The Uncanny Interview

Video games are big business.  Ubisoft, EA, Activision; no one is exempt from using multiple studios, each employing hundreds of people, to get a single product to ship.  Even indie studios have started to grow as that space settles into its’ own.  Indies have elevated their game to the AA status and those bite-sized experiences from lone developers we once called indie don’t seem to have a name anymore; perhaps hobbyists?  Everything is moving up and onward.  And with all of this growth, where does that leave the process of finding those hundreds of people to ship the next game?

For the first time in my life I had an experience that I’m still not certain that I can put into words, but I’ll try.  It was such an experience that I owe it to myself to try to explain.  I had what felt like an uncanny interview, something that I feel could only be possible due to the success that video games have enjoyed.

Salesman-FinalI was contacted by a recruiter about a year ago, maybe more.  I humored her because I did admire the studio she represented.  We chatted and she seemed like a knowledgeable and friendly person.  I turned down the offer at the time but the conversation was struck up again recently.  This time I decided to at least take the first step and possibly answer my proverbial question about the relationship of this company and myself, “what if?”  What if I passed the test.  What if I got to meet the team.  What if I got an offer.  What if I accepted.

These were all questions that were always there, so I took the plunge and accepted the test.  What transpired after that very human, very friendly interaction was… interesting.

I took the programming test.  I finished it in what felt like a reasonable amount of time.  Some questions took longer than others, but there was nothing terribly difficult.  It was mostly questions that were masking a genuine engineering problem through humorous context.  This is the point where I started to feel a little paranoid.  Why would such a successful studio throw out a bunch of softball questions?  And to add to that, why would they give me so much time to complete it?

Dramatic ChipmunkWhen I finished the test, I reviewed it thoroughly.  I ran inputs, good and bad, through every answer to validate their outputs.  My answers were stable, consistent, and produced the demanded outputs.  I sprinkled in comments to state my assumptions throughout my answers.  As with all code, there is a large permutation of answers to any software problem, this is something that the test itself mentioned.   Sometimes the answer relies on your objectives.  Are we coding for readability, re-usability, performance, memory conservation, or is the real test just a veiled attempt to look at your choice of coding standards or see if you like tabs or space?! *cue dramatic chipmunk!*

I had many concerns at this point, but I was honestly having too much fun with the test to worry.  My biggest concern was that the test not only stated there were multiple solutions, but it also stated that it would be processed by an automated system… Wait what?  No human hands would touch this random Word document I was about to upload to a webpage that had little more than a “good luck, you’ll need it” message?  I thought it was pretty funny at first… I mean, the answers were right, so I’d at least get a callback to discuss why I chose option 4 of 999, right?!.  Sadly no.  In less than 12 hours (many of those being sleeping hours) I was rewarded with a kindly worded generic email that confirmed my greatest fears.

morphious

Only after I got that email did I abashedly realize that they weren’t looking for a right answer, they were looking for THE right answer.  The questions were a lot like a pixel hunting puzzle in a classic Adventure game; not nearly enough information, and mostly wild guessing based on what little clues were on the screen.  I knew what the answer was, I just needed to figure out how to tell the game that I knew what the answer was.  Alas, it was too late, and I had been judged and filed away by the system.  My final interaction was a response that politely explained that I was but a drop of water in an ocean of applicants.  That was the end it.

Good-day-sir

I wasn’t sure how to take all of this.  I have never NOT gotten a callback and I can’t ever recall talking to a company I wanted to be at and not gotten an offer.  It was a strange experience for me.  It was rejection, sure; but it was the kind of rejection that I find harder to accept.  An algorithm told me I wasn’t good enough, like something out of Minority Report or Gattaca.  How am I supposed to feel about that?

Taking that test was an eye opening experience.  It had honestly been a while, years in fact, since I decided to sit on the other side of the interview table.  This may have been an isolated incident and in many ways I do hope so.  In an age of Twitter, “Social” Media, You Tube, and Goggle Hangout, it’s easy to forget the value of just shaking someone’s hand.  There is irony in trying to find intelligent and sociable engineers in a creative space by grinding them through a machine first.  In the end though, my first and most important question was answered.  I had little else to say about it after the following few tweets.  As crushing as it may have felt, I’d like to think that it was in my best interest that it didn’t go any further.  That’s what I’ll keep telling myself until I believe it.

The Tortured Artist

Not to be such a Debbie Downer so soon after Christmas, but this is something that fell onto my lap.  As with many things online, one hyperlink lead to another and I found myself reading about the poetry of Michelangelo.  I can’t say that I studied nearly as much as I should have about the great Michelangelo but his poetry seemed very relevant to that of a game developer…   I thought I might present some excerpts and ponder on his plight. Continue reading The Tortured Artist

Being JUST An Engineer

engineer

I’m not sure what to call it.  Some might call it agism I suppose, but I’m still struggling to find a word that accurately describes what happens after you’ve gotten pretty good at doing your job, mostly because you’ve been around long enough to see how the Matrix works…  Maybe if I talk it out I’ll get some suggestions or divine inspiration, but one thing is certain; career choices are never easy.  They only seem to get harder as life gets more complicated.

