The NX Theory

Out with the Old

The popular theory of what exactly the NX will be is some form of hybrid handheld-at-home console.  I’ve struggled to accept this for many reasons:

  1. Handheld devices are powered by batteries.  Batteries at this time in our history are trash.  I can’t get through 1 day without having to plug my phone into a charger.  I watch 5 minutes of Youtube and my battery is visibly  dropping percentages of it’s charge.  To think that we can get PS4 quality in our hands is not only a ridiculously expensive proposition, but it would die faster than a Sega Game Gear folding proteins.
  2. Micro-consoles have failed.  It was a fad popularized by the very public failure called Ouya.  If someone plays a game on their TV they want hardware that will fill ever pixel with style.  This takes horsepower that we have yet to see by any device on-the-go.

In with the New

So what’s the solution?  Did Nintendo lie to us?  Not at all, because the NX is not a console… It’s two consoles.

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That’s right… soak it in.  The NX is a concept that will replace both the WiiU and 3DS at once.  It will be two consoles with compatible architectures and similar features that enable Nintendo to effectively develop one game for both devices.  This means no more long delays or feature disparities for Smash Bros.  No more Metroid Prime on home consoles while the handheld folks get Federation Force..

There will have to be a large graphical sacrifice, but if Nintendo delivers a handheld on par with a Samsung S5/6 or an iPhone 5/6 then we could be looking at some sexy handheld games.

This also opens the door to a true “cross play” and “cross buy” support, something that Sony has struggled to get down 100%.  If Nintendo could sell handheld games that ran natively on their home console, this could be a huge win for them.  It would drive sales of their primary market; handhelds, while increasing sales of home consoles for gamers who wish to experience their libraries on the big screen.  What I wouldn’t give to project my Fire Emblem experience on a screen I don’t have to squint to read.. It could be amazing.

Dream with Me

Even if home console games would not run on handhelds, or would run at a significant performance cut like 30 fps handheld and 60 fps at home, I’d be a happy Nintendo fanboy.  I think that it would be asking too much for all games to run across all platforms, but having unified architectures is an extremely attractive prospect.  It’s an ideal that has been around for a long time, even when the, “one console future” was a topic of debate.

As a developer, this makes porting a much more affordable option.  As a gamer, it means more first-party games, faster.  This might be the first Nintendo console to not see a major drought for quite a while.  If we imagine the release schedule of 3DS games added to the release schedules of major WiiU titles we’d have a fairly stuffed calendar to deal with.

It’s a tall order but…  A man can dream.

 

High Hopes, Low Expectations

Well..  It happened..  Nintendo squeezed in a small mention of NX and the Internet ate it up like free lunch.  I admit that I’m excited to see what it is, much like a present under a Christmas tree.  But I think I am more excited because of the anticipation more than the actual thing inside.  There are some red flags that concern me about the NX and I hope that my worries will be resolved before the end of the year.  They likely wont, but I can dream.

Issue #1: Nintendo’s Lack of Confidence

Nintendo made it’s quiet announcement that a new console would hit the market in March of 2017, about a year from now.  Typically this is about the time that we’ll start seeing PowerPoint slides with hardware specs, getting video demos of projected graphical fidelity, and hand-wavey promises about how it will change the face of gaming.  But we got none of that, no hubris or even a glimmer of confidence.  The NX was a footnote squeezed in between a Kirby game and some Mobile news on a fiscal report..

Issue #2: The Ol’ 1/2 Port Zelda Game

I get it, Nintendo needs a flagship game (at least one) to send off the NX with a strong chance of survival.  They need to hit the ground running with a console that people NEED to buy, not a console they’ll wait to buy.  Nintendo needs to have a consistent flow of games; first party games, and they need to have that Nintendo seal of approval.  That quality takes time and there isn’t enough of it to make 2 Zelda games between now and then.  What concerns me is that the NX port of Zelda will be much like Twilight Princess; very much the same game with some bloom effects and bootstrapped motion controls.  If a console with a failed screen-based controller was the original game design, what changes are taking place to make this worthy of the next generation?  Was the WiiU version compromised to make it more compatible with NX features or was it the other way around?  And does this mean Zelda will be graphically compromised or will we see a game that pushes the NX to it’s limits?

