It’s human nature to continue with ventures that have been forbidden by the powers that be, “fuck the system, we’ll take it underground” they might say. Music, Film, Games… you cannot stop people from getting these items for free, the more you try, the further down the hole it goes, to depths that cooperate giants cannot see until it’s too late, followed by further flawed schemes to plug the air sockets, but it’s an ants farm down there, and any ant can dig a new path, anywhere.
Those with a bit of sense and untold knowledge of these beautifully chaotic catacombs can use such a system to their advantage, this is mostly accidental however.
Shocked, I was… to be a part of such a system in an open plan studio. A studio that prides itself on casual mannerisms, a good work/life balance and a non-forced friendly atmosphere. How could this be? How could we resort to slipping each other notes and praying our over seers did not find out just how efficient we were being? How could we be sneaking around doing more work than we were supposed to?
Oh, it’s the video games industry, that’s how.
For those not in the loop, there’s a bit of an urban myth about various disciplines of the games industry and how we don’t quite see eye to eye with one another. Artists and designers are supposed to hate each other, programmers are supposed to hate designers and artists too, and designers often don’t take kindly to programmers. Nobody is supposed to like upper management. Why? It’s the route of the scape goat of course!… follow that fucker til he leads you to safety.
When the boss man rocks up and asks who’s to blame for him not being happy with progress, fingers start pointing all over the place. “Designers can’t settle on an idea!” an artist might cry. “fuck you buddy! You keep asking for changes to make your life easier!” a designer will respond, “I’m not your buddy, guy! I’m just following guidelines set by the programmer!”. “Hmm? hey I’m just making the core of our game here, either your shit works or you redo it til it does”
Ahh… harmonious tranquillity. This is not a far cry from the truth, but if the truth must be known… it’s just as simple as a breakdown of communications and an overall lack of the whole freakin’ point. Making a game is a lot like starting a new relationship with a super hot chick, you’ve got such high hopes… the future looks amazing right now.
Then the honeymoon period quietens down and you just want to have a few brewski’s with the guys, but it turns out that Americas next top model was on that night and she wanted to watch it either with you, or at the least in peace. Next thing you know there’s a bump in the road and the car breaks down, now what are you going to do? Get that car up and running again and drive until that bump becomes a speckle on the horizon? Or are you going to sit there in the passengers seat, staring at that bump in the wing mirror and moan about how it’s turned everything to shit?
In the games industry, we seem to take to the latter quite often.
The end of many projects are often fast paced and stressful, things left forgotten, important features still not implemented, sub-standard work from others only now just floating to the surface, like a poorly discarded corpse on the oceans bed. Crashes that nobody can seem to pin point to any particular reason, oh… and by this point, everybody is supposed to hate each other.
Bottling it all up for the celebratory drinks where we’ll all talk about the next project and how we promise things will be better, and how we got there in the end. Sounds like someone’s trying to start that car up eh? Shame it’s a new car. The old one actually found a mechanic pretty swiftly… I’m totally not bitter, for anyone who gets that.
As you can probably imagine, when a task has nearly run its course there’s going to be a lot of pressure on the likes of producers, to ensure that the underlings are not overloaded to the point of self inflicted injuries or a mild case of spontaneous combustion, such emotions are passed down to the leads who take charge of the minions. It is theoretically a very good idea. Theoretically.
It is at this point, after all the finger pointing and name calling… that departments can really stab each other in the back. When high priority tasks are left undone toward the end, someone will get blamed, it can’t be swept under the rug at this juncture.
So what did I do? I did something slightly out of the ordinary… I stuck my metaphorical middle finger up to my own department, I got out onto the roof, figuratively speaking, and yelled to the heavens “Screw you! illogical and irrational fear of ones self-worth in a company, I’m here to make a game, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do”. I’m paraphrasing of course.
I took pity on the prey. Nobody had to fall here, we can still do great things. I don’t have time to argue a slight change in design, I don’t need to state my position or remind you of yours, if it helps, I’m doing it. If it’s a quick fix, I’m doing it. If I can, I just will. I’ve done the impossible, I have bridged the gap between artist and designer, we sit… in the eye of the storm sipping tea and saying things like “Quite so” and “Indeed” while everyone else spins out of control around us… don’t worry, dizzy people… when the calm comes, you’ll see what we’ve done, what we’ve been able to do together. And you will be proud.