Continue reading Being JUST An Engineer

The Fundamental Flaw of Software

duckling

Software is fundamentally broken; or at least the creation of it.  Think for a moment about how video games get made.  A bunch of eager over-achieving creatives sit in a room and throw pasta at the wall until something sticks.  They go their respective ways to flesh out the ideas and come back together to fight over who’s baby doesn’t get thrown into the volcano.  Finally the idea is further enhanced, concepts are drawn, and the game is pitched to the development team who will almost assuredly and universally hate it.  The design is clearly overambitious and, while the concepts are alluring, everyone takes the large gaping holes in the design and interprets it as behaving like their favorite game of last year.  It should be noted that everyone is already wrong…

In time, the team begrudgingly comes to an agreement and the real work begins.  If the team can’t leverage the technology from their past game things get really interesting.  It’s back to the boardroom where whiteboards are filled with diagrams and flowcharts.  The question will always come up; do we have time to fix the systems we are keeping?  The answer will inevitably be no, but the team hasn’t realized it yet.  Some people are already jotting numbers and formulas while Billy in the back row keeps rolling his eyes because the project is 6 months from even considering if that feature will get prototyped.  Feelings are hurt, dreams are crushed, and an overwhelming sense of dread haunts the team.

estimates

Everyone is starting to see the vision of the game design but even after a couple short months of grinding at the foundation for the game it’s obvious that the design was overreaching.  Managers are lost because the schedule in no way reflects what is going on in the pit of Engineers and Artists.  It’s The Walking Dead down there and his/her How-To book said nothing about this.  Rapid Development, Scrums, Standing Meetings, Waterfall, none of the material alphabetically sorted on the bookshelf stand up to the reality that is software development; they act more like a SpongeBob band-aid stretched over a deep laceration.  Designers are turning gray as their precious vision is being ripped apart and the development team is slowly leaching all creative decision-making away.  Producers are leaning over the programmers, asking why the conversation system isn’t implemented yet.  Engineers have been asking to hire someone to handle that task and more but it has been sitting on the Manager’s desk for 3 months now; before this project even started.  The Executive team looks at the numbers and can’t seem to justify the cost of bring in more people.  They remember being in the trenches; back in the day when it was just 2 people cranking out games.  This team will just need to step up their efforts.  And every two weeks, the Business Developers keep pestering the team for a demo to start shopping this game around or taking it on the road for shows.  It’s an 18 development window but everyone wants it yesterday.

The project is coming to a close and everyone is looking slightly pale, a little bushy, and carry a hint of, “I feel like destroying something beautiful” in their eyes.  Management suspects that station 6 in the render farm was taken out to pasture with bats in hand by the art team but they don’t want to “poke the bear” right now.  The game is actually kind of fun, looks amazing, and there is real promise but a lot was left on the cutting room floor.  Now, all the team can do is find some institutionalized beauty in what they have, nothing more nothing less; like a pet rock or a prized collection of various lengths of wire.  As amazing as the game is, there is still much in the way of polish to be done and bugs to be squashed.  As a kind gesture, and partially out of self-preservation, Management brings in a couple more Engineers to keep the tasks on this mythical schedule.  Just move these tasks over to this new resource and done!  Instant success; back on target.  Yeah, those guys you asked for before this project started?  Here they are, 4 months til ship date.  Awesome…  Just enough time to train them with the time the Engineering Lead doesn’t have because he has somehow been delegated the Project Manager’s job, while still expected to code.

nap

The day finally arrives…  The game has made it through the approval process and is on it’s way to print.  Oh by the way, Management wants to talk to the Engineering Lead…  It seems those extra Engineers put a strain on the budget and they are going to have to do some “restructuring” in the company.  Don’t worry, the Engineering Lead is probably okay; the casualties will certainly be the new hires and maybe 3-4 others he/she has befriended to make up the loss.  Management has asked the Engineering Lead to break the news to the team; they have another meeting to catch with Business Development about, “some things coming down the pipe”.  A glimmer of false hope does little to ease the Engineering Lead as he receives a short stack of pink slips and is asked to fetch the Art Director for what can only be assumed as a similar conversation.

The SERIOUS Difference

but..but.. I just want to make a game!

“But..but.. I just want to make a mini-game about saving lives!”

If you’ve ever worked in the Military contracting business, creating Serious Games, you’ll know that the process is actually not too dissimilar; though the financial climate is controlled more by politics than consumer demand.  The main differences are in the people you work for and the hurdles you have to jump over.  The (wannabe) Designer is usually the point-of-contact in the Military branch; the guy who holds the money over you.  They are kind of like the Publisher when you’re dealing with that Executive Producer that wants to make his game, not yours.  Though he barely knows where to find the power button on his 15 year old business class laptop your point-of-contact will insist on being involved every step of the way; serving only to slow everything down.  On top of that, you’ll be asked to replicate some preexisting training game that you’ve never seen before; killing all creative rights you thought you had.  You’ll be asked to make it do what that other game does, but prettier and able to run on “current” PC architectures (his laptop).  You’ll have to deal with security clearance or Government Furnished Information (GFI) which is a fancy way of saying, “Please fill out these forms, requesting to view a screenshot of some 20 year old flight simulator, and someone might get back to you in 6-8 weeks.”  Repeat this process just about any time you want to make a decision that involves some form of creative choice; be sure to C.C. the point-of-contact.  Also do your homework because they are not allowed to do software updates without admin approval so you might have to work with aging brittle versions of libraries and browsers locked in time.  This is why it takes 7 Managers, 2 Engineers, and 1 Artist to screw in a light bulb, a bulb that had to be purchased by completing a purchase request form, then an expense sheet filled and approved, and a signed order from the Management teams boss saying it’s okay…