Issue #3: NX is Only a Rumor and Already Dated

Specifications haven’t been released, but horsepower was the WiiU’s undoing.  It was dropped by 3rd party in a very public way with CEO’s bashing it’s performance and gaming sites jokingly calling it “last gen”.  If the NX does not exceed performance expectations it will likely fall into that camp again.  With news of PS4K and whatever Microsoft is cooking up, I have a genuine fear that Nintendo is going to turn out a “par of today’s course” console instead of planning for a long future with NX.  If rumors are true that NX is some sort of Mobile console with at-home TV support I weep for the future of Nintendo when they try to hold it up to a PS4K and ask for 3rd part to step in.  Candy Crush Saga, NX edition…

Issue #4: NX is Another Gimmick

I would have imagined that Nintendo figured it out by now.  Gimmicks only last as long as that initial “wow this is new” feeling, which is about a day.  That’s why Wii sold like hotcakes and had a terrible attach rate; the gimmick was over after Grandma played a couple rounds of Wii Bowling and it went into the closet.

I have a Wii that was gifted to me and I play more GameCube games on it than Wii games; what does that say?  Nintendo needs to drop the gimmick and provide a solid, well rounded experience, with games that only Nintendo can produce.  That’s it; nothing fancy, no flavor of the day – just a solid user experience.  I don’t want to strap devices to my ankles or where Virtual Boy goggles or walk around a VR chamber with cameras mounted all around my living room.  I don’t want my NX to watch me while I sleep.  I just want to play a good game.  Can Nintendo do that?  Not likely…

 

I’m Just Not That Into You

To be perfectly honest, getting old sucks.  You don’t realize until you are well into your late 30’s or early 40’s that life is but a series of obstacles that only get taller with age.  It is the anti-video game, or the story after the credits, where you have to live with your choices and not only in the brief moment after.  Life is more like a bell curve than a logarithmic progression of XP and HP.

You are older now, you’ve seen things, you’ve solved the equation of life; you have a pretty good vector of what the rest of it will look like.  And now that you have that balance in your life, you want to do more with it.  The problem with doing more is that you are only one person, and there are 24 hours in a day.  Like a block from a tree, you shave away a piece here and a piece there.  Six hours to sleep, two hours to eat, at least an hour in the car, and add another for time in the bathroom.  Compound this with the things that balance your life; family, especially children.  They need time as well.  What you are left with is faint moments in between; 30 minutes here, maybe an hour there.  You have to make the most of that time.

When you are seeking balance, you can’t afford to be passionate.  I know it sounds strange, and probably even counterproductive to anything you ever heard as a young person.  The problem with passion is that it can get you in trouble, it can blind you from the reality.  I was passionate about making video games for a LONG time, most of my life actually.  My only reason for getting a college degree was to make video games.  Without that passion I would likely be working in a Gamestop right now, saying, “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve…” like some 30-something armchair quarterback talking about his days in high school.  But that passion also took my hand and lead me through decades of blindly ignoring the heartache, financial failures, and public ridicule from a generally apathetic community.  Passion will always feel like a mountain made only for you; and it’s lonely at the top.  It’s especially lonely to be passionate about making games these days, when the value of games has decreased so much.

It has taken YEARS to beat the passion out of me.  Part of it has been life, aging, responsibility, but another part of it I’ve openly chosen to do myself.  Today, as I write this, I look over to the over-sized TV I keep in my home office/man-cave.  I turn it on more often these days as a room heater than I do to consume video games.  I look at that entertainment center, where nothing but a dusty XBox 360 and a disconnected Gamecube are taking up shelf space.  I’ve only kept them this long because my daughter likes Just Dance every now and then.  To be honest, I could probably take it out of sight and out of mind if I had something better to put in its place.  The problem is that I don’t want to replace them, I don’t care anymore.  I look at my old forgotten console and I think to myself, “I’m just not that into you.”  I follow the news in the game-sphere and it all sounds like the same old noise.  Even the biggest topics, the ones that are boasting to yet-again change the face of video games forever are met with a snicker and smile.

