Gamer Hate

Belligerently lacking in remorse.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

“It’s not my fault.”
Taking Responsibility in the Game Industry

It’s not uncommon for people to not want to have their mistakes rubbed in their face. Sadly, some people are so defensive about it that they pretend that they never made any mistakes. This sort of defensiveness sometimes ends up as continual lying and before you know it, you see people living in a delusional world where they’ve never made an error, yet for some reason, everything they’ve touched turns to shit. What’s funny, or perhaps morbid, is that after a while, these people no longer realize they’re doing it anymore. It’s just second nature to them. They can’t see outside their own little box.

It’s funny to see things from a Quality Assurance point of view, because when you’re in QA you are generating a list of the mistakes that other people make. There’s no real feeling behind it. You aren’t appointing blame. You’re just doing your job, finding an error in the game, writing a report and sending it off to be assigned to the proper person (or if you’re in charge, assigning the bug yourself). What was odd is when the bug would come back with some nasty sniping comment directed at the tester. Some real vitriol would be in those messages. On occasion the bug had been slightly incorrect, or the steps weren’t good enough to reproduce the effect, but often the bug is perfect and the only reason that it came back was that the person it was assigned to had taken some personal offense at having a bug assigned to them and was taking it out on the tester.

What often ends up happening in those situations is the bug will bounce back and forth a few times without any action actually occurring. Time is wasted on both the QA end and (more importantly, honestly) the developer side. Had the developer simply taken the bug at face value and attempted to solve the problem, none of that time would be wasted. That isn’t to say there aren’t stupid bugs (I’ve seen more than my fair share), but when the bug is good and the developer is having a bad day and just bouncing everything to avoid the obvious problem, there’s something else going on.

It’s that moment of doubt where you think to yourself, “I couldn’t possibly have done that wrong,” or “That simply cannot be the problem,” or “That’s not my fault,” that’s when the delusion begins. Everyone does those though. It’s when you continue to do it for every problem that comes up that things start to fall apart. That’s when the delusion becomes the person’s reality. These people also tend to become good at deflecting blame onto others, or simply avoiding blame altogether. Some are so good at it that management thinks that they have spotless records or some such non-sense (no one is perfect, come on people). Then they get promoted and before you know it, your boss is the one deflecting blame down onto you.

That only happens at extremely poorly run companies (i.e. companies that will soon be out of business), or large corporations where the mismanagement of a few is inconsequential. It is extremely rare to see such things in a smaller game company because they simply can’t survive when that sort of crap is going on (which is why I personally always want to be at a company that’s under 50 employees). What this sort of behavior stops is productivity. Thinking like this from developers means things aren’t getting fixed and from management, it not only prevents things from being fixed, it completely destroys morale. So how can it be prevented?

Some people are simply beyond saving, and to them I say, watch out because if you ever do lose your job and need to find a new one, it is a very small industry and you will be remembered. That’s not a threat, that’s just how it is. I’ve been a victim of my own reputation on more than one occasion, but my problem areas are well defined and I know exactly what they are; not owning up to my actions is definitely not my problem (I should probably learn to lie, quite honestly).

However, there are many of you who have started down this path of blamelessness and still recognize when you’re passing the buck or deflecting the obvious bug on your plate. To you I say, examine why you’re doing it first. Is the hint of sarcasm you’re detecting on the bug really there or are you painting your own picture of a QA guy laughing while poking holes in your code or level or what not? Chances are, they’re just doing their job, and you should just do yours. You can add a smart ass comment, you can correct the speculation from the tester in a smarmy way, but fix the problem, don’t let it fester on and waste everyone’s time (cause it’s your time too).

For those who made it to management and are still somehow able to recognize that they are deflecting blame (and I know this is incredibly rare, but I’m hoping there’s a few), you need to step back and think about how you’re affecting the entirety of the company when you do these things. If you’re at the top of a company and you won’t admit when there’s a problem, you’re destroying your own company. How many times have we seen a leader of a company give a speech that completely destroys the morale of everyone at the company when it was supposed to have the exact opposite effect. It’s because they don’t understand that the decisions they’ve made thus far were completely wrong. Imagine slogging through your 2nd movie related game, hating every second of it, and then being told by the owner that they’re trying to set up multi contract deals so they can do the next movie game and its consequent sequels. You’d quit… Or at least start a serious job hunt. But that’s okay because when it’s so high up in the chain, the whole company will be gone soon enough.

