Sep 242012

I’ve had a very “complicated” relationship with her for most of my life; when we first met it was love at first sight. She was everything I’d been looking for, she came along right at the end of a very dark period and saved me. She was everything I could have ever asked for:  intelligent, witty, sexy and always full of cheeky surprises.

The start of the relationship was a relationship like none other. We’d spend hour upon hour in each other’s company without a care in the world. I was so happy in her company I didn’t even look at anyone else.

Time passed and slowed until one day I realised things had changed. Slowly but surely they’d changed. Her embraces had suddenly become cooler, her eyes took on a faraway look and her passion became less frequent. Eventually I realised it wasn’t me she longed after. There was someone else. Someone younger and who wasn’t tied to her past.

There’s barely a day which passes where I don’t find myself thinking about her and the magic days when we first met. They represent one of the fleeting periods in my life where every day felt magical. Deep down I’m resigned to the fact that you can only experience those feelings once in your life. It’s a defence mechanism which you develop after going through deep pain: once you’ve been stabbed in the neck, you make damn sure the inmate’s using crayons in the next art class.

Now she’s started to creep back into my life. Part of me says I’m over it and to move on and stay cool – just on friendly terms, see her once in a while round mutual friends houses and social occasions. Another part of me says to just ignore her altogether, there’s nothing there but pain. There’s one last part of me though, the part that wants to take her back and make another go of it. Maybe it can work again. Perhaps, enough time has elapsed that we’ve both learnt the error of our ways…

Her attempt at reinvention at few years back flattered to deceive and before long she fell back into her old ways, but now this time it looks like it’s for real. She might have even recaptured her magic; even though she’s perhaps not as glamorous as other girls, she has this quality that enraptures and delights.

Having seen Bayonetta 2 and Rayman  Legends, I’m hopeful. Her and I, we might just be back on. There might just be enough hope in my heart to give her another chance. Let’s see if the most awkward and long-running relationship of my life can manage another go.





Sep 112012

About 2 years ago I took a look at my games collection and tallied up all the games on my shelf which were unplayed. Not unfinished, but had actually never been played before.  When you’re a “hardcore” gamer who buys lots of cool-looking games off the back of reviews on a semi-regular basis (or hunts down rare titles on eBay) this can happen quite easily. What happens tends to look something like the following:

You buy one cool game, but you don’t start playing it because you’re very busy or in the middle of completing another game or whatever. When you finally get the time, something else has come along and the game sits unplayed on your shelf indefinitely. (Obviously this isn’t exclusive to games, I also find myself doing this with music, films and books).

In total there were about 20 odd unplayed games on my shelf, some of which dated back to the previous console generation. After tallying up a quick calculation of what these games were worth (especially the collectors pieces), I was horrified at the amount of money I’d wasted. I then vowed to not buy another game until I had played through the games in my unplayed pile, the idea being to finish them all.

So, over the past two years I’ve not bought new titles with two exceptions: the annual FIFA update (gotta keep the skills up if I’m going to keep pnwing my workmates) and the very occasional title in the Steam sale (I think it’s only been 3 in the 2 years) or App Store with a max value of $4.99 which I would start playing immediately.

I’ve now come to the end of the pile. I saved a load of money and it’s been absolutely awesome.

Highlights included:

Awesome quirky cult classics which I missed first time round: I’m looking at you God Hand (now available on PSN!) and Chibi Robo (man, I loved that game).

Laughing my ass off and having a great time with friends at the crappy voice acting and stupid action of EDF.

The sheer insanity of Bayonetta on “Non-Stop Climax”, Ikaruga and Vanquish.

The atmosphere and settings of Dead Space, Limbo,  Beyond Good and Evil and Okami (albeit for totally different reasons).

… and basically everything about Super Meat Boy.

Looking at the state of the market right now, I don’t really feel that I missed on much. I rant a lot about the lack of creativity and originality in most current AAA titles, but in the past 2-3 years I could practically count the number of games which go against this on one hand.

So next time you want something new exciting and interesting, why don’t you start by looking on your games shelf and give a little love to an oldie.

