Gamer Hate

Belligerently lacking in remorse.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Trust Issues
Why Developers Dislike Promoting Internally

First, I’d like you to read “My Boss is an Idiot” if you haven’t already, as this topic is directly related to that one. Secondly, I’d like to point out that everything I write here is an opinion piece. Though I have dealt with several game companies over the past 10 years, this is not indicative of EVERY game studio (although, I have yet to find one that doesn’t fall into the trap of this particular line of thinking). That said, this is my impression of what I’ve seen and experienced within the game industry as it related to promoting people internally (particularly to lead positions and mostly lead design positions).

When it comes to promotions, the people in charge really don’t like to move you from one position to another for several reasons.

1. They have to increase your pay significantly. Most people expect a 10k or more salary boost when they get a promotion, or more when it’s a lead position. Most game companies don’t want to hand out extra money like that, so they look for ways to get the same work out of you without promoting you. It’s a delicate balancing act because eventually you’ll get fed up and leave, so they’ll try to dangle just the right amount of carrot to keep you working.

2. They would likely have to replace your old position which means a new salary or promoting someone else up from a junior position. That’s a lot more money they have to spend, but also, they may have lost your services in another area. Are you irreplaceable in your current position? You probably won’t be promoted unless you threaten to quit…

3. The people already occupying your position may feel threatened or may threaten to quit if they promote you. Nothing will keep you out of a lead position like your own lead. Most leads (in my experience) are not able to recognize their own shortcomings (hell, the last 3 lead game designers I had all didn’t play video games and one was an alcoholic to boot). They sure as shit don’t want to deal with you coming into their “territory” and showing them up. They’ll do anything they can to keep you down under their thumb and keep the blinders on the higher ups because as long as they do that, their own weaknesses may never be noticed.

4. You don’t have any lead experience, so the company feels it’s a huge risk. They want to bring in someone who already has had lead experience. It’s the great catch-22, because if no one trusts you with a lead position, you can never get the lead experience you need for them to consider you a good candidate for a lead position. It’s quite stupid, but your only option in these situations seems to be to go to another company where they’ll hire you directly into a lead position. Meaning, you get to go into a new company with no knowledge of their tools or work habits, and you’re suddenly in charge of a group of people who are VERY knowledgeable about those things. Now you’re the stupid boss from the My Boss is an Idiot article…

5. They don’t think you’ll be a good lead. This is a hard one, but if they don’t think you’re going to be a good lead, they’re never ever going to promote you to be one. Why they think you’ll suck as a lead is irrelevant, because if they think it, you can’t get the position. Your only option is to move to another company where they might be more likely to see your positive leadership traits (so update your resume and prepare to quit).

6. You’re too junior. It seems every n00b who enters the industry thinks they’ve got all the ideas and abilities to lead a good project these days. Trust me, you don’t. Even at 10 years of experience I wonder how I’ll do if I’m ever handed the reigns to a project. I have a pretty damn good idea as my game design sense is sharp, but you’re not just leading the design of the game. You’re leading a group of people, and you can’t stomp on their ideas without good reason, but neither should you ignore them just because you like your own idea better. Collaboration and camaraderie are huge factors in a project coming together well, and those things are just learned and earned over time.

7. They think they know you too well and are afraid of what you’ll do. Sadly this has been where I usually get stopped. My passion to make great games often comes across as zealotry. I’ve had more than a few outbursts in my day, but time has taken the edge off and I’m getting better at tasting my words before I let others consume them. When frustrated or when dealing with people who are very clearly being stupid, I can get riled up again, but then, I don’t really want to work with them anyways so it usually ends up exactly as I prefer it (with their company going down in flames and me at a much better company)… 😉

Those are the main factors that I’ve seen when it comes to a company denying a person a promotion, especially a lead position. Sometimes they’re right to do so, sometimes not so much. Though I have seen a flock of people trying to get into the game industry (and into design in particular) that think they have the chops to lead a project when they clearly don’t. So, when you’re thinking about leading a project or asking for a promotion, you need to be honest with yourself first. Can you really handle the responsibility, or are you trying to get something you don’t deserve? Do you want the lead position because you can do a good job, or because a narcoleptic ape would be preferable to your current lead?