A little bit lower down the chain there are the leads on a project. When a lead is blameless, it’s the people directly under them that suffer and the product that suffers the most. A lead who can’t recognize their own poor decisions and own up to them will lay blame all over the people below them by saying the implementation of their ideas is where the failure occurred. Now that can often be true, but we’re talking about the case of the blameless lead. Which means that the problem is with the original idea and not the implementation. So now a whole team of people will waste hours trying to make the original idea (which is a failure) work. When it doesn’t work again, the finger is pointed again at the implementers and nothing will be fixed. The only way the problem will be solved is if the implementers just change the idea and fix that problem on their end, in which case the lead will take credit and destroy the morale of their team even further.

A game I once worked on was meant to be a puzzle/adventure style game based on a popular book/movie. The book/movie involved a lot of puzzle elements which worked great with the game. However, a problem developed because one of the owners insisted that there be a combat mechanic in the game. There was one or two incidents of fighting in the book and movie, but this person wanted a combat mechanic that would be one of the main focuses of the game. This game failed, primarily due to the obtuse combat mechanic in a game based on a non-combat license. Did the owner ever admit that combat was a poor focus for an adventure/puzzle game? Of course not, in fact, that person said that the combat mechanic is the only reason any copies of the game were sold. The power of delusion…

When a producer is blameless, there’s a serious problem. The problem is that a producer doesn’t actually produce anything of their own for the final product (funny, huh). They make others produce things for them. If the end product turns out well, they get kudos, if it turns out poorly, they’ve clearly failed, right? If production is failing at any aspect of production and deflecting blame, what do you do? How do you even know they are failing?

The best way to know that production is failing at their job is to see how much overtime the development team has to work. If they’re burning both ends of the candle all the time, production has failed at scheduling. If the game is crap, then production has failed at quality control. You see, production’s responsibility is the final product. If they don’t schedule people properly and make sure that proper care is taken to ensure the quality of the game, then the fault is theirs. Yet, they’re the first to point fingers at everyone else. If the game sucks, it must be design, or programming or art. If the game is behind schedule then production thinks that design, programming and art must put in more hours. Does production put in more hours? Typically, no, but they should be sweating late nights rescheduling everything so no one has to work overtime. Sadly, after a schedule is first made, you’ll probably never see another draft (unless you have a good producer). It’s funny but in 10 years I’ve only met one producer who would actually take responsibility for this and apologize to people who had to work overtime. Then would talk with that person about what could be cut without harming the game (involving the lead of course) and then rescheduling them out so they don’t have to work overtime. It was an amazing thing and sadly an incredibly rare thing.

Are there blameless designers, programmers and artists? Well of course there are, but they’re in a position where their mistakes are obvious to everyone. When they don’t take responsibility for their actions, they’re eventually going to be fired. It’s funny how you almost have to be a management position to be able to get away with such silly crap. Does it come from laziness once you rise to a position of power? Were they always this way or did it develop only after they got into a spot where they could get away with it?

I really don’t know the answer to that, but to everyone out there who thinks that their shit doesn’t stink. Get over it, we all make mistakes. What sets apart a good developer from a bad one, is the ability to admit their mistakes and thus learn from them. If you never learn, you will always, always, always, fail.

posted by CommanderHate at 10:38 pm  

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

No Post Today

Too busy to rant.

Here’s something to ponder though.

If everyone waited until they could afford to have kids, how many would have them?

posted by CommanderHate at 12:16 am  

Friday, February 8, 2008

Murder, and Bullying and Sex simulators, oh my!
They’re making monsters of our children…

It’s not new for people to blame the latest form of entertainment for the corruption of our children. Games depict murder and celebrate violence, therefore they must make people murderous little miscreants. Right? Well, it’s really an ages old argument, games are just the latest victim in a long history of people shirking responsibility for their own actions and the actions of their children.

What sucks is that it becomes a largely political matter, and people who have no real understanding of the subject matter (in this case, video games) will spout off non-sense that they think is true despite having no factual evidence to back it up. The majority of the studies that have gone into this have been half-assed and almost always have an opposing study that proves exactly the opposite. The truth is, none of that crap matters. If you don’t want your kids playing games, don’t let them play games, but don’t be surprised when they become social outcasts in school because they aren’t keeping up with the times. You may as well go live in a commune given the rise of technology in modern years.

People have been blaming all forms of entertainment for “corrupting” our youth since time immemorial. They still ban books from schools to this very day. Yes, these books deal with harsh topics like racism, murder and drugs, but is shielding your kid from them really going to help? Why not use it as a teaching opportunity? Read the book WITH your kid and TALK about the parts that you want them to have a deeper understanding of. It’s called being a good parent, look it up.