That prepubescent tornado of emotion that bubbles up when someone talks about graphics or some new game mechanic just isn’t there anymore.  When I look at videos games today and where it has gone, and where it is heading, I feel nothing.  It is a hollow of emotions.  It’s the kind of feeling you have as you look across the dinner table to your partner and you both know that it’s been over for a long time.  The only thing left are the empty stares and drifting thoughts of how much better life would be if you could just let go.  I’ve chosen to let go.  I’m not a gamer anymore.  I cleared my wishlist on Steam, I canceled my console subscriptions, my gaming magazine subscriptions, most of my gaming Youtube channels, my gaming news feeds; all of it.  It’s been that way for years now.

This, coming from a guy who marathon-ed jRPG’s.  This, coming from a guy who would stay up playing games for so long that he saw spots and felt physically ill, but pressed on anyways because there was a mini-boss somewhere who needed his ass handed to him.  This, coming from a guy who spent his childhood summer’s designing Megaman villains instead of riding his bike.  This, coming from a guy who has worked two jobs since age 16, because at least one of them had to be in video games.  This, coming from a guy who has shaved years off of his life making games; not because he was afraid of being fired, but because he refused to give up on his love for video games.

I can’t say that I’m entirely happy with my decision to carve video games out of my life.  It would be heartless to say that about a 30 year relationship.  I have fond memories, but I’m not that young kid anymore.  I don’t have the time for games in my life and I don’t care about the games designed for people with no time.  It has taken decades to accept this but I’m finally mature enough to mean it when I say, Video Games, I’m just not that into you…

Agree/Disagree?  Feel free let me know:
https://twitter.com/Ben_Quintero

The World-System of Game Development

The industry has exploded into the behemoth katamari of entertainment that it is today, consuming, absorbing, ever-changing…  But what did it take to get this far, to advance this much in such a short period of time?  In short, world-systems.

According to Wikipedia, “A world-system is a socioeconomic system that encompasses part or all of the globe. World-systems are usually larger than single countries (nations), but do not have to be global.”

The laymen definition of this basically implies that a division of labor between borders will improve overall productivity and a richer life for some.  At the heart of our everyday lives is a world-system that governs it.  From our jeans made in India to the shrimp caught in Thailand and bought in Missouri, there is an underlying infrastructure that exploits cheap labor in one part of the world and sells to affluent nations in other parts of the world.  Love it or hate it, but game development has fallen in line with many other industries, just not quite like you might imagine.

World-systems can be a win if you are on the right side of that coin.  They embody the natural order of capitalism and allow companies to find new ways and new markets to increase profits while injecting small economical boosts into foreign nations.  If you land on the other side of that coin you’ll find yourself under the thumb of your employers and buyers.  World-systems are highly efficient and they maximize throughput of a product at the cost of a widening gap in the center of that system.  Every individual doesn’t have to worry about essential survival instincts anymore, and it frees us to do other things with our time like go to the theater or attend a Comic Con instead of feeding cattle or harvesting potatoes or storing for a long winter.  If you dare to poke your head into the food distribution or clothing industries or even Hollywood, there you’ll find a road map for the video game industry and we’ve arrived.

  • AAA Publishers = Core or Affluent Nations
  • Indie/Self Publishers = Impoverish Nations
  • Unity/Unreal/Others = Providers and/or Facilitators
  • Game Studios = Laborers turned Consumers

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As game developers, we don’t have to build our own technology anymore just as we individuals and families don’t have to plow our own fields to survive.   Whether it’s a network of distribution channels or providers making the connections, there are Facilitators in every industry that allows a world-system to function.   It has allowed our industry to grow incredibly fast and find new and more efficient ways to deliver more refined mass-produced products, but at the cost of mid-tier publishers shuttering and the widening gap between self publishers and AAA publishers.  The disruptive nature of the industry does let a couple small fries in the door but Shovel Knight’s success didn’t topple Call of Duty; it never will any more than the local farmers’ success in his home town is going to bring down Monsanto.  Kickstarter didn’t shake the foundation of our core nations, they took that idea and found a way to monetize it; arguably better than the people who actually need it.

