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Game Developers Burn Down the House 49

Plenty more excellent writeups to share as the Game Developer's Conference comes to an end. Gamespot has The Dark Spirit of Silent Hill, discussing how to craft the spooky survival horrors. Alice has worked her fingers to nubs writing on the Wonderland blog, and offers up Can MMOs Develop Mass Appeal?, and Burn the House Down, a ranting session between Warren Spector and some other surly curmudgeons. From the post: "But I have to say something so I want to say how this business is hopelessly broken. Haha. We're doing pretty much everything wrong. This is at the root of much of what you're gonna hear today. Games cost too much. They take too long to make. The whole concept of word of mouth, remember that? Holy cow it was nice."
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Game Developers Burn Down the House

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  • zerg (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lord Omlette ( 124579 ) on Saturday March 12, 2005 @12:09AM (#11917124) Homepage
    Wow, the next time someone says "Don't pirate that game, download the demo and if you like it, buy it!", just point them at that "Burn the House Down" rant. Here are gaming's top people, all saying "Pirate my software!"
    • Interesting. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Alkaiser ( 114022 )
      I for one, found the overall tone of the speech to be felt like the top names had given up. They pointed out problems and demanded solutions...that they didn't have. It was if they were imploring the audience to fix the problems for them. Kinda sad.

      I did like how they all jumped up to smack down the guy who was complaining about game rentals. "Not all money streams lead to your wallet!"

      Haha! BURN!
    • Re:zerg (Score:3, Informative)

      by cold fjord ( 826450 )

      Maybe you need to read that again. Maybe you should start with this paragraph (I added some boldface to help make the meaning clearer):


      need alternative forms of distribution too. I'm not saying publishers suck, although I do believe that in many cases. [laughter] If the plane went down who would care about the marketing guys? We need another way of getting games out there and in players' hands. If any of you bought half life 2 at Wal-Mart, please just leave the room. Has everyone bought Bioware's onlin

      • Chris: I'm pro-piracy. I want people to play the games I make. I do it because it's art. I think DRM is a total fucking stupid mess. If the game industry collapses and can be reborn, I'm all for it. Pirate on!

        Greg: they're not pirating the game! Someone bought a legal copy! The world is not designed in such a way that money inherently funnels its way into your wallet!?

        Warren: I never minded piracy. Anyone who minds about piracy is full of shit. Anyone who pirates your game wasn't going to buy it anyway!

        • Re:zerg (Score:3, Insightful)

          But I'm seeing here 3 top game creators saying "Pirate our stuff! We don't care!"

          You're seeing a highly respected programmer saying he doesn't care if you pirate his games.

          You're seeing an indie game creator say that game rentals are not the same as piracy.

          You're seeing a respected game designer say that he doesn't believe piracy affects him.

          You have here in order:

          • One person telling you to pirate games
          • One person whose comment you're willfully misinterpreting (and who doesn't speak for the commerc
          • Re:zerg (Score:1, Flamebait)

            Don't you already pirate games?
            *WHOOSH* <- that's my previous post going way over your head. But you keep right on ranting on your soapbox, it's all good.
          • "Don't you already pirate games? Aren't you just scratching for any excuse to make your blatantly illegal activity seem morally OK?"

            Morals are in no way objective, it's a valid evolutionary strategy to steal. I don't see you crying when you eat hamburger or steak over the enslavement of animals everywhere to be our food. I don't see you crying for the burger flipper at McDonalds who through nature didn't have the skills to make it through highschool and therefore is forced by a capitalist economy to work
            • by Sj0 ( 472011 )
              The reason capitalism works is that it is amoral. Communism and socialism have inconvenient morality so resources tend to be wasted, while capitalism only allows those who can provide to pull resources back out of the system. This may not be fair from a moral standpoint, but it allows society as a whole to be more efficent by forcing those who would be wasteful to be more mindful of that which they consume, and through good government, makes workplaces safer by providing economic incentives that do not exis
              • "The reason capitalism works is that it is amoral."

                Actually this is totally wrong, because captitalism is a tool of its actors. There would be no need to legistlate minimum wage of capitalism was really amoral system. Only in theory, or some kind of platonic heaven is captialism amoral.

                "Communism and socialism have inconvenient morality so resources tend to be wasted, while capitalism only allows those who can provide to pull resources back out of the system."

                I can point out enormous waste of resources
                • Actually this is totally wrong, because captitalism is a tool of its actors. There would be no need to legistlate minimum wage of capitalism was really amoral system. Only in theory, or some kind of platonic heaven is captialism amoral.

