GAME 260, Week 7

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, ch. 6: Dragon Age Inquisition

“250,000 voters flocked to declare that the United States’ worst company was in fact the video game publisher Electronic Arts (EA)” (141)

“Their new game engine, Frostbite, was requiring more work than anyone at the studio had expected” (143)

“After shipping Dragon Age: Origins in 2009, Darrah and his crew of pirates already had some ideas for their next big game … Inquisition” (145)

“‘The Old Republic moved, and there was a hole,’ said Darrah. ‘Basically, Dragon Age 2 exists to fill that hole. That was the inception. It was always intended to be a game made to fit in that.’ Darrah wanted to call it Dragon Age: Exodus (‘Which I wish we’d stuck with’) but EA’s marketing executives insisted that they call it Dragon Age 2, no matter what that name implied. The first Dragon Age had taken seven years to make. Now BioWare would have just over a year to build a sequel. For any big game, that would be difficult; for a roleplaying game, it was near impossible” (145)

“Mark Darrah and crew shelved the old Inquisition idea and made a risky call: instead of taking you through multiple areas of their fantasy world, Dragon Age 2 would unfold within a single city, Kirkwall, over the course of a decade” (146)

“You won’t find many reviews raving about the new Fallout’s ability to properly toggle between combat and noncombat game states. Skyrim didn’t sell millions because it knows how to keep track of your inventory. These systems are necessary but unglamorous, and certainly not fun to make, which is one of the reasons most video games use engines” (147)

“Inquisition would have to ship on five platforms at once-a first for BioWare. Ambitions were piling up. This was to be BioWare’s first 3-D open-world game and their first game on Frostbite, an engine that had never been used to make RPGs. It needed to be made in roughly two years, it needed to ship on five platforms, and, oh yeah, it needed to help restore the reputation of a studio that had been beaten up pretty badly” (150)

“‘Basically we had to do new consoles a new engine, new gameplay, build the hugest game that we’ve ever made, and build it to a higher standard than we ever did said Matt Goldman. ‘With tools that don’t exist’” (151)

“It didn’t help that Sweden was eight hours ahead of Edmonton. If one of BioWare’s designers had a question for DICE in the afternoon, it could take a full day before they heard an answer” (152)

“Engine updates made this process even more challenging. Every time the Frostbite team updated the engine with new fixes and features, BioWare’s programmers would have to merge it with the changes they’d made to the previous version. They’d have to go through the new code and copy-paste all the older stuff they’d built-inventory, save files, characters-then test it all out to ensure they hadn’t broken anything. They couldn’t find a way to automate the process, so they had to do it manually” (152)

“They put together what they called ‘peelable scope’ proposals: here was what they could do with an extra month; here was what they could do with six more months; here was what they could do with a year. And, worst-case scenario, here were all the things they’d have to cut if EA wouldn’t let them delay Dragon Age: Inquisition at all” (155)

“Ever wondered why so many big video games come out in March? There’s an easy answer for that: the fiscal year, used for reporting financial performance to stockholders, which dominates the decision making of every publicly traded company. Most game publishers end their fiscal years on March 31, so if they’re looking to delay a game but still fit it in the current fiscal year, March makes for the perfect window” (156)

“I think to get more specific on the complexities at this scale of game development, it’s the dependencies,’ said Aaryn Flynn. ‘It’s the things that have to happen for the other things to work and be successful.’ The common term in game development circles is ‘blocking,’ which describes when a developer can’t get work done because he or she is waiting for someone else to send over some integral art asset or piece of code” (159)

“‘I would love to have no crunch ever,’ said Aaryn Flynn. ‘I think it remains to be seen whether crunching actually works. Obviously a ton of literature says it doesn’t. [But] I think everybody finds a time in their development careers where you’re going, ‘I don’t see what options we have’’” (164)

Commentator’s Note: The corporate double speak here is painful. Define what ‘works’ means. Be honest with yourself about your leadership and the human cost you are willing to accept.