green acresI’m no Doomsday prepper; I don’t keep cans in my basement, and I don’t think I would be in mortal danger if the bottom suddenly dropped and all Middleware facilitators left the game industry.  I’m lucky to have learned the trades of making a game before the industrial revolution of video games.  But it’s a new world for a new generation of developers however.  They’ve transitioned from Laborers of a product to Consumers of middleware solutions.  They generalize in high-concept game development with a stronger focus on psychology and design than technical problem solving.  It’s allowed companies to keep salaries flat in an increasingly competitive market, and have access to a wider pool of developers.

These high-concept game developers may live and die never knowing how to write their own binary map structure without Dictionary<>.   That sounds crazy to me, but I’m sure plenty of people get funny looks from their elders when they first put down the pitchfork to pick up the suit and tie…

It’s not all bad.  The world-system of video games has allowed the industry to grow and create more jobs.  Less people know what happens under the hood when an object is dropped in a game world, but more people overall have the affordable tools and technology to design an enemy encounter without ever needing to know.

How you feel about that last statement… Well I guess it depends on when you were born.

Sleep well Satoru Iwata-san

I sat down last night, fully expecting to squeeze in a couple more chapters of Fire Emblem on my 3DS before bed.  Instead I checked my Twitter feed and saw one very short tweet breaking the news gently to me. “RIP Mr. Iwata,” was all it said.  I was shocked..  And the truth is it effected me more than I would have imagined.  I didn’t sleep well last night.  His passing has left me wondering about my own mortality as well as Nintendo’s future.

Satoru Iwata is gone.  Even as I say this I’m still processing what that means.  His passing was sudden and without warning.  Maybe that is what makes this so difficult to imagine.  A CEO like Satoru Iwata doesn’t come along everyday.  You don’t hear of an executive sitting with the programming teams to get a product out the door.  You don’t get to see a CEO willingly have his likeness turned into a Jim Henson Muppet for millions of people to witness.  You certainly have never seen a CEO of a multi-national corporation get into a live-action Super Smash Bros battle with his staff members.  There is a whimsical nature to video games that he fully embraced, especially in a world where most CEOs spend their moment’s in the lime light discussing monetizing strategies and surrounding themselves with specialists who have discovered new devious ways to squeeze $0.05 more from anyone who touches their product.  No, Iwata embraced the reality that children are prominently funding our careers and he was okay with that.  In an industry so serious, so caught up on being respected as an art form, so enamored by the downward spiraling Hollywood model, Iwata rested alone on a podium as the CEO unafraid to use the word, “fun”.  He was the CEO that asked us all to “Please understand…” and, in time, we did.

Today, Nintendo is a company that strives to include everyone; even if that means taking blows from critics and aging fans.  I can only imagine this was a direct influence from Iwata himself.  Carrying the torch for Nintendo will not be an easy task for the next CEO.

Under Iwata’s leadership, Nintendo was an infuriating company to watch.  He was there for the booming rise of the Wii to the fall of the Wii U and priming for Nintendo’s potential return to greatness with the NX.  Everything they ever seemed to do was in spite of every other player in the industry.  It was like they stood back, watched where everyone was walking, turned around and headed the other way.  It made them a real wildcard, something that I don’t know we will see again in a long time.  I do hope that in his passing the company keeps at least some of the ideals that defines Nintendo as who they are today, the wildcard of the industry.  And I hope the next CEO is equally willing to use the word “fun” as unabashedly as he did.

Sleep well Satoru Iwata-san…

 

Has Unity3D Made Me Unemployable?

Dazed-and-Confused

“That’s the thing about these video games, we get older, they stay the same age; yes they do, yes they do.”

