GAME 260, Week 12

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, ch. 10: Star Wars 1313

“With Star Wars 1313, LucasArts’ stint of mediocrity finally seemed to be coming to an end. What could possibly go wrong?” (250)

“When the modern video game industry first started emerging in the early 1980s, film moguls stared over with a mixture of envy and consternation. How were these game makers, with their immature stories and wildly inconsistent product cycles, making millions of dollars off this strange, interactive new media?” (251)

Commentator’s Note: Modes of production, new market opportunities.

“in the 1980s only one filmmaking giant had the foresight to build an entire company around video games: George Lucas” (251)

“The studio [eventually] became best known for publishing other developers’ games, like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (BioWare) and Star Wars: Battlefront (Pandemic), rather than making its own. Over ten years, LucasArts went through four different presidents: Simon Jeffery in 2000, Jim Ward in 2004, Darrell Rodriguez in 2008, and Paul Meegan in 2010. Each time a new president took over, there would be a staff-wide reorganization, which always meant two things: layoffs and cancellations” (252)

“To get anything done, the studio’s management would need to go up the ladder to their bosses at Lucasfilm, who, for the most part, were old-school filmmakers with little interest in video games” (253)

“frustrated LucasArts managers would give elaborate presentations to Lucasfilm executives simply to explain to them how games were made” (253)

“Not long after starting at LucasArts, Markus put the studio through what one former staffer described as ‘a boot camp’ for controls, camerawork, and basic gameplay rhythms” (257)

“‘One of the problems of working in a film company with somebody like George is that he’s used to being able to change his mind and iterate on things purely on a visual level,’ said a person who worked on the game. ‘[He wasn’t used to] the idea that we were developing [gameplay] mechanics that go along with these concepts, levels, and scenarios’” (258-259)

Commentator’s Note: The old adage about the difference between nouns and verbs in film and games. In film, verbs are easy, and nouns are hard. Tell an actor to open a door: easy. Source the perfect doorknob, door, set, etc.: hard. Inversely, in games, nouns are (relatively) easy: copy-paste game objects, spawn primitives, and so on. But verbs are hard: door interaction, famously, is a nightmare game development problem.

“On October 30, 2012, in a shocking, blockbuster move, Disney announced that it was purchasing Lucasfilm—and with that, LucasArts—for $4 billion” (264)

“On April 3, 2013, Disney shut down LucasArts, laying off nearly 150 employees and canceling all the studio’s projects, in cluding Star Wars 1313” (268)

“‘From my point of view, the game was not canceled,’ said Steve Chen. ‘The studio was canceled. It’s a very different thing’” (271)

PsychOdyssey, eps. 27-29

Episode 27: Villains of Crunch Mode

Issues with the expanding schedule come to a head as the studio attempts to reconcile with its past participation in crunch culture. —Episode Description

“Every time we commit to do work in a sprint, if we only complete seventy percent of it, then we are going to have seventy percent of a video game” —Andy Alamano

“we assume people are talking, and they are not. I mean, we could get rid of Slack. That will force people to talk to each other” —Lisette Titre-Montgomery

“We’ve had process discussions in the past. We are still sitting here, talking about how we can get people to work together” —Alamano

“to further communicate what’s going on the team and on the project, I have been advocating recently for dailies. We brought dailies back. Because when I was talking to people, there was a lot of confusion and hard feelings about, ‘I was working on this area and this other person touched it. And I didn’t know they were doing that. And they didn’t know what I was doing.’ There is a lot of: ‘I didn’t know what was going on. And people didn’t know that I was doing this.’ And there was a lot of just people not knowing what was going on” —Tim Schafer

“Dailies is a thing that often people would drag their feet about and complain about. But really, if you go to that meeting and you announce clearly and loudly what you are doing, it really solves a lot of these little problems. You don’t even realize all the problems it’s solving, because they are not happening, because people are aware of what everybody is working on” —Schafer