There’s honestly little to nothing you can do about the company’s decisions on whether or not to promote a person or hire an outside lead (as poor as those decisions may be). Just make certain that you’re honest with yourself and know when you’re ready for such responsibility, and know to say no when you’re not. More importantly (and this goes out to a lot of my former leads), you need to know when you’ve lost the ability to do your job well and ask to step down when you have.

There’s no dishonor in a commander stepping down, but if you take everything down with you because of your refusal to see the obvious, expect to be hated vehemently (forever).

posted by CommanderHate at 2:55 pm  

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Stop Uwe Boll
The Petition Needs YOU!

If you haven’t heard, Uwe Boll said that he would stop making movies if a million people asked. Last I checked the petition was just over 200,000, up about 150,000 when I first signed. We need to make a million signatures, if for no other reason than to humiliate Uwe Boll for being a gigantic fucktard.

In case you are not in the know or somehow have managed to avoid all of his horrifically bad movies, Uwe Boll is almost single handedly responsible for the glut of mind numbingly awful video game movies that have come out in the past 10 years. How he managed to continually gain access to new video game licenses is beyond me as anyone who would actually hand this monster the license to make another game movie after the horrors that were Alone in the Dark and House of the Dead would have to be a brain amputee. Yet somehow, he managed to get Bloodrayne and Dungeon Siege. I can only assume all the contracts were signed many years ago all at the same time using the blood of sacrificial babies while Satan watched over the proceedings and nodded in approval.

It’s not that I hate Uwe Boll as a person… Okay, I do hate him as a person… But his films are absolute shit and he thinks they are great. They are proven to be pieces of crap and yet he accuses other directors (like Michael Bay) of being crap. Uwe Boll is the crap that craps crap… If the feces were anymore concentrated within him, it would form a black hole that would destroy the universe.

Honestly though, he doesn’t seem to know anything about movies. He just imitates what others have done and thinks that it’s good. Dungeon Siege mirrored Lord of the Rings (POORLY) on just about every scene that it had. All that he managed to do was make me snicker sullenly as I noticed how badly he was imitating Peter Jackson’s epic. I guess that’s a step up from the outright derisive laughter I eschewed onto House of the Dead (which I caught on tv before I knew what awful really was). But if the best you can do is copy Lord of the Rings shittily, why are you making movies in the first place? Find your own fucking creative vision you talentless hack…

So listen up people, if you ever respected video games as an entertainment medium, you will do your part to help stop this monster from ever making a film again (even if the effort itself is semi-futile). He is a detriment to all forms of entertainment, and it pains me that he’s simultaneously able to destroy movies and video games. Stop him… STOP HIM!

Sign the petition!

posted by CommanderHate at 6:29 pm  

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Racist Games
They’re Pretty Damn Rare

I think this is really telling of the difference between the gamer generation and the rest of the world. We as gamers don’t really see race. When we play Crackdown or GTA3, does it matter if we’re the black character? No, he looks cool. We don’t see race, we see a cool character that we want to play as. When we played Resident Evil 4, did we see Spaniards? No, we saw people infected with a deadly virus that could not be reversed and they were trying to kill us.

Is Resident Evil 5 any different? No, because we as gamers don’t see race. We see beyond that, because to us, it’s irrelevant. There are some clichés in games, but I think that games, far more than movies and tv shows has done the most to break races out of their stereotypes and point to a racially irrelevant future.