Though video games will mostly be stuck in a certain time in history (an argument for another time), the way we make them and our reasons for making them are having a dramatic shift.  But not everyone agrees…

The Future of Game Development is Unclear

Oprah Gamedev

It’s a crazy world right now.  If you want to make video games you are stuck between a rock and hard place.  Games have never been easier to make than they are today and yet they are harder than ever to make successful.  We have tools as far as the eye can see; map editors, game makers, open source, and free.  It’s an ocean of possibility that has opened the door for professionals and novices alike to slap something together and call it a video game on nearly every platform available to consumers.  It feels like Oprah just invented the Internet.

The fact is that lowering the bar of creating a game has also lowered expectations of how hard it is to make a GOOD game.  Which leads me to my next point.

Professionals Push Back?

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Have studio developers outside of the indie clique gotten a little salty?  Or is there good reason to turn our nose away?

Unity has developed something of a mixed reputation.  Most people who talk about it, including myself, would say that it’s a very capable piece of technology.  Unity is not reaching for the bleeding edge but but this is what has allowed it to create a smooth and relatively stable path of development.  Unity has become the ultimate gateway drug for any newbie who wants to drag assets and snippets together.  It has become the tool of choice for solo developers and small teams, especially those who can’t be bothered to know what a matrix stack looks like or would rather not learn the basic internal constructs of a vertex buffer.  They just want to play the game in their heads, and developing a unique foundation for that game might brand you as a Neo Luddite in some circles.

My job has been focused primarily in the world of C# in recent years.  It has spanned desktop applications, Unity development, and even some conversion and productivity tools.  At times I have asked myself, “8 hours in .NET or 3 weeks in C++ to develop?” and the answer seemed obvious…  This has been the case for the past 3-5 years now and counting.  A few months ago I spoke to some game industry people who insisted that C++ was still the one true Golden Path while veterans outside of video games were chanting web-stack.  This has me a bit worried that Unity and C# is not here nor there when it comes to many engineering jobs out in the wild.  The Golden C++ Path may be rocky and filled with traps that take days to climb out of but it’s like home for many who feel no-quite-whole when they jump onto the freshly paved roads that Unity has built.

The response I’ve generally gotten about my transition out of the world of raw metal and silicone seems to have been met with just a tinge of hostility.  I used to be a hard-core low level guy and now I’m prancing around in what feels like a scripting language.  I wonder sometimes if the old guard is just getting defensive, or if they genuinely see video games sticking hard and fast to ASM/C/C++.  It has made me feel pretty guilty and admitted unhappy that I haven’t tried to keep up with the standards of both ASM/C/C++ and C#.  I’m pretty sure my years of experience would still land me a job somewhere if I needed one, but I’m not sure it would be in the game industry if my resume said Unity for the last 6-8 years.

Paralyzed By Indecision

Going forward I’m still not sure what to do.  My job requires that I continue using Unity and I have no real issues with it, but I feel like there is a line in the sand for larger game companies out there.  I’ve certainly gotten an awkward silence or two after mentioning Unity, followed by a sigh of relief when I bring up C++.

I’ve gone as far as to assign myself a game design challenge outside of work.  In case you are wondering, it’s simply this:  Create a sell-able game with minimal art (no, less than what you are thinking right now.. keep going.. almost there… now cut that in half.) without resorting to violence as a core mechanic.  In a time where the most successful games are bigger bigger bigger; more more more, kill kill kill, it has been depressingly difficult to settle into a design, but the real question on my mind is:

Do I take the paved road once again that Unity has built, or the Golden Path that so many industry professionals still cling to?  It’s a question of brushing up my core skills over the next couple of years while I build the technology, or getting straight into the design at the cost of falling deeper into the .NET rabbit hole…  Excuse me while I let it wash over me… This could take a while…

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The Life of Peter and Peppa Pan

I am fully aware that I’m probably going to get a lot of flak for this one but I encourage that you read it completely and take a day to think about it.