“we are going to make cards, and put them up. We are going to talk about what they’ve been doing. And if they finished, they are going to move it over” —Naoko Takamoto

“That was one thing that Ryan and Zak were pretty good at, just saying: ‘It’s done’” —Joshua Herbert

“It kind of sucks to have to design something and also decide if it’s good enough” —James Marion

“Please write a task for doing that … I used to be gentle about it, but people ignore me when I’m gentle. So, please write a task for that” —Alamano

“We are going to start January, and we are going to have ten months to get it shippable. And that doesn’t seem realistic to me. So start thinking about things that can get cut. And cutting them. And just cut them. Start cutting things. And start telling Tim you have to cut things” —Caryl Shaw

“We don’t want to have a crunch culture. But I also don’t think that crunch culture means never putting in extra time or effort. Making video games is an artistic endeavor. And I, personally, am not going to let something I’m not proud of out the door” —Geoff Soulis

Commentator’s Note: I have had this exact battle with team members of the design side on my occasions.

“Psychonauts is everyone in this building. And every one of them is contributing to it being a good or a bad game. And I would really like to make a good game … And I think we are definitely going in that direction. I just think sometimes to put that extra bit of effort into it is necessary, you know?” —Soulis

Commentator’s Note: Compare to Druckmann’s comment about making any game, or making game of the year, in Schreier’s chapter on Uncharted 4.

Amy Price’s Slack about crunch culture: “Two things have been bothering me and I wanted to voice them here. One is, working dinners. This concept has always caused me internal strife. I know it comes from a place of wanting to support people, seeing people work late, wanting to feed them. But it is also a subtle but powerful way of reenforcing crunch culture”

Commentator’s Note: Yes, see also ‘lunch-and-learns.’

“To me crunch mode is when a company knowingly hands far too much work for a team to do, and demands it to be done at a certain time, knowing that it will take away the team’s personal life, and being okay with that, and exploiting that” —Schafer

“People were feeling a squeeze. And sometimes, I think, you are going to feel a squeeze in development. We were having our most successful milestone over a year out from ship. It was kind of worrisome to start feeling a squeeze” —Amy Price

Commentator’s Note: Amy specifically calls out Geoff for perpetuating crunch culture.

“We didn’t start at the top and mess up. My career started at the bottom with being the victim of crunch mode on Monkey 1 and 2. And then, internalizing that and being a perpetrator of crunch mode on all my games after that until Psychonauts, and throughout Psychonauts. I was a villain of crunch mode. Because I was mostly just so focused: ‘This game has to be good. You are either working with me to make this game good. Or you are my arch enemy.’ And I was very intense about that kind of stuff” —Schafer

“The reality of it, it’s going to come down to there will be people who don’t want to crunch, and there will be people who will crunch. And the burden will be more on the people who will crunch. Because if I didn’t crunch on Loboto it would have looked like shit. And I think that’s the reality of the situation. We can’t have our cake and eat it too” —Soulis

“This does very much apply to you, because I’ve known you for many years. Some people need to be saved from themselves. I’m dead serious” —Kee Chi

“People are just going to have to make a decision for themselves. Like, whether they are okay with something going out the door poorly or if they want it to go out well. And if they want it to go out poorly, they have to let that thing go, so someone who does want it to go out the door well can take it over” —Soulis

Commentator’s Note: Kenneth Burke, human beings are the beings ‘rotten with perfection.’

“If you don’t think things are going to get better, and at the end of the day this is a job you need to quit, or do something else, go do something else. You shouldn’t make your lives that much worse for a job” —Chi

“The people here is what kept me here so long” —Price

Episode 28: You Have a Resume?