“‘Through the hellfire which is game development, [we’re] forged into a unit, in that we know what [everyone’s] thinking and we understand everyone’s expectations and we know what needs to get done and just do it.’” (167)

“‘Dragon Age 2 was the product of a remarkable time line challenge; Dragon Age: Inquisition was the product of a remarkable technical challenge,’ said Mike Laidlaw” (168)

PsychOdyssey, eps. 16-18

Episode 16: Written into a Corner

A new art manager is hired to help smooth out the relationship between the art and design teams. —Episode Description

“It’s an awesome idea to think we can work on a game… forever. But– and people love making video games! It’s so much fun! People like getting paychecks” —Any Alamano

“This is the first game that Double Fine had designers on for quite some time. Like, a full-on Level Designer role. So, I think there is a little bit of: ‘What does that person do exactly? And how do they interact with the World Builder? And what’s the delineation of work between those two people?’ And we are still hiring people. So, we are still putting a team together” —Alamano

“I think the game’s leads started and have been on this game for over a year now. Started the design process, and writing all the documentation, and putting together the prototypes, and building the stuff, with themselves. From a full hands-on: ‘I am going to be the Lead, but I’m also going to be responsible for a certain amount of assets.’ You can’t be a really good effective Lead who is looking at all the work that’s happening, from all the teams, and giving feedback, and be building your own level at the same time” —Alamano

“The more people that come on to the team, the more voices you have pulling at you: ‘Can you check this out? I need to know what you think of this. Can you read this document? I have a question about this thing. Can I have a meeting with you about this topic? Or how this works, or how this– What’s the plan for this element?’ It just goes on, and on, and on. And the bigger the team gets the more demand there is” —Alamano

“You have to be there to help everyone else with their goals. You have to know everything that is going on. Because your goal is to make sure that that plugs into that. That everything strings together and it works” —Alamano

“we are trying to get the artists to be more involved in having a say in how the design is starting to play out. Because at the end of the day they are going to have to build the forms that fill the space. So, if they feel like they are getting signed up for a lot of work that they don’t think is necessarily feasible, then I’m asking them to bring that up. And during the design process, so that it can be addressed in the design … scope needs to be considered a little earlier” —Lisette Titre-Montgomery

“All of these problems are frustrating, but are made infinitely worse by the fact that I’m, like, afraid to talk to… Zak. And I find his energy so negative and frustrating” —James Marion

“I think you guys need some help with the brainstorming process in order to surface better ideas faster, and have the space to feel like you are not going to be criticized while you are doing it” —Titre-Montgomery

Commentator’s Note: Watching for the second time, I’m very impressed how quickly Titre-Montgomery picks up on the interpersonal issues that have been plaguing the project.

“Like with all crowdfunding games, you have to kind of put a stake in the ground of where you anticipate that it is coming. As we know, development is always hard to kind of gauge like that. Especially when you are doing it before the game has even started development. When we came to you guys [Starbreeze], the Fig campaign had been live. And it said next year, fall. And we just know that that’s not the case now. So we wanted to just go ahead and get it out of the way with our next update, before the end of this year, saying: ‘It’s not 2018’” —Greg Rice

Episode 17: The Heart of Double Fine

Tim’s reception of a major award is made bittersweet by the departure of a founding Double Finer. —Episode Description

“Every person on the team needs to feel that they have creative input into the thing that they are working on. And because, what that does is, it engenders emotional investment into the game” —Anna Kipnis

“Someone who is in a position of power, especially, like, creative power, I think it’s really, really important to let people feel like they are contributing their perspective to something, and them that emotional investment in the game. Without that it becomes just a rote process where you are just going through the motions, and you are not really invested in what you are doing, and that just destroys you creatively” —Anna Kipnis

Episode 18: What Good Looks Like

“I’ve been too guarded of stuff, of trying to keep us on schedule and pack as much into the game. And that’s mostly been trying to make a big game with a small team. And I want to try to shift that to more of, like, bottom-up creativity. To have that be a broader discussion that hopefully everybody feels like they are excited about” —Zak McClendon