Final Thoughts

There is something fundamentally flawed about Big Software, and yet we can’t go back; the world expects bigger and better.  Consumers and technology users want platforms to appear and make their experiences simpler and more unified.  This is a rare sight for one person’s garage project.  I’m not sure if the world of software is destined to be this broken or if there will ever be a light at the end of the tunnel.  I’d imagine that, with business ruling over the science of software development, we are pretty much screwed.

If you’ve ever seen a duck swim you know exactly what it’s like to be in software development.  On the surface, everything looks smooth and confidently organized.  That duck appears to glide across the water, barely making a ripple.  Just underneath the surface, his legs are paddling comically fast.  Beneath the surface tension, they are stuck in a frantic motion that seem almost otherworldly to what the we see above…

“Me to, duck…  Me to…”

Bayonetta Review Through The Ages

1960’s – late 1970’s

Bayonetta 2 is too violent for me.  It breaks my chakra man.  I really dig the spiritual depictions but I can’t get past the executions.  Too many trees were harmed in the making of this game for me to give it a passing score.  The only redeeming factor is how in tune she is with her own sexuality.  This is a chic that knows what she wants.  Sadly, it’s not enough to save this game. 1 out of 2 (peace fingers)

Also.. What is video game?  Pass the hash…

1980’s – late 1990’s

Bayonetta 2 feels like a refinement of what was already an amazing game experience, risen to a level not thought possible by the Wii U hardware.  The mechanics are incredibly tight and the frame rate is smooth as butter.  I can’t help but draw attention to the music that seemed almost in a choreographed ballet with the motion on the screen.  The action is swift and deadly, and every punch and kick feels powerful as you shatter their armor and weaken their defense.

The Wii U’s power really shines when the magic system comes into play.  The entire screen is filled with a montage of explosive action, calling out beasts that look like they’ve spawned straight from Hell itself.  I might even dare to say that it’s better than the arcade cabinet edition if my childhood heart wouldn’t break upon admitting it.  The game looks fantastic with very little slow down, if ever.

This game may be action packed and fun, but it’s not for every gamer.  A reminder to the parents out there, this game may be on a Nintendo console but it is rated M for a reason.  The over-the-top sexual caricature you play is an overtone throughout the game.  Bayonetta is a real kick-ass and take-names type of gal who is always in control, even when the villain thinks they’ve got her cornered.  Her dominant and confident attitude is reflected in the awesome powers she wields throughout the game.

If I have to say anything bad about this game, its that the none stop action can be overwhelming at times, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

  • graphics    – 9/10
  • sound         – 9/10
  • replay         – 8/10
  • fun factor – 10/10
  • overall        – 9/10

2000’s

Bayonetta 2 is a glaring example of what is wrong with everything in the world.  This game makes me as angry as getting a plain mocha latte when I explicitly asked for fat-free soy, no whip.  I mean, look at those cut scenes.  How many crotch angled camera’s does one game need?

It’s this kind of idolization of the human figure that is ruining video games; and I’m also unhappy with myself but I’m not getting into that right now.  It had nothing to do with mankind idolizing strength and form throughout all of our natural existence.  It has nothing to do with Bayonetta being a caricature of a dominatrix; an overtly sexual and dominate female who consistently rubs her stiletto heals into men’s back sides.  And I’m going to prove that with this video game review!

This is only helping to instill the over-sexualization of women and objectify their personal space as well as other words in a sentence.  The game is actually kind of fun, but that’s all I’m going to say about it because I can’t get past exactly why my loins are tingling.  This makes me uncomfortable because the 1950s were a tough time for women; you know before video games and I feel strongly about that.

I just can’t believe this kind of stuff is still being put out there in front of our children (rated M).  I don’t have any kids of my own yet, but if I did, I can’t believe we are exposing them to this kind of blatant misogynistic filth that shouldn’t have the right to exist!  7/10…

 

Memes, Internet, and Gamergate

My mind has really been racing this week… And it’s only Tuesday.  I feel like my anxiety is especially peaked and the reasons are many…

I had to get on a plane earlier this week which already made me anxious to leave my family, even if only for a day or two.  While I sat in the terminal, waiting for my plane to arrive, I made the stupid mistake of checking Twitter.  On it was another scrolling list of retweets that cataloged yet another Gamergate incident.  I guess you could say I’d had enough.  I blew up a little on Twitter. Continue reading Memes, Internet, and Gamergate

Codemonkey | Author | Cool Dad (certified)