Games like Mass Effect do an amazing job of teaching us about racial hatred without explicitly saying it. For instance, the Krogans are a warrior race that is on the verge of extinction, but you learn of their extremely violent history. In fact, the majority of the other races seems to fear the Krogan’s and appreciate the fact that they’re on the verge of extinction. By the end of the story you realize that they’re not inherently evil and that the unleashing of a deadly virus that made their birth rate rapidly decline (in effect a biological warfare induced genocide) was absolutely wrong (assuming you even got the Krogan guy in your party). There are many racial themes in Mass Effect and many of them could be applied to real world racial situations. The overarching theme of the game is racial solidarity against a greater evil (unless you decide to be a racist douchebag, but you will feel like a racist douchebag if you go that route, unless you’re a sociopath in which case you’ve got problems far beyond the meager offerings of video games).

The point being, that in games, there are people who are typically bad guys, and those bad guys are often killed by the hero. When gamers play these games, they don’t really care what race the good guy or the bad guy is, they just want to kill the bad guy. Are we teaching kids something when the bad guy is always a particular race? Yeah, we probably would be. Fortunately we tend to vary up the race of the bad guy because to gamers, it’s really irrelevant unless it’s important to the story.

So what happens if you disallow the bad guys from being of a particular race? Well, you’re going to see the same race in the bad guy role, being shot, in every single game. What race will it be? Well, I bet dimes to dollars that it’s going to be white guys, because hating whitey is still the “in thing.” What will that teach people? To hate white people… Self-loathing is already a common problem in the white community, but I’m not even going to speak to that (right now) because it’s irrelevant to the main issue.

To gamers, race in a game is irrelevant as long as you don’t make a big issue of it. If you make people think that there’s something relevant about the zombies in RE5 being all black (despite no one giving a shit that the zombies in RE4 were all Spanish, guess they were close enough to white that it didn’t matter), then people are going to read INTO that and think that the game is being racist. As soon as you say that, people playing it see it in a new light and think, maybe there is something to it. So then race becomes an issue for the game even though it was never intended to be.

You see, the moment you start saying: “They’re being racist” is the same moment that you segregate one race from another. That’s right, all you dumbasses who are saying that things are racially motivated are the ones who are allowing racism to continue. If you want race to be a non-issue, only bring it up when there’s actually a problem. One game where the setting happens to be in Africa is not a problem. Resident Evil 5 is set in an African nation… OF COURSE THE ZOMBIES ARE GOING TO BE AFRICAN! It’s the same as RE4 where they were all Spanish… Cause it was set in SPAIN!

This isn’t rocket science people. Making race an issue when it isn’t an issue makes you the person segregating one race from another, which means that YOU ARE THE RACIST!

The End.

posted by CommanderHate at 11:21 am  

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Theory of Dumb
Why Some Game Design Books Teach Nothing

I’ve been designing games for a while now, and I always try to keep up on the latest and greatest books from the “experts” in game design. Sadly this has always been a disappointing endeavor as the field of game design seems to be so much more about “feel” than it is about cold hard facts. If I were an industry n00b reading these books, I’d pretty much come away thinking I was the best thing to ever hit design because the whole field is so fucking nebulous that no one could tell if I was doing a good or bad job at the end of the day.

Sadly, I’d probably be right…

That isn’t to say that there aren’t good designers who can swath a path through nebulous crap to find the core of what is good gameplay… On the contrary, I have personally met many designers who can regularly make good decisions for the game they are working on. It’s just that the people who write the books on design tend not to be those people who know a lot about good game design.

Typically, the author’s of these books are the ones who spout off metaphorical gibberish in the hopes of making you think that they’ve reached some sort of point. Some of them have been miserable failures in the game industry from day one, only succeeding because they have good talking points and are charismatic. Definitely not because they are bastions of good game design or even good game design theory. That isn’t to say I don’t respect their ideas, I just don’t find them very helpful.

So, just to save everyone some time, I’ll write you a one sentence summary for each book that I’ve read so you don’t have to.

A Theory of Fun, by Raph Koster – Games are fun because they challenge you.

Chris Crawford on Game Design, by Chris Crawford – Games should try to be more about human emotions and expression.

Character Development and Storytelling for Games, by Lee Sheldon – Hire a good writer.

