Lucas Arts).  Phew!  I attended a similar talk, with most of the same personnel last year, and it’s always fun.  The combined experience of the panel makes it one of my favorite talks.  I feel like a Padawan in the audience, and wish I could work at any of their companies to continue my Padawn-ing as they mentor me through my journey.  But I digress; the point is that it was a very good talk about managing people which when you have teams of people creating art / making games, is an underappreciated skill for producers to cultivate.

Sex in Video Games: Presented by David Gaider (BioWare), a writer at BioWare for primarily the Dragon Age franchise, it was more of a synopsis of what BioWare has done historically for writing female and male characters, some of the positive / negative response that has been received, and the mature discussion that should be had about the topic to move things forward.  Basically, throwing…not a gauntlet, but certainly a mitten on the subject.  A very soft, cuddly, warm mitten.   Perhaps this talk will spark more discussion, if not in public forums, then at least in private ones during pre-production of a game when characters are being established.  Well done, in my opinion and kudos to David Gaider for approaching the topic in a mature, professional manner.

There is no Escape: Designing Games for Maximum Real-Life Impact: Presented by Jane McGonigal (Social Chocolate), and quite possibly the only PhD working in the industry (that I’m aware of, at any rate), she spoke of escapism from a historical context (Houdini and being an escape artist; personally, I was thinking Batman) and ultimately led it down the timey-whimey path towards different types of escapism in our entertainment, some of which is more positive in our lives than others.  Really cool stuff.  She also did an amusing social game experiment (I’m calling it that, not she) where before the talk began she asked people to tweet her for a prize.  Embarrassingly, since I never tweet, I have no idea what my twitter password is.  C’est la vie.  Still, about 2/3’s through her talk, she picked two people that tweeted and gave them these European (I think) keys; their mission was to find a lock that these keys can open.  If they do so, they’ll be given a new mission.  Clearly, a game was being played here, so I’m curious how this will turn out.  Getting back to the talk, anyone interested in her talk can find more information here.  And no, I don’t work at/for Social Chocolate or Jane McGonigal (though that would be kinda neat).

There are others that I enjoyed (and a few that I didn’t).  This blog post would be immense if I spoke to every talk I attended, so I’ll refrain from such activity.  In any event, I’m coughing up a lung as I write this and have already broken my New Year’s resolution of a weekly blog post, so I’ll need two next week to catch up.  Thankfully, there have been some emerging topics lately regarding the next XBox, an inability to use twitter intelligently, and the end of an internal development studio.  Anyways, good luck to the holder of the keys.  For now, my bed is calling me…along with a box of tissue.  D’OH!