                  You're confusing the current system with capitalism. It is not - for pure capitalism, you might look at the 19th century.

                  I can point out enormous waste of resources in capitalism. Short life light bulbs just to name one common every-day item people buy over and over agai

                • by Sj0 ( 472011 )
                  Perhaps you don't know what I mean by amoral.

                  There are no morals. It is neither good nor evil. Some people thrive, get everything they ever wanted, others die alone on the street.

                  In the end, paired with smart laws, more people achieve a higher standard than other systems can provide.
              • Actually, I lived in China for a year. It was nice.
          • by Sj0 ( 472011 )
            Law and morality are not the same. Don't mix them.

            That said, I have a huge legal collection of hundreds of games and I'm proud of supporting the industry. :)

  • Inspiring... (Score:2, Insightful)

    As a student trying to get into the industry, I find what they said to be very inspiring. Everyone has different opinions, but hearing them all like this from the different companies and developers of the industry, through the GDC, is really helping me to get a good idea of how things are and where they're going. It's really cool to be able to get all these different views on game development and put them all together; it really puts things into perspective for me.
    • It's really cool to be able to get all these different views on game development and put them all together; it really puts things into perspective for me.

      Ahh... youthful idealism. About four mouths of working 80 hours a week on the same title day in and day out should put a dent into that like nothing else. Looking at the video game industry from the outside can be "inspiring", but actually working inside the video game industry can be a bit "hellish" sometimes (or all the time if you work for EA). Somet
      • Re:Inspiring... (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Mskpath3 ( 764785 )
        Indeed. Warren and Costikyan both really hit on this issue. Budgets are skyrocketing in a truly scary way. As such, publishers are less and less willing to spend that money on innovation (read: unproven concepts). As the scope of games (both technology and content) increases with the budgets, each developer becomes a smaller and smaller cog in the wheel. Enthusiasm wanes. I've been on more than one project where one of the first questions asked is "Will this sell a million units?". When that is part of the
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Jeez, if there was one thing that could make up for missing Will Wright's talk earlier, it's sitting at his feet while this session was delivered! So my mood is slightly improved, although we have to wait between 2-6 weeks before GDC posts the recording (if they do so at all). Anyone find a transcript or a recording out there yet?

    So, my notes on the last session of the day. Hosted by Eric "Stage Presence" Zimmerman, the panel was feisty, passionate and speed-talking. I got most of it, bar the detail (who n
    • His argument is basically that the new 'in-order' chips are not going to be any faster on spaghetti game code, and that all they're really going to be better at is high-volume number-crunching for graphics and physics. And that this is somehow going to lead to worse games.

      Obviously he hasn't looked at the performance profile for a game recently. The gnarly game logic doesn't really take up much of the time. The heavy-duty number-crunching is where all the cycles go. So, in fact, it's exactly the correct tr
      • by Anonymous Coward
        The difference is that while today's games are locked towards that performance model because of market needs, tomorrow's games will be locked in it because the hardware dictates it.

        No room for innovation.
        • What kind of hardware are you supposed to build, then? Hardware that you know solves today's problems better than before, and that might solve new problems okay too. Or hardware which doesn't solve today's problems any better, and which doesn't guarantee better solutions to tomorrow's problems either.
      • by hibiki_r ( 649814 ) on Saturday March 12, 2005 @06:56PM (#11922477)

        No amount of imagination will make your game's AI better. What you need is enough processing power to be able to traverse and modify pretty complicated data structures that represent your agents. This kind of AI code is choke full of branching and random access to memory. It's the huge cost of systems like this that makes most modern's games AI weak. Physics are so 'in' that we spend all the time makign a car feel 'real', while the AI still goes on wheels.

        If we make in order operations easier, all we're doing is make it even easier to go down the physics and graphics road. If every 1000 cycles you spend on AI can be transformed into 10,000, it's going to be tough to convince the publisher that AI is worth it.

        For example, in the next Gran Turismo for 2006/7, do you think that Poliphony will spend the extra resources of the PS3 on realistic AI drivers that can overtake properly, or on damage modelling and an extra couple of layers of effects in the car's surfaces? My guess is that the AI will blow, as it does today, and all of the extra HP will be spent on graphics and physics.

        • I was rather thinking that imagination might come up with different kinds of gameplay.

          How much processing power is needed for the gameplay portion of Katamari Damacy, Tetris, or Parapper the Rapper? The genuine innovations in gameplay have not, as far as I can tell, really come from doing more sophisticated AI, but rather from a designer (not a programmer) using their imagination to come up with a new idea.