Fallout from the scheduling conflict results in more exits from the studio, but others continue to rise and fill leadership roles. —Episode Description

“I feel like the source of that problem was way deeper than what we were arguing about” —Emily Johnstone

“I think it’s worth stressing that we need to be real careful about sitting here and deciding: ‘You know what? Let’s make Time Bubble work different.’ That ship has started to sail … We need to be very, very careful. I just want to stress this. We need to be very careful about addressing how a power is working right now” —Alamano

“I’m watching Naoko make her producer face” —Titre-Montgomery

“When I am talking about things missing from the game, the things that are improvements I want to make, it really is me trying to finish the game. I am trying to end the game by making it good. Because the only time we will be done with the game is when it’s good” —Schafer

“We have an extra added thing where we’ve had some big blowouts on the team where they are very concerned about crunch mode. And everyone is like: ‘We are going to crunch. I just know we are going to crunch.’ And we are like: ‘We haven’t done that for many years. I don’t know how to tell you we are not going to do that.’’ But I can see why a lot of people wouldn’t believe us when we say that. A lot of people might be not believing it just because they themselves are like: ‘No, I’m going to crunch myself. Because I care about this game, and I just don’t want to be in that position where…” Or from previous experience, they feel like they’ve been lied to about deadlines and stuff. And we were all in that Friday meeting that was so awkward, because it was all Caryl saying, like: ‘This is the date.’ And people are like: ‘Ah, pff-fa, pff-fa.’ You know? ‘I don’t believe you!’ We are really committed to not crunching the team. We talk about that a lot. And we talk about places we can get help. Programming help, and outsourcing help, and ways to make this happen. But people are going to wonder how we are going to get those things made, for sure” —Schafer

“For the particular challenges that we have on the programming side to ship this game, it’s not easy to throw money at the problem. I’ve been racking my brain for weeks trying to figure out what we offload. And there is not much I could think of. Like, right now … I have no idea how to do my job well right now. I don’t” —Chi

“Especially me and Caryl and production, we are here to worry about the schedule so the team can be creative” —Schafer

“It feels so hopeless, this game … part of me just wants to finish it, no matter … I just want it to be over. I feel like what we prove with this game is we just can’t make a game this big” —Marion

“It’s been a long development cycle, this game. The mindset that I hope people don’t have, which I myself even fall sliding into, is: ‘Let’s get this done for it to be done. To be done with it’ … But then I take a step back and think ‘We are making Psychonauts 2.’ This is the game that I have the most emotional attachment to. Making this game should be a joy. Making this game should be an honor to do. I didn’t even think this was going to be possible” —Chi

“Tim talked about, like: ‘I want to put bosses in our game.’ And we say: ‘Well, we’ve got a lot of work to do.’ And then the answer is: ‘How much work to do?’ And everybody goes: ‘I don’t know.’ So we need to start estimating our work … We need to make intelligent decisions about what we are capable of doing. And the only way we do that is by estimating what it’s going to take to do the work that’s already on our plate” —Alamano

Episode 29: It’s Looking Grim

As pressure mounts to complete the game, a worldwide pandemic suddenly changes everything. —Episode Description

“We just finished milestone eleven. We have milestone twelve, which is going to wrap up all of our levels getting to Alpha. The final date we have is May 1st. We want to be in the state where we can play through all the levels” —Alamano

“We all just need to get better at following through what it is that we want to make. There is a lot of talking about what we want to do. And not a lot of writing it down” —Alamano

“I can’t do the Post-its anymore. I can’t do it. I just can’t fucking do it with the Post-its. It’s too much. It’s becoming a full-time job. Chasing Post-its. So, we sit down and have these meetings. Everyone is just like: ‘Uh, I don’t know.’ And everyone talks about stuff, but no one is like: ‘You, what are you doing? Okay! How many points is that worth? Okay! You, what are you doing?’ I can’t get people to pay attention. And it’s freaking me out” —Alamano

“Because E3 is now officially canceled, the need for a playable, pitch-perfect demo is greatly diminished. If not completely non-essential” —Alamano

“There was no room for error. And then this coronavirus thing happened. So, that’s it. We are off the charts now. We are screwed” —Alamano

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