Let’s face it, entertainment is suffering from a bit of a crisis and video games are no exception.  We often see this paraphrased as some sort of Peter Pan Syndrome, but it may be a bit narrow to limit this condition to just men.  We all have friends who have their own devices, their connection to a time when life seemed just a little more free than it is now.  Whether it’s the man who is gathering his “collectables” beyond his childhood years or the woman who thinks high school isn’t over, there is a piece of all of us that doesn’t want to grow up.

hipsterComb the Internet and there you’ll find libraries of articles describing “the generation who refuses to grow up”.  This has quickly become the largest group of 30-somethings with no mortgage, no marriage, no children, and no genuine career plan.  It’s a generation of brunch goers who seem to embody the very thing that prior generations loath; so much so that even the Bible had a word or two to say about it.  We can’t escape the fact that, like the growing population of Peter and Peppa Pans out there, the entertainment we seek has also remained in it’s infancy.  It can’t be helped; it’s where the money is at right now.  We must cater to the up-all-night, shut-up-and-dance, brunch eating, adult children.

Admitted I am something of a manga and anime fan, I always have been.  I grew up on American cartoons, and it was my meat and potatoes every Saturday morning.  As I grew a little older anime seemed like the next logical step; it was gritty and filled with intense action.  I was done with GI Joe characters that couldn’t shoot the broad side of an enemy fortress.  The mid 80’s were amazing.  Nintendo was coming into the picture, and cartoons like Dragon Ball were showing brutal (for the time) fights that displayed a more adult version of my Saturday morning ritual.  In later years, highly influential anime like Akira and Ghost in the Shell were showing feature length animated films with very adult content and unflinching violence.  It’s easy to see the influence of that film in dozens of action sci-fi movies, even today.

So what happened?  That trajectory seemed to slow down.  As I grew older, it became harder and harder to find those types of films that grew old with me.  The occasional serious and thought-provoking anime made a brief appearance but it was lucky if it kept it’s funding for a full season.  Most popular anime these days are torn from the pages of Shonen Jump, which is heavily targeted to a younger age group.  It’s a lot of childish teases at could-be relationships, and cheap up-skirt camera angles, and jokes that I might have laughed at when I was 12…  Is this starting to sound familiar?  Yeah, games aren’t too far off.

The vocal minority who are screaming for more artistic, more mature content frankly are exactly that; a minority.  I’m not talking about violence either.  I personally think that violence is what a child see’s as adult entertainment, and an adult sees it as an easy way to invoke that childish wonder simply through this abstract stimulation.  You see violence on the screen, you feel the response of the controller in your hand, and it just feels good.  It’s that sensation you’d imagine from the sheer joy of just getting to break stuff, like an 8 year old boy who’s parents are nowhere to be found.

So what is the solution?  Honestly, I don’t know.  I certainly don’t have an answer other than pleading to the general population that it’s time to put their big boy pants on.  But given the maturity level of that population it’s likely to be followed by something fitting, like a middle finger or an idle threat; or both…  I know it seems hypocritical of me.  After all, if you follow me on Twitter you may have seen a Naruto tweet or two, or brief commentary on the steep downfall of the Bleach manga over the past couple of years.  I even find myself hyping those same childish indie games that reflect the very problem I’m describing…  In some ways maybe I’m part of the problem, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want those adult experiences; it just means I’m making the best of what’s available…  After all being an adult kind of sucks, and making a game about paying your bills on time hardly seems like something to get hyped about.

I wish I could ask the entertainment industry as a whole; film, video games, even book publishers, to look outside the box but it would honestly be a bad business decision for them.  The theaters are packed with comic book heroes, animated film and anime have been forever labeled for teens or younger, and video games have long carried the stigma of being a “toy”.  All of this is reinforced by a generation who (mostly) like it just the way it is…  Why on Earth would any of this change when it’s making more money than executives know what to do with.  Peter and Peppa pan are glad to pay for it just to stay young for one more day, just one more day…

 

It Sucks To Be You

In honor of the DOOM teaser recently released, I have an announcement.  If you are a gamer and you weren’t part of my generation… It sucks to be you.