          In addition, remember that you are getting something back for being in-order: To tackle your traditi
        • Regarding AI (Score:2, Interesting)

          by PromANJ ( 852419 )
          Well, if you look at Quake 3 and the bot AI they just made the bots slide around on a preprogrammed path while pointing the aim exactly at the target and then adding some shake based on skill. Yes, I do know it's not a new game, but the AI is pathetic compared to the gfx.

          Why not give the aim a bit of weight so it has to be swung around, and gradually stabilize on the target if it stops moving relating to the aim angle? That's what players do and it wouldn't be hard to simulate. Right now it doesn't matte
        • I know no one will read this.. But who cares. I went to every AI session at GDC I could go to. I came to one conculsion which is Game AI is just as weak as it has been the past few years. No one is really working on a new type of AI, they have just finding ways to manage complex state based AI. I hate to tell you this, but AI in games is going to continue to be pretty bad for the next few years.
  • "games cost too much" has been said since the invention of video games, yet everyone still buys them, this is why the game companies still overprice what they sell

    It's unrealistic to tell people to boycott games, they will still be bought. Games prices will remain high as long as games are sold
    • You're looking at it from a consumer end of things. From the developer's point of view the cost is there! I think Half-Life 2 took something like 50 million dollars to make. Hell licensing the Quake 3 Arena engine alone costs quarter of a million dollars. Games used to be able to be made by a team of half a dozen. Lucky if you can get by with 20 nowadays.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I think you misunderstood cost to much.

      "It's cost too much to make".

      In fact, if anything, today's computer games are underpriced on the shelves.
  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Saturday March 12, 2005 @03:04PM (#11920952) Journal
    Asheron's Call was popular in that it had a generic action aspect where you could dodge and move. But it stopped there. If someone made a MMOG that had action oriented hack and slash fights with some semblance of balance and counters for PVP, it would rule above all.
  • by snuf23 ( 182335 ) on Saturday March 12, 2005 @05:16PM (#11921850)
    "Warren: I never minded piracy. Anyone who minds about piracy is full of shit. Anyone who pirates your game wasn't going to buy it anyway!"

    It might help that his games are huge bestsellers, but I much prefer this attitude to the "count every copy as a lost sale" mentality that the BSA uses in there numbers for the cost of piracy.

    In this DRM headed world, how long before the media companies get congress to declare a "war on copyright infringement". Maybe we can start locking up people for an illicit copy of Doom 3. I guss they could hang out with the busted for a joint crowd.

  • Yikes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bobstevens_took_my_n ( 799815 ) on Sunday March 13, 2005 @12:44AM (#11924147)
    It's hard to separate the ignorant crap from the insightful comments in this talk... much like slashdot.

    All three comments on piracy were stupid. If Warren Spector actually believes that, he's ignorant or out of touch. The fact that many people tried to pirate HL2 and then bought it when their piracy attempts failed (and then were subsequently banned) proves him wrong. Not just kind of wrong, but ignoring-that-which-is-blatantly-obvious wrong.

    Warren Spector is, however, correct in that a digital distribution system would be nice. I'm speaking as a consumer rather than a game developer here. There are better reasons to want it than so you can let your schedules slip... after all open-source development teaches us that the only thing that makes software "finished" is deadlines. Steam is a step in the right direction, but the ability for Valve to arbitrarily shut off your access to the game isn't part of what I would call a good distribution system.

    The rest of the talk seemed like people complaining about how The Man is stifling their ability to innovate. The industry is profit oriented... we all understand this. Yes, it affects how games are scheduled, funded, released, and distributed. Yes, this might not be the best thing for developers or consumers. But, if you don't like any of these things and you don't care how big your paycheck is, then you have no excuse not to go indie, right? If you're already indie, I wonder why you're complaining about any of this in the first place.

    Why stay in an industry that's forcing you away from doing the things you want to do? Just so you can complain about it? That doesn't seem like a good reason.

    • Re:Yikes (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Mskpath3 ( 764785 ) on Sunday March 13, 2005 @02:04AM (#11924492)
      (piracy comments addressed below) I dunno. I agreed with much of what the panel had to say (except for Brenda whatserface who came across as a willowy 60's feminist reject - here's a clue Brenda : you had 12 minutes to speak - spending 8 of them bitching about "evil men", "the Spectacle", gender, and not "video games" was really retarded).

      Greg Costikyan was a firebrand and I thought he was insightful overall. A little cycnical, but that was in the spirit of the talk.