“She [Anna] left for the reasons that everyone else is really frustrated. There is pretty consistent complaints that the game is not Psychonautical enough right now. Stress has been rollercoaster for the last few months … That was probably the boiling point was Anna leaving. And was the moment everyone realized something needed to change or else lots of people were going to leave” —Marion

“We did help that a lot by changing how we were running meetings. Meetings were very design focused and artists couldn’t get a word in. And so, as the creative process is evolving, they were feeling left out. So changing who gets to speak first. And then noticing when people are cutting people off. And then giving them the opportunity to speak. All those little things that people don’t notice really matter when people feel like they are being heard.” —Lisette Titre-Montgomery

“We got rid of a lot of meetings. Which was nice, because before there was just a lot more reviews. Things have shrunk down a lot. So, I can get a lot of work done. You know, there is a lot less stress. Because there was a lot of stress when you go into meetings and stuff, and you only have a couple hours a day to work.” —Jeremy Natividad

“I think Zak has a tendency to kind of want to know… I don’t want to say controlling. But he just wants to look over what people are doing. He is used to telling people, ‘Here is the next thing you have to do’” —Emily Johnstone

“You know, he was so organized, and had such a process for doing things, that I was like: ‘This will be a relief for the team.’ Because when I run things, it’s very chaotic. And everyone wonders how much work they have to do” —Tim Schafer

“This dynamic between art, design, and engineering. It’s a symbiosis, but there is also differing goals and desires” —Titre-Montgomery

“It feels like people think that it’s not how Double Fine does it normally. But also my understanding has always been that Zak and other new people have been brought in to make the studio run differently. So it could just be growing pains that people are not used to games being made this way” —Marion

“One of the things that came up was trying to get more Tim involvement … I’m very personally invested in the game, and creatively invested … but I know for a lot of people, I will always be the game’s step-dad, and having Tim’s approval, even if they don’t literally need it, you know, even if it isn’t like he is blocking things, having him give the blessing to what we are doing on a more continual basis is something that I think is important to people, so that they feel like they are making the right game … I think it makes a huge, huge difference in just what people think they are building, you know? And I certainly could use the support” —McClendon

“I feel for Zak, because that’s a high pressure position. It’s a lonely job. He can talk to me, he can talk to his producers, but you’ve got a bunch of people on the team that you are trying to keep moving, and productive, and happy, and you are a natural focal point for their dissatisfaction” —Schafer

“The entire company is represented in all of its departments [in the Pilot areas]. Like, there is an FX artist there, there is a concept artist there, there is programmers and designers, and we are all talking about things together … There is more of a sense of collaboration in them, and I think that’s raised morale a bit” —Amy Price

“I think it’s a natural time in the project to have moral kind of pick up, because you are in that middle part where everything’s bad, game is not fun, and everything is ugly. That’s just where you are, you know, pre-Alpha a lot of times. And then, you just start climbing out of that hole. You put together your first few fun things, and your first good-looking things … and people were like: ‘Oh, maybe this game is going to be looking good!’” —Schafer

Media and Management, ch. 1

Management’s Mediations: The Case of Toyotism

Author: Marc Steinberg

“management is always mediated” (1)

“This chapter focuses on the mediations of the Toyota Production System and the material medium of the kanban card in organizing this system” (1)

“three aspects of management’s mediation” (1)

First, “the mediation of managerial practice” (1)

“gray media … the tools, mediums, and milieus by which management is enacted” (1-2)

Second, “management’s mediatization” (2)

“the ways that management ideas or paradigms are systematized and packaged with an eye to their transmission to other people, other locations, and other organizations” (2)

“management books transmit and mediate ideas about managerial practices, operate as self-help literature for the managerial class (Gregg 2018), and, in turn, construct ideas about capitalism, the economy, office work, factories, and labor” (2)

Third, “management’s mobilization” (2)

“knowledge created about management in one realm transposed into another—from automobile manufacture to software development, and from Japan to the United States” (2)

“Toyotism designates a set of production practices based on the innovations of Japanese auto manufacturer Toyota from the 1950s onward, including a particularly low-tech means of information transmission known as the kanban system” (3)