Imagine each and every year of your young gamer life being composed of Earth shattering events.  Imagine walking into a game store or picking up a magazine and seeing something you’ve never seen before; something that you didn’t even realize you wanted.  It’s something that looks immediately relate-able and yet so alien.  Imagine the school yard being this religious place where you’d overhear conversations about a game you never heard of and it turning out to be Metroid or Castlevanvia.  Imagine yourself feeling like a real world Indiana Jones of video games; discovering life altering experiences only through rumors and speculations spouted out in the lunch lines.

This is what it felt like at least once a year when growing up.  Genre’s were being invented, and new forms of entertainment were being explored through the limitations of current hardware at the time.  One experience I recall was growth of first-person shooters.  The funny thing was that I wasn’t quite wowed by Doom when I first saw it.  I had played 7th Guest, and killed enough Nazi in Wolfenstein to turn an ocean red.  I had also played many 2D tile-based first-person dungeon crawlers at that time and the popularity of “first-person shooter” didn’t exactly click for me.  I didn’t realize that the “shooter” was the more important word than “first-person” in that phrase.

It took multiple plays of id Software’s shareware to finally realize that I had probably put more hours into that demo than I did the entirety of Wolfenstein.  The game just clicked for me.  The motion was fluid, the graphics were stellar, and the gore was just right for my adolescent brain to constantly whisper, “aim for the barrels, always aim for the barrels…”  The slight nod to that arcade-y feel of hidden spaces, time trials, and relentless action just seemed right for a time when I was in transition between the local mall Arcade and my first home PC.  Everything was a new experience, always.

Even the iterations of hardware felt like huge leaps where buying a new PC or adding even 4MB of RAM could literally 2x or 4x your performance from your previous rig.  It was intoxicating.

Over the years I grew older.  I still reveled in my 2D and faux 3D games, but the script was flipped yet again.  Polygonal textured meshes; what?!  Games like Duke Nukem, Decent, and Quake were progressively hitting the shelves.  Suddenly I was looking up and down and exploring these worlds in a dimension I didn’t even know existed for video games.  I was using physics and trajectory in Quake to take out bad guys in a way I had never even considered in any 2D game.  Again, the visual bar was raised, the interactivity was expanded upon, and PCs were doubling and tripling in performance year after year.

That adrenaline packed history lesson is unfortunately just that; history.  Now we have mediocre games that take hundreds of employees, $50M+ to develop, $150M+ to market, and try their hardest to have a little something for everyone.  This and future generations have lost something when they lost the clear lines that define a genre.  Everything has sort of blurred into a generic super-genre out of fear that there might be 1 person who won’t buy that game.  And with that, the idea of something new is also gone.

“Yes but Minecraft Ben!”  I get it, that 1 thing was cool and new and took the world by storm.  Even though games like Dune 2, and DOOM, and Quake never reached that level of financial success I feel like each of those games was just as big, and it was happening at a breakneck pace.  It wasn’t just one digital download that ruled them all, it was an ecosystem of games that crowded my shelves with stacks of physical disks and over-sized manuals.  There was weight to it all (literally), which gave it sense of meaning.  So for every League of Legends today there seemed to be 3 or 4 RTS games from professional teams looking to make it.

everyone-can-be-super-and-when-everyones-super-no-one-will-beIt’s hard to put into words why those times were different, and why I felt they were better.  I guess you could say that it felt like gaming had more of a soul back then.  There was something special; something “super”, about video games in that era.  It really was guys in their garage making the next big thing, and these days guys in the garage are just hoping their Kickstarter campaign can reach $50,000 so the the 8 of them can huddle together and hope to survive long enough to put out a game that might make another $100,000 for all of them to share as payment for the last 18 months of sleepless nights.  You don’t have to be a math genius to realize you could make more money as a Walmart doorman than you could in video games.  It’s either that or work on a large project ending in a number between 3 and 7, sometimes hidden with sub-titles.

What can I say; at the end of the day there is a difference between seeing next years new Toyota or BMW vs. seeing the first car to ever beat the streets or the first plane take flight…  I don’t know that video games will ever have that moment in history again.  Video games are too big to fail now, too popular to notice just how many do.  I’m glad I was there to enjoy it when I could still pick up a magazine and feel like I knew almost everything.