Sep 092012

I’ve been very quiet the past couple of months or so as some of you (hopefully) may have noticed. Truth be told, I’ve been working harder than a fat man’s arteries. The project I’ve been working on entered “crunch” after numerous years in development, and my life descended into a series of 80+ hour weeks in a heavily air-conditioned building, fuelled with crappy coffee, bad takeaway food and a permanent state of semi-exhaustion.

As a Producer, “crunch” is that period where the Gods lay down a seemingly impossible challenge which requires you to don you tin hat, dive into the trenches, ignore all work-time related laws, crush the artistic aspirations of your nearest and dearest, and push yourself and those around you as hard as possible without actually breaking anyone (though this does happen from time-to-time). All in the name of driving a burning train wreck across the line in time for your release date. It’s essentially what separates the “shippers” from the people who are just there for the 9 to 5.

Choo Choo!

Choo Choo!

In a sick, perverse kind of way I’m one of those who enjoys crunch periods (for the first 6 or so weeks anyhow). There’s something intoxicating about facing the seemingly impossible as a collective and all pushing in one direction without any distractions. You learn an awful lot about yourself and your colleagues when you’re working 20 hour days…

Still, it isn’t healthy and as for the industry as a whole it is a problem. You can’t reasonably expect people (particularly those with kids and  responsibilities) to work 80+ hour weeks. Even for those without a family life, the impact on your personal life can be pretty horrific. It’s a young person’s game; having been through a number of crunch periods I can’t see myself putting those kind of hours in when I’m well into my 40s.

So what can we do about it? Over the years I’ve heard people say things like “Crunch can be completely avoided” or “you shouldn’t need to crunch”. When talking about AAA projects, this is at best disingenuous and the speaker is being “creative” with their definition of crunch, at worst it’s a delusion, or the speaker is trying to convince you to spend thousands sending staff on a project management course.

On “AAA” projects some crunch is almost always inevitable for any of the following reasons:

  • What you’re doing has usually never been done before – Even if it’s a sequel, there will usually be components which to a lesser or greater extent are new, either to the team or industry as whole. It’s next to impossible to accurately estimate how it long it’ll take to do something which you’ve never done before. Anyone who can accurately tell me how long it’ll take them to perform an unknown task a year down the line should probably quit the games industry and go on tour with Uri Geller.
  •  High-end software development is by its very nature chaotic and unpredictable – You can have the best Technical Director in the world on your project, but they still won’t know where all the difficulties are going to be in a year’s time. This is especially true on AAA games as they will typically try and push the hardware as much as possible, often with “unintended consequences”.
  • Games get “signed off” for development before a final design is available (waiting for a final design is a waste of time as the requirements will change based on development and play testing). If you don’t know what it is you’re building, how the hell can you plan it?
  • Economic pressure:

Dev: “We need 10 million and 2 years to develop the game!”

Publisher: “We’ll give you a packet of skittles, £500, a copy of Razzle, two tickets to Cats and you’ve got a year”

Dev: “OK.”

 Often deals are signed which are unrealistic from the outset. This can be because the dev (and/or publisher) is short of money, unrealistic expectations or the worst some cases, macho posturing on behalf of someone at the developer.

  •  Commercial Pressure:

Publisher: “HOLY CRAP! Game X has underperformed by 100 million and we need to hit our quarterly targets! GO TELL THE DEV THAT GAME Y HAS TO BE IN 6 MONTHS EARLIER THAN PLANNED!”

 You get the picture…

If a game with any kind of technical or creative ambition is being built and there’s money involved, then some “crunch” is almost always inevitable. By extension, the only developers who can get away without “crunching” are those with endless pots of cash (I don’t know any of these), developers working with very basic designs/tech, those who are work on reskins of existing games, or those who only develop basic expansions and extensions to a well-established games.

If you want to make awesome games, you’ll probably have to crunch. Whether or not you have the appetite for it is another matter. As far as I’m concerned, it was all worth it. We were on-time, the game is online and available for all of you to play.