There are more, but a lot of them just summarize some of the basic ideas behind game design. Most of them are text books and to be honest, I haven’t read them yet. If someone wants to send me one, I’d be happy to read it, but don’t be surprised if it ends up with a one-line description. Of course, if it blows me away you can expect an in-depth review. I’m bi-polar that way…

What troubles me about the books listed above is how often they wax philosophical. In particular, Koster’s book seems to go back and forth on its own points, never really quite coming to any interesting conclusions. Boiled down to its core, it’s really just a bad comic book with extra prose tacked on that vaguely has something to do with game design. Or games in general I guess. What was his theory? There wasn’t one. He never solidly states anything in the whole damn book, yet people come away feeling like they’ve gained something. It’s no wonder that he’s been able to talk his way into making multiple failures.

Crawford’s book doesn’t propose to explain anything other than his own ideas of game design. In that respect, the book is a success and I found his tales of the early years of game making to be quite interesting. Will you become an instant game design pro after reading it? Definitely not. In fact, attempting to espouse a lot of the ideas he has for the future of gaming may get you frustrated looks from employers. They’re noble goals, but hardly sell able (yet).

Sheldon goes into great depth and detail about the roots of cinematic writing and how it relates to gaming. Ultimately though, you’re just going to have a head full of near useless information and no inkling of how to actually write or develop a story for a game. There are really good solid concrete anecdotes from actual games writing strewn throughout, but that’s all they end up being. They’re so specific to the individual games that only little tidbits can be extracted and looked at as an actual guide for how to write for your own game. The book might actually have benefited from writing exercises…

Which leads me to the most important thing I can ever tell anyone about game design. The best way to learn is by doing. If you want to write for games, start writing for games, even if it’s just for yourself. If you want to make games, start making levels in whatever tools you can find. Get Warcraft 3 and crank out a bunch of minigames, the triggers in that game are amazingly versatile (I’ve seen Tetris in a War 3 map for crying out loud, and War3 is an RTS). Better yet, do your own campaign scenario. Even if the end result is utter garbage, you’ll have a much better understanding of all the processes that go into making a game.

At the end of the day, a true designer is the bard of the modern age. A jack of all trades, master of none. You will dabble in programming (or at least logical thought processes for creating scripts), you will create art (or at least layout pieces given to you by artists), you will create the level flow, you will create the design for the core gameplay (which programmers will implement), and you will write story, characters and plot lines (even if it’s on a limited basis just for your level). You need to have some knowledge in all of these areas to be a truly successful designer, and the best way to gain that knowledge is to just do it.

On that note, it’s time for a little experiment. I’m going to see if I can help you guys become better game designers. More on that soon…

posted by CommanderHate at 3:43 pm  

Thursday, April 3, 2008

“I Can Do It Better”
Why People Suck at Design and Writing

So after the heated debate about “Professional” writers in the game industry, I gave it some thought and have figured out why the vast majority of writing and game design that goes into games tends to utterly suck. It’s because everyone and their mom seems to think that they can design and write better than anyone else.

If you ask someone to make a kick ass piece of art, there is solid definable evidence at the end of their creation process that the art is either cool or a giant turd floating in a goldfish bowl. Bad art is easily definable, particularly when the art is for an intended purpose for a game. When someone is a bad artist they can’t hide that fact very easily (unless they steal other people’s art and pass it off as their own, or just trace photos to make their concept art, not as uncommon as you might think).

A bad programmer is almost as easy to find because often times their shit won’t work, or if it does happen to work, it does so inconsistently, or when they try to add on to that code it comes tumbling down like a giant house of cards because they hacked it together with sticks and glue and bits of code they didn’t really understand but found on a website from some other programmer. You can’t really fake good code because there are standards and practices that any good programmer knows and follows (unless you steal from good programmers, also not as uncommon as you might think).

So when it comes to design… How do you determine good design? How about writing?