As to games, the same rules apply. Play the game with your kid and you can put any spin on violence and sexuality that you want. If you don’t want them playing violent or sexual games, don’t buy it for them. You can easily read up on any game they want via the internet and if you think the content is questionable, you can DISCUSS it with your child. Is it so hard to talk to your kids that you need the federal government to come in and ban anything that they might play, see or read so you don’t have to think about it? It’s honestly quite pathetic to see.

Even more pathetic is when the news media and politicians try to sensationalize things to the point of insanity. Maybe you saw the absolutely ridiculous report on Fox News about Mass Effect? I’ve played through Mass Effect, and I got the sex scene (in my case a lesbian sex scene cause I like to play female characters). Not only is it many hours deep into a game that can be quite difficult (making it doubtful that a kid who might be warped by such content could even get to it) but it’s the tamest “pornography” (and I use that term VERY loosely) that I’ve ever seen.

If your kid wanted to see porn it’s really not that hard. If you have a computer with an active internet connection, all they have to do is type “boobs” into a google search and hit the “I’m feeling lucky” button. Boom, they’ve got boobs in their face. The fact of the matter is, you can’t hide this stuff from them. If they don’t see it at home, they’ll see it at school. If they don’t see it there, they’ll go to a friend’s house. You can’t protect them from the world, because the world is where we live. These are all topics they’re going to face as they grow up and you know who should talk to them about it? You, the parent.

We have the ESRB to warn you about video game violence. If you really want to avoid even the remote possibility that your is kid seeing something that’s hard to explain, use the ESRB ratings to determine whether or not to buy a game. E for Everyone means it’s a pretty safe game and our game ratings are no different than movie ratings (and I know you have movies in your home, probably porn, you sick bastards, hehe).

You might argue that games are for kids. Well, that’s simply not true. Games (much like movies, tv and books) are for EVERYBODY. The average age of a gamer is 33 years old and they’ve been playing game for 12 years (according to the ESA). Those aren’t kids, those are adults, so why are you trying to tell adults what can and can’t be in their games? Adults make these games too, I’m one of them, and while I consider young adults (teens) sensibilities and what messages I’m portraying, I’m also trying to tell a story that would enthrall an audience member of any age. Sometimes that involves mature themes (which is why we end up with a teen rating) but unelss it’s relevant to my game I don’t try to cram a sex scene in there. I guess, perhaps Rockstar might do that, but that’s why their games are rated Mature, so that YOU can read the box and NOT purchase the game for your kid.

Stop shirking your responsibility as a parent and watch what your kids are doing. There are bad books, bad tv shows, bad movies and bad games, but you can’t just go around banning everything you think is inappropriate. You are the filter for those kids, so you need to go over that stuff with them. When you do that is up to you, and until you do, you need to be the one watching what they’re reading, watching and playing. You’re the parent, so parent your damn kids and if you don’t do that, then I hope you’re not surprised when they bring an automatic pistol to school and start laying waste to other people’s kids who had enough sense to teach their kids right from wrong.

posted by CommanderHate at 5:59 pm  

Thursday, February 7, 2008

You’re stupid, your idea is stupid, and you’re full of shit.
Egos in the game industry…
Part 3 of 3

Though the Lying Revisionist has a lot of problems. Namely that they have bad ideas and try to push them onto the agenda, they are also fairly easy to manipulate to get good things into a game. You’ll never get credit for them, but it’s not out of maliciousness, it’s because they go out of their way to forget who gave them what. The 3rd ego type I’ll go into is far more malignant in their machinations.

The Powersnake

This is the sort of person you dread working with. They will screw over anyone to get ahead, even themselves. All that they want is power, power over you, power over others, power over the company, and the power to do whatever they want whenever they want to. Sadly, these bloodthirsty tyrants can actually be good for business because despite the morale crushing blows they may deal to the people under them, they’re actually quite intelligent and can tell good ideas from bad.

The first aspect of a Powersnake is their love of power. They want to be feared by everyone around them. They want their opinion to matter the most in any decision, and they want their decision to be final and conclusive. That means that anyone who questions their authority is going to get a swift kick in the ass. People who are below them on the totem pole that disagree on anything with them, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant the situation, will be barraged by insults and other forms of punishment. I once made the mistake of disagreeing with my Powersnake boss about the popularity of one type of multiplayer match type.