The Misconception of Core Teams

Having worked in the same place for nearly a decade tends to give you some perspective on the life cycle of a small business.  I’ve found that every 2-3 years a fresh crop of engineers are hired and a tribe is formed.  After the hardships of a mostly failed project that somehow pinched out a lukewarm victory, the tribe goes on a journey through the company ranks to push for a centralized or core engineering team.

Continue reading The Misconception of Core Teams

The Internet Is Broken

A while ago I wrote a post about what it takes to bake a 762 layer cake; a thinly veiled metaphor of modern real-time software development.  In the end, the sheer size of what we must maintain for today’s standards has created something of comical Rube Goldberg approach to keeping it all together.

I’ve recently ventured outside of real-time simulations and video games to peek into the world of the internet.  I’ve discovered that there is no better example of the threats we all face than to look at what happens in an environment of rapid growth and profit.  Welcome to the World Wide Web.

A friend and I had a long discussion about our future as software developers.  We are getting older each year and, though our skills continue to branch and strengthen, it’s really a series of diminishing returns.  Salaries eventually cap, and certain branches turn into dusty skills that are reserved for those few and far between contracts that pay generously just for remembering how that dated system still works.  Video games are something of a young man’s dream; long hours, little pay, and a decreasing chance of personal success in an increasingly crowded and turbulent industry.  My friend has left the real-time world behind and found new gold in old hills; web applications.  He has convinced me to at least stick my nose in the door but I must admit I don’t like what I’m smelling.

Not having touched client-based web technologies since HTML 1.x in college, I spent a few days reading about web technologies.  In my ventures I followed a trail of dead and dieing technologies, and I watched libraries abandoned and forked over and over.  It was like a class in digital World History to watch these frameworks and languages thrive then die… but did they?  Not really..  Many hosting sites continue to support aging technologies while some websites and web applications continue to push forward with a blend of old and new.  There is only this unsettling sensation, but without any definitive facts, that most of what exists out there is in perpetual deprecation; and yet it’s still there, all of it.

I started looking into AngularJS.  I’m told it’s the new hotness right now.  As I learned more about Angular I fell deeper into the rabbit hole.  It lead me back to my old stomping ground of HTML.  This brief homely sensation was replaced with dread as I dug deeper into CSS hell.  Magical tags of :before and :after and .show and .hide were everywhere.  A face-punch of intrinsic appendages were scattered in there as if one was simply expected to know.  I mean why wouldn’t you always include webkit-box-shadow and moz-box-shadow with box-shadow in your style template right? Duh!  This is further complicated by the insistence to include other styles such as Bootstrap to help reduce the pains of mobile support.  To add insult to injury most of this was processed through “Minification” which decimates the readability to save a few bytes of download and improve parsing performance.

The documentation and vast majority of training material seems highly geared toward Linux or OSX users.  Most of the tools don’t even run on Windows.  I spent what felt like days, installing various software packages to avoid dual booting into Linux or building virtual machines on my PC just to compile these libraries.  Eventually I just gave up and used the pre-compiled Angular and Bootstrap files.  I still don’t know if I’ve executed enough command lines to actually boot a local web server.  I still don’t know what half of these packages do; many of which have home pages that only say, “A tool used to make your life easier.  It does other stuff too.”  Gee thanks.

The Internet is broken.  I’m convinced of it.  It’s built on a collection of systems that require an institutionalized knowledge of how things work now and how they have worked for the last 15 years or so.  It’s a backwards compatibility nightmare that I don’t ever see going away.  I’m certain that technologies like Angular are just another stop-gap in the road to figuring out what the web is supposed to be.  I’m not sure we’ll ever get there in my lifetime, but it’s a pretty filthy place to be in right now.

Days later, I’m still working on my Angular “Hello World”, but only after I figure out why Bootstrap glyph icons aren’t rendering…  as soon I figure out why I need to:

grunt
my

Bowser

Ohh.. Bower not… Nevermind.

Codemonkey | Author | Cool Dad (certified)