“Toyotism designates a shift in manufacturing, a variant on ‘post-Fordism’ as a new logic of manufacture and industry that includes small-batch production and ideas of worker autonomy” (3)

“Managerial literature is a site in which anxieties about changing workplace models meet changing geopolitical winds” (4)

“It is a site where geographical shifts in sites and modes of production meet micropolitical anxieties about workplace organization” (4)

“Toyotism is a crucial managerial revolution for its development of the just-in-time logic that is the practical and conceptual basis of the logistics revolution, the gig economy, and platform capitalism” (4)

“Toyotism involves the following elements” (5)

  • “just-in-time (JIT) production processes
  • kanban cards and other feedback mechanisms throughout the production process
  • worker initiatives to suggest adaptations to the production line
  • continuous improvement to the production process (known as kaizen)
  • rigorous forms of quality control
  • tight informational loops between automobile dealers and salespeople and the factories and component producers themselves, making for a nimble, highly adaptive, data-reliant production process” (5)

“This set of elements was known as the Toyota Production System (TPS)” (5)

“it is much more than a manufacturing technique, and has become the governing logic of production, circulation, and consumption as well, informing on-demand services like app-mediated food delivery” (6)

“adaptations of management techniques developed by the American W. Edwards Deming, who was underappreciated in the United States but revered in Japan” (6)

Commentator’s Note (from Wikipedia): William Edwards Deming (October 14, 1900– December 20, 1993) was an American business theorist, composer, economist, industrial engineer, management consultant, statistician, and writer. Educated initially as an electrical engineer and later specializing in mathematical physics, he helped develop the sampling techniques still used by the United States Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He is also known as the father of the quality movement[clarification needed] and was hugely influential in post-WWII Japan. He is best known for his theories of management.

“Toyota positioned itself as an intermediary node in the flows of information from consumers to the central production site, and then to subcontractors from there” (6)

“Feedback and the control of information were the basis for the principal innovation of Toyota: just-in-time” (6)

“The main tool used in the elimination of waste and the operationalization of just-in-time was the kanban system” (7)

“Toyotism was often celebrated in English-language press as empowering workers and facilitating bottom-up control” (7)

“Ohno and Monden explicitly describe this as an informational or communication system” (8)

“The kanban represents the medial and material form by which the management goal of minimal waste is achieved” (8)

“The simple physical object of the kanban card is also the material mediator between the inside and the outside of the factory, the means by which the main Toyota factory’s many subsidiaries were informed as to when their products would be due, how many, and by what time” (9)

“The JIT managerial ethos of reducing waste results in the production of more waste, more traffic, and more pollution—but externalized outside of Toyota’s factory” (10)

“The kanban system was a means of decreasing inventory by externalizing waste and risk of overproduction; it was also a means of surveilling the entire production process” (10)

“The kanban card was the material means by which Toyota constructed the system of devolved responsibility that allowed it to outsource much of the production of associated goods that went into the car” (10)

“The kanban card as managerial technique also had social consequences, encouraging the reliance on precarious employment within the subsidiaries that had to take on the risks of production made to order, and also bore the consequences in the case of a dip in demand for automobiles and their parts” (10)

“the kanban card is an organizational media form that mediates an information system of production and extends a network of surveillance and control over the factory and its outside” (11)

“The generalization of management and its dispersal through the factory—where every Toyota full-time employee becomes a manager of the supply chain—proves the lie of the representation of Toyotism as a worker’s paradise of gratified employment” (11)

“The kanban system had another form of circulation: as emblem of Toyotism and the terror of American and European carmakers in the 1970s and 1980s, as they saw their market shares decline and their fortunes wane in the face of the global rise of the Japanese auto industry” (12)

“Automobile production was the very site for the formulation of models of capitalism itself, such as Fordism, post-Fordism, and Toyotism” (12)

“Japan’s auto industry stood in for new ideas about production techniques, larger arguments about changes in capitalism, and the Asian threat to U.S. economic and geopolitical dominance” (12)

“This was the era of peak ‘Japan bashing’ (Miyoshi 1991), when U.S. publications knocked Japanese economic power in often explicitly racist terms” (13)