We were considering removing the gametype from our latest game. When I disagreed and said that I knew a lot of people who enjoyed that particular game type he told me “You’re full of shit.” This is in front of my co-workers and friends and he didn’t say it in a joking way. He meant it and said it so maliciously that the whole room went silent. I have a tendency to be able to laugh these things off, but it still wasn’t pleasant to hear. They later promoted him… How can such an asshole get a promotion you ask? Well…

The Powersnake loves to denounce other people’s ideas and then steal them for himself. This is different from the Lying Revisionist who hears other people’s ideas (good or bad) and then forgets who said them and assumes they came up with them. The Powersnake intentionally seeks out good ideas (and is able to differentiate good from bad), then pummels the person for having suggested the good idea (thus making them believe it is bad so they don’t mention it to others) and then presents the same idea as their own, thus taking full credit. If the person who originally had the idea then mentions they came up with it first, the Powersnake will cut them down or dismiss it in some natural way by saying that they might have come up with it at the same time, but that the Powersnake had clearly presented it first. They do this intentionally and maliciously to not only look superior to everyone else, but to cut down the people they are taking ideas from.

When put in this situation you honestly feel powerless. If you speak up, the Powersnake can easily cut you down because you now look like a glory hog. If you don’t speak up, the Powersnake has accomplished their goal of looking like the hero while you sit by yourself lamenting the situation. You can’t win against a Powersnake that already has power over you.

The Powersnake is an extremely political beast. They know how to manipulate the people above them and around them to see things the same way they do. One of their techniques, and the one I experienced first hand, is the drop of poison technique. While they’re going about their business they can drop subtle hints that someone else may be a complete psychopath. For instance, let’s say someone asks the Powersnake what they thought of me. The conversation might go something like this.

Unwitting Pawn: Hey, you work with Commander Hate, what do you think of him?

Powersnake: Oh, CommanderHate? He’s great. It’s too bad what happened to LieutenantLoserpants though.

Unwitting Pawn: Why? What happened to Lieutenant Loserpants?

Powersnake: Oh, I don’t know really, Commander Hate just had some sort of disagreement with Lieutenant Loserpants and blew up on him. I can’t even remember what the argument was about, but it seems like a really touchy subject for him. You’d have to ask them about that. I’ve always had a lot of respect for both of them.

So, what just happened? Well, the Powersnake just told the Unwitting Pawn that Commander Hate is a freakin’ psycho who totally blew up on Lieutenant Loserpants, probably over a trivial matter because they can’t even remember what it was about. Powersnake has also proven that they are a reliable source of information on this subject because they have no bias towards either party and Powersnake did not offer an opinion about the people. Powersnake merely explained the events and lets Unwitting Pawn figure it out for themself. What will Unwitting Pawn do in this situation?

Well, they’ve been warned off from talking to Commander Hate because it’s a “touchy subject,” so that probably wouldn’t be wise. If they talk to Lieutenant Loserpants they’re just going to get a biased view of what happened since they’re the ones who got blown up on. Besides, the whole matter is pretty trivial anyways so it’s really not worth investigating.

So now the seed has been planted and whenever Unwitting Pawn is asked their opinion about Commander Hate, they’re probably not going to have anything nice to say, even though they’ve never really talked to Commander Hate at all. The worst part of this is that the drop of poison can spread throughout the game industry as people who heard “rumors” about Commander Hate will move on to other companies and refuse to work with Commander Hate should their resume come that way.

There really isn’t a good way to deal with a Powersnake once they’re in a position of power, so you pretty much have to play their game if you want to succeed at that company. If you let them continually steal your ideas, they will eventually (begrudgingly) promote you, and  you can actually do well in this situation as long as you help the Powersnake. You see, the Powersnake is the only one who will know that the good ideas are coming from you, so they will want to keep you around, and you will now have to work with them because if the Powersnake goes, so does all your hard work. You gave that power to the Powersnake after all. If you like politics, you can deal with a Powersnake.

Powersnakes who don’t have power or who don’t know how to handle the politics of being a Powersnake are easy to crush early on. All it takes is someone who is more credible than the Powersnake mentioning that the Powersnake stole their idea and they’re pretty much done for. Once a thief, always a thief. It’s best to squash them when they’re young. Hehehe…

posted by CommanderHate at 3:29 pm  

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

If you had done it the way I told you, it wouldn’t suck.
Egos in the game industry…
Part 2 of 3

Yesterday I warned you about the Visionary Elitist and how despite their amazing creative talent, their inability to trust anyone else with their vision would eventually bring them down. Today’s beast is a much more harmful creature that will cause an entire development team to weep and gnash their teeth whenever it approaches. I call this egomaniac:

The Lying Revisionist

The Lying Revisionist, or LR for short is the type of person that thinks they are perfect because they can’t remember ever having made a mistake or having any faults. They’re usually pretty vain and believe they are the best at everything they do, or may have a dying need to prove they are the best even when they are not. Sadly, this is probably one of the most common types you’ll find in elevated positions at game companies. There are a few reasons for their rise to the top.