The trouble with design and writing is that a lot of the early stuff is very subjective. One person may like a particular game mechanic while another may hate it. The same is true for writing. While one person may like the wording and thematic feel of a line of dialogue, another person may utterly despise it. These sorts of arguments even happen between two or more people who are experienced and skilled in these areas of game development. One person wants the health bar displayed, the other person wants to show that the character is low on health through animations and graphics on the character itself. Both ideas have their merits, which decision is “right” depends entirely on the thematic design of the game (and that’s why a strong Lead Designer is important).

However, there are right and wrong decisions in design and there is poorly written material in writing. People who are skilled in those areas can easily recognize them, which is exactly where the problem arises. How do you determine that someone is skilled in an area that non-skilled people think they understand? You see, anyone who reads a book on writing or design can believe that they are now an expert because they know some basic rules. Does that really put them on the same level as someone who has been doing those things as their job and in their spare time for fun for many years? NO, it does not, BUT because they read a book they think they’re an expert.

I’ve read up on dentistry so that I could communicate more precisely with my dentist on which tooth was causing me pain (#28 btw), but that doesn’t mean I’m going to pick up his fucking drill and start trying to fix it myself! Similarly, reading a book on writing doesn’t mean you can suddenly write. It might help you recognize certain things in your writing and allow you to improve, but just because you read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces, doesn’t mean you can suddenly write a good story. Hell, the guy who wrote it didn’t know how to write one either, he was just big into mythology and how humanity tells stories (good book btw).

Design is even worse in this respect, because while writing is a widely appreciated and respected (in some circles) profession and everyone can read a story and determine if they like it or not, design ideas are much harder to play out in your head if you’re not experienced with bringing game design ideas to life. The time and money invested in actually implementing a design plan can be quite prohibitive, so it’s important to know what you’re going to get before you start.

Whenever I hear someone say that they want to try out a design idea and “see if it works in the game” I immediately know one of two things. Either they are trying something really complicated that’s never been done before and they honestly need to see it in the game to get a good feel for how it’s going to work, or… They don’t have a fucking clue about game design and are too stupid to imagine how it will feel in the game based on past experiences with similar design elements and thus they have to see it in the game to even know if it’s a good or bad idea. 9 times out of 10, it is the latter and not the former. 100% of the time when it is the latter, they are not a game designer (typically they’re artists for some fucking reason), but I’ve had a few game designers who were guilty of this. The reason they are able to stay a game designer is because people in power above them can’t recognize a good designer from a bad one…

With both writing and design, it’s easy for non-writers and non-designers to try and slip in and say they know better than the actual professional. It’s this sort of ego play that ends up ruining a lot of games, or at least critically crippling them for a large part of the creation process. The people who think they can write or design often end up never learning anything either. They continue to spew out their poor ideas and feedback and worse, try to make power plays to get their badly written dialogue and poorly conceived design ideas into the game. What possesses these morons to do it?

They honestly believe they’re good at it.

However, they’re not good at it. If they were, they’d probably have a job doing it (since they seem to love doing it so much more than their own damn job). What sucks the most about these types of backseat designers and writers is that they NEVER LEARN. Even when you tell them why their game ideas are bad or why their writing is horribly off for the game, they won’t get it. They think their shit is the best thing ever and far superior to your stuff. They will never think otherwise no matter how many people tell them the same thing (“they just didn’t understand my genius”).

The reason that these people suck so much is because they’re obsessed with their own creations. They can’t possibly imagine that their writing or design idea is not good. They also can’t stand that someone else might actually be better than them at what they perceive is their strength. But the fact is, someone else has the job title of designer and/or writer…

So to all you fucktards who think you’re good at writing or good at design and yet have not actually held either title while on a project (and getting an “additional” design or writing credit does not count because we both know you bitched and moaned to get that instead of actually earning it by doing good work in either area), I say fuck off. You’re fucking the project, you’re pissing off the people who actually do those jobs, and you’re NOT GOOD AT IT!

And until you realize that you suck at it, you’ll never get better…

posted by CommanderHate at 7:07 pm  

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