“Most books mixed Orientalist and techno-Orientalist framings of Japan and the Japanese as a monolithic and culturally homogeneous Other” (13)

“Shingo Shigeo’s A Study of the Toyota Production System from an Industrial Engineering Viewpoint (1981; repub. 1989)” (15)

“Ohno Taichi’s Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production (1988)” (15)

“Monden Yasuhiro’s Toyota Production System: Integrated Approach to Just-in-time (1983; 1993)” (15)

“The most popular and influential book on Toyotism was without doubt James Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos’s The Machine That Changed the World (1990)”

“In their unambiguous words: ‘Our conclusion is simple: Lean production is a superior way for humans to make things … It follows that the whole world should adopt lean production, and as quickly as possible’ (Womack et al. 1990, 231)” (15)

“Coined in 1988 but popularized by The Machine, ‘lean’ became the keyword most associated with Toyotism in the Anglophone context” (15)

“practices of productivity and the popular management books that communicate them are modes of coping with a changing, challenging world of corporate competition and personal instability” (16)

“American managers required their workers to take a dose of Japanese labor management practices to immunize the United States against the Japanese challenge” (17)

“The kanban, TQC (total quality control), kaizen (continuous improvement), just-in-time, zero inventory, lean—these foreign words, abbreviations, and neologisms function like magical incantations that ward off the threat of a rising Japan and promise an increase in productivity for the manager’s firm” (18)

“TPS arose under conditions that were both specific to Japan and yet also replicable elsewhere” (19)

“Toyotism is Fordism minus the trade unions and worker resistance. Job and skill types that were kept separate in American factories and elsewhere due to hard-won victories for the labor movement were, in the Japanese context, collapsed by design” (20)

“In managerial literature Toyotism was presented as a worker’s paradise of bottom-up, continuous learning that made for happier, more satisfied workers” (20)

“Workers were said to be their own bosses and active agents in the betterment of TPS. The reality was quite different from the myth” (20)

“Toyota’s factories weren’t workers’ paradises but rather spaces of total social mobilization wherein workers were expected to express fealty to the company first and foremost” (20)

“The organizational media of Toyotism—kanban and just-in-time—were ideal antidotes against the organizational effort of another kind: American labor unions” (21)

“just-in-time and the kanban system are operationalized as generalizable logics of production that demand (conveniently for the managerial class) the weakening of worker rights” (22)

“two such afterlives: Agile software development and the lean start-up movement in Silicon Valley and beyond” (23)

“While this initial manifesto makes no direct mention of TPS, subsequent manuals of Agile software development do. The legacy of the TPS is present in a textbook by one of the signatories of the Agile manifesto, Jim Highsmith, which has a chapter on lean that directly quotes The Machine That Changed the World” (23)

“The Agile movement subsequently made lean software development a central principle, with most books on Agile adopting lean as one of its methodologies” (23)

“Lean’s next transposition was from software development to start-up philosophy” (23)

“software practices, start-up cultures, and platform business models in the present have hardware and even auto motive legacies” (24)

The “team” as “a legacy of the impact of Toyotism on manufacture and on white-collar knowledge work. (The Microsoft Teams software is just the latest incarnation of TPS’s team model)” (24)

“Just as the team concept ‘deleted the entire apparatus of [job] classification earned through class struggle’ (Liu 2004, 61) in automobile factories, this ‘deinstallation’ of worker distinctions in blue-collar work is ‘transposed to managerial and professional levels’” (24)

“Toyotism is hence a key precursor to knowledge work and platform capitalism” (24)

“Jervis, Francis. 2020. “Eating the World Iterative Capital after Silicon Valley.” PhD Diss., New York University” (28)

Commentator’s Note: From Jervis’s LinkedIn, “My dissertation, Eating the World: Iterative Capital After Silicon Valley, is the first critical ethnography of seed-stage startup development and investment practices. I show how today’s ideals of entrepreneurship can be traced directly to Joseph Schumpeter’s influence on the first venture capitalists, and how Silicon Valley today can best be understood as a system for the scientific testing of entrepreneurial vision.”

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