Some LRs are just good salesmen. They’ll tell you whatever you want to hear to get their ideas into the game or goals accomplished. However, their ideas and goals are almost always self-serving. They’re not doing it to make the game better, they’re doing it to try and prove their ideas are the best or because they want to take credit for how well the game does. They’re not above stealing other people’s ideas either, but in order to make themselves feel even more important, they’ll sometimes go against others opinions and try to put in something insipidly stupid just to make sure that they have complete ownership of the idea. The end result is that people who don’t know anything about game development (i.e. the people who tend to be in charge at larger companies), think that the LR knows something and so they move up the chain or get hired at a new company in an elevated position. Once an LR gets high up in a company, it’s almost impossible to get them out of that position and as soon as you think you’ve done so, they will move to another company in an even higher position.

LRs are also able to shirk responsibility for any of the game’s failings. They do this by simply never admitting they made a mistake. Without undeniable evidence such as an e-mail (which they almost never use to get their ideas in), an audio or video tape, or a manager with a good memory (impossible to find), when an idea of theirs does eventually fail to please (as they commonly will) they will completely disassociate themselves from it. It’s beyond just a simple statement of not knowing what you’re talking about; It’s a complete obliteration from their memories of ever having had anything to do with it. If you had not heard the words of the idea and the continual massaging of it to attempt to get it into the game in the first place, you might actually believe them because they seem so convinced that they had nothing to do with it at all that it becomes quite convincing. Management types are of course easily fooled by this and will look to quickly place the blame elsewhere or on nothing at all because game development is a team process at the end of the day (unless you’re an LR).

The LR is also very quick to take credit for good game development decisions that they likely had nothing to do with. This is because once they hear a good idea, they start thinking about it, and I honestly believe this: They then forget having overheard it said by someone else and think that they thought of it first and so it becomes THEIR idea. This is the only advantage of an LR, because as you are inevitably going to be under them, you can feed them as many good ideas as you want and half of them will become part of their agenda (the other half are lost on them because they can’t tell a good idea from a bad one [as a side-note, NEVER jokingly give these people a bad idea because no matter how much sarcasm you use, they will latch onto it, and then you get vampire dolphins, true story] ). You will never get recognition or credit for these ideas, and in fact the LR will grow to resent you if you ever remind them that the ideas were originally yours. In this way the LR is self-defeating because people with good ideas who do like to get credit for their work will eventually all be run out of the company and you are left with nothing but zombie developers who couldn’t care less one way or another how the game goes so they never contribute and the LR is left with nothing but their own bad ideas to push into the game (which they will do with great vigor).

The last aspect of the LR and possibly the most annoying is their personal belief that they can do everything and anything better than everyone else. Maybe they’re an artist, maybe they’re a programmer, maybe they’re a designer or a cinematics specialist. It doesn’t matter, they think they’re good at everything. The sad truth is, they’re pretty terrible at everything, including their own job. They don’t see that though, so they stick their noses in everyone’s business that they can find and try to tell them how they should be doing their job. To a manager who knows nothing about the specifics of each discipline in the game industry, it looks like the LR is being proactive in every field, when in actuality they are killing the morale of the entire team with their insipidly stupid ideas.

Finally, the LR manager is practically a God at seagull management. Seagull management is when the managers ignore the project until there’s something near completion, then they swoop in, shit all over everything and leave. The best part of this is that the LR will return to “seagull” the game again, but they won’t remember any of the stupid things they said the first time, so if you actually implemented any of their incredibly dumb ideas, they will crap directly on them because they don’t remember whose dumb ideas they were. It was at the end of one such meeting where I remember the manager getting incredibly angry at all the dumb ideas of his that we had put into the game to make him happy. He waved his hands like he was washing himself of the disaster and said: “If you had done it the way I told you to, it wouldn’t suck.”

Sadly, there was no recording of the meeting in which he had asked for all of the dumb things that we had put into the game, so I only had my own memory of the events to lament over. That’s why I find it to be good practice to take extensive meeting notes and send them to everyone involved in the meeting thereafter. At the very least I have an e-mail that they themselves saw at some point and I can prove that everyone at the meeting had agreed to do certain things. Sadly, the LR’s reality distortion field will prevent them from remembering the e-mail even when it is forwarded or presented to them after the fact. It’s kind of impressive that a person can delude themselves so thoroughly, but unfortunately it is also not uncommon.

Tomorrow I’ll delve into my most hated game development type, the Powersnake.

posted by CommanderHate at 7:06 pm  

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I didn’t tell you to make it stupid!
Egos in the game industry…
Part 1 of 3

I have come across three distinct types of egomaniacs in the game industry. I’m not saying that there are only three, but these are the big three that I’ve experienced first hand. They always have a large amount of power and are often the owner of the company if not a vice president or at least a lead. I’ve coined little phrases for them as it’s easier to discuss something once named so we can all stay on the same page together. These names are the Powersnake, the Lying Revisionist (or LR for short cause it sounds like Liar), and the Visionary Elitist. I’ve met a few who dip into one or two of these categories, but most have fit pretty squarely into one of the three with only an occasional slip or slide into the other areas. I’m going to start with the Visionary Elitist because they’re my favorite and I may actually be one myself (that’s my ego talkin’).

Visionary Elitist

These are the true visionaries that actually have good ideas and are able to lead a company down a path towards success. The problem is that they’re so enthralled with their own vision that they’ll step on and crush the skulls of anyone who gets in the way of this vision. That means they tend to burn a lot of bridges, which is not a good way to do business. When I worked at my second company, the creative director was a Visionary Elitist. He had absolutely amazing ideas for games and he knew how to bring those visions to life and work with his people to make it happen.

The Visionary Elitist has a couple of problems though. They have such a clear vision in their head of how things should be that they expect anyone else to be able to come to the same conclusion and vision almost immediately without any in-depth explanation necessary. This can lead to some serious confusion and wasted time as people go down a different path than expected (maybe even a better one), but since it doesn’t line up with the Visionary Elitist’s idea, it’s lambasted and rejected. My favorite example is when an artist was told to craft an area according to the Visionary Elitist’s specifications. After some discussion the artist told the VE that it wasn’t going to work well the way it was described. The VE said to do it anyways and so the artist made his best attempt. As expected, the gameplay did not work well the way the area was constructed, but when the VE played it, he didn’t consider that his idea was bad or could not work. It had to be a problem with the interpretation. So he told the artist: “I didn’t tell you to make it stupid.”

The other problem with the Visionary Elitist is that they don’t know how to play ball with the publishers. By the time I got to that company, they had already burned through pretty much every publisher imaginable, Microsoft being the last one to wash their hands of them. After rejecting many deals with various publishers, our game ended up being picked up by EA, but the creative director found a lot of what they wanted from us intolerable. On some points, I agree. For instance, they wanted us to do the Playstation 2 port of the game at the same time as we finished the game itself for the XBox. There was no way that was going to happen. Then they hired another studio to do the port and they wanted to borrow our lead programmer (also a Visionary Elitist btw). When we told them we would have to delay the game to do that, EA threw a fit. The end result? No real advertising for our game. Despite the critical acclaim it received from reviewers, no one really knew about it. It is still an amazing game by today’s standards, but it’s not even supported by the XBox 360s backwards compatibility… Could that have something to do with the Microsoft bridge burning that forced us to go to EA for a publisher? I don’t really know.

So it was no surprise that this particular Visionary Elitist continued to push buttons with EA suits until eventually he couldn’t stand working with them anymore. The end result? A genius left games to go work on movies. His entire studio of talented game designers, programmers and artists was laid off and dispersed to the four winds. The company still exists, though I don’t know in what form. I imagine the creative director will tire of his movie pursuits (which have no doubt frustrated him since a guy in India is going to have no clue how to interpret some of the bizarre and amazing ideas that come out of his head) and he will eventually return to games.

The Visionary Elitist is actually very suited to the game industry, they just need a big big buffer between themselves and anyone who might dislike or nay-say their ideas. They have no tolerance for people who “don’t get it,” even though their explanations might have been insufficient for anyone to be able to grasp them. Their ideas however, are spectacular and worth hearing because they can elevate games to a new level if you’re able to execute on them. They’re also far superior to the two other archetypes that I will go into more detail on later…

posted by CommanderHate at 6:30 pm  

Monday, February 4, 2008

Let the Sexecutions Begin – Inappropriateness in the Game Industry

During a game design meeting at my first game company, someone mentioned that not having an end boss on the level would be like not having a money shot.