      I felt bad for the guy in the mohawk who tried to related Blockbuster rentals with piracy. He got 100% owned by the panel. However, I think aside from Warren (who essentially said that anyone who worries about piracy is delusional, because those who pirate wouldn't have bought the game anyway - I agree), all the piracy comments from the panel were unbelievably stupid. Yes, we know you guys are militant anti-corporate whatevermajiggers - but that was pure grandstanding. You can try and get all artiste on us all you want, but you're all smart people and you have to realize that sales of your products are what fundamentally allow you to continue with your pursuits. But, that was at the end of the talk and I think they all just might have gotten carried away in the spirit of the moment.

      Brenda retardowhatsits went as far as to say we need to get away from the "bad idea of publically owned companies". Back to Berkely with you, comrade.

      Chris Hecker did indeed come dangerously close to breaking NDA with some of his talk. Even though he claims he never signed an NDA he clearly was on board with some of the more recent tech missives from the next-gen console companies. I half expected to see Blue and Green ninjas burst from the ceiling and kill him on the spot.

      The rant session was a fun capper to the overall GDC experience. It would have been a 100% grand old time if that Brenda chick hadn't come in with her unwelcome ultra socialist rants (here's another clue Brenda : you were all excited about announcing you just got a job with Sun! That's completely inconsistent with your anti-male, anti-corporation rant. You hateful fucktard!

      • "bad idea of publically owned companies"

        While not always bad, having game companies that are privately owned isn't such a bad idea. You remove the pressure of stockholders and analysts that will force you to only focus on a "sure thing" and avoid something seen as risky. We would probably end up with fewer knock offs, and hopefully a lot more variety in new games.

        I would also think this would remove some of the issues that /. has with publicly owned corporations being greedy.
        • Oh, I agree. In fact this sort of theme was prevalant with the other speakers (Spector and Costikyan). But they argued the point cogently and without targeting a group of people to hate. They focused on how monolithic publishers stifle innovation because of the demands of mega-budgets games. Not how "evil men" are plotting to pollute the minds of our boys and other such hyperbole. Her speech was more suited for some kind of virulent anti-globalism rally.
  • That was beautiful (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Torgo's Pizza ( 547926 ) on Sunday March 13, 2005 @06:59AM (#11925160) Homepage Journal
    I just read the Burn the House Down article. It brought a tear to my eye. I follow Spector and Rocca closely and I email Costikyan everyonce in a while. We all pretty much think that the development and distribution is broken.

    I've contributed to two books about the subject. The first book I talked about implementing a total quality assurance system to the game industry that's been in use for decades in the auto industry. The second book was built around ways to prevent bug defects which include eliminating the counter-productiveness of 80 hour work weeks.

    The game industry is totally insane. There's no way I'd ever go back unless I could have total control over quality, which means we don't ship until QA has final sign-off. (Yeah, I'm going to get a smartass reply saying "That'll never happen then" but I've got a system and it works.)

    I know work in the health/medical field and deal directly with the Food & Drug Administration. The quality controls I deal with put anything in gaming to shame. Why the gaming industry doesn't use established practices in other industries is a mystery.

    Well, actually it isn't. The problem is that managers have really never truly managed a large scale project outside of the industry and the developers and artists have never worked anything other than games. Gaming is too insulated and is becoming inbred. This practice is slowly making an army of retarded game developers who will shortly implode.
    • The first book I talked about implementing a total quality assurance system to the game industry that's been in use for decades in the auto industry. The second book was built around ways to prevent bug defects which include eliminating the counter-productiveness of 80 hour work weeks.

      And there are companies who do both (Relic and Bioware are jumping to mind, having talked to them about jobs). I'm quite happy with merely the 40 hour work week and a group of people I enjoy at the moment, myself; maybe I'll

      • by Torgo's Pizza ( 547926 ) on Monday March 14, 2005 @10:16AM (#11931736) Homepage Journal
        A lawyer? How does that qualify for a "large scale project manager"? Did he manage the OJ Simpson case? Was he a corporate lawyer? I'm sure he's a great guy, but what large scale project has he managed? Outside of corporate law, it's all about billing hours and not about managing costs. Practicing law and producing a video game are very different.

        While I might unfairly lump "developers" into one catagory, the fact remains that the game industry tends to eat its young. We hire kids straight out of college or art school because they are naive and cheap. Take an informal poll around the office. The demographics back my assertion up. There will be a high percentage of people who are in their twenties who have held only a few jobs outside of the industry. There precious few that have learned best practices outside of the game industry, which means they pick up the crappy ones that are currently in use.

        Don't get me wrong. I'm not attacking the people in the industry, but the practices that we continually use that have always failed.

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