I honestly had no idea what he was talking about (I was young still) so I asked:

“What’s a money shot?”

Apparently, while there was no issue using the reference during a company meeting, explaining the reference was going to be a whole other bag of drowning kittens. You see, if you’re not in the know, a money shot is the ending scene in a porno where the male porn star ejaculates… Maybe on the female porn star’s face, breasts, stomach, vagina, wherever… Good stuff, right? Well, the explanation seemed wildly inappropriate to me at the time, so I withdrew from the conversation feeling slightly alienated and a little disturbed (he was my boss at the time).

Oh, how the times have changed. I don’t think I’ve been to a meeting where I haven’t participated in some wildly inappropriate discussion about murder, rape and homosexual intercourse (sometimes in that order). Expletives (fuck, shit, bitch) are usually reserved for very heated debates, but I do tend to avoid them whenever possible. That certainly doesn’t go for everyone though and this sometimes upsets the rather vocal minority groups (think religious). Yet, most people do tend to tolerate obscenities during company time because they’ve grown up in the game industry and here it’s pretty standard as far as work environments go.

What I find amusing is how the dynamic of adding a woman to the company seems to turn things on its ear. At one company there was an art board in full public view that people would regularly draw random things on. They were always themed so that people would generally be drawing about one topic (but often in crude and extremely different ways). Inevitably, there would be a huge penis drawn on the board, sometimes infiltrating other objects, other times simply on its own for all the world to see. When a female was hired, all that went away.

Meetings toned down quite a bit, there were no more penises drawn in high traffic areas and expletives were kept to a minimum. At least for a while…

You see, as with most women who get into game development, she’d heard and seen FAR nastier things than we could ever even think to imagine. Usually directed AT her as opposed to just occurring around her. Have you ever heard what people say when they find out a woman is playing Halo 3 on XBox live? Let alone the sort of mail some of these women receive via networking sites like myspace. A DRAWING of a penis is like a desert oasis compared to the PICTURES some of them get.

I’m pretty much convinced that no one is more desensitized to vulgarity and explicit descriptions of sex acts than female gamers and game developers. It seems to come with the territory of entering a mainly male dominated industry. Yet, unlike in the corporate world where this sort of juxtaposition would end in a multitude of lawsuits; here in the game industry, the joking hyper-sexualized, expletive spewing culture is pretty much embraced. That’s what makes it so much fun.

You can be yourself without fear that some guy in a suit and tie is going to serve you legal documents stating that a civil suit is about to be rammed straight up your ass. We work in this industry because we can wear jeans and a t-shirt, talk shit all day, make a cool game, and be who we really are. We don’t want to wear a suit and tie, and we’ll be damned if we let someone wearing a suit and tie tell us how we should behave.

One of my favorite industry people would always begin meetings by saying: “Let the sexecutions begin.” Inappropriate? Sure… But damn it, it’s still funny to this day and if you can’t laugh in the game industry, why are you in it?

Let the sexecutions continue!

posted by CommanderHate at 2:58 pm  

Friday, February 1, 2008

You’re Fired! Losing your job in the game industry…
Part 5

At my first company, people were fired at a rate of about 1 a month. However, it was usually at the end of a big project that a group would be let go all at once. Working in the Quality Assurance department, those were always happy times because you’d free up a bunch of space and the few jerks who would touch your stuff would be gone.

One of my friends there had a bunch of Street Fighter action figures on his desk. He was out one day so the lesser testers (n00bs) were allowed to test using his computer. Sometime later, he discovered that one of his figures had been tampered with. He had bumped his desk and the arm on Ken just fell off. As though it had never been attached. He examined it and discovered that someone had snapped it off at the joint, and then attempted to SUPER GLUE it back together. Whoever had done it had been so nervous about their job that they had attempted to hide it rather than owning up to the incident. Even a scathing e-mail didn’t smoke out the assailant… We never did figure out who it was, but we’re pretty sure they got let go at the end of the project.

At my second company, other than the big layoffs at the end there were no firings. Go figure… It was a pretty happy environment and everyone gave their all to put out a great game. It just goes to show that happy employees make good games. A lesson that most companies never seem to learn.

The third company I worked at was pretty much a revolving door for its employees. Firings were actually rare, but people quit in droves. It was uncommon to have a week where someone didn’t quit. Salaries were pretty good there, so you have to wonder what they were doing wrong. Well, I don’t, I already know. They were completely incompetent with hiring their management team, and like some radioactive mutation of Reaganomics, that piss poor decision making trickled down onto the talent filled employees like acid rain.

Anyone who honestly cared enough to fight the good fight was consistently beat down by the leads and management. Anyone who was incompetent was consistently promoted or protected from those who pointed out their various faults. They also had a VERY dumb policy of NOT promoting people who were very good at pointing out flaws and would try to take charge. Ironic given they would then piss and moan about people taking more responsibility for making their work excellent. I told them this on numerous occasions (and was consequently ignored or punished on each occasion) that if they want people to take ownership in their areas of the game, they need to have the power to accomplish what they need to get done, which they can’t do when they have to fight with their lead or producers over every little thing. Either trust them to do it right and give them the tools to do it, or micromanage them and take the blame when it fails. Their policy was a mix of the two, they would attempt to micromanage them while also telling them to take charge and giving them no support. Not fun…

I remember being denied the ability to learn their scripting system by the producer and director of design because they felt I didn’t have enough time for it. They didn’t even trust me enough to learn their scripting system while managing my own schedule. Trust me, I could have done it, easily. It also would have improved their pipeline by about 100 fold because there was a big gap between two sides of their development team that was directly caused by one discipline being split into two. But that just goes to show you what kind of a place that was.

Sadly my own firing story was the most interesting one from that company. The rest were pretty boring or so late coming that no one really noticed. My alcoholic lead was fired almost a year after nearly completely destroying the development of the game I worked on there. Why so long? I don’t know. The second incompetent lead was demoted and perhaps they thought that the person would quit on their own, but instead they went on to screw up a lot of things in the latest project.

A friend of mine who had been laid off at one company was hired on at the sister company. However, they were making him do monkey work too. When he complained, the HR coordinator for both companies bullied the new company to give him proper work for his field (wish they would have done the same for me). Unfortunately, that meant the person who had been there before my friend now had to do the shitty monkey work they had been giving my friend. He bitched and moaned and got my friend fired. A real classy place…

Anyways, what I’ve learned from all this is the following.

1. Keep a flashdrive on your keychain so at anytime you can download important files from your computer. Only take personal files or e-mails you need to save (maybe the ones of your boss cussing you out?). Do not take work owned files unless you need them for your portfolio (this is legally questionable, but just don’t say anything to them about it and they’ll never know).

2. On the flashdrive, keep a text version of a general goodbye e-mail. You may never use it, but it could come in handy. You just need something that you can quickly paste and send with perhaps a few minor modifications so that there’s no assumptions about what happened to you. Stay classy cause you WILL come across your coworkers again. Your bosses however will likely stay at the company until it shuts down or will leave the industry forever once they’re fired, so a subtle pot shot at them can endear you to your coworkers while letting management know what you really think (subtlety is key).

3. Know your rights. You don’t have to sign anything and they MUST give you your final paycheck. Do not sign an NDA, do not sign a non-compete. If they have a seperate SEVERANCE check and attempt to make you sign papers to get that, check how much it is first and see if it’s even worth making a ruckus over. Then tell them you need to talk to your lawyer first. They cannot deny you your legal counsel. The sheet saying you’ve seen your rights to continued medical coverage is probably the only thing that’s okay to sign (COBRA).

4. Ask for a copy of your personnel file immediately. Do not leave without it. It could come in handy if there’s a lawsuit later, and it can also have interesting company info on it that might be useful for telling your friends who still work there.

5. Stay cool, stay calm, stay collected. It’s easy to blow your top or break down. Being fired or laid off is an emotional situation. Nothing disarms them more than a smile (trust me, it’ll put THEM on edge). Getting emotional will also make you forget the other things you need to do during the process.

6. Don’t keep a lot of stuff at work. Just the bare essentials. If you can’t fit it all into one bag or backpack (which you should keep there), do NOT bring it to work. There is nothing more mortifying than dragging boxes back and forth for an hour after being fired. It shows you weren’t prepared and is incredibly uncomfortable for everyone (especially you).

7. If you are unhappy at a place… Find a new job. Start your search yesterday and don’t stop until you find something that you think you’ll like. You got into game development because you love games, and you love working on games. If that’s not the case at the place you work, you pretty much know that the games you’re making are going to suck and that the company you’re working for won’t be doing business for much longer. Get out, get out immediately and don’t look back.

posted by CommanderHate at 